OPINION: Circles program a great example of people finding solutions

Thea deGroot

Thea deGroot

Each of us has likely heard of the capitalist economy, the sharing economy and the information economy, but usually not of the solutions economy of which we have several examples right here in Sarnia-Lambton.

Circles Canada is one such example – providing a program to enable individuals to lift themselves out of poverty by setting goals, participating in training, education and accessing a wider circle of resources and supports.

The One Tomato Project is also an example of the solutions economy – creating community gardens, providing opportunities to learn about gardening, as well as cooking and providing fresh vegetables to neighbourhoods and the local food bank.

Another example is the Habitat Restore – keeping building materials and household furniture out of landfills and making them available for reuse, providing opportunities for individuals to earn their needed Habitat Sweat Equity hours, and raising funds to build new Habitat housing.

With the Circles program, local problem solvers — the social workers whose job it was to encourage individuals to fill in the forms, do job searches, and get themselves off the welfare system — asked themselves what was really keeping people in poverty once they found themselves there.

They knew that throwing more money into the system wasn’t the answer, even though social assistance was far from enough to get by on. Lambton County staff prepared a report about child poverty in 2006, and in 2007 a Child Poverty Task Force suggested the Circles Initiative be adopted. County council agreed to implement Circles the following year.

In 2009, Gayle Montgomery launched the program, making it available to anyone living on social assistance, willing to go through the Moving Ahead program by setting personal goals and choosing to become a Circles leader. To date, 140 families have participated in Lambton Circles initiatives, and of those 51 families have reached their goal of self-sufficiency.

My husband and I have been involved as allies in the Circles program over the last few years, and always looked forward to getting together with our Circles family for Tuesday evenings, enjoying an intergenerational meal served by local volunteers while we shared our life’s ups and downs with one another.

There were always lots of laughs, some tears and heart-felt memories. One of my favourites is when a little girl made a beeline for a white-haired lady and demanded that she sit on the grandmother’s lap for the evening. Achievements were celebrated, sorrows shared, and friendships across class, age and gender lines grew.

Sarnia-Lambton is richer for Circles in our community. It has been a gift in our lives, and if you should find yourself with little to do on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evenings when it would be nice to have some companionship, please consider joining one of these Circles groups.

You won’t regret it.

Thea deGroot is a local retiree who wants this city and county to be a thriving community to all who live here.