Circles RVA is filling an unmet need in Richmond, VA by partnering with families on the fence between surviving and thriving economically. By building a network of support and ongoing relationships, Circles RVA empowers families to break the cycle of generational poverty and permanently move towards economic stability. Circles RVA effectively connects people across socio-economic, racial and other lines that all too often divide. Circles brings together two groups of people: • “Circle Leaders” are courageous, motivated individuals who are ready, willing and able to move out of poverty with added social support. • Volunteer “Allies” make an intentional commitment to build a relationship with a Circle Leader. Allies become both cheerleaders and accountability partners. Their primary aim is to expand the Circle Leader’s network, thereby helping the Leader gain access to resources, navigate bureaucracies, and leverage social relationships he or she might not otherwise access. The entire Circles process lasts for approximately two years. The initial focus is education. Then the process transitions to applying principles learned to ensure basic needs are met and plan for growth. Circle Leaders: • Participate in 12-16 weeks of financial and life skills training, all facilitated with a focus on self assessment and goal-setting. • Create a life vision that they publicly declare to the Circles community in a “Bridging Ceremony.” • Are matched with one or more volunteer Allies who serve as intentional friends, emotionally supporting their Circle Leader and helping to broaden their network of support. • Establish specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely goals that will move their family towards economic stability. They actively work on these goals with the support of their Allies and the entire Circles community.
Circles RVA's weekly gatherings offer community-building opportunities, educational programming and space for Leaders and Allies to work on goals. Prior to COVID, the weekly Circles meeting was an in-person gathering, structured to prevent potential barriers to participation by incorporating a free meal, a free children’s program and free transportation. These are three basic benefits provided to all participants that are intended to limit the costs associated with accessing Circles RVA’s support. In response to the current pandemic and social distancing restrictions, Circles has temporarily moved it’s weekly programming online. Training, Leader/Ally interactions and children’s programming are being done virtually. Meals are being delivered to Circle Leaders every Tuesday night to maintain feelings of consistency and unity.