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Framing: A Community Example

Posted by John Weyer on October 17, 2007

Framing defined:  Framing is one of the three core competencies of leadership. Framing involves defining community opportunities and issues in ways that lead to effective action. Through framing, a group understands and decides what needs to be done, how it is to be done and why it is important to do. – from The Community Leadership Handbook by James F Krile, Gordon Curphy and Duane R. Lund

Changing the mindset on poverty – Circles of Support

Alice Miller, 2000 BCLP alum, Grand Rapids, knows poverty. She knows that it is not a state of being that people actively choose, that it is not the result of laziness and that poverty can be about more than money.

Miller’s challenge as a community leader for the last four years has been to help foster an understanding of the culture of poverty in other community leaders.

Her vehicle for community understanding of poverty issues has been Circles of Support, a grassroots, volunteer organization that partners families in poverty with three allies who are not. Miller currently works as the lead coordinator for the program.

Circles of Support group

Circles of Support began conceptually in the Grand Rapids/Itasca County area in 2003, with official meetings starting up in 2004. The program now reaches residents of Koochiching County as well.

The allies, said Miller, are often established community leaders who come from the middle or even upper class and often bring to the program a preconceived notion about poverty. For some middle-aged allies, those preconceived notions were developed in childhood or by the media. But, the faces of poverty have changed.

“The poverty ideas of allies (when they come into the program) isn’t what we’re dealing with today,” said Miller.

Poverty in small town Minnesota is no longer an isolated “bum who lives under the bridge,” but often includes young families with multiple below living wage jobs who barely get by. And, it is certainly not an isolated problem. In Itasca County, nearly a quarter of the population lives below the federally defined low-income line.

Because of the preconceived notions that many begin with as an ally, these community leaders often think they can solve the problem with money – i.e. if one just works harder and attains a better education, they, too, can have the American Dream.

Miller, however, knows that it isn’t that simple. Domestic violence, drug or alcohol addiction issues in the family setting and unstable family backgrounds as well as numerous other factors can perpetuate a culture of poverty – a world where middle class values simply do not hold true. It is a world where everyday is a struggle to survive and one where family members may not even view a lack of money as the most pressing issue.

While Mary Ives, 1992 BCLP alum, Grand Rapids, said she came into the program knowing about the culture of poverty through other work, she reported gaining valuable knowledge.

“I learned that people make bad choices because they don’t have as many opportunities to mentor good choices,” said Ives. “The background for making good choices is not available to people in poverty … We have trouble realizing, as allies, that sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back.”

It is when allies come a little closer to the pain of the culture of poverty and gain a better frame of the issue that they can befriend a participant and then start to make a difference in the life of a family in poverty.

“Basically (Circles of Support) works the way it works in life, “ said Miller. “It’s about being a friend … It’s about knowing somebody, having somebody who will put in a good word for you on a job application or finding out about a job through an ally before it becomes available. Participants have more knowledge to tap into than they had on their own.”

Do you have a suggestion for a feature story on framing, building social capital or mobilizing resources from your own community? Let us know about it, email: Email Malissa Bahr.

Has Framing affected what can or can not be done surrounding an issue in your community? If Framing has affected an issue; what are some of your key points of learning?

(Use the reply box below to attach your comments.)


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