A team from Hutchinson’s Trinity United Methodist Church returned home full of energy after participating in KLC’s Leadership & Faith Transforming Communities program two years ago. The group identified poverty as their biggest community concern and chose to focus their efforts on eradicating it.
For much of the next year, the team studied the issue. They explored options for intervening by talking with community agencies and citizens and investigating models. They examined potential costs, identified partners and considered unusual voices that could tell authentic stories about poverty.
They resisted pursuing a quick-fix solution. Freed from a strict timeline, they could open up and really listen to people’s hearts. Diagnosing the situation turned out to be time well spent.
“We would have missed out on a lot if we had rushed,” said Jeff Prothro, Trinity Associate Pastor.
Intentional conversations sparked people’s interest. They had to decide if they were willing to face discomfort for a greater good and let the issue of poverty personally touch them.
In July, the Trinity team, and others involved, launched “Circles of Hope,” an initiative based on Ruby Payne’s book “Bridges Out of Poverty” and the work of the Move the Mountain Leadership Center. The initiative assists people who are not financially, mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually able to build a sustainable future.
The team began to bring people – those in need and those seeking to meet needs – together across economic lines, fostering an environment in which all could feel welcome.
“We want to enable individuals in poverty to write a future story for themselves and their families,” said Prothro. “But, Circles isn’t just about helping folks who are living in poverty. It’s about helping a community fully engage and be a part of a transformative process.”
People are the engine of “Circles.” Trainers teach classes, volunteers serve meals and child-care workers help children understand what their parents are experiencing. Impoverished individuals who complete the 10- to 15-week course, set goals for their families and commit to following through with the initiative, become “circle leaders.” They partner with invested community members, called allies, who support their efforts to break the cycle of poverty.
Allies meet with circle leaders weekly, for up to 18 months. Monthly community meetings bring circle leaders and allies together with other connected community groups including city managers, agencies, health care and mental health representatives and a variety of civic groups, churches and businesses.
Still, the process of mobilizing people to tackle poverty is challenging.
The team faces issues of sustainability. While empowering individuals in need to battle poverty, they must battle burnout by taking care of themselves and their volunteers. They must also fuel the effort by finding ways for more people to engage it in a real way.
Leadership will be needed to sustain progress as the group continues diagnosing the situation, engaging stakeholders and getting the whole community energized.
“We don’t know what our future story will be,” Prothro said, “but, we think it’s an achievable idea that nobody has to live in poverty.”
For more information about Circles of Hope visit Trinity’s website.