People often ask why we at Your Part-Time Controller choose to work predominantly with the nonprofit sector. And then you meet people like Mark Bergel and the team at his remarkable organization, A Wider Circle, and you wonder why more people don’t. Or, as YPTC President and Founder Eric Fraint says, “It’s people like Bergel who are the reason why I decided 20 years ago to devote my life to helping nonprofit organizations.”
Bergel, with a Ph.D. in sociology, was teaching at American University in Washington in 2001 when he was startled by the depth of poverty, poor health and economic inequalities he saw in the D.C. metro region. Approximately one out of every three children in the nation’s capital lives in poverty.
He decided to launch a social services agency to help low-income – and often no-income – people to move out of poverty. A Wider Circle took its name from Albert Einstein’s advice to free ourselves from self-centeredness by “widening our circles of compassion.”
Initially, A Wider Circle concentrated on finding free, quality used furniture for people in need. As Bergel tells the story, he was several years into his mission when he came home after a routine 15-hour day, crawled into bed, and realized there was a disconnect in his life. “I thought, ‘This feels great,’” he told The Washington Post. “And then I thought, ‘I have to get rid of this.’ The people we serve don’t get this moment. I don’t want this moment.”
So he donated his bed and today alternates between the couch and the floor of his small, ascetic apartment. He drives a subcompact and takes home only a modest salary and continually reminds himself of what it feels like to not have something as basic as a bed.
Based in Silver Spring, Md., A Wider Circle has expanded its services. Its people offer free professional style clothing so clients can dress for success at work. They provide job training in basic skills needed to get and keep employment. They provide linens and baby items and match poor families with volunteers who will help them over the long haul. They conduct workshops in low-income schools and shelters on everything from stress management to resume-writing. Almost 16,000 families with an average annual household income of $12,000 have been given the basic needs to help them live each day with greater dignity and stability.
And all of this has been accomplished with 10,000 volunteers and with remarkably little support from religious groups or government entities. Meanwhile, 300 area social services agencies regularly contact the organization for help in serving their clients.
Fraint and a large group of YPTC staff members met the ever-passionate Bergel and his crew when they volunteered for a day of service to help move and organize A Wider Circle’s supply of donated furniture. In addition to Eric and Kathie Fraint, staffers Esther Mensah-Sullivan, Lori Alexander, Linda Sankanung, Jenni Ford, and Hatsy Cutshall, plus members of their families, helped out at the event, which was organized by YPTC Associate Correy Camalier.
“I’ve listened to people like Mark scores of times before,” says Fraint. “The executive directors of almost all of our clients share Mark’s passion for the missions of their organizations. These people prove that one person can indeed make a difference.
“I enjoy accounting. But what I enjoy even more is helping nonprofits like A Wider Circle with their accounting so that they can make the world a better place. The purpose behind what they do is what gives purpose to what we do. Thank you, Mark, and all the passionate executive directors out there!”