In 2001, while volunteering to deliver food to residents in the Washington D.C. metro area, Dr. Mark Bergel witnessed, first hand, the effects of poverty—families living without basic resources that are often taken for granted. As a result of his experience Mark created A Wider Circle, a nonprofit whose mission is to help individuals and families lift themselves out of poverty.
A Wider Circle provides basic need items to families transitioning out of shelters or living without basic necessities. Staff and volunteers also lead educational workshops at low-income schools and shelters on topics ranging from healthy self-esteem and stress management to resume writing and financial planning. The organization has several programs designed to help lift children and adults out of poverty through the provision of furniture and home goods, health and wellness workshops and neighborhood beautification.
The organization has grown significantly over the years. For example, in the one-month period from July 1 – July 31, 2008, they furnished the homes of 39 families region-wide. One year later, in the one-month period from July 1, 2009 – July 31, 2009, they furnished the homes of 173 families region-wide.
Volunteer support has grown similarly. In July 2008, approximately 75 individuals volunteered with A Wider Circle. In July 2009, more than 450 individuals volunteered. This increase in volunteerism has been part of what allows the organization to realize its significant increase in families served.
The average value of the items received by each family served at A Wider Circle is greater than $1,400. From beds to dressers to dish sets and pots and pans, everything needed to turn four walls and a ceiling into a comfortable home is available free of charge. The funds saved by families receiving these items can then be used for rent, utilities, and other needs.
More than 90% of the financial support received by A Wider Circle goes directly to services, and because of its grassroots system of service, A Wider Circle can furnish the homes of five families for only $125.
In many cases, A Wider Circle’s work means that children in Montgomery County are sleeping in beds for the first time in their lives. At its current rate of service, A Wider Circle will furnish the homes of more than 850 families (equaling more than 3,800 children and adults) in Montgomery County in 2009.
What has made this growth possible? Hours of volunteer time and donations of furniture and other household items from people who want to make a difference for their neighbors who are struggling.
Since its inception, A Wider Circle has served nearly 15,000 individuals. Says Dr. Bergel, “This is a time for making sure our priorities are squarely focused on those in need. At A Wider Circle, we have seen the demand for our services grow significantly over the years. We continually improve our approach to service and utilize the volunteer spirit of the county in the movement to end poverty here, one family at a time.”
In recognition of its outstanding work, A Wider Circle was named “one of the finest small charities Greater Washington has to offer” by the Catalogue for Philanthropy, in addition to other notable awards. For more information about A Wider Circle, visit www.awidercircle.org or call 301-608-3504.