By Hannah Lester
Circles Opelika is empowering residents in the city to look at their finances and make concrete changes to improve their financial situations.
“Our goal is to get families to at least 200% of the federal poverty guideline,” said Regina Meadows, director of Circles Opelika
Circles is a national program that Opelika decided to embrace in the city, Meadows said. It was developed from the youth education and family task force, a group from the Envision Opelika Foundation.
The model for Opelika’s chapter, however, was based on Troup County’s existing organization, Meadows said.
Originally the group had trouble recruiting members.
“I think the problem was we were going out and we were saying ‘this is a poverty-prevention program’ or a ‘poverty-reduction program’ and poverty, I think the word ‘poverty’ itself was really deafening to people,” Meadows said. “Because everybody interprets poverty differently.”
So, instead of referring to the group with the word ‘poverty,’ Meadows said instead it was referred to with numbers.
“People don’t always associate themselves with that term,” she said. “… So, when you start talking numbers then it becomes more real because, ‘I can associate myself with a number vs. the term, because I don’t look like what I think poverty looks like.’”
The first group to attend, and graduate from, Circles Opelika included 17 women and one man.
One of the graduates, Valerie Canady, said she attended the program so she could learn more about it and recommend it to others.
However, upon taking it, she said she learned more about what poverty really means.
“I ended up getting blessed by understanding what poverty was all about,” Canady said. “My concept of poverty wasn’t what I thought it was.”
She said she is now a different person than she was before Circles Opelika.
An Average Meeting:
Every time participants come to a Circles meeting, a meal is provided. Not only that, but so is childcare.
After eating, group members participate in ‘New and Good,’ Meadows said.
“If you’re in a certain income and you’re working day-in, day-out, you just kind of get inundated with things you have to do,” she said. “And so you don’t really stop a lot of times and focus on some of the good things that are happening in your life … what has happened new? What has happened good? And we celebrate those new and good. And sometimes it can be something as simple as, ‘I made it to work on time.’”
Following ‘New and Good,’ is the actual Circles program. Many times this includes members in the community, such as a career center expert or a dietician.
Not every discussion is based solely around finance — eating healthy for instance, is included in the program.
“It’s a total-holistic approach,” Meadows said. “… It’s all relative. It’s really a behavioral change. We want you to think about your whole life.”
The program incorporates allies. Allies are those in the community who live above the federal poverty guideline who can help families below the guideline through the program.
The goal is to have people graduate from Circles and return as allies, Meadows said.
Barbara Griffin is a recent graduate of the Circles Opelika program who hopes to become an ally in the future.
“The program was more than helpful,” Griffin said. “I learned more in that program, I feel like, than I have my entire life.”
Canady has also returned as an ally.
“What do you have to lose,” she said. “Because where you are now, you’re just surviving. You want to embrace a lifestyle of thriving.”