To refresh Circles USA’s vision for the future, we’ve been collecting stories from our members and partners. Here we share reflections written by Vince Gonzales.
How did you come to the work of poverty alleviation?
I grew up in a family who valued community service. When I became a member of the “over 50” club, I decided that it was time to give back to the community (Albuquerque, New Mexico) that had given me so much in regard to my professional IT career, raising two sons, and meeting the love of my life. My search for ways to accomplish this led to Circles. First, I volunteered to be Circles USA’s sole software developer for the Cliff Effect Planning Tool and then I was invited to join the Board of Directors.
Tell us about one moment that shaped your commitment to ending poverty.
In any volunteer work, I ask myself, “Am I making a difference? Are we making a difference?” In October 2017, I attended a strategy meeting in Grand Rapids, MI. When that meeting ended for the day, I stayed for the local Big View meeting. As attendees began showing up, my attention was drawn toward a mom and her three children: they walked in and lit up the room with their smiles and enthusiasm. They were introduced to me as a Circle Leader family. As I watched other folks arrive, I noticed a man in a suit stop in the doorway. Next thing, I hear a small voice, a child’s voice, from the other side of the room yelling, “You’re here! You’re here!” The eldest daughter, about ten years old, ran to the man in the doorway. When she reached him, she jumped into his open arms. This man was her family’s Circles Ally. With my eyes welling up and my heart overflowing with love, I exclaimed to myself, “This is the difference we can make. This is the difference I can make!”
What breaks your heart about poverty?
In March of 2011, I was in Washington D.C. with my wife’s family. As we toured the city on our way to Capitol Hill, we drove a few blocks from the White House. This vivid image is still in my memory: seeing homeless people living on the street with the White House clearly visible in the background. The War on Poverty was declared by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Fifty-five years later, and this is the scene only blocks from the home of our country’s leader; it’s heartbreaking.
What motivates you to continue seeking change?
Humans have a long history of coming up with ingenious ways to survive, such as vaccines for polio and smallpox. Humans have made amazing strides in technology to live “better” lives, from the steam engine to the iPhone. Now we must arrive at an understanding that our survival and desire for a better life depends on “We the People” for every human on this earth. The current political and social climates in our country will continue to raise everyone’s consciousness around how we rely on each other for health and wealth. In my lifetime, I hope to see a greater reduction of poverty for even more people.
How did you get involved with Circles USA?
Inspired by family values and my commitment to the youth in my community experiencing poverty, I began to investigate innovative ways to address poverty. I came across a book by CUSA Founder Scott Miller, The Circles Story, and I was intrigued immediately! The Circles model creates relationships between those experiencing poverty and those who are not. It offers a way to provide a loving “nudge” to someone who wants to work their way out of poverty but cannot see the opportunity or does not yet possess the skills to do so.
I met Scott in Albuquerque and he told me about some IT needs that Circles had at the time with its database and its concept for a Cliff Effect Planning Tool, and so I decided to offer my time, treasure, and talents. My IT work for Circles continued, but my heart wanted more. “I am not just an IT guy,” my heart said. I felt drawn to leadership, and that’s led to the position of Board Chair. I am excited to be serving at this level, along with my fellow board members and staff, to focus on eradicating the conditions of poverty.
What are you currently working on?
As Circles USA’s Board Chair, I’m designing plans to recruit future Board members. I care about expanding the Board to reflect those we serve and the people who volunteer their time toward our mission. This is work that must be approached carefully so as not to have “diversity for diversity’s sake” but rather to have diversity because it is the right thing to do. We are seeking those best suited to serve on the Board because of their passion, attitude, and aptitude for our mission.
What’s most meaningful to you about Circles?
Circles is about family and community. I like to remind my colleagues on the Board that we are people first: we share our New and Goods along with our not so goods, bringing our whole selves to the table. I am proud of how everyone involved in Circles collaborates. We build friendships between Circle Leaders working their way out of poverty and volunteer Allies. We also work at the legislative level, speaking to officials on both sides of the aisle. It’s inspiring to be focused on ending poverty and building thriving communities.
~ Vince Gonzales, Board Chair of Circles USA and IT Director of Perinatal Associates of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)