Circles of Support kicks off "Pucks against Poverty" Campaign at Heritage Center

By Sarah Rosten and Abigail Schoenecker The Duluth Heritage Sports Center in West Duluth was filled by echoing laughter and the slapping smack of dozens of hockey pucks hitting the ice last Saturday, April 17 during Community Action Duluth’s Circles of Support program’s Pucks Against Poverty event.

The Circles of Support program is an education-based initiative designed to help alleviate the isolation felt by impoverished individuals and families in Duluth by connecting them with community volunteers from varying backgrounds.

“Poverty is not just money. Its about getting out in the community; its about education,” said Kate Wigner, Circles of Support Program Advocate Coach.

Local volunteers, families, and university hockey players helped kick off the Circles of Support program’s Community Engagement Campaign with the Pucks Against Poverty Event last Saturday. The event was the first for the campaign, which will continue for a year.

The events at Pucks Against Poverty included the selling of glittery, bejeweled or otherwise painted pucks decorated by local schools and organizations, face painting, and prizes donated by local businesses for the winners of the “Chuck-a-Puck” game.

Participants in the “Chuck-a-Puck” game purchased a puck and an opportunity to chuck their puck onto the ice, in an attempt to get it as close to the center of the rink as possible. As an emcee counted down dozens of pucks flew toward the center of the rink, but only a lucky few managed not to slide away.

The fun event brought to light more serious issues in the community. Circles of Support helps impoverished families that need assistance escaping poverty.

“You can get isolated and you just isolate yourself more,” Kris Cook, an ally volunteer, said. “The best thing people can do is to try to move out from being in isolation themselves with their problems.”

According to the Minnesota Budget Project and, the poverty rate in Duluth is 18.3%, which is almost twice as high as the poverty rate in the state of Minnesota (9.6%) and is substantially higher than the national poverty rate (13.2%).

The Community Engagement Campaign aims to highlight the issues and strategies needed to address poverty concerns of Duluth’s “working poor families,” and the Pucks Against Poverty campaign kick off focused on promoting engagement in service learning, community service projects, and community education opportunities.

Circles of Support strives to help impoverished community members make a positive change in their lives by facilitating relationships between volunteer “allies” and participants.

Advocates working at Circles of Support match each participant with a volunteer ally.

“They are very intentional about matches.” Wanda Ard said.

Ard is a participant who has completed the 18-month Circles of Support program and still works with her volunteer ally, Gail Bloom.

“The day I was matched with Wanda, Xavier [Circles of Support Manager] had a smile on his face.” Bloom said.

In addition to the one-on-one interaction of the participant ally relationship, there are also group “circle” meetings.

Each circle is composed of two to four allies and they all meet about four times a month for around 18 months. Two of the meetings are open to the community and Community Action Duluth strongly urges community members to get involved.

Links to our stories of Circles of Support participants and allies below.

Duluth woman finds Support in local Allies

From Homeless to the University of Minnesota Duluth: Local woman finds success in Support

Giving the homeless a voice

Duluth woman finds hope in local allies