Circles Campaign seeking volunteers

PARKERSBURG – The Circles Campaign of the Mid-Ohio Valley is looking for volunteers who would like to partner with families trying to work their way out of poverty.

The ally’s role, after training, is to befriend the family and lend support. The family is the circle leader, setting direction for activities. With the help and friendship of their allies, each family sets and achieves goals unique to their own needs, said John Ruehl, local coordinator.

“Rather than targeting a surface need of at-risk communities such as housing or food provision, circles seeks to expand social capital by fostering relationships across racial and economic lines. The initiative engages the community as a whole and encourages growth from people of all financial classes. Circles is designed to assist families in creating their own personal paths out of poverty while at the same time expanding opportunities, connections and eliminating barriers in the community that make it difficult for families to thrive,” Ruehl said.

The one-day volunteer training will be 9 a.m.-noon Jan. 26 at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, 903 Charles St.

“Participation in allies 101 (training) doesn’t represent a person’s signature for eternal commitment to being an ally. What it does do is allow folks to find out more about what an ally does and how this piece of the circles initiative plays an integral role in the future success of people trying to break the cycle of poverty,” Ruehl said. The ally has three primary goals: build an intentional friendship that is friendly, safe, and supportive with a family in poverty and join them in their quest to increase their resources; be willing to look at your own stereotypes and class rules and how they affect your relationships with people from different economic backgrounds and to use the experience of friendship with a family in poverty to advocate within the community for changes in the systemic barriers that keep poverty in place.

Volunteers need to be 18 or over and willing to undergo a background check. Allies commit to a minimum of six hours a month. Those interested in signing up for the ally training class should contact Ruehl at 304-917-4625, 1-386-747-1344 or by email John.Ruehl@Gmail.com.

“We have weekly meetings they can be involved with, and they also have the option of getting involved with the board of directors if they wish. There are free meals and free child care services available for those attending the weekly meetings,” Ruehl said. Ruehl said 15 volunteers are needed to serve as allies.

“We would match up the personalities and gifts they have with the families to assure compatibility. Just because you go through the training, doesn’t necessarily mean they will be matched with a family right away. We want the matches to be fruitful for both parties,” Ruehl said. After the allies training, there is Bridges training. The ally training is three hours. The Bridges training is a three-hour session. “The bridges training exposes people to the typical barriers those in poverty face,” Ruehl said.

Those wishing to learn more about the program can attend a weekly meeting that are held from 6-8 p.m. Thursdays at Stephenson United Methodist Church.

The local program, which is part of a national organization, has the goal of eradicating poverty one family at a time. Move the Mountain Leadership Center launched the Circles Campaign in January 2007. The program grew out of a 10-year effort that began as a discussion group between welfare recipients and social workers. Early results demonstrate for every $1 spent on the program, $2 in welfare and food stamp subsidies were returned to the state, and $4 to the community as new earned income, according to campaign officials.

The national campaign has 70 member communities across 24 states. The mission of the campaign is to empower people from every economic class to solve poverty in their communities through individual transformation and community change.

The program kicked off here in September with the first group of five circle leaders beginning their training. Those participants graduated earlier this month. Circle families are generally referred through area social service agencies, churches and other organizations. After they are paired with volunteer allies from the community they remain in the program for 18 months.