Center Avenue United Methodist Circles (TM) Initiative

The Circles Initiative is designed to help low-income people in the Pittsburgh, PA area to learn skills and form empowering relationships to increase their economic stability and ability for future achievement. The primary target area is the "steel valley" where the collapse of the steel and railroad industries bottomed out the economy. The primary tool used will be the national Circles Campaign which has a proven track record for helping people move out of poverty (CirclesCampaign.org). Results to date have shown that for every dollar invested in this program, $2 is returned in the form of unused entitlement payments. In addition, there is an increase in community assets as these ...
Sep 9, 2013

Some New Faces at Circles

Hi Folks.

There are some new faces and new things going on at Circles.

First, the Circles Coach who helped launch our initiative in Pitcairn has moved on to another job. In her place, we have Rose Alexander Staples, who is a bright, warm, and energetic presence in our midst. People seem to be warming up to her nicely and after just 3 months on the job, she seems to have gained a good hand on the Circles process already. Rose is good at being firm, but kind and caring - an essential quality in our initiative.

Second, Circles has now developed its own curriculum instead of using the materials from another company. Because of this, we don't have to pay for materials! We download and copy for ourselves. I am hoping this is a permanent condition because it will save us hundreds of dollars each year.

Third, the Pitcairn Circles Initiative has drafted a plan, has gathered partners, and has gotten funding for expansion into McKeesport. McKeesport was once a BIG booming city, full of industry hustle and bustle. It is no longer. With partners like Bethany House Healthy Villages, Beulah Park United Methodist Church, Highland Grove United Methodist Church, the YMCA of Crawford Village, and the Heinz Endowments, we anticipate forming our McKeesport board this fall and beginning our first cohort of Circle Leaders in training in February 2014. Keino Fitzpatrick will be our McKeesport Circles Coach. He is well tied in with the McKeesport community, having worked with the city officials to successfully obtain a Kaboom Playground grant most recently. Please keep us in prayer as we move forward and expand!

Fourth, in Pitcairn, we just started our sixth class of Circle Leaders. It is a really big class with 13 people! Many of our folks have gotten jobs, learned to budget, gotten better housing, and made better choices about people, places and things that have previously gotten them in trouble. Along the way a few of them get discouraged and stop coming. Part of our job is to try to keep them engaged and full of hope, because hopelessness is destructive in this stabilization process.

Getting out of poverty is very, very hard for our folks. It is about transformation in the midst of creating new opportunities and networks, which takes a lot of time, perseverance, and motivation. Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes the effort put forth feels like wasted time or spinning wheels. Circles is essential in this process as we empower, support, equip, and encourage people in their journeys.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

May 6, 2013

Circles Brings Hope - edited

I must confess, I am writing this the morning I have returned from vacation. I also confess that I could write more frequent reports about progress - I often get caught up in the moment and forget about writing reports.

If I had written more regularly, I would have told you about 21-year-old Maggie who walked three miles for a job at a local grocery store. She was increasingly frustrated about the inconsistency of her scheduled hours, making budgeting exceptionally difficult.

About a month ago, Maggie received a call from a company that takes calls from doctors and insurance companies about coverage. She seized the nearly full-time opportunity, went through their on-site training, and began working. Her hours are more regular, so she can begin to budget better. She also is able to catch a bus instead of walking, approximately a one-hour ride with only one transfer. Due to your contributions, we are able to help her with bus pass funding for her first month to give her the opportunity to work the cost of a pass into her budget.

Before leaving for vacation, Nicole shared that she was ready to take another GED practice test. When she began, she was reading at just a 3rd grade level. She was estimated to be in the 6th or 7th grade range when I left. Social Studies continues to be difficult for her and we are attempting to develop a regular tutoring program for the four individuals who are working toward their GEDs.

If you have not yet decided on a gift for Mother's Day on Sunday, perhaps she would appreciate a gift that keeps on giving. Consider making a gift of a donation which can help to change the life of a person working to get out of poverty. This gift requires no dusting and has a lasting impact.

We are always available to answer any questions you may have or provide greater detail. Also, if you would like someone to come speak for an event about the ways Circles addresses poverty in a material way, please contact us. We often bring one of our participants when we speak.

May all of you be blessed this Mother's Day as you consider the gifts of language and learning that you received from your own mother!

Feb 4, 2013

Lives are Changing!

Anyone who has ever tried to change something about their life knows how hard real change can be. All of our low-income participants of Circles have the same challenges with change.

Given the difficulty of change and life transformation, I hope all who read this report can appreciate the effort and the value of these accomplishments.

This is the briefest of summaries, followed by more details for each of their stories: Giles got a job and is providing for his family, Charlene got a job despite her felony history, Will got a job, Maggie got a job, Nicole entered her GED program, and Mary got registered for her GED program.

During the month of December, Giles finally got a job and is now working at Burger King. He is so excited to be providing for his family even though they will still struggle with such a meager income. Fortunately, a special Christmas gift provided a bus pass for the month of January, so Giles didn't have to walk the mile to and from work. I hear that his managers really like him and his pleasant, hard-working personality. Giles comes from a family who spent a great deal of time and money on alchohol. For a long time, he fell into that pattern too, but in the last year he has decided that is not part of who he is. He has become the one in the family who reminds his significant other to stick to their budget.

Charlene is a recovering addict, a participant of Circles since Feb. 1 last year, who was dispairing of ever getting a job due to a previous felony. WIth the natural supports provided by Circles, and the support she receives from those who help her with her sobriety, she has begun to dream of working again. Last week, she called a previous employer who had written on her file, "Would hire again". After finishing a competency test, she was hired and began work the next day. Due to funding from several foundations earmarked for transportation and other barriers to self-sufficiency, we were able to provide Charlene with a bus pass and scrubs so she could get to work and have appropriate clothing to do so. She is so delighted to be working!

Will and Maggie just had their intake interviews with us about two weeks ago. Both have already interviewed and received new jobs. Nicole is excited about her good marks in her GED classes, even though she gets tired of the loads of homework required. Nicole does not know yet what her end goal for education is. Mary is a young mom who comes from a family of addicts. She is the first one in her family to break out of addiction. Despite her busy mommy schedule, she has found time to get registered for her GED classes. Mary has dreams of becoming a nurse.

These are just the major changes happening in people's lives due to your dollars. The more subtle changes, like the rebirth of hope, occur regularly even though they are harder to measure in visible ways.

Thanks for being a part of helping people move from poverty to self-sufficiency! Together we can make a difference!

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