Three dozen organizations participated in the Capitol Hill Volunteer Fair held at the Hill Center on April 29. While some focus their work solely on Capitol Hill, others have broader coverage, often for the greater DC area, while also serving Capitol Hill’s population. One of these organizations is A Wider Circle, a nonprofit founded in 2001 by Dr. Mark Bergel that focuses on helping low-income households, especially with donated furniture.
In its first year of operations A Wider Circle helped furnish the homes of close to 800 children and adults, using donated furniture and a small team of volunteers. Today the organization has 50 staff and more than 15,000 volunteers. Operating out of a 38,000-square-foot center bought in 2015, it helps furnish homes for a population of 16,000 each year while also delivering educational programs on poverty. Twice named “one of the best” by the Catalogue for Philanthropy, A Wider Circle offers a range of opportunities for volunteers that are described on its website.
Its Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program provides furniture and household goods to families transitioning out of shelters, escaping domestic violence, or living without basic items. Families and individuals in need may visit the organization’s Center for Community Service, where they select items free of charge. Volunteers help collect and distribute furniture and household goods. They also assist clients in selecting the items they need.
Under its workforce development program, A Wider Circle provides advice to job seekers on resume-writing, interview skills, career path identification, and job advancement, including access to computers for resume-writing and job searching. Some 2,000 individuals participate in the program each year. A thrift store provides professional attire and accessories. Volunteers help in various ways, including as job coaches working with specific individuals, bootcamp volunteers for resume clinics and other services, professional clothing sorters to sort donated clothes, and personal shoppers to assist specific clients.
In a third program, known as wraparound support, partners engage with families in problem-solving, focusing on the needs of each particular family. The aim is to help identify resources and training.
Finally, under its Neighborhood Partnerships Program the organization aims to end poverty directly, in partnership with residents and other organizations active within specific neighborhoods.
You can volunteer with A Wider Circle individually, as a group, or as a family, but note that volunteers under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult, and volunteers under the age of 18 need the consent of their parents or guardian.
One of my friends and work colleagues, Lindsey Buss, has been volunteering for several years with A Wider Circle. It has been a great experience for him and his son. “I have taken my son to volunteer several times at A Wider Circle,” said Buss, “where we have sorted donated items, loaded furniture for clients, and even built a table. I want my son to become more familiar with the needs people have and develop a habit of helping meet those needs.” As he explained, “A big reason I like taking my son here is that he can quickly see the importance of the role he is playing. Volunteers are an integral part of the Wider Circle business model, and every time we leave, we understand the contribution we have made. I also like that volunteers and clients are often moving about the same space together. It makes me feel more connected to the mission.”
A Wider Circle encourages volunteers who have special skills to support the organization through pro bono work. In short, whatever your skills and the amount of time that you may have to give, A Wider Circle will be able to make good use of your volunteer time for the benefit of the those in need in Capitol Hill and the greater DC area.
For more information about A Wider Circle, visit www.awidercircle.org.
Quentin Wodon is president of the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill, which meets every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7:30 a.m. at the Dubliner on F Street. To contact Quentin or learn more about the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill Pro Bono Initiative, please send him an email through the Contact Me page of his blog at www.rotarianeconomist.com.