It was made clear Wednesday that McPherson residents want to be part of the solution.
More than 200 people made their way to the McPherson High School auditorium to listen to Move the Mountain co-founder Scott Miller, who also created the Circles program, a community-based effort to erase poverty. Miller’s trip to McPherson was sponsored by STEP of McPherson County, a community coalition to end poverty in the county.
“This is your invitation to be generous and help others within your own community,” Miller said of becoming involved in the fight against poverty.
Miller’s approach is considered a community-wide effort because people from all backgrounds and all walks of life are invited and encouraged to participate. During Wednesday’s meeting, he explained the five teams people can become involved in: Income/education team, weekly meeting team, Circles team, resources team and the big view team. Weekly meeting are held for both the allies and people working to get out of poverty and networking outside of meetings, with others in the community, often results in more resources and opportunities.
Currently, about 8.6 percent of McPherson County residents live at or below the poverty line and 32 percent live with very limited resources. Nation-wide, 25 percent of families live in poverty.
The issue doesn’t just affect the people living without Miller said. Community tax dollars are used for social service programs, such as food stamps and welfare. Those programs continue to require funding because they do not help people improve their situation, they only offer temporary assistance.
“There are a million band-aids but very few real solutions,” Miller said.
People at Wednesday’s meeting were also given the opportunity to share what they thought needed to be changed to help people improve their situation. Responses ranged from more low-income housing to simply changing people’s perceptions and attitudes toward people in poverty.
“We need to let go of those barriers and judgment against people in poverty,” said Kevin Lee. “People need to be open to trying new things.”
Miller’s Circles approach includes a 15-month Getting Ahead Class for people at or near the poverty line. The class teaches people in poverty about the hidden rules of the middle class and tools they can use to permanently better their situation. Once participants complete the course, they are moved into the Circles program where they are partnered with two to four community allies that help them in whatever means possible. Miller explained that that help could include finding ways for the person to complete their education, land a new job or purchase a more reliable vehicle.
The single most important components to Miller’s program are the relationships that are established between the allies and the people moving out of poverty.
“Everything starts with relationships,” Miller said. “We have been trying to throw programs and money at people without relationships and that just doesn’t work.”
The Circles program has proven successful in several other communities Miller said and he believe McPherson has all of the tools and resources necessary to make the program successful.
Today, Miller is meeting with clergy, business and social service leaders to share with them how they can become part of the fight against poverty including sharing their resources and connections with people trying to make their way out of poverty.
For more information about STEP of McPherson County and the Circles program or to become involved, call 245-9070.