Central to the Circles® model is the principle that low income families, called Circle Leaders, set the direction for activities and actions which will result in their emergence from poverty.
Circles® community groups are comprised of up to 25 low income Circle Leaders that join together with middle/upper income Circle Allies, to gain support (bonding social capital) as well as connections to opportunity (bridging social capital).
Each Circles® community group begins with Circle Leader Training, using a curriculum designed to develop leadership skills. During the Circle Leader training, participants assess their current relationships, resources and reason or purpose for making the necessary changes to escape from poverty permanently. It is during this time that Allies are also attending training sessions that increase awareness of poverty issues within the families they will be matched with, as well as issues that affect the community as a whole. Both the Circle Leader and Ally Training curriculum teaches participants to better understand the “hidden rules” or “social norms” associated with class in the US as well as how to build a long-term vision for their future both individually as well as for the broader community.
Helping each family set and achieve goals unique to their own needs is the responsibility of Circle Allies, who are middle to upper income community volunteers. Leaders and Allies meet in small groups monthly (3-5 people) to build relationship, review goals, problem-solve barriers to getting out of poverty, such as improving self-sufficiency, expanding social networks, and enhancing academic performance of both children and parents.
Weekly Community Meetings gather Circle Leaders, Circle Allies, and other interested community members to provide support and networking opportunities. Big View Meetings are held once per month and feature a discussion of the causes of poverty in the community and how to remove systemic barriers that perpetuate poverty.