Eight years ago, Dr. Mark Bergel was teaching stress management, social connection, and other health topics at local corporations and universities. He began requiring that his American University students perform community service as part of their course work. Through this exercise he came into contact with people who had no basic necessities of life. They were sleeping on bare floors, living with no furniture or household goods, not even beds for the children. He gave up everything else in his life and founded his non profit organization in his own living room.
Housed in a 2 story warehouse at 9159-C Brookville Rd in Silver Spring, MD. A Wider Circle is an organization dedicated to helping people lift themselves out of poverty and serves individuals and families in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. In 2008, The Catalogue for Philanthropy called it “one of the finest small charities Greater Washington has to offer.”
Bergel had no seed money but held a strong belief that we could do better for these people in such dire need. He has often said, “If one of us is in poverty, we are all in poverty.” He and a few dedicated volunteers, in their first year, furnished the homes of 774 children and adults. Currently, that number is 4,000 a year.
Eight years later, A Wider Circle has 12 staff members, 7 board members, dozens of university interns, and hundreds of volunteers. They field more than 150 phone calls a day. The organization also offers five programs to help children and adults to lift themselves out of poverty: a Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program; a Public Housing Wellness Program; a School Community Program; a Shelter Support Program; and Well Mother, Well Baby Program to fulfill Dr. Bergel’s goal of providing help for “the whole person.”
Bergel says the number of people seeking help at A Wider Circle has tripled since the recession began and some who used to donate are “now calling for help.” He says many of these are the victims of what he calls the “new poverty”, those who have lost their jobs and/or had their homes foreclosed on due to the economy.
In the Potomac Journal, Ansley LaBarre tells of two 26 year old women, former victims of domestic violence, who had been transitioned into a temporary apartment, just bare walls and empty rooms. The women had nothing to bring to it, but at A Wider Circle one Saturday morning, they were able to procure beds, a couch, accessories, and kitchen necessities. For them, and the estimated 175 clients per month, home furnishings are available for those in need through the generosity of donors and volunteers. Bergel says, “There’s enough stuff around.” “No one should live in squalor.”
Many other charitable groups exist which also do great work. Goodwill accepts donations for sale to the public and says that 84% of its revenue goes toward funding its employment and training programs, a worthy effort. The appeal of A Wider Circle is that it only serves the DC metro area and the donations go directly to those who need them, no fee involved. Those who donate and those who volunteer know that their efforts are serving our local community.