Program aims to end generational poverty

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Poverty isn't just about money. And ending poverty takes more than a handout.

That's the premise behind a new Health and Human Services initiative called Capital City Circles, aimed at breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

"If they don't do it on their own, there's no empowerment," said coordinator Dina Phippen. "Unless someone does it on their own, the motivation is not there."

Rather than address the immediate needs of people in financial crisis, the group addresses the underlying issues of generational poverty.

After more than two years of planning, the first group has been going through the process for about a year now.

Families come to the program through referrals from other agencies. They start the process with a group meeting where families discuss their debt-to-income ratio.

"It can be really painful," said Phippen, who admitted analyzing her own situation honestly was also difficult.

"In work groups, we really investigate our own lives," she said.

Next, they determine what it is they want and what's holding them back from getting it.

"It's not a cookie cutter," she said. "Not everybody needs the same thing. Everybody has different goals."

She said many of the clients grew up poor and don't look beyond immediate needs for planning.

"When you can't put dinner on the table," she said, "you're not looking at how you can further your education for a better job. Living in poverty or in any crisis, it's difficult to goal set."

They learn the price of getting fast cash from loan centers and the tricks used to get people to pay on credit.

She said one client returned rented furniture and instead bought used items.

"These families are definitely not looking for a handout," she said. "And we respect them too much to give them a handout."

Carson City was one of 25 cities in the nation to originally adopt the program and now there are about 40 across the U.S., Phippen said.

The group meets weekly at St. Peters Episcopal Church for dinner, followed by the Getting Ahead Workshop. The workshops, Phippen said, are casual meetings to discuss goals and progress. Child care is provided.

There are six families in the inaugural program, 10 adults and 19 kids. They are set to graduate next month.

From there, they move on to the next phase " the circle.

In this phase, they will each be matched up with five "allies."

Allies are middle- and upper-class families who volunteer to meet monthly with the clients for informal dinners.

Phippen explained that many people in poverty have only experienced poverty and that it's important for them to associate with those who are more wealthy.

"Circles is just making intentional relationships across socioeconomic barriers," Phippen said. "It's a new approach " let's come together as a community."

The clients in turn promise reciprocity once they graduate.

"Our hope is that once they complete the process, they will help another family just the way they've been helped," she said. "It's unique for them to actually find their voice."

Although the program is relatively new, Phippen said there have already been some successes.

"We're not only preventing homelessness, we're also transitioning them out of homelessness," she said. "We've seen families' lives turn around dramatically. That's the most exciting part."

However, it is not only the clients who benefit, she said. The facilitators working with them "leave so encouraged by the families."

"These are not clients, these are my friends," she said.

And the work being done now could change the future.

"If we can reach these parents, then we can affect not only their kids, but generations to come," Phippen said. "You're breaking the cycle for generations to come."

She said she hopes the community gets involved to help make the program a success. About 35 to 40 ally families are still needed to participate in the next phase of the process.

"No child should be in poverty. That shouldn't be an option," she said. "As a community, our job is to give them the support they need. I hope that's what Circles is doing."

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