Community Action Agencies employ a variety of programs to help low-income people achieve self-sufficiency. At Akron Summit Community Action one successful program that they utilize is Circles. The Circles philosophy believes that responsibility for both poverty and prosperity rests not only in the hands of individuals, but also with societies, institutions and communities. As such, Circles inspires and equips families and communities to resolve poverty by connecting people who are motivated to move out of poverty and become self-sufficient (known as Circle Leaders) with economically-stable volunteers from the community (known as Allies) who are committed to offering assistance to Circle Leaders.

One Circle Leader and two Allies are matched, forming an intentional friendship of support. With the help of their Allies, Circle Leaders set and achieve goals unique to their individual needs and learn from one another, while also having the opportunity to work together to address barriers within the community.  Following is a letter from Circle Leader Mary Ann Mills, telling how the Circles initiative has and continues to impact her life as she works towards self-sufficiency:

I am tremendously grateful to the Circles community for being a support system for myself and my daughter and feel it is important to make everyone aware that the staff’s hard work at Akron Summit Community Action. Inc. is not in vain.  
When I came to the Circles community I was living in extreme poverty, unemployed, and discouraged about the direction in which my life was going.  I had just graduated from the “Getting Ahead” classes (offered at Akron Summit Community Action) and had developed goals that I felt would push my life forward in the right direction.  
The Circles staff has been extremely supportive of me.  I do not drive and the city bus stops running in my area in the early evening, so the Circles staff arranged for me to ride home with an “Ally” after the meetings so I could participate in the program. They have been encouraging, genuinely concerned, and always there to build my confidence whenever I am embarking on a new task or goal.  They are always welcoming and inviting for me to turn to them with any concerns that I may have and if they do not have the answer they are always prompt to get the information I need. 
Circles has not only been an asset to me, but for my daughter Ariyanna as well.  She looks forward to coming to Circles each week.  She has had trouble with her academic performance in school and recently her grades have improved.  She receives a lot of encouragement from the Circles group to do well in school and I believe that has motivated her to do better.  Circles also helps to develop essential social skills for her by eating a meal at the meetings (we have a meal served each week) and learning to communicate around the dinner table with other people that she would not normally have the opportunity to outside of Circles.
My Allies as well as the other Allies in the program have also been helpful on my journey. I have recently received a job position as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.  I heard of the opening from an Ally who works for the Food Bank and my Allies worked with me to give me interviewing tips and helped to boost my confidence while completing the application and interview process.  I know it was because of the support of these individuals that I interviewed well and was able to land the position.
I have recently accepted the position of the Circles Guiding Coalition Co-Chair.  It was a great honor and it felt encouraging knowing that others in the Summit Bridges Out of Poverty community could see the potential in me as a leader.  I had no idea when I started this program that so many doors would open for me.  It is with great pride and gratitude that I am a member of Circles and I look forward to the day when I am in the position to be an Ally for someone else and help and support them the way that I have been supported.
Sincerely,
Mary Ann Mills
Akron Summit Community Action, Inc.
Circle Leader

Since the writing of this letter, Mary Ann has since gained new employment with Bridges Out of Poverty Summit County as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader, and as Mary Ann continues to break through barriers, she also recently obtained her driver’s license and purchased a vehicle.

For more information about Community Action programs in your area, visit www.oacaa.org. Note, not all Community Action Agencies offer these programs.

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