To advance systemic change, each Circles chapter has a Resource Team called the “Big View Team.” It includes community members representing local government, schools, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and Circle Leaders, all of whom bring distinct perspectives. The Big View Team tackles issues such as affordable housing, childcare, transportation, healthcare, financial literacy, quality jobs, and the problem of the Cliff Effect — i.e., when rising wages cut off benefits, resulting in a net income loss.

This three-part series offers some impressive snapshots of current, past, and future Big View teamwork at the chapter level.

Poverty Simulations

By hosting poverty simulations, Circles chapters help organizations and communities more deeply understand the complexities of poverty, paving the way to address the issues for lasting change.

Circles Central Florida

Circles Central Florida occasionally hosts a Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) that moves participants beyond stereotypes to a more holistic understanding of the drivers and results of poverty. Many organizations and communities across the nation now use COPE to raise awareness of the lived reality of poverty.

COPE is a three-hour experiential, in-person event that accommodates up to 120 people per session. Participants (who role-play family relationships based on real family profiles gifted to COPE organizers) are challenged to negotiate typical scenarios and obstacles related to obtaining benefits, completing a public education, raising children, balancing budgets, and more. This poverty simulation is profound, as participants experience the intensity of living in poverty and feel a deep call to action by the end of the three hours. 

Circles Central Florida hosts COPE events in-person and virtually for any organization or community group. 

Learn more here.

Circles Ashland, VA

In October 2023, Circles Ashland partnered with New Hanover Presbyterian Church to host an interactive, simulated experience of living in poverty to foster empathy and understanding within the community. Participants had a rare opportunity to encounter the challenges faced by people working to overcome resource and time barriers to financial stability. In this simulation, they took on randomly assigned roles of family members or community representatives such as bankers, social service case workers, or police officers. This allowed them to step into others’ shoes and navigate the daily struggles of living on an extremely limited income.

An attendee said, “We had a fun, informative, and thought-provoking experience together this past Saturday with Circles of Ashland.”

Civic Engagement

Circles USA chapters from coast to coast lead a non-partisan push to grow civic engagement by getting people to the polls. The Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) Challenge invites participants to help register friends, educate others about early and mail-in voting options, dedicate weekly virtual meetings to reviewing a sample ballot, and more. The GOTV campaign inspires chapters to get involved in the election to build momentum for systemic change. Circles USA organizes numerous instructional webinars on topics including civic engagement 101, how to host a virtual forum with candidates for public office, how to facilitate voter education about local elections, the importance of the census, and how to promote voter turnout.

Circles Orange County, FL

The Office of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections offers the opportunity for nonprofit organizations to Adopt-A-Precinct for all elections. Volunteers give their time and the money goes to the nonprofit. Circles West Orange participated for the first time in 2022 in both the primary and general elections. This experience aligns seamlessly with our mission:  participants not only learn about our election system, but also build community relationships in the process. A huge thanks goes out to Sandi Wallace, Poll Clerk and head cheerleader for this event! Read more here.

Circles Northwest Arkansas (NWA)

Circles NWA held a “Make a Plan to Vote” live-streamed event in February 2024. This engaging evening of non-partisan information, planning, and pizza gathered over 100 people! Together, their chapter and community learned more about elected positions in the upcoming Arkansas primary election; did the research; and made their plans to vote. In addition, they created videos about the roles of Justice of the Peace, County Judge, City Council, and Prosecuting Attorney. 

Watch the event recording and informative videos on the chapter’s website.

Circles Johnson County, IN

Circles Johnson County held a Voter Forum at the Johnson County Museum of History in April 2024. This forum presented an opportunity for chapter and community members to meet the candidates and learn their platforms on mental health, housing, transportation, childcare, and other issues impacting families experiencing poverty.Circle Leader Alex spoke about housing costs in Johnson County; and Ally Bev spoke about childcare accessibility, sharing Circle Leader Ariel’s story on her behalf.

Cliff Effect

CUSA chapters and Big View Teams across the U.S. are tackling one of the most pressing obstacles for families working to escape poverty: the Cliff Effect. The Cliff Effect phenomenon occurs when a pay raise at work triggers a disproportionate loss of government assistance. Even a small raise can “push people off the cliff” when it comes to benefits. Suddenly ineligible for subsidized food, housing, healthcare, or childcare, the family is worse off than before receiving the raise.

Circles Northwest Arkansas

In October 2022, Circles NWA hosted an in-person learning event titled “The Cliff Effect: When Earning More Means Having Less.” Panelists at the live-streamed discussion included graduated, first-cohort NWA Circle Leaders with lived experience of the Cliff Effect. Educator, performer, fashion designer, organizer, and entrepreneur Jeremiah Pickett (known professionally as Baang) emceed the event. The City of Fayetteville proclaimed October 18 Cliff Effect Awareness Day. Watch the event recording and learn more here.

Circles Salt Lake, UT

Circles Salt Lake organized a hybrid panel in October 2022 to discuss the Cliff Effect. The talk was moderated by Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who also chairs the county’s Poverty Intergenerational Task Force. Participants were mainly single or separated parents who had seen their incomes rise from 0 to 90% or more of federal poverty guidelines in Circles. The group talked about the difficulties of navigating Medicaid’s website to calculate benefits thresholds, the frustration of turning down job promotions to maintain an unstable financial status quo, and how small income gains can result in even bigger losses. Read more about the event here.

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