Patience and Joe Caldwell are the super glue that binds participants in the Monroe County Circles® Initiative into a tightly cohesive and supportive group of friends. Though they have only been involved with Circles® since last April, the volunteer spirit of Patience and Joe and their daughters, Bethany, Anastasia and Juliona, has been a great asset in advancing our mission.
The Monroe County Circles® Initiative is part of a nationwide campaign to break down class and racial barriers and eliminate poverty, now active in 43 locations throughout the country. A local Guiding Coalition, comparable to a very hands-on board, provides the framework to increase the emotional and financial stability of participating families, helping them to transition from poverty into prosperity. Just as importantly, Circles brings an understanding of the experience of poverty into the hearts and minds of community members and leaders. This understanding helps to build consensus and change policies and procedures that mire many of our low-income neighbors in dire circumstances – change that brings us one step closer to fulfilling our national commitment to end poverty.
Low-income participants, like Joe and Patience, are called Circle Leaders and take leadership in their own lives and in the larger community. After completing a 17-week training with dinner and youth programming provided, they are each matched with three members of the more affluent community who have also completed trainings, called Allies. Allies help their Circle Leader follow his or her personal plan to move out of poverty, by providing problem-solving assistance, emotional support, connections to the middle-class – and friendship. Weekly meetings with programming to help Circle Leaders achieve their goals, and with continued provision of dinner and the youth program, build strong community among all Circle Leaders, Allies and volunteers.
Circle Leaders and Allies, together with members of the larger community at our monthly “Big View” meetings, participate in addressing policies and breaking down barriers that stymie low-income people in their efforts to get ahead.
Patience, Joe and their daughters exemplify the spirit of the Circles® Initiative. Patience first volunteered as the group record-keeper while in their training, and she and Joe began providing rides for their trainee group. They’ve gone on to also volunteer in the kitchen with their daughters, on our Guiding Coalition, with rides for many Circle Leaders, and with car repair help for fellow Circle Leaders. If it needs to be done, we know that we can ask Patience and Joe. Patience stays in constant contact with all of the other Circle Leaders, and she and Joe often help in crisis situations. For instance, a fellow trainee who was pregnant went into labor early and during a time when her car was not running. She called Patience and Joe, who took her to the hospital and were present for her baby’s birth! When the Circles® community is concerned about a Circle Leader’s absence from a meeting or training session, Patience can often tell us immediately what’s going on.
Patience and Joe are also members of the Circles® Guiding Coalition, where they serve on the Community Team (comparable to a Board committee), a group that ensures that a venue, volunteers, food and Youth Community curriculum plans are arranged for our weekly Circles® meetings. Patience speaks powerfully at Ally and Circle Leader recruitment events, moving people to become involved with Circles®. She has volunteered her time for poverty simulations, an experiential exercise that helps the community learn about the realities of poverty. We encourage Circle Leaders to give back to the larger community in addition to Circles®, and the entire Caldwell family put in a total of 15 hours cleaning a church. Patience and Joe regard their volunteerism as just helping out friends, thus it is difficult to quantify the many, many untracked hours that they have contributed in on-the-spot volunteering for the Circles® community – providing rides, making phone calls, delivering supplies to a Circle Leader who has just begun parenting a grandchild, and so much more – but it is upwards of 100 hours. Their service has impacted the lives of 12 Circle Leaders, and the children of each Circle Leader – besides easing the work of staff, Allies and other volunteers.
This family may have very limited financial resources, but they are wealthy in spirit and caring. The zeal with which the Caldwells perform volunteer tasks makes the family an integral part of SCCAP's Circles® Initiative.