Concluding My Directorship, Continuing Our Relationships

Below is Jamie’s letter to the Circles community. A message from our board about the executive director transition is posted here.

In the past four years, I’ve discovered many things to love about Circles USA. But what I appreciate most about Circles is that everyone involved is encouraged to grow.

When I launched 2022 with the “waves of change” metaphor, I didn’t know that a surprise job offer would change my direction. It has been such an honor to be your executive director, and I thank you for this experience. Circles has made me a stronger leader, now ready to swim into the open waters of a challenging new role. Even though I’m resigning as executive director, I look forward to continuing my relationships with friends and colleagues in the Circles network.

Relationships are at the heart of the Circles model – and relationships have animated my experience in this network.

Many don’t know this, but I came to Circles by way of a chance encounter. At a comedy club in Albuquerque, NM, I sat down next to then board chair Vince Gonzales who introduced me to Circles. It felt like serendipity, as I had previously been an assistant director of a national network with 100+ affiliates. With a background in arts and storytelling, I immediately loved Circles USA’s attention to changing the narrative of poverty. This is the power of social capital: at Circles, a chance encounter can positively change your life.

My approach to being an executive director was to listen and learn from those doing the work. The strength of relationships among staff and board is foundational to our success. The 2021 Impact Report documents the progress we’ve made together. Executive directors need allies too, and these staff and board members have been some of mine: 

  • Gena Atcher takes such good care of our team and community as national membership coordinator. I relied on her 16-year institutional history and meticulous attention to budget.
  • Courtney Cowan approaches data collection and analysis in brilliant ways as our information systems and design manager. I was often so impressed by the technical solutions she discovered. 
  • Kamatara Johnson convenes our community of practice with such enthusiasm as chief learning officer. I appreciate the graceful way she promotes belonging as a facilitator. 
  • Chris Tinney draws on many eclectic experiences as our sales ambassador. I enjoyed his creative ideas for marketing and social media.
  • Scott Miller promotes an ambitious vision for scaling-up the work of chapters as our founder and now an active consultant. I admire his ability to dream big and turn what was dreamed into reality. 
  • Joan Kuriansky leads with fierce conviction as our board chair. I was emboldened by her commitment to race equity and civic engagement.
  • Jim Masters offers sage advice as our board treasurer. I am grateful for his decades of service to this organization.
  • Jennifer Pelling accelerates change as a board member and programmatic partner. I followed her strategic insights and visionary plans that brought Circles USA to new heights.
  • Christy Vines expands our compassion as a board member and programmatic partner. I am thrilled about our collaboration with Ideos Institute to promote empathy-based dialogues at Circles chapters.

When it comes to building social capital, relationships multiply our capacity. During my tenure at Circles, we forged partnerships with peer organizations to address issues that we alone could not tackle. After many years working on the cliff effect, we connected with the groundbreaking work of Leap Fund and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. To expand our research capacity, we created a new survey for our volunteers, thanks to SPARQ at Stanford University. To lift up first-voice stories, we are creating documentary shorts about our chapters with the Tsuha Foundation and People People Media Foundation. These partnerships and many others have been a game-changer. 

Looking back at the past four years, some of the moments I treasure most were spent in community with Circles chapters. The spaghetti dinner at the weekly meeting of Circles Greenville County, SC as part of our 2019 in-person conference. The pilot of Bread for the World’s Racial Wealth Gap Simulation with Circles Central Florida in February 2020. The jam-packed virtual “Breakthrough” Conference that replenished our spirits in April 2021. And I will always remember my Zoom conversations in December 2021 with former Circle Leaders Khyle, Deb, and Patricia. Whether in-person or virtual, social capital is created in community – and it is joyful! 

As I think about the future for Circles, these questions come to mind. I’m excited that this community will continue to collectively pursue the answers:

  • How can we take the power of social capital to a new scale, increasing the number of Circles participants that achieve stability through this initiative?
  • How can trauma-informed practices continue to inform our approaches to working together? 
  • How will relationships between board members and chapters drive the direction of Circles USA?   
  • How can connections with workforce development professionals help Circles participants find quality jobs in the post-pandemic economy?
  • How can our “Big View” teams cooperatively tackle even more systemic barriers to poverty alleviation? 

Two personal relationships bookend my time at Circles USA. It was a romantic relationship that swept me from Albuquerque to be near my partner Abby in the San Francisco Bay Area. During the pandemic, this love was a major source of my strength. And it was a friend of 20 years who recently made the surprise job offer for me to join his consulting firm, Grains of Salt, that supports mission-driven organizations in cities across the West Coast. To begin making a difference in my own local community will feel meaningful. 

Relationships help us expand what we think is possible for our lives. With gratitude, I conclude my directorship at Circles to embrace the thriving life that Circles made possible for me. Please do keep in touch via LinkedIn or I will remain a proud member of the Circles network, cheering on your successes for many years to come!


Yours in community,
Jamie Haft