It may seem strange, but area officials hope to break the poverty cycle with some circles of their own.
Tuesday, Project 17 leaders hosted a meeting to introduce local leaders to the idea and concept of Circles, a program that has been used in other communities to help break through a number of generational poverty barriers.
Project 17 is an organization created by four then-state senators to address the longstanding issues with the 17 counties of Southeast Kansas. Those issues identified were economic development, health and leadership, and a fourth has since been identified: workforce development.
Project 17 executive director Heather Morgan gave attendees an update on efforts, as well as introduced the concept of Circles, which is an evidence-based program that has been done in other cities with proven success, she said.
To describe the program in short, Circles involves both those in poverty and a group of people who will help provide support to them. Both those in poverty and the "allies" go through a training program.
"They come out ready to make a change. They meet with the group of allies one time a week, and the person in poverty makes a plan to get out, and the allies help them reach that plan," Morgan said.
Such Circles programs have already been started in nearby communities, including Joplin.
After describing the program, Morgan and the other leaders turned to some localized questions focusing on the barriers and efforts made for those in poverty in Crawford County and Southeast Kansas.
Many of the answers as far as potential barriers were common refrains when the issue of poverty is raised: housing and high utility bills, low-paying jobs and a lack of job training, transportation and mental health, and even generational poverty.
But the question of the biggest barrier was hard to define for many.
"We have layers and layers of challenges to address that issue. Where I've struggled is what do you go work on? We go to meetings like this, and we try to find one thing to focus on. I don't think there's a lot of people who wouldn't want a better life, but we can't just pick this one thing and it be fixed," said Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall.
The discussion went back and forth about how to help people, and eventually a story emerged about a Circles ally trying to help a person get registered to take their GED. However, the person came back quickly, saying they didn't have the $50 registration costs. The ally helped that person ask for and receive a hardship scholarship to take the GED.
Another person spoke of efforts in Topeka to put many of the agencies that work with those in poverty under one roof for easy access.
"Go where they're at and make it easier for them to get out," said David Thompson, assistant director of community and employee relations for the Kansas Department of Children and Families.