Four years ago, Julie was a single mother with three kids—and homeless. An electrical fire destroyed the house they’d been renting, and it took weeks for her to find another rental that they could afford. After getting her family moved into a new home, she committed herself to making a better life for her family.
Julie, who lives in Utah, found a program, Circles, through Community Action Services and Food Bank. She dedicated herself to Circles, a nationwide initiative that gives people the tools and community support they need to end the cycle of poverty for themselves. Two years later, Julie graduated when her household income exceeded 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Because of Circles, she now has the tools she needs to continue to succeed, provide for her children and make a difference in her community.
Like in Julie’s story, the best way to end poverty is to start in the community, with individuals and families. Community Action Services and Food Bank is making changes in Utah with programs that give people a hand and the tools for a better life.
Community Action Services believes that everyone can achieve economic stability if they have the right tools and support. Circles is a program that gives people in the community a chance to make a difference in the lives of people living in poverty. And it gives people living in poverty the tools and support they need to build a more sustainable lifestyle. In this program, Julie learned how to set goals and a budget. Also, she gained a support system for the first time in her life. Because of the program, she opened her first bank accounts. And her company recognized her as one of its top employees. Circles takes a holistic approach to ending poverty, one family or person at a time.
In the program, Community Action Services matches participants, called Circle Leaders, with volunteers, called Allies. The leaders commit to the program for at least 18 months and attend weekly and monthly meetings. They learn to cultivate their skills and gifts and make necessary changes to gain self-sufficiency, with the support of their allies. They work toward goals by decreasing debt, increasing income and weaning themselves from public assistance. Everyone graduates from the program when their income exceeds 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Circles, based on more than 20 years of research, is a proven program that ends the cycle of poverty.
Financial Learning Center
Financial literacy is a vital life skill that not enough of Americans possess—and especially not people living in the cycle of poverty. In fact, 63 percent of Americans can’t pass a short financial literacy quiz. What’s worse is that the percentage of people who can pass the exam dropped from 42 percent in 2009 to 37 percent in the most recent survey. But Community Action Services is trying to reverse that trend in Utah, because financial literacy is more than an individual issue. It affects communities and the nation’s economy. After all, financially illiterate people who didn’t understand their mortgages were one of the causes of the Great Recession. With its Financial Literacy Center, it’s giving people free one-on-one counseling to understand and take control of their finances. It teaches:
- Credit knowledge, so people know how to read and evaluate their credit reports and build their credit score.
- Budgeting skills, so people learn financial management strategies and develop a sustainable budget.
- Saving skills, so people understand how to be prepared for unexpected expenses and to meet their goals.
- Debt management, so people learn how to “power pay” their debt and become debt-free.
Community Action Services also has a valuable network of partners in the community who can offer ongoing support or help, if needed.
When people are financially literate, they make sound purchase and investment decisions, better manage debt and know how to avoid scams. So financially literate people are good for communities and the economy.
Homebuyer Education and Mortgage Counseling Program
Research shows that homeownership is good for communities and the economy. It’s linked to better educational outcomes, higher levels of civic participation, better health and lower crime levels. So Community Action Services is committed to helping people buy their first home with its free First-time Homebuyer and Homebuyer Education courses.
The First-time Homebuyer course gives people valuable information they need to buy a home. It teaches people how to:
- analyze their financial and credit status
- better manage their money
- form an action plan to become a homeowner
- select a lender and real estate agent
The Homebuyer Education course is for people who want to understand the process of buying a home or for people who need a homebuyer education certificate to qualify for a loan. It teaches participants about:
- loan terms and costs
- downpayment and closing cost programs
- appraisals and inspections
- how to understand loan closing documents
- responsibilities of home ownership: making payments, home maintenance, and safety
- how to avoiding predatory lending and scams
Homeownership is good for the community, and Community Action Services is committed to increasing responsible homeownership.
People living in poverty rarely have space to grow their own food. So Community Action Services came up with a solution that reduces food insecurity in the community, and is a significant step toward self-sufficiency and a healthy lifestyle. It rents small garden plots around Provo, Utah to people who have limited or no yard space. The renter pays $20 for the season and is responsible for watering, weeding and maintaining the plot. And the renter keeps all the fresh produce. At the end of the growing season, if the renter met terms of the contract, Community Action Services refunds part of the cost. Community gardens make a measurable difference in the lives of people living in poverty as well as anyone who wants to grow their own food but doesn’t have space.
Bridges Out of Poverty
Community Action Services’s programs extend to people in the community interested in fighting poverty. With its Bridges Out of Poverty program, it helps people who’ve never lived in poverty understand what it is. In these free workshops, it teaches how poverty affects families, how poverty works and how to help people bridge the gap from poverty to a more sustainable lifestyle. This program is ideal for anyone who wants to learn more about poverty or volunteer with an organization that helps people living in poverty.
Stamping out poverty starts in communities, with programs and people devoted to fighting it for themselves and others. In Utah, Community Action Services and its dedicated volunteers are making changes with programs that help people and give them tools for better lives.