CirclesRVA in Metro Richmond
One of the three major goals of our Strategic Plan is to work to end poverty in Richmond: “Our goal is not simply to alleviate the results of poverty; we will help people move out of poverty. Our parishioners will work hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters who live in poverty.”
Throughout 2017-18, the City of Richmond’s Office for Community Wealth Building and other congregations and organizations collaborated to launch CirclesRVA. Partners included St. James, St. Paul’s, St. Peter’s, Boulevard United Methodist, Covenant Presbyterian, Sixth Mount Zion Baptist, Temple Beth Ahabah, the Salvation Army and Goodwill.
How GHTC Started Fighting Poverty
Dr. Ruby K. Payne, an author, speaker, and career educator, delivered the keynote address at Grace and Holy Trinity’s February 2016 speaker series, “What Everyone in Metro Richmond Needs to Know about Poverty.” She discussed the social and cultural aspects of poverty, how those differences affect people’s ability to successfully move out of poverty, and the resources needed for them to do so. This speaker’s forum was made possible by the Scott Foundation through a grant in honor of The Rev. Wm. Hill Brown III.
Recognized internationally for her books, A Framework for Understanding Poverty and Bridges Out of Poverty, Dr. Payne has helped students and adults of all economic backgrounds achieve academic, professional, and personal success. An expert on the mindsets of economic classes and overcoming the hurdles of poverty, she has trained hundreds of thousands of professionals, from educators and school administrators to community, church, and business leaders.
You can view videos of the event on our YouTube Channel.
It all started here – at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, with a series of three Adult Forum conversations in the Spring of 2015, centered around the book by Ruby Payne, PhD entitled “What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty.”Dr. Payne is an educator and an expert on the mindsets of economic classes. She was then invited to be the principal speaker at a two-day forum sponsored by GHTC in February of 2016, entitled “What Everyone in Metro Richmond Needs to Know About Poverty”.
Hundreds from the community attended the event, including city government people and council members, representatives from the Richmond Public School board, regional higher ed and K-12 teachers; and civic, non-profit, and religious leaders. Afterwards, a sizable number of individuals signed up to explore what we as a community could do. After 18 months of hard work, it was decided that Circles was the right vehicle to employ. Circles RVA was incorporated as an independent 501c3 in the summer of 2017.
Since the launch of operations in August of 2018, twenty-six Leaders have completed the 18-month journey towards economic stability. These Leaders have increased their monthly income $1,238 on average, significantly reduced their debt, improved their credit scores, increased their net assets, and are now less dependent on government support. Thereby breaking the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.
None of this would be possible without the incredible and continued generosity of this congregation.
The people in 2016 who were crazy enough to believe that they could change the world, were right. I was one of them, and I had the great privilege of speaking to groups around the city, recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations to make Circles RVA a reality. What follows is what I often shared to tell the Circles story. It proves that there is still much to do. I am grateful to be part of a community who did not turn away from the challenge.
Excerpt of the conversation with Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church’s congregation, April 29, 2017:
I am here today to talk about Circles RVA, about Community, Empowerment and Transformation.
First, Community. Here in Richmond, one in four adults live in poverty. This is a rate twice the national average, and the second highest in Virginia. More alarming is that 40% of the city’s children live in poverty. Just as this church is committed to addressing issues that impact the lives of this community, so too were a group of citizens who found these statistics unacceptable.
Citizens from the faith community, civic and non-profit organizations, and local government came together to form Circles RVA, a volunteer organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in our community.
The Circles model is used in 75 cities across the US, and is proven to make a real and sustainable difference in the lives of people who want to move to economic stability and to create better futures for themselves and their families.
The way this happens is through empowerment. In the Circles model, Circle Leaders, people who are living in poverty and looking to make a change, are in charge of the process. First, Circle Leaders receive 12 weeks of training to build leadership skills, and to develop a results-based life plan to achieve economic stability. When their training is complete, Circle Leaders are paired with coaches called Circle Allies.
Allies work with Circle Leaders, helping them to implement their plans and to work towards achieving their goals. Allies come from different socio-economic backgrounds; they have varied life experiences and broad social networks. It is through the Circle Leader and Ally relationship, the sharing of knowledge, and the expansion of social networks that life-changing results for Circle Leaders are possible.
Let me explain the Circles approach in another way, using verses from Matthew 25 to help illustrate.
“I was hungry, and you gave me food…” The Circles model satisfies the Circle Leaders’ hunger for information.
“I was thirsty, and you gave me drink…” The Circles model quenches Circle Leaders’ thirst for knowledge.
“I was a stranger, and you took me in…” The Circles model develops relationships of trust and mutual respect and expands the social networks of Circle Leaders.
“I was naked, and you clothed me…” The Circles model surrounds Circle Leaders with a sense of belonging.
“I was sick, and you visited me…” The Circles model cares for and supports Circle Leaders as they work towards achieving their goals.
“I was in prison, and you came to me…” The Circles model provides new ideas to Circle Leaders, from Allies with different backgrounds and life experiences, that will help them move to economic independence and self-sufficiency.
“As iron sharpens iron”, the book of Proverbs says, “so one person sharpens another.”
It is here that transformation takes place. Through an increased awareness in the community about poverty and its inherent problems, the systemic barriers and policies that exist and interfere with people moving to economic stability can be addressed.
By encouraging and supporting Circle Leaders as they are inspired and equipped with the skills and human connections to move themselves and their families to economic stability.
By helping Circle Leaders help themselves…because when individuals build their capabilities, and make choices that promote personal development, they can give back to others and to the community, thereby completing the Circle.
By bringing together the citizens of this city, people from different backgrounds who would not normally know each other, and through the sharing of knowledge and a combination of social networks; by developing relationships of trust and mutual respect, we improve our community’s vitality
Circles RVA is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty… through Community, Empowerment and Transformation.
The sermon at my church last week was about a knock at the door – one that comes, perhaps when we least expect it. In it, the Pastor talked about the plight of the Jews in France during World War II and the response of Christians in a small village who opened their doors and saved thousands of lives.
There is a knock at the door right now. And it’s the people of this city. It’s our brothers and sisters in Christ.
My fervent hope is that the members of this congregation volunteer to share their time and talent with the people of this city who need help. To answer the knock at the door with the volunteers of Circles RVA. Because we cannot, and we must not, turn away.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Kimberly Vullo, July 30, 2022