Dr. Mark Bergel holds architect’s plans for renovation and expansion of A Wider Circle’s Silver Spring location on Brookville Road. Photo by Lisa Sanders.
Guest post by Lisa Sanders
In the 15 years since Dr. Mark Bergel launched A Wider Circle in the living room of his Bethesda apartment, he and his nonprofit have reached many milestones in their ongoing fight to end poverty.
From a few college interns working alongside Dr. Bergel in 2001, A Wider Circle’s staff has blossomed to more than 50 employees, plus nearly 20 interns and thousands of volunteers, today. In its first year, the nonprofit provided beds, chairs, and home furnishings to 774 children and adults.
A Wider Circle today serves nearly 20,000 adults and children annually – furnishing more than 4,400 homes and helping an additional 2,000 people through workforce development programs. And when Dr. Bergel’s space could no longer accommodate the growing enterprise, after a short stint in temporary space, A Wider Circle in 2009 moved its Center for Community Service to a rented building in Silver Spring’s North Woodside neighborhood.
Come January 2017, A Wider Circle reaches a new milestone with the expansion and renovation of the Center for Community Service building at 9159 Brookville Rd., which it purchased in 2015.
It is an ambitious undertaking that’s a long time in the making. Dr. Bergel first considered buying and improving the building several years ago. “We were vulnerable to rent increases,” he said. “Buying made financial sense.”
Once other building tenants, Rod Miller Plumbing and JDKA Coffee, move out, construction will start with the building exterior then move inside.
Dr. Bergel’s ideas for renovation were modest at first, but grew as he realized the potential positive impact of increased space and more efficient building systems, including new elevators to move heavy items between floors, on A Wider Circle’s clientele. The furniture showroom, now at 1,000 square feet will increase to 3,000, allowing A Wider Circle to serve twice as many people with chairs, couches, tables and desks, annually. Classrooms and computer labs, now at 600 square feet, will increase to 2,500-plus square feet.
“Our goal is to provide comprehensive support to those who come to us, and to respond to the ever-increasing need that comes to our door,” says Dr. Bergel. “With these renovations, we can nearly double the number of people we will serve per year and propel the movement to end poverty in many other ways.”
A Wider Circle in recent years has expanded its offerings by hosting conferences on combating poverty and related issues as well as with the launch of Neighborhood Partnerships Programs. The latter include Barry Farm, started in 2015, and just this month, a program in the Highland Dwellings in D.C.’s Washington Highlands neighborhood. Both efforts are collaborations with the D.C. Housing Authority. “In addition to having a dynamic headquarters,” says Dr. Bergel, “We have a strong desire to be in neighborhoods where poverty is dominant, to work with residents as they seek to rise out of poverty.”
The Center for Community Service’s new look is designed and planned by architects A Wider Circle brought onboard using funds from a foundation grant.
The progress of the project’s next phase, demolition and construction, says Dr. Bergel, depends upon the participation of a “Dream Team” of helpers. He and his board hope to assemble a group of 10 to 15 local area company partners – demolition experts, plumbers, electricians, and construction workers.
“There is no reason that we cannot do better to help those living in poverty,” he said. “It is a matter of priority and we are committed to bringing all of the resources we can bring to bear to help our neighbors.”