Category Archives: Circles in Action

Reducing Poverty in Your Community by 10%: A Tipping Point

Ending poverty is the clear-cut mission of Circles USA, but many people feel it’s impossible. However, Circles has two decades of evidence that with support, people can leave poverty behind. So, how do we get to numbers that show a distinct reduction in poverty across a community, a state, or the nation? How do we reach a “tipping point”?

That’s part of the Circles strategy to bring together community resources and help to formulate a plan to reduce a community’s poverty rate by at least 10%. By demonstrating that a 10% reduction of poverty can be achieved, we believe that tipping point will occur, creating the momentum needed to not only reduce poverty, but to someday end it altogether.

What’s a Tipping Point?  

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of a tipping point in his 2000 book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Gladwell described it as a pivotal shift in popular opinion: “a magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” 

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame,” said Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer.

Inspired by this evidence that, as anthropologist Margaret Mead suggested, “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” Circles USA engages with communities committed to reducing poverty in their geographic footprint by at least 10%. 

How does Circles USA support communities to reduce poverty by 10%? 

Together, Circles USA and participating communities navigate four major stages of development:

ASSESSMENT—Asking questions: “Are we committed to the work of ending poverty in our community? Do we have the leadership and resources to start a Circles chapter? Are we open to supporting all community members to thrive?”

CIRCLES IN THE MAKING—Getting started: If your community is ready and willing to start Circles, you will enter into a planning agreement with Circles USA to lay the foundation for how a Circles chapter will outpicture in your area. With training and personalized design support, the community collaboration is crafted to support a Circles chapter.

CIRCLES DEMONSTRATION—Taking action: You are now implementing Circles to support families out of poverty, building intentional relationships, and impacting your community as people are not only moving from surviving to thriving but also finding their voice to become advocates for important changes. 

SCALE TO A TIPPING POINT—Moving forward: Your Circles chapter is getting results and you can see the potential of growing Circles into more locations in your community to have a greater impact.


Circles USA Chief Learning Officer, Kamatara Johnson

The Circles model combines direct services for families experiencing poverty with bold systemic change. For more about our results, please see our latest Impact Report.

The time has come to intentionally pursue the end of poverty in our nation, in our lifetime!

Contact me to learn more: kamatara@circlesusa.org


© 2022

Lives Transformed Volume 3: Part 3 Patricia Zepeda

Our latest installment of Lives Transformed features three different, but equally inspiring, Circle Leaders from across the United States and Canada—all winners of our 2021 Impact Award. The Circles curriculum supports each person’s efforts to “break through” and expand what they think is possible: for themself, their family, and their community. As Circle Leaders reach milestones in their journeys toward financial stability, we document their achievements to highlight joy and hope as valuable tools in combating poverty.


“All my well-being now, I got it from people in Circles. It’s perseverance and trust.”

—Patricia Zepeda, Circles Canada, Simcoe County, Ontario


I grew up with my grandparents in El Salvador. When I was 18, my life took a drastic turn when I stayed with my girlfriend’s family overnight, against my father’s wishes. Then all the changes happened in my life because my children’s father didn’t allow me to do anything. I later had three children by my girlfriend’s brother. He was a very abusive person. I escaped El Salvador with my three young children in 1990. We left our home country and went through Mexico and the United States with only the clothes we were wearing. I left everything I knew for the dream of things to come. 

By 2018, I had been living in Canada for 25 years. My life was not good when I came here; I was using Ontario Works (social assistance), facing depression and anxiety, and I couldn’t make financial ends meet. I met a Circles staff member, Vicki Hannan, when I was taking classes at the local library—any course that was free, I’d take it! So when Vicki called and explained the Circles model to me, I said, “okay.” 

I was like a zombie when I started Circles classes. I didn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas. I didn’t have the education I needed. When you’re experiencing poverty, you’re ashamed. You lack a lot of things that can get you ahead in life. Then the universe opened up for me. My angels came. Little by little I started to feel more at ease with everyone there, and I began to understand: I have to get up and do something for my life. Circles helped me see why I was struggling, the trauma that I carry from my past.

In Circles, we go and work in the garden, we celebrate things. A lot of us get jobs. I went back to school for additional English classes and then graduated as a Personal Support Worker; now I’m employed through the County of Simcoe and I’m doing something that I love to do—working with the elderly in hospitals and in hospice. And I was able to realize the goal of purchasing my car! 

I open up to my Ally, Simone Latham, about everything, and she’ll listen to me. We have fun, we spend time outdoors in the snow. And she’s always there—our partnership is made in heaven.

All my well-being now, I got it from people in Circles. It’s perseverance and trust. We come with different problems in life; but in Circles, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got you. We’re gonna be patient with you. There is nothing in this life if we aren’t together, if we’re not giving a little bit of love to each other.