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Volunteers serve as “Allies” to a Circle “Leader,” an individual who is living at 150% or less of the federal poverty guideline and who wants to move out of poverty. “Allies” offer support and encouragement and enlarge the “Leaders” community networks helping him/her gain access to community resources and to build social and economic networks that help the individual move out of poverty and reach one’s life plan and goals. Volunteer “Allies” work alongside many other volunteers and are provided training and understanding of the Circles foundational curriculum and process.


St. James’s is part of a faith based initiative, Circles RVA whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty in the City of Richmond. In 2016, community and civic leaders, government representatives, faith congregations, and non-profit organizations troubled by the Richmond rate of poverty joined together to determine a proven strategy that would help people move out of poverty. Circles USA, with over 75 chapters in North America provides a curriculum and strategy to meet the challenge of poverty. Approximately 15% of Americans live in poverty.  The Richmond poverty rate is nearly twice the national level at 25.3% and the rate is even worse for Richmond’s children under 18 years: 38.7%.  These numbers represent the faces of children, men and women who come to us daily for support, respite and hope.

Circles RVA, LLC provides a process that empowers motivated low-income participants to permanently move from poverty to economic stability and provides opportunity for community leaders and residents and faithful people to take collective action to resolve systemic barriers that interfere with low-income individuals attaining economic stability.

The Circles model centers on a “Circle Leader,” someone living at 150% or less of the federal poverty guideline, who wants to move out of poverty. Circle Leaders create an actionable life-plan and define their goals.  They build financial, emotional and social resources through a required 12-week training curriculum. They are equipped for their journey by the provision of discipline, motivation, relationship building tools and the leadership skills they will need to be successful. A Circle ‘class’ starts with approximately 25 Circle Leaders. The entire coaching process lasts 18 to 24 months. The Circles model does not permit direct financial assistance to Circle Leaders.

The “Circle” consists of volunteer Circle Allies and Resource Teams who mentor and support the Circle Leader for the duration of their involvement in the program. The volunteers’ primary aim is to expand the Circle Leader’s networks – helping them gain access to resources, navigate bureaucracies, and leverage social relationships and networks they might not otherwise have access to – whatever is needed to help them meet their life-plan and personal goals. This concept of bridging social capital is a foundational element in Circles’ theory of change. The primary program outcome is defined as a Circle Leader achieving an income 200% of the poverty level, which is considered the equivalent of a living wage.

Circle Allies and Resource Team volunteers are trained and continually coached on how to build healthy relationships with Circle Leaders and their families. Training emphasizes that all relationships are based on mutual respect, where everyone has an opportunity to give back in some meaningful way.

Circle Leaders and their Allies meet regularly during the 18 to 24 month period to continuously focus on the Circle Leader’s life plan journey and goal fulfillment. There is a monthly “Big View” meeting, which focuses firstly on educating the community about systemic barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty, and secondly on mobilizing civic action to break down those barriers.

Circles RVA aims to support 25 individuals and their families per class.  Circle Leaders are matched with their Circle Allies and then the next Circles class convenes and the cycle of the 12-week training program, followed by long-term coaching, begins again. Circles RVA envisions supporting four Circles classes per year after the program is operating at full capacity. One class will start each quarter to serve a total of approximately 100 new Circle Leaders and their families annually.

Against this backdrop of community and individual need is the call for faithful people to serve as “Allies.” Many volunteers are needed to offer adequate support and embrace of Circle “Leaders” who are committed to moving out of poverty and to fulfilling personal goals and dreams.  If you are interested in learning more or of being part of this ministry, please contact Director of Servant Ministry, Nancy Warman at  or 355-1779 ext. 333.

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