Terry Paulson

Since President Johnson launched the war on poverty, government has spent trillions, poverty remains, and more and more Americans are increasingly dependent on government support. Hope and opportunity have given way to learned helplessness. Ronald Reagan asserted, “Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.” America should be judged not by how many citizens are receiving welfare, but by how many no longer need it.

Liberals and conservatives can disagree on the causes and the effectiveness of government programs, but we ought to find common ground in supporting proven local programs that help people find their way out of poverty.

Circles® USA (www.circlesusa.org) is a proven community program that's committed to ending poverty one person, one family at a time. Since people in poverty need to be in charge of their own lives, each Circles Class brings together 25 low-income "Circle Leaders." These low-income participants are paired with trained middle-to-high-income community volunteers, called Allies. Together, they develop financial, emotional, and social resources, as well as an Economic Stability Plan tailored to the unique needs and dreams of each Circle Leader.

The Circle groups nurture relationships and help participants develop coping strategies, appropriate formal language skills, and survival strategies to master the hidden rules that lead to workplace success. Community members provide time, talent and money to help participants help themselves. This is no quick fix. Families in poverty are encouraged to participate for up to 18 months.

While less than 2% make it out of generational poverty on their own, a study of 1,000 Circle participants over 5 years found that 67% were successful in breaking the hold of poverty in their lives. The first Circle® USA program in Southern California is starting in the Conejo Valley.

Circles Coordinator Kristin Youngman at Lutheran Social Services in Thousand Oaks is enthusiastic: "Starting our Circles campaign here is all about inspiring and empowering families and communities to resolve poverty and thrive. It's about helping families achieve economic stability with the consistent help of their peers and committed community volunteers. The early response in our area has been exciting, and we're ready to make a difference."

The mutual respect and relationships established between the Circle Leaders and the allies is a tribute to the power of community in dealing with poverty.

Terry Paulson

Terry Paulson, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results, and long-time columnist for the Ventura County Star.

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