A Wider Circle – A Worthwhile Program

One of ATI’s training partners TrainingEtc has a community service program that ATIcourses wants to publicize. You can read more about their volunteer program at http://www.trainingetc.com/illumanation/ A Wider Circle is one of their selected charities. Mark Bergel founded A Wider Circle in 2001 and has since emerged as a leader in the fight against poverty, winning […]
One of ATI’s training partners TrainingEtc has a community service program that ATIcourses wants to publicize. You can read more about their volunteer program at http://www.trainingetc.com/illumanation/ A Wider Circle is one of their selected charities. Mark Bergel founded A Wider Circle in 2001 and has since emerged as a leader in the fight against poverty, winning multiple awards for his work. In 2010, A Wider Circle was chosen as one of People Magazine and Major League Baseball’s “All Stars Among Us.”  The Catalogue for Philanthropy named his organization “one of the finest small charities Greater Washington has to offer.”   Mark’s passion to see poverty end, along with his compassion for the people he serves, sets him apart. He actually gave up his own bed four years ago with the belief that all children deserve a bed of their own, and until he sees that become a reality, sleeping on the floor or the couch each night serves as a reminder that the fight has not yet been won.   Recently, /training/etc’s Stacie Tippett spent time with Mark at A Wider Circle’s warehouse and had the opportunity to ask him about his mission. 1.Can you tell me what led you to start A Wider Circle?   I couldn’t stand looking at the great needs all around me and not do anything anymore. The cycle of poverty needs to be broken.   I was a teacher at American University, and I asked my students to volunteer. Actually, I required them to volunteer and made it part of their grade. I didn’t want to be hypocritical, so I volunteered with them. I drove a truck delivering meals to families in poverty, and I remember pulling over on the side of Georgia Avenue overwhelmed by the things I saw in those homes. . . it was like a different world. I knew right then and there that I needed to do something to change it. I quit my job and gave myself to all this in 2001, and in 2005 we saw things take off. There’s many long days, and we work seven days a week. We need to be there for the people when they need us. Passion to see this end is what keeps me going.   2.How did you come up with the name A Wider Circle? There’s a quote by Albert Einstein that says: ….we experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion… Our name was born out of that idea. We like to think of what we do as compassion on steroids. 3.Can you tell me about the six programs you have? Our largest program is Neighbor to Neighbor, where we provide the furniture you see in our showroom to families moving out of shelters or who might be living without it now. There’s no income or geographic requirement; these people are referred by different agencies in the area, then they schedule an appointment to pick out the items free of charge. We furnish about 15-20 rooms a day through this program. We have an Adult Education Program, where we teach job training skills, nutrition, financial planning, and other similar classes. We have a Well Mother, Well Baby program where we go into five local schools.  Through education and outreach, we help the mother be empowered to raise her child. We have the O.N.E. Program in which we honor veterans by celebrating four Veteran’s Days per year. We open our showroom on those four days solely for veteran clients. We have a Public Housing Program where we reach out to seniors and provide housing assistance to them. We also have our School Community Outreach program. We’ve adopted a third grade class, where not one student was reading on grade level. We have four to five volunteers working with that class at any given time, mentoring the students and helping them learn to read. 4.What areas specifically do you serve? We turn no one away. No matter how far they have traveled, we will help them. We serve local families from the greater DC area, the Baltimore area, and Frederick.  We’ve had people come from as far as Delaware and Pennsylvania. 5.How far do you travel to pick up furniture and mattresses? Every day we have at least three trucks running pickups, so we are all over the place. We normally ride all over Montgomery County, DC and Northern Virginia. We go into Howard County, Baltimore County, and Frederick, as well. We just expanded our area to include an hour travel-time radius, but we’re willing to work with people who live outside that radius, as well. If they have something to donate, we find a way to get it here. 6.Do you plan on expanding into other cities? We hope to one day. First, we end poverty here, then throughout the nation, and then into the rest of the world. 7.What are your dreams for both the people you serve and for A Wider Circle? I’d like to see a world without poverty, the end to a world where one person has too much while another person has nothing. There’s such a great disparity of wealth, especially in this area. And most people living in poverty aren’t in it because of anything they did; most were born into it. They were born into an impoverished family, lived as an impoverished child, grew up as an impoverished teen, and live now as an impoverished adult. This poverty causes so many other problems we see in society today, and it’s just not fair. But it doesn’t matter if we simply realize it’s not fair; it only matters what we do about it. We always wonder if we can do things better, and that’s our goal –  to do something. 8.How can people get involved? People can get involved in so many different ways! We have a wish list of items we are always in need of, including things like furniture, baby clothing, blankets, sheets, towels, small kitchen appliances, healthy, non-perishable food, and personal care items. Mattresses too. We always need mattresses. We give away about 500 beds a month, and we have about 1,000 people on our waiting list, so the need is just so great. You could volunteer as a driver of one of our delivery trucks, support a family on their way out of poverty, or volunteer here at our center answering phones, sorting clothing, or helping families who come in. 9.How do you envision /training/etc’s partnership with A Wider Circle? We love that you want to get involved. Any way you want to volunteer your time or resources is going to help. We want you to be able to touch, to taste and to feel the need so that your only reaction will be to want to do something about it. You’ll find we are all more fully who we were meant to be when we give of ourselves.