History of Circles®

History of Circles Nationally
Circles operates in communities around the country, with each initiative consisting of Circle Leaders working to get out of poverty, and several Volunteer Allies offering them friendship and support during this long transition.  Circles was founded by Scott Miller and developed by the nonprofit Move the Mountain Leadership Center.  Think Tank Inc. oversees all member Circles sights for Move the Mountain.  Circles was largely funded through the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Iowa Department of Human Services and the USHHS Office of Community Services.

Move the Mountain initiated Circles in Ames Iowa in 1995, and by 2004, Circles had been measured by Iowa State University to have a 2-1 return on welfare and food stamps assistance ($490,000 annual savings) and a 4-1 return on new earned income for 58 families ($960,000 new annual income).  From 2003-2007, Circles was transferred through the Community Action Network to communities in Minnesota, Idaho and Missouri.  Average income went up in all sites in the first 12-20 months, but the fidelity of the model was difficult to sustain.  Lessons learned were embedded in new training programs and coaching protocols.  

Rather than targeting a surface need of at risk communities such as housing or food provision, the National Circles Campaign sought to expand social capital by fostering relationships across racial and economic lines.  It fostered understanding, healthy communication, leadership and a drive to change the systems in place that keep people in poverty. Today, the National Circles Campaign continues to thrive, with 70 member communities across 24 states.  Think Tank Inc leads member sights for the National Campaign from their base in Dayton, Ohio.  
Effort in Dubuque
In 2007 a group of concerned citizens, community leaders and service providers met to develop a plan to eliminate poverty in the Dubuque community. These leaders understood poverty was not just about "having enough money" and recognized that ending poverty would require a shift in how we understand and think about class.  Circles was adopted in Dubuque after working with the Aha! Process' training called Bridges Out of Poverty.  This training provides people with the knowledge and community planning tools to address poverty and communicate across barriers.  The first Bridges Training was offered in 2008, and is now the required training for Dubuque Circles Ally Volunteers.  

In the summer of 2008, Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World, a curriculum for individuals trying to get out of poverty, was brought into Dubuque Circles.  The first Getting Ahead class, composed of 21 individuals from poverty, guided participants though an in-depth investigation of the impact of poverty in their lives and community.  It then exposed them to the tools needed to transition into sustainability.  Circles now offers one class of Getting Ahead every year, beginning in February, and ending in June with the Getting Ahead Graduation. 

These two complimentary components make the Dubuque Circles Initiative an effective tool for building community, inspiring change and tolerance, and creating systemic change.  In 2010 Dubuque Circles officially adopted its symbolic name and began actively matching volunteer Allies with Circle Leaders. 

The Circles Initiative understands and defines poverty as the extent to which a family does without resources. The need for a common language between the cultures of socio-economic class is essential to facilitate conversations in the community on the subject of decreasing poverty.