Editor’s note: This is the last in a five-part series about the Circles Poverty Reduction Strategy and the participants whose life it is changing.
by Shawn Jeffords
Scott Miller isn’t a beach person.
The co-founder of the Circles Poverty Reduction Strategy spent his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife in Hawaii, a place he’d long wanted to visit.
“Towards the end of the trip I couldn’t wait to get back,” recalled Miller, who was in Sarnia for the official launch of Circles on Tuesday.
When he did, Miller and his wife helped a leader in their circle get a new vehicle, spending as much making the car roadworthy as they had on the vacation.
“There really was no comparison between the two things,” he said. “The vacation was gone, like vapour. That car donation just keeps giving and giving. It was great.”
That feeling has kept Miller plying his trade since the early ‘80s when he helped found Circles, now Lambton County’s poverty reduction program.
The Kent State business school graduate decided that instead of using his education to make money he’d use it to help others prosper. He and his wife moved to Ames, Iowa, in the early ‘90s to work with an innovative anti-poverty group, and Circles was born.
“In Ames, the community was in denial,” he said. “We had 8,000 households in poverty. Most people thought it was a few hundred. It was buried out of sight,” said Miller, now CEO of the Move the Mountain Foundation.
What Circles did was bring poverty into the light. The creators used a model borrowed from 12-Step programs — the ritual of a weekly meeting and a supportive, stable environment to build the program. It spread across the United States and Lambton County is now the first Canadian launch site.
Miller has had the chance to see the local operation up-close and believes its will success. He admits not every Circle’s program works; it depends on a variety factors.
Lambton has “skilled champions” who know how to network and stable funding from the county. They’ve followed the model created in Iowa and there is a “self-generated sense of urgency,” he said.
“You have some fabulous Circles leaders who really have great stories,” he said.
By having those in poverty pull themselves out there is a ripple effect in the community, with a greater sense of safety and more prosperous businesses, he said.
“Life in this county will never be the same."
How are they doing?
Readers have been asking how individuals profiled in the five-part Circles series concluding today have fared. Following is a rundown:
• Crystal Fach was featured in part one Thursday. She has been sober for more than three years and again has custody of her two sons. She has completed high school and begun work apprenticing as a hair stylist. Fach said she told her story to make the community aware of the dangers of drug abuse.
• Ed Wolsey Jr., featured in part three Monday. He is contemplating a return to college and continues to be an active member in his men’s group and church.
• Monique Rivers was featured in part four Tuesday. She is busy with the tenant group Parents Standing Together, which now has an associate members list that includes representatives from Crime Stoppers, the YMCA, the Lambton Kent District School board and Sarnia-Lambton Rebound.