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Helping to End Poverty, One Person at a Time

“What does the world need me to do?”

When Mark Bergel, 51, asked himself that question, his answer was to start A Wider Circle, a nonprofit in Silver Spring, Md., that provides everything from furniture to job training and clothing to support those in need. Now, 13 years later, Bergel, who serves as the organization's executive director, is on a mission: End poverty in America.

A Wider Circle
Mark Bergel set up the clothing space for A Wider Circle’s Center for Professional Development to be “nicer than Nordstrom.”

As I sort and fold donated baby clothes in the organization’s huge warehouse, Bergel, a 2014 CNN Hero, shares his message of ending poverty by connecting with one another.

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“As one of us goes, so go all of us,” says the former American University sociology professor. “If a child lays his head on a dirty, cold floor tonight, that’s my kid. And a part of me doesn’t feel whole when somebody is suffering like that and I can do something about it.” Even now, Bergel chooses to sleep most nights on a couch, vowing to abstain from beds until every American owns one.

Eradicating poverty is indeed his passion. “The number one reason people are in poverty is birth,” Bergel says. “Poverty is just accepted in this country, but we can do something about it if we believe we can.”

“So what can I do?” I ask. Seriously, I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

“Look around you,” he tells me. “You can help anywhere you are. You’ll find someone who needs your assistance. Connect with them and try to be their support network.”

So does tutoring kids count? Volunteering to prepare meals for the hungry? Donating coats to the needy?

It’s not deeds you can tick off, Bergel emphasizes. Rather, “it’s our responsibility as human beings to commit” to  helping other human beings.

Right. It’s going beyond service projects and really engaging with and investing in individuals to make a difference in their lives. Got it.

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But another thought occurs to me. Doesn’t it take a village to truly make a difference? Isn’t that what government, schools, faith communities and business are supposed to do?

Yes, and that is the key, Bergel admits. Poverty will end when those sectors work “as if their lives depended on it — because many people’s lives do.”

Photo: Jane Hess Collins

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