Circles of Troup County is a high-impact approach to address poverty. The nationally recognized program combines best practices in several disciplines including community organizing, case management, SMART goal setting, financial literacy, peer-to-peer counseling and learning, and child/youth development.
Circles is designed to help people in generational poverty move to self-sufficiency. Participants in Circles must apply and go through an interview process. Participants who are accepted attend a 12-week class that includes a wide variety of concepts including goal setting, financial literacy, “hidden rules” of economic class and more. Once completed, participants graduate and are each matched with two to four middle class volunteers who commit to working with them to reach their goals. Participants are the “Circle Leaders” of this small group, the volunteers are “Allies”.
The group continues to meet weekly on Thursdays, where other volunteers provide a free meal and free childcare. The weekly classes include education, meetings among the “matched circles” and Circles planning sessions. Visitors are welcome to attend the first and fourth Thursday meetings of each month.
The fourth Thursday of every month is the Big View meeting. This meeting is open to the public. While Circles works to help individual families move to self-sufficiency, the group also works to give back to the community by offering its unique mix of community leaders and people who understand the complexities of poverty (because they have lived in it) and addressing barriers in our community that keep people in poverty. The group has spoken out on issues such as predatory lending and is currently working to address the issue of a lack of felony forgiveness for most of the jobs in Troup County.
In June 2007, leaders in Troup County began a strategic planning initiative to develop strategies for promoting a healthy and thriving community. Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development conducted research, assessments and strategy development in support of this initiative. Once completed, the leadership team created a nonprofit corporation to act as the leading resource for implementing the strategic plan. The first issue they tackled was workforce development; the second issue was poverty. The board researched multiple options and chose to bring a national program called Circles USA to Troup County.
Circles of Troup County began in July 2012. Sherri Brown was named director and began immediately working with a team of volunteers to set the strategies and direction of the local group. The first class began in November, 2012 with seven participants graduating in February, 2013. They were matched with 20 volunteers who work with them to help them reach their goals to move to self-sufficiency. Circles of Troup County is now beginning its sixth class of participants and opening a second site in West Point during the summer of 2016.