It’s the social capital — and not as much the financial capital — that people need to find an end to poverty.
That was the message on Thursday night when organizers recruited Joplin area residents to get involved in Circles, a United Way program started recently in Joplin that is designed to help families out of poverty.
More than 200 Joplin area residents turned out at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to learn about the effort that already is under way for 15 families and volunteers teaming up with them.
In introducing the program, Jay St. Clair of College Heights Christian Church called local poverty “a disaster that existed long before the (May 2011) tornado.” He said the area’s response to the tornado provided evidence that “our community could tackle any challenge.”
The Circles program adopted by the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas has been started in 80 other communities and has “helped people cross that barrier out of poverty,” said Ryan Melton, director for the local Circles program.
He said those who have completed the 20-week program were able to increase their income and assets, reduce their reliance on welfare, and vastly increase the number of people they could call on in times of difficulty.
“You’re in poverty when you face a problem and don’t know who to call,” Melton said.
A start in building those connections already is under way for the first participants in the Joplin program. Introduced briefly during the event, they started eight weeks ago attending weekly classes where trained mentors help them develop personalized action plans. The purpose of Thursday’s program was to recruit support for the program, particularly “allies” who would team up with families as they work to complete their goals.
Other support is needed for the Circles coalition, along with financial support, Melton said.
“An ally isn’t there to fix someone, but to walk with them and share their life experiences,” Melton said. “We need community members willing to be allies for these families because we’ll start a new class in July. We also want those who have completed Circles to come back and be allies.”
Circles Joplin began in discussions by the Joplin Long-Term Recovery Committee about the “next steps” in recovery after the tornado. The group then met with members of a Circles program in Bartlesville, Okla.
MORE THAN 20 PERCENT of all Jasper County households live below the poverty line or do not earn enough to be financially self-sufficient, according to U.S. census data cited in a United Way report.