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A Wider Circle

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The mission of A Wider Circle is simple: to help one individual and one family after another to rise out of poverty. We work seven days a week, 365 days a year because nobody we serve is in poverty Monday-Friday, from 9:00-5:00. Our holistic approach focuses on the provision of basic need items, workforce development, wraparound support, and neighborhood revitalization.

It all began in 2001, when Dr. Mark Bergel, then a professor at American University, volunteered with his students to deliver emergency food supplies to local families. As he went from home to home, he saw that people not only had no food, they had no beds, dressers, or other basic need items that so many of us take for granted. He also saw that people had little access to the information and resources so readily available to others in our community. They were, as he observed, far from ready to enter the workforce and living day-to-day without the support systems necessary to rise out of their current conditions. With no seed money but a strong conviction that we could do better for those living in poverty, he converted his living room into a non-profit office and founded A Wider Circle.

A Wider Circle has come a long way since 2001. Today, A Wider Circle operates out of a 35,000 square-foot center, has 60 staff members and hosts more than 17,000 volunteers each year. It is their energy and commitment that now allows A Wider Circle to furnish the homes of more than 16,000 children and adults each year and deliver workforce development programs to thousands of men and women.

Our Basic Needs Program is our oldest and largest. We provide items ranging from beds and dressers to home goods and personal care items to individuals and families transitioning out of homelessness, fleeing domestic abuse, or otherwise living without the essentials of life. Our Workforce Development Program has been in existence for nearly ten years and provides holistic, intensive, and highly personalized support to adults seeking to enter or re-enter the workforce and advance in their careers. We offer job skills training, individualized job coaching, and high-quality, professional attire and accessories – all free of charge. A Wider Circle's Wraparound Support Program matches one family in poverty with four families that provide long-term support. These families form a team and work together to set and pursue goals related to employment, education, financial management, health & wellness, and housing stability. Finally, our Neighborhood Partnerships Program brings together all sectors of the greater community, connecting residents with vital support services and walking alongside them as they revitalize their communities.

A Wider Circle responds to more than 500 telephone calls each day, many of which are from those living in deep poverty. Nearly 100% of those we serve live below the federal poverty line.  In fact, the average income of those we serve is $12,000 for a family of four people, and this includes all forms of assistance. In 2016, alone, A Wider Circle furnished 4,425 homes, helped more than 2,000 individuals through its Workforce Development Program, and received donations of furniture and home goods from more than 23,000 families in the national capital region. Utilizing a grassroots approach, we continue to operate with an overhead of just 2%, meaning that 98% of all support goes directly to service.

A Wider Circle has been named "one of the bestʺ nonprofit organizations in the region on three different occasions by the Catalogue for Philanthropy. It has also been called the "very best of Washington" by The Washington Post and "the quintessential grassroots organization" by The Washington Examiner. While many individual and organizational accolades have come to A Wider Circle, most recently, the organization received the 2016 William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award from the Comptroller of the state of Maryland. Our founder and executive director, Dr. Mark Bergel, has been named a CNN Hero, Washingtonian of the Year, and one of People Magazine's "All-Stars Among Us" for his efforts to end poverty.

While these accomplishments are significant, we know that the real work lies ahead. The child going to sleep each night on the floor of an empty apartment and the mother struggling to find employment inspire us to pursue this work with the urgency that the crisis demands.