Anti-poverty group addresses Rotary Club

PARKERSBURG – A local program is seeking to bring people working to rise out of poverty with those who can help them along that path.

John Ruehl, coordinator of the Circles Campaign of the Mid-Ohio Valley, and Jean Phillips, a volunteer in the organization, spoke Monday to the Parkersburg Rotary Club about the one-year-old program.

Ruehl said the program’s approach to poverty is different from many other programs, which helps broaden the scope of efforts aimed at addressing community poverty.

“We work to build relationships between people who are in poverty and folks who are in middle and upper income, so that folks that are working their way out of poverty have the ability to expand their network of support into other economic brackets,” he said.

“It’s about poverty and giving people connections that they might not otherwise have,” Ruehl said.

The program graduated its first class of Circle leaders last September and the second class is currently underway, with the 12-week program ending this September.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support and a lot interest” in the program, Ruehl said. “People are still curious about what Circles is because this is the first site in the stat of West Virginia. It is in 21 other states and 173 other communities across the country and in Canada.”

The program is always seeking allies to work with the Circle leaders who graduate from the program, Ruehl said.

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, he 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 their own stereotypes and class rules and how they affect 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

“We’re focused on building social capital and we’re also focused on helping people understand different ways of thinking than they have before,” Ruehl said.

An informational meeting will be 6-8 p.m. June 27 at Stephenson United Methodist Church in Parkersburg about the program’s efforts and goals.

Ruehl said the program is also looking toward the future and other ways it might be able to help.

“We are in the very beginning stages of reaching out to the social service agencies and different sectors in Parkersburg to work toward creating a strategic plan of addressing poverty in the area. Knowing that there’s one already in place to address homelessness, we want to address folks who are the working poor as well,” he said.