Category Archives: Leadership for Poverty Reduction

Poverty Reduction Leadership Series

2021 Network Awards: Outstanding Circle Leader– Circles Columbus, GA

A final 2021 award for outstanding Circle Leader goes to Circles Columbus, GA, Circle Leader Khyle Martin.

Khyle and his family were living in public housing when he saw a flier for Circles in the rental office. When Khyle began Circle Leader Training, he was not employed. He soon began an entry level job working in a call center, and today he is a business analyst. He achieved that goal in a little over two years. Khyle has graduated from Circles, yet he is still very connected to his Allies. “I love my Allies. I love them in my corner.”

“Circles is so different than anything else. It is such a family atmosphere. It is family oriented and was good for my kids, but it also feels like a family there. It gave me a new family. It was so helpful for my kids. They learned a lot and I really was glad they had positive people to know outside of school. I want them to learn more financial things. I wish I had had someone to teach me those things when I was their age and now I want to make sure they know.”

When asked to share his successes, Khyle lists moving from public housing, starting the process on home ownership, full-time employment, reliable transportation, having healthier personal relationships, and a wider skill base for parenting and navigating the world. Khyle says “to those considering joining Circles or funding Circles or volunteering with Circles – do it. This is a good thing. This is a life-changing program. It changes families. The education and the staff and the relationships are all life-changing.”

2021 Network Awards: Outstanding Circle Leader– Circles Troup County, GA

Another outstanding Circle Leader is from Circles Troup County, GA: Circle Leader Deb Brown. Deb came to Circles after hearing about it at work as a school bus driver. Here’s part of her story from this last year:

“One of the first things I learned in a Circles class was that I should spend 30% or less of my income on housing. At the time, my rent alone was 50% of my income. I started looking for something I could afford, but everything I found was dirty or not safe.

I knew eventually I wanted to buy a house, so Circles connected me to Brandon Brooks and he helped me figure out how to increase my credit score. I started paying off my credit cards and that was some work. I made a lot of changes like giving up my daily coffee. I get up at 4:30 a.m. for work and I really like my coffee, but I learned to make it at home and save that money.

Then COVID hit. I saved all my extra unemployment money toward the down payment and moving costs. When my lease was up, I stayed with my daughter for a month and saved that month of home bills.

Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without Holly, our Circles coach, saying ‘You can do this! You CAN do this!’

I had other things going on in my life, too. Circles connected me with a therapist who helped me become more mentally healthy so I could focus on what I wanted to do. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to move on.

This past summer I bought a house! I can afford it on my own salary, but my son is in school for a year and my daughter just moved back to LaGrange and they are both living with me. With them helping out, I’m only spending 16.5% of my income on housing.

Circles has connected me to so many people and so many resources. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s just encouragement – which is really big, too. I don’t have family here and I need support. It comes from Circles and a few close friends. Circles saved my life.”

Congratulations to Circles Troup County, GA and to Deb for her incredible perseverance and accomplishment.

2021 Network Awards: Outstanding Circle Leader– Circles Canada, Simcoe County

Congratulations to Circles Canada Simcoe County, Circle Leader Patricia Zepeda. Growing up in El Salvador, leaving an unfavorable relationship, and secretly escaping a war-torn country with three young children, aged 2, 4, and 6 was just the beginning of Patricia’s story.

Fast forward to 2018, Patricia had now been living in Canada for approximately 25 years with its share of challenges. She most recently found herself living in Midland, Ontario as a single person, facing mental health challenges, and in need of Ontario Works (social assistance) as she couldn’t make her financial ends meet.

Sometimes all it takes is one person, one referral, or one smiling face to change the trajectory of a person’s life.

Patricia visited the local library where she started her Circles journey. Their classes gave her a purpose to get up in the morning, a place to go where others were also planning their future story. She aimed for her new career with additional English classes and training to be a certified personal support worker to help the elderly.

Patricia is now employed with the county of Simcoe as a personal support worker caring for residents in a long-term care facility. She has also purchased a new vehicle and improved her living situation considerably. Patricia’s future story has become her now story, a Circle Leader success story!

2021 Network Awards: Outstanding Ally–Circles Troup County, GA

Another outstanding Ally is from Circles Troup County, GA Ally: Calvin Neely

From their coordinator, Sherri Brown, “Calvin Neely has been a Circles volunteer and Ally since we began. He has been an Ally for three families, but more than that, he’s been an Ally to the Circles community. Calvin spent most of his career in management, but several years ago retired from that and began his own business with Kona Ice.

His work has grown with several trucks, working at events, schools and fundraisers. In Circles, he uses his experience to help Circles Leaders prepare for job interviews and job success. He also has hired Circle Leaders who are getting back into the workforce. He has high expectations for all his employees, and all that have worked for him have gone on to successful permanent jobs.

He’s also compassionate. We had a Circles volunteer who is a kindergarten teacher ask for an adult to eat lunch with one of her students. It’s customary for students on their birthday to have a parent eat with them at a special table, but one student was going to be alone on her birthday. Calvin volunteered to have lunch with her and showed up in his Kona Ice shirt with bookmarks, magnets, and stickers for the birthday girl. It was a big deal because, as her teacher commented later, “In kindergarten, the Kona Ice man is equivalent to a rockstar.”

Two years ago, Calvin reached a breaking point with the exploitation he saw again and again in predatory lenders. He started researching on his own ways to combat the high interest loans that are often the only option for low-income families in our area. He found another Georgia organization that partnered with a financial institution to make low-interest secured loans to people who wanted to pay off their high interest loans. He called and got the details and was so impressed with what they did he loaded staff and volunteers in his car, drove them all 2.5 hours away to spend the day talking with leaders in this organization.

It took several months, but eventually Circles Troup County was fully approved by a local bank to make secured loans to our Circle Leaders. We purchased a CD at the bank, and are now able to take applications from our Circle Leaders to pay off their high interest loans (400% APR) at 3% interest. The bank will also report to credit agencies, improving credit scores for Circle Leaders. With Calvin’s tenacity, intellect and passion, we are now able to help Circle Leaders reduce debt quickly, increase credit scores, and make future financially sound decisions.

We think Calvin is not only a kindergarten rockstar, but also a Circles rockstar.”

Congratulations to Calvin Neely and Circles Troup County, GA.

2021 Network Awards: Outstanding Ally–Circles St. George, UT


Allies are essential to the success of the Circles model, intentionally supporting Circle Leaders on the journey from surviving to thriving. One pair of outstanding Allies comes from Circles St. George, Utah: Rona and Keith Hartz.

From their coordinator, Karen Todd, “They have gone above and beyond since they have been paired with Circle Leader, Adbby. Adbby is an inspiring young lady who moved from Mexico when she was 17 so she could finish her high school education here. When she graduated from high school, she got her first job and moved out on her own. She is now the legal guardian of her 15-year-old sister at the ripe old age of 25.

During quarantine, Rona and Keith have stayed in contact with Adbby by Zoom and text messages every week. She recently applied for a new job posted in our chapter newsletter, so Rona did mock interviewing with her and helped her become confident with her answers. She got the job and increased her pay by about $5.00 an hour. Adbby has said that without Circles and her great Allies, she would never have had the confidence to apply for a new job.

Adbby also had COVID in December, as well as her sister. She missed 20+ days of work because of contracting the virus and had no sick pay. She reached out to Rona and Keith, and together we brainstormed and found her rental assistance to get her through the month of December.

Rona and Keith have been outstanding Allies for their Circle Leader, modeling the perseverance and dedication the most successful Matched Circles have.”

Congratulations to Circles St. George, Rona, Keith, and of course to Adbby.

2021 Network Awards: Outstanding Children’s Program and Children’s Facilitator — Circles Washtenaw County, MI

Congratulations to Circles Washtenaw County in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for modeling a dynamic children’s program regardless of the obstacles quarantine put in their way.

From their program lead, Kaite Scott, “The Circles Washtenaw County Children’s Program is fortunate to have a group full of committed and engaged youth who show up, ready to engage with us! Our New & Good’s could go on forever with them. The relationships that our volunteers and teachers build with our children is really special. Even after being apart physically for months, we still have youth and volunteers committed to growing and learning with each other and checking in with one another week after week. Our youth are creative, thoughtful, unique citizens of our community and make our Circles program deeply enriched! I’m grateful to work with them daily and look forward to the many ways in which they continue to bring joy to our world.”

Circles USA also celebrates their children’s program facilitator: Najma Treadwell.

Najma teaches the elementary age class and always goes above and beyond expectations. She engages her kids with interactive lessons that apply the Circles themes to real life situations. During the theme of volunteerism, her class chose to help put away tables and chairs and clean up after the communal dinner. Then, she had her class discuss why it was important to serve their Circles community as well as the wider world.

During COVID, Najma has been creative as she engages with her class in a virtual setting. Together with her children at home, Najma has offered science demonstrations as well as utilized her oldest son, Jaheem’s, knowledge to help teach the younger children. Her class has shared their projects with the rest of the program, such as their vision boards and their homemade savings jars, inspiring all the youth to participate.

Najma’s dedication to Circles extends far beyond her class as well. She has facilitated classes for the Circles parents on setting up successful schedules for their children throughout the week as well as behavior management and strategies for difficult moments. Recently, Najma has also become a board member of their lead organization: Friends In Deed, taking her commitment to a whole new level.

Congratulations to Circles of Washtenaw County and Najma Treadwell.

2021 Network Awards: Best Data — Circles Green Bay, WI

Congratulations to Circles Green Bay for winning the 2021 Network Award for Best Data Award.

We all know that collecting data matters, to show progress and to tell the story, but doing that in reality is not always easy. Circles Green Bay has been a model of improvement when it comes to data, as their team worked to enhance their data collection methods and the accuracy of that data. They were also early adopters of the new data points Circles USA rolled out in 2020, measuring the growth of staff and volunteers. Their commitment to such data not only helps funders and community members see the value of this model, Circles Green Bay can also make data-driven decisions for the future.

The efforts of Circles Green Bay has paid off as their data tells the story of their Circle Leaders moving from surviving to thriving in 18 months. As shown above, their results over time show a consistent increase in Circle Leader income.

Congratulations to Circles Green Bay for showing great diligence and excellent results in data.

Q&A with Joan Kuriansky, Board Chair of Circles USA

Q&A with Joan Kuriansky, Board Chair of Circles USA

To refresh Circles USA’s vision for the future, we’ve been collecting stories from our members and partners. Here we share reflections from an interview with Joan Kuriansky, who became CUSA’s board chair in October 2020.

Tell us about one moment that shaped your commitment to ending poverty.

In my third year of college, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the social services department of a state mental institution.  I was struck by how little resources were available to either patients or social workers to increase the ability of patients to heal and fully return to their homes and communities. It was at this point that I decided to use the law to affect the circumstances of people’s lives rather than only deal with the consequences of such policies.

What motivates you to continue seeking change?

As my career progressed, the relationship between gender discrimination and poverty became clearer to me. I moved from D.C. to Philadelphia to run a large-scale shelter and legal center to serve battered women and children. We established the first domestic violence courts in the country as well as the first program to advocate on behalf of battered women in prison. No matter what their economic class beforehand, women were often destitute by the time they sought refuge for themselves and their children. Some women could not even leave the house without permission or have access to a credit card. The abusers exerted power and control in so many ways and usually with serious economic consequences.

After Philadelphia, I returned to DC where I served as executive director of The Older Women’s League. Because of economic inequities throughout their lifetime, older women were more likely to be poor and in poor health than men. As women aged, their options were limited in large part because they had not been compensated for the family caregiving they had done throughout their lives and women, who did work for pay, were often segregated in low-wage, dead-end work.

My last full-time position was as executive director of Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW). In the early 60’s, WOW was established in response to women being increasingly unwelcome in the workplace after World War II. Women of all class and education levels came to WOW for assistance in finding work. Over time WOW made a commitment to focus on low-income women with less access to education. WOW established the concept of non-traditional jobs in federal legislation, offered training for women to get apprenticeships as pathway to well-paid work, and, later, with partners across the country, launched a variety of programs to build a family’s economic security.

Given your impressive career, what reflections do you have about these issues today?

Today, happily women are represented in all kinds of jobs, whether in STEM, law or Wall Street. And I sometimes feel hopeful. But the statistics tell a different and old story. Women’s work is not valued as much as that of men. Jobs, primarily dominated by women, are the least well paid. It will take many years to close the gender equality pay gap. Those affected most are women from backgrounds with less access to education, inadequate housing and lack of affordable and adequate health care. A disproportionate number of these women are women of color. Today we hear the economic consequence of the “shecession” of the pandemic.

We must use our experience with COVID-19 to build strong and thriving communities in terms of public health and the economy with a commitment to address the social and historic inequities faced by so many. We can use the upcoming period to reset the norms of what is possible, fair and celebrate the voices of so many that have spoken out this year whether through the Poor People’s Campaign, Black Lives Matter, our own Circles Chapter leaders or so many others.

How did you get involved in CUSA?

I first learned about Circles when Scott reached out to WOW to explore a partnership. I served on the board of Circles during my tenure at WOW, and then Scott asked me to stay on the board. I continue to be so impressed by the work of the organization. The Circles multi-level approach is a recipe for success.

What do you find meaningful in CUSA’s work?

Our job is not to manage poverty but alleviate it; that is important. The Circles model is holistic. It’s about empowerment: the families are making their own decisions and plans, with community members providing resources. We are building partnerships, not paternalistic or unequal relationships.

I love how all participants and volunteers become advocates for change through the Big View. There’s been such creativity discovered at the local level to address access to healthcare, transportation, broadband, and other issues. Gloria Steinem writes “ordinary women do extraordinary things,” and that plays out in Circles every day.

How would you like to see CUSA grow?

I am excited by the possibility of Circles’ programs and outreach expanding to different populations and responding to the systemic and historic inequities laid bare during this period.  Are we using a gender or age lens? Are we considering the access to technology and transportation that rural or low-income families have or do not have? How do we build on the incredible strength and contributions made by so many people of color with so many different histories?

I envision communities that develop coordinated responses to lift families out of poverty that are centered on the experiences and wisdom or our leaders, with commitment from all sectors whether it be the government, private or non-sectors to develop the requisite policies and resources to implement the plan.  Ultimately, I believe that the work of Circles, community, by community, state by state, region by region will ultimately inform a national vision and blueprint to meet the economic and social imperative to end poverty in the United States.

~ Joan Kuriansky, Board Chair, and Former Executive Director of Wider Opportunities for Women (Washington, DC)


Learning Agendas for Yourself and Others

Refining your Personal Learning Agenda

We are each having a certain level of impact on the world around us. The Transformational Leadership approach assumes we are ready and eager to make a more significant impact in order to bring about the vision for our life and the world we want.

Upon further exploration, my inner voice told me more about my personal learning agenda:

I need to regularly clean out the mental clutter and hone my ability to laser-focus on my priorities. The move to my smaller home cleared clutter from my environment. Moving to four days a week with Circles USA freed up time and energy to focus on activity that is in alignment with my emerging new vision. Writing this book is reinforcing the ideas that are most important to me at this time in life. My new project with Transformational Leadership is a bridge to a more authentic experience and expression of self. I am learning how to be happier and more effective.

The following “curriculum” might work for your next stage of development as well:

  1. Affirm and act on your personal freedom in each day and in each activity.
    • Ask yourself regularly, “What do I want to do? Are there any “shoulds” I can identify and clear away?
    • Measure success by the amount of time and joy spent on meaningful activity versus how much money is made.
    • Change routines by inserting new and adventurous activity that generates more joy and enthusiasm for life.
  2. Develop structure to increase accountability to pursue high-impact strategies.
    • Commit to developing and following through on a strategic plan for both Circles USA and Transformational Leadership. Ask colleagues to help you stay focused on the plan, changing course only by intention, not through any delay pattern.
    • Build regular check-ins with those who also like to stay on track.
    • Do the essential but sometimes uncomfortable work of a clear and courageous evaluation of our weaknesses, unhelpful default patterns, and shadow selves. This might involve interviewing loved ones or trusted colleagues or working with a counselor. Including a plan to address “opportunities for growth” only strengthens our personal power. Keeping an open heart and the courage to be humble makes us better leaders.
  3. Clear out the clutter in relationships and activity.
    • As soon as it becomes clear that a client is no longer in alignment with achieving the transformational vision that you are pursuing, let go, and align with those who are. Each week assess which activities produced the most joy and which did not. Commit to creating a more joyful set of activities for next week.

Self-Reflection Questions

  • Ask yourself again—and this time tuning into your heart a bit more deeply—what do I need to learn next in order to increase my capacity to change my life and change the world?
  • How can my Allies help hold me accountable to continuing my journey and achieving the milestones I have identified?
  • Who knows me well enough to provide loving but honest feedback?
  • What do I find most personally challenging, and do I know anyone who is accomplished in areas where I know I have room for improvement? Am I willing to ask for support?

Other People’s Learning Agendas

Additionally, those who align with our visions and participate in our programs will form their own learning agendas, so we must be prepared to help them find the right people who can facilitate their learning. They will first need to understand best practices elsewhere that might be implemented locally. What training programs and support systems can be tapped into to help them learn their new roles? Secondly, they need to learn what they personally must know, be, and/or do differently in order to play their roles effectively.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Learning to Achieve your Vision

It’s stunning to me what kind of impact even one person can have if they have the right passion, perspective and are able to align the interest of a great team.
-Steve Case

When Moses caught his vision of a promised land and then aligned the masses to join him, he had to lead them across the desert. Metaphorically, this story illustrates the four stages of the Transformational Map. The promised land is the vision, the followers of Moses aligned with his vision, the desert refers to the learning agenda required to achieve their vision, and the arrival at the promised land is the final stage when we embed the vision into the culture.

Our worldview, skill sets, and life experiences will provide invaluable guidance and support, but the vision will demand personal learning from us. You have to ensure that those who are helping to achieve the vision are able to learn whatever is necessary to do so.

Self-Reflection Questions

● What do you personally need to learn in order to realize your new vision?

● Specifically, what skills, information, and new habits must you learn in order to achieve your vision?

● In order for others to share your vision, what must they know? Interview others, and then craft a learning agenda for achieving your vision in the world.


Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.