Program initiated to lead others out of poverty

Saturday, January 17, 2015
Loretta George/Tribune Heather Morgan, Project 17 executive director, standing left, leads a meeting Thursday to organize Circles, a program that will match an individual in poverty with a mentor. Several community members attended to learn about the program that is designed to lead people out of poverty.

As a result of a discussion on poverty held during the Gordon Parks Celebration in October, a new program is being organized to help bring people out of poverty.

On Thursday, about 25 people attended a meeting to develop the Circles program in Bourbon County through Project 17, a regional economic development project. Heather Morgan, Project 17 executive director, facilitated the meeting.

"We have four pillars: health, economic development, leadership, then education and workforce," Morgan said.

While the Circles program works to break the cycle of generational poverty, it also is considered a workforce development tool, Morgan said.

Circles USA approached Project 17 to be a Circles Innovation site with the goal of getting 10 percent of the region's children in poverty, out of poverty in 10 years, according to information Morgan presented during a recent Bourbon County Commissioners meeting.

Circles matches an upper or middle class person with someone in poverty to help them build social capital, build employability traits and develop skills to get out of poverty. It's a partnership with faith communities and the community at large.

How Circles works

In the program, there are three groups that work together -- leaders, allies and volunteers.

To qualify for being a Circle Leader one has to be in poverty, not in a crisis situation, mentally stable, free from substance abuse and motivated to change.

"It's important that they be motived to change, no one can be court ordered to attend," Morgan said.

The program will provide training for 18 leaders, who complete a two-week training that includes workforce and soft skills curricula to teach them how to successfully function in the workforce. After the training the Circle leader is encouraged to be matched with two mentors, called allies, creating a circle.

Circle Leaders meet once every week for 18 months. Allies are required to attend the weekly meetings once a month, but many attend more.

Allies are people who are financially stable and mentally sound.

The information provided by Morgan suggested mentors can be retired people, business people, church members or anyone who desires to make a difference in the life of another person.

Allies go through a few hours of training and education to help them dispel common myths about people in poverty, then help their Circle Leader work toward some goals.

"Allies will be helping people navigate systems," Morgan said.

The measure of success for the program is that Circle Leaders attend 10 of the 12-week classes. In addition, Morgan said, there must be progress on the plans the Circle Leaders make.

For completing the program, there will be gift cards, she said.

Volunteers needed

Besides recruiting leaders and allies, the group also hopes to get several volunteers involved.

There are many roles volunteers can take in the program, including teaching the 12-week program, providing meals or daycare at each meeting. Some have already jumped on board.

"I spoke at the poverty forum at the Gordon Parks Museum in October," said Heather Morgan told The Tribune. "Craig Campbell and the Tuckers (Jean and Don) approached me then. The Tuckers volunteered to go to the Circles training."

The Tuckers currently help facilitate Feeding Families in His Name, a weekly meal provided to the community at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Scott.

"Jean and Don Tucker were able to go training in Ottawa. That's required to start Circles," Morgan said.

Because Feeding Families In His Name is already in place, it could provide meals for the weekly meetings. Other civic and church groups could help by donating time in the kitchen or providing a meal, according to information provided by Morgan.

One issue to be resolved is childcare during the weekly meetings, Campbell said.

"I don't have childcare people. I have child care rooms," Jean Tucker said, referring to the First United Methodist Church.

Morgan said childcare providers would have to be trained.

"We at least need the lead caregiver to have taken the safe caregiver course," attendee Janet Braun said.

Tim Woodring and Billie Jo Drake volunteered to coordinate childcare, but volunteers are needed to assist with the service.

Sport teams, national honor societies, student council, sororities, Sunday school groups and clubs are all sources of childcare, according to information provided by Morgan.

Allen Schlleck, representing My Father's House Community Services, volunteered the non-profit to assist in the referral process for the Circles program.

Other volunteers are needed to recruit participants, develop a sustainable funding plan, plan programs and address barriers to success in the program.

After a Circles organizational meeting in December, the City of Fort Scott volunteered to pay Circles' $4,500 licensing fee for the first year, Morgan said.

"As a city we are excited about this program" Fort Scott City Manager Dave Martin said Thursday. "We can make a big impact to change peoples lives for the better."

The group agreed to start the program on Wednesday, April 1.

For more information

The next meeting is scheduled for noon Feb. 5 at Papa Don's Restaurant, 10 N. Main St.

Anyone interested in volunteering, serving as an ally or leader -- or would like to refer a leader -- is encouraged to contact the group by email: or call My Father's House at (620) 223-2212. My Father's House is open from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.