FIGHTING A CRISIS
At A Wider Circle, the key word is dignity.
“A lot of the clients have been through a difficult situation, so we want this to be an uplifting experience,” said Laura Whitson, in-kind donations and marketing coordinator.
The mission of A Wider Circle is simple: To end poverty, one individual, one family at a time. A Wider Circle features programs ranging from job preparedness training and wellness to furniture supply.
Indeed, the first thing one notices upon entering the facility is how very dignified it looks. The space is set up like a department store showroom. There is a section with children’s toys and books, one with racks of kitchen and dining supplies, a large space with couches and easy chairs displayed in the center, with shelves and desks along the walls.
“If you have nothing, you’ve already had the worst of things,” said executive director Mark Bergel, “and now it’s time for you to get the best of things.”
Bergel founded A Wider Circle in 2001, after volunteering to deliver food to underserved families in the Washington DC area. Struck by the effects of poverty – families without enough food, without access to health care, without beds – Mark launched the nonprofit out of his living room.
“You’re always reminded about the needs,” he said. “Whenever I’m in the homes of people I serve, I’m reminded of why I do this. It doesn’t take much. Every person I meet, every home I visit, that’s when I realize this is what we have to do.”
Today, A Wider Circle has served more than 150,000 individuals. Fifteen to 20 families visit the center each day to collect furniture for their homes, free of charge.
At the Center for Professional Development, the focus is on job preparedness – resume writing and interview skills, among others. Job coaches are available to help on a one-on-one basis. And the showroom boasts professional attire and accessories for men and women. Even trying on a new, professional outfit, Laura said, a visible change can be seen in the client.
Additional programs include wellness workshops, particularly those focused on mothers and babies, as well as collaborations with the District of Columbia Housing Authority and resident councils to benefit residents of public housing.
Mark said the greatest challenge he faces in his work is getting people to believe that ending poverty is a realistic goal.
“We have to believe we can do this if we are going to do this,” he said. “Why in the world would we accept poverty? We have enough intelligence and enough creativity that we ought to be able to end poverty in this region with no problem, as long as we have the courage to commit to it. It's that we don't commit because we don't believe we can do it. A lot of people want to help others, but I'd like to see us go all out. Every day for people in poverty is like Katrina. We've got to look at it like the crisis that it is, and if we do look at it as a crisis, I think we'll muster up the courage to end it.
TOP TEN REASONS WE LOVE
A Wider Circle
1. The folks at A Wider Circle doesn’t just want to give things to people in need, they want to give respect. Every client is treated with dignity.
2. The approach is holistic. A Wider Circle serves the body, the mind and the home. It’s not just about furniture, or computer skills, or the right clothes for a job interview. Every element is part of giving people a better future.
3. They know you can’t do it alone. You know that expression “it takes a village”? Here are some members of A Wider Circle’s village.
4. Executive director Mark Bergel practices what he preaches. One of the goals of A Wider Circle is to make sure every man, woman and child has a bed to sleep in. And until that day, Bergel says, he won’t sleep in one. “It's a lot easier to serve well, to serve effectively when you know what people are going through,” he said. “The least I can do is to put a little bit of urgency into my work, and not having a bed helps me stay urgent.”
5. Brown’s Beds. DC couple Ann and Donald Brown donated $100,000 toward the purchase of beds for clients. Others sought to give what they could toward a donation match. Mr. and Mrs. Brown recently announced a second donation once the original was matched. That’s more than $3,000 donated toward beds.
6. Every participant in AWC’s job preparedness program is provided with an individual job coach. That one-on-on advice can be absolutely essential when trying to figure out the next steps.
7. They are bringing people together in pursuit of a goal. On March 28, A Wider Circle will host the National Conference on Ending Poverty. More about that as it gets closer.
8. There are a ton of volunteer opportunities, and the whole family can get involved. Volunteers can do everything from haul furniture to help with personal shopping.
9. The Wydler Brothers. Along with a number of partners, the DC-based real agents (and brothers) Hans and Steve Wydler pledged to donate 1,000 beds to A Wider Circle in 2015. Join the 1,000 Bed Challenge.
10. The folks at A Wider Circle are tenacious in pursuit of their goal. “It's that we don't commit because we don't believe we can do it,” said Mark Bergel. “If we saw the finish line, we'd probably all sprint to it. A lot of people want to help others, but I'd like to see us go all out.”
"My heart is full. I feel good. I got nice things that I really needed. I got sick last year and I was in hospital from January through June. My children don’t have to sleep on the floor anymore and I can take the sheets off of my windows.” – A Wider Circle client
"The skepticism that we can end poverty is one of my biggest challenges. Why in the world would we accept poverty? We have enough intelligence and enough creativity that we ought to be able to end poverty in this region with no problem,as long as we have the courage to commit to it.” – Mark Bergel, executive director
“For the first time in my life, I’m doing what I love. The first time I came here, I wasn’t getting paid, but I felt like the happiest woman in the world.” – Alice Njeri Hartfield, volunteer
“A Wider Circle helped me start back on my feet again and made me feel like I was getting somewhere in my life. I was able to provide the children with beds, their dressers, dining room table, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, something to eat on – I didn’t have anything. It’s gotten me back on my feet.“ – Michelle, client
“Some of the people are escaping abuse or transitioning out of homelessness. You see the change when you treat them with dignity.” – Laura Whitson, In-Kind Donations and Marketing Coordinator
“It is a lot of hard work, and I am ready for that. A Wider Circle blessed me and my family, and now I am working full time and going to school at night. I am ready for whatever it takes.“ - Yvette, Adult Education graduate
“I love that I can come into what we call work everyday and really make an impact in my community. It can be tough to know that so many people are in need, but about half of those calls are from people who want to help. It can be really uplifting to know that people want to respond to that need.” - Audrey Glasebrook, development associate
“Everybody defines success in a different way. What we’re aiming for in our job prep is for people to be employed full time. I just enjoy observing some of our participants, and seeing some of those changes as they move forward on their journey to finding employment. I would love for businesses and companies in the area to give our participants a chance.” – Liz Anne Ganiban, director of education
"Mark Bergel inspired me to do a lot of things. Mark is the closest thing to an angel I know. I've never felt more comfortable giving to anything than I do to A Wider Circle. It makes me feel so good knowing all the money I'm giving is going to such a good cause." - Donald Brown, Brown's Beds
Editor's Note: In order to protect the privacy of A Wider Circle's clients, all client testimonials were provided by A Wider Circle.