Program offers healthy steps toward curbing local poverty.

Efforts to break the cycle of poverty warrant support from many in a community.

Such is the strategy of Circles of Hope, a program that partners volunteers and community leaders with families interested in emerging from poverty.

While many other initiatives focus solely on symptoms of poverty homelessness and hunger, for example the Circles program addresses its root causes.

Circles of Hope has been helping local, low-income families learn about available community resources, goal setting, good relationships, budgeting and basic finances. Families in poverty also work on long-term fixes with input and support from middle- to upper-level-income volunteers.

The first local class recently completed a 12-week course, their first steps on a journey of hope in a community where more than 15 percent of residents live below the poverty level (compared to 12.6 percent statewide) and nearly 70 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The class, honored in a graduation ceremony last week at First United Methodist Church, saw participation from representatives of nine local families. While that may seem like a small number in a town with so many people living in poverty, their participation generated success stories that should compel others to be part of the process whether in families looking to break free of poverty, or volunteers in position to aid them in their difficult quest.

The next step for graduates of the 12-week class would be an 18-month process with the aid of "allies," the volunteers who help class participants work toward such goals as higher education, buying a home or paying off debt.

Locally, Circles of Hope has been funded by foundations, private donations and outside grants. Such investment has been returned multiple times elsewhere through drops in welfare and food-stamp subsidies, and new earned income in communities.

It's easy to see the far-reaching benefit of helping the poor escape the vicious cycle of poverty.

Congratulations to the first local graduates and those willing to help them tackle the challenge. More local residents should join them on a journey with potential to pay off in so many ways.