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Moving Out of Poverty from Judge Hill's Perspective

By Judge Francie Hill

As one of the Judges of the Monroe Circuit Court I regularly deal with people in financial and emotional crisis. People going through a divorce or those who are defendants in credit card debt collection, housing eviction, and mortgage foreclosure are obvious candidates for financial stress. Parents of abused and neglected children also face financial issues in court. They are often under court orders to obtain sustainable housing and employment.

This is not to suggest that financial problems only arise in the courtroom. That’s far from true. But Judges see their fair share of folks who have been driven to the brink with financial issues, and it is good to know there is help available.

The Bloomington Community offers many services for families in short term financial crisis and for those experiencing long term issues of chronic poverty. I want to focus on the latter. Judge Viola Taliaferro, Judge Teresa Harper, and I were invited to observe the Circles Initiative in action on a Thursday night. I met 5 men and women who were extremely warm, friendly and articulate in explaining how the program works for them. They have experienced poverty - what I define as a long term inability to access necessary food, clothing, stable housing, and other basics to provide for themselves and their children. They were each committed to shedding the constant worry and fears caused by poverty. They talked about the tyranny of the moment – the unexpected car accident, child’s illness, raise in rent, loss of job – that might cause a tailspin. They talked in excited tones about the way out – the Circles Initiative.

This is the Circles Initiative as I understand it from the compelling group of 5 I met that night. Each of them is labeled a Leader in the program. They control their destinies in terms of how the program will help them and if it will make a difference. Each Leader is surrounded by volunteer Allies. One Ally is a volunteer who commits to help the Leader with planning in critical financial areas which might include housing, employment, medical bills, and other debt payment. Another volunteer Ally serves as a friend, listener, confident, problem solver, and all round encourager. Together, Leader and Allies tackle the day to day challenges.

In addition to privately working on individual problems, a small group of Leaders and Allies meet for dinner, fellowship, and discussion one evening a week. There is a coordinated program for the children on the same evening.

The goal of the program is to reach that point in time in which the Leader is not just “getting by” or avoiding crisis, but has arrived at a stable financial and emotional situation.

If you or someone you know is looking to escape poverty and all the worries and problems that accompany it, I encourage you to look into the Circles Initiative by contacting Linda Patton, Circles Coordinator, at 339-3447, ext. 206 or lindap@insccap.org. And if you are financially stable and are interested in working together with people in poverty to help them improve their lives, please contact Linda.

I was blown away by the level of commitment I witnessed at the Circles Initiative meeting I attended and I hope that more local people will get involved in this effort.