PARKERSBURG - Helping people out of poverty by focusing on their goals and dreams is the point of the Circles Poverty initiative, which kicked off Thursday evening with a meeting at Stephenson United Methodist Church.
The Rev. John Ruehl, part-time pastor of Beulah Humble Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth and Circles Campaign of the Mid-Ohio Valley coordinator, became interested in the program after learning about it from a local pastor who was leaving the area to work with the organization in another state.
Ruehl said after he and his wife graduated from seminary she had a job here but he was still seeking employment.
The Rev. Dina Andrews, director, spoke to supporters at the kickoff of the Circles Campaign of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
"I talked with the associate pastor she was replacing and heard what Circles was," he said. "I asked her if it had started here and she said no."
The Circles Campaign is a program committed to ending poverty through education and forming relationships across economic boundaries.
Ruehl said he was put in touch with the Rev. Dina Andrews, director, who was working to get the program started locally. Andrews said she first heard of Circles two years ago and was contacted by Ruehl after he heard about it and they decided to work together.
"It's been a real collaboration with many people; it has been a community effort," she said. "We are here to celebrate all the people that have come together to make this possible - individual churches, individuals and other organizations."
Andrews said while the initiative works with churches and may often meet in churches, it is not a faith-based program. She said Circles brings many parts of the community together to help people change their lives.
"We bring together different income classes to have a better understanding of people in poverty," she said. "There are different world views from those who are in poverty and those who are not so it helps people understand each others perspective."
The first classes in the 12-week program will begin Sept. 20 with five families to start that have been referred by social organizations or churches, she said. They will meet at Stephenson United Methodist Church in Parkersburg on Thursday evenings.
Ruehl said the "allies" from the middle and upper classes will enter the program after the initial 12-week program is completed. The next classes in the program will begin sometime after the New Year.
Since the word has gotten out about the initiative, he said, there have been many questions and growth in support.
"There is more support and it has gained steam as we've gone along," he said. "There are a lot of questions as to how is Circles different from what is already here and why would someone in poverty want to become involved."
Ruehl said Circles differs in that it looks to build relationships or social capital.
There is training for people in poverty and training for people who will be their allies to help them reach their goals. The allies are similar to mentors in that they will help the individuals meet their goals.
The allies will hold the persons accountable in reaching the goals they write in their training, Ruehl said.
"They are matched as a kind of friend with another friend to help them toward their goals," he said.