Description: Circles™ is an innovative model based on a body of research suggesting that in order for individuals with low income to improve their situation, they must have bonding social capital within the community, bridging social capital to access the resources contained by higher income networks, and linking social capital that connects the first two with community institutions. In Circles, low-income individuals receive support from community volunteers, increase their ability to access community resources and opportunities, and develop hope for the future. First, bonding social capital is created through peer relationships with other participants. This occurs primarily through required weekly meetings and leadership tasks the participants share. Second, bridging social capital is created through the relationships across class lines that are contained within Circles, where each participant is mentored by at least three middle or upper income community volunteers called “allies”. Third, linkage social capital to institutions is created through the involvement of human service agencies, educational institutions, faith communities, and businesses in the Circles initiative. Circles is initiated by a lead organization, such as a VA facility, community action agency, or faith community. The lead organization facilitates the engagement of other human service organizations, faith communities, businesses, and community volunteers through the formation of a “Guiding Coalition” which is ultimately responsible for the ongoing operation of the initiative. One of the big advantages of Circles over other support programs for low income individuals is its systematic approach to leveraging other community resources which otherwise would not be directed towards alleviating poverty. Retention is a major problem with many programs for homeless and low income individuals. Circles directly addresses transportation, childcare, and other barriers to program participation and has very high retention rates compared to other programs.
Move participants completely out of poverty.
Increase the social support of participants.
Raise awareness in the community of barriers faced by low-income people.
Target Population:Low income individuals who are motivated to leave poverty. Circles is not appropriate for individuals with active substance-abuse problems or with unmanaged mental health disorders. It is most appropriate for individuals capable of employment and in need of additional social support.
General Populations: Pilot data from 236 participants found a 251% average increase in earned income (from $343/month to $863/month) at 12 to 20 months from initial involvement in Circles (Move the Mountain Leadership Center, 2007). Initial results of 33 participants in an independent national evaluation found an 88% increase in income (from $634/month to $1200/month) 6 months after completion of the initial Circles curriculum (Move the Mountain Leadership Center, 2010). Participants also reported an increase in social capital (from 4 friends “I can count on” to 9 friends “I can count on”).
Veteran Populations: Circles has not been studied with Veteran populations.
Best Practices: Move the Mountain Leadership Center (MTM, 2007) has identified eleven core components required for successful Circles initiatives.
The Leader of the lead organization or community coalition is committed to Circles™- there is a community champion.
A community coalition representing all sectors of the community is responsible for the Circles™ initiative
Low-income people are on the community coalition
The provided curriculum for participants is used as part of the orientation for participants to support individual plan development and identification of systemic issues
The provided curriculum for volunteers is used as part of the orientation for coalition members and volunteers
Participants are partnered with 2-5 volunteers
Weekly meetings occur with meal, child care, and program
Meetings occur monthly to address systems change
Trained individuals provide case management support to participants and volunteers
Community organizing is a supported function of the initiative (through paid or volunteer positions)
Community demonstrates fidelity to the model and participates in evaluation of Circles™ initiative following national protocol
Training and Implementation: Move the Mountain Leadership Center provides training and support for organizations interested in implementing Circles including:
Two site visits to provide training, orientation, and to help bring together stakeholders
Hands-On Training (four day immersion at experienced Circles™ site) for 2 people
25 copies of Until it’s Gone…an introduction to the Circles Campaign
Monthly coaching for Circles staff and key coalition members
Participation in national evaluation
Two registrations to the annual Circles conference
Membership to Circles™ Community of Practice and web access to Circles™ Forum and up-to-date Circles™ materials from around the country.
Inclusion in media campaigns and use of promotional videos which can be customized for your local community.
Special Considerations: The Circles model holds great promise in forming community partnerships to meet the substantial needs of low income Veterans, particularly social support needs which are often not addressed by traditional homeless programs. Circle programs have been primarily initiated by community action programs to meet the needs of a general low income population. Careful consideration would need to be given to adapting this program for a Veteran population and also for a population that is transitioning from homelessness.
Circles relies primarily on non-professional, community volunteers supported by a professional case manager. The program is, therefore, not appropriate for individuals with active substance-abuse problems or with unmanaged mental health disorders. It is most appropriate for individuals capable of employment and in need of additional social support.
Madson, M., & Campbell, T. (2006). Measures of fidelity in motivational enhancement: a systematic review. Journal Of Substance Abuse Treatment, 31(1), 67-73.
Modified Therapeutic Communities
Protocol to Improve Clinical Practice
Kressel, D., Morgen, K., De Leon, G., Bunt, G., & Muehlbach, B. (2009, Spr). A protocol to improve clinical practice (PICP) in therapeutic community treatment. Therapeutic Communities, 30(1), 6-22.
Participant and observer rating forms
Group Environment Scale
Roberts, L. J. (1985). Measures of Self-Help Group Quality: Observer and Participant Views. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (93rd, Los Angeles, CA, August 23-27, 1985).
Moos, R. (2008). How and why twelve-step self-help groups are effective. Research on Alcoholics Anonymous and spirituality in addiction recovery (pp. 393-412). New York, NY US: Springer Science + Business Media.
Moos R. Group Environment Scale Manual, 3rd edn. Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden; 2004.
Bond, G. R., Becker, D. R., Drake, R. E., & Vogler, K. M. (1997). A fidelity scale for the Individual Placement and Support model of supported employment. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 40, 265-284.
Gozu, A., Bass, E., Powe, N., Cooper, L., Beach, M., Price, E., et al. (2007). Self-Administered Instruments to Measure Cultural Competence of Health Professionals: A Systematic Review. Teaching & Learning in Medicine, 19(2), 180-190.
Appendix E – Sample Project Insight Form
Note: you might also generate discussion among staff using these questions at a program
staff meeting or other group venue. Name of Program or Intervention Activity:
(e.g., program session, group meeting, program activities)
Staff person(s) completing this form:
Please list the factors that were BARRIERS to implementation of this program or
Please list the factors that FACILITATED implementation of this program or activity: