Program links people not in poverty with those who are poor

Program links people not in poverty with those who are poor
December 10
00:00 2015
Photos by Todd Luck
Crishanna Cannon (center) talks about her new job during a sharing activity at the start of last week’s Circles meeting held at Green Street United Methodist Church.
By Todd Luck
The Chronicle

Circles Winston-Salem is working to help those living in poverty by connecting them with middle- class allies and working to address systemic issues.

Last year, Circles Winston-Salem started its first class of “Circle Leaders,” the term used for low- income individuals because they know the most about the barriers that keep them in poverty.  After 13 weeks of training, circle leaders are matched with middle-class allies, who support them and help them find ways to improve their situations. The local program, which operates out of the Shalom Project at Green Street United Methodist Church, is part of a nationwide Circles effort that began in 1992.

So far, 26 Circles Leaders have graduated from the Circles classes and are still in the 18-month program. Circles Coach Carol Wilson said that Circle Leaders are starting to find employment and raise their incomes. She said they’re starting to deal with the “cliff effect,” in which low- income individuals lose government benefits as their incomes rise.

“We’re doing what Circles does, which is address things as they arise and moving forward,” said Wilson.

Along with helping individuals, the program tries to identify the systemic issues they face and address them by mobilizing program participants and holding Big View meetings, which tries to get those outside the program to help. To address an issue some had with criminal records preventing them from getting employment, there was a criminal records expungement clinic held at Green Street Church that helped more than 70 people. There was also a big concern over the bus stop near the church being eliminated under new proposed Winston-Salem Transit Authority bus routes. Those in the program attended WSTA comment meetings and wrote letters on the issue. According to the WSTA, the proposed routes have been altered to now include service to Green Street Church.

Crishanna Cannon is 21 years old and has been in the program since February. She’s been working two to four low-wage jobs  for the last few years, along with raising her 16 month-old daughter. She said she’s formed a bond with her two allies, who are helping motivate and support her. Cannon spoke at a Winston-Salem Women’s Fund luncheon last month about her experience with Circles.

“Circles has helped me a lot because I have become more motivated,” she told attendees. “I’m better at managing my money and have set goals for myself.”

Cannon said education has been a big barrier in getting a higher paying job and she plans to go back to Forsyth Technical Community College in January. She dropped out of after a semester while trying to work three jobs. She plans to major in Office Administration. She is also now starting a higher paying temp job.

Denise Terry began the program last year during a long stretch of employment after losing her job as a social worker. She said her two allies, along with giving her advice and referring her to resources, helped her deal with her depression and anger from being unable to find work despite having a master’s degree.

“They helped me get my attitude in check,” she said.

She’s now a part-time Circles Coordinator, recruiting allies and resources for the program, and is now starting her own business, selling pocketbooks and eventually costumes she makes herself.  She said that it’s a slow climb out of poverty as she’s had to pay off her past due bills, deferred taxes and other expenses that pilled up when she had no income.  She said being able to actually buy the things she needs feels good.

“I feel part of the world again,” she said.

People interested in being Circle allies can attend the weekly Circles meetings held Thursdays at Green Street Church, 639 South Green St. Dinner is served 6 p.m. and the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.


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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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