A Wider Circle founder Mark Bergel named a 2014 CNN Hero

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By Mark Bergel

I’ve had the honor of being called a “hero” twice since I founded A Wider Circle 13 years ago. The first time was when The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region presented me with a Linowes Leadership Award in 2008, honoring me along with three other “unsung heroes” in our community. It was a defining moment for me and for A Wider Circle, one that gave us confidence, connections, visibility and financial support at a critical time in the life of the organization.

I thought back to that moment this week when CNN announced that I had been selected as a 2014 CNN Hero – one of only about 25 people from around the world who will receive the honor this year. While the recognition will certainly bring national – and even international – attention to our organization, more importantly, it will shine a spotlight on the tremendous needs in the Greater Washington area.

At A Wider Circle, we are dedicated to ending poverty. Some may think that is overly ambitious, unrealistic or downright impossible. But much like the men and women who founded The Community Foundation 40 years ago, our staff, volunteers and many community partners will not give up until everyone in our region has, in the words of The Community Foundation, “equity, access and opportunity.”

How do we get there?  By providing families basic need items such as beds, couches and dining room tables; through comprehensive education and job preparedness support; and by creating connections for long-term support for children and adults transitioning out of homelessness, escaping domestic violence or simply living in poverty.

Every day, A Wider Circle’s staff and volunteers witness how important something as simple as a bed can be in the lives of those it serves. In the words of Tanja Peace, who lost everything in a house fire: “I remember the day we got our beds. It was six months after the fire. Today, I’m just thankful and blessed for what we do have. You take that for granted when you are able to provide for yourself. I have always been someone who was quick to help someone in need. Now I know what it feels like to be the recipient of that kindness.”

We recently launched our “EveryBODY Needs a Bed” campaign, seeking 10,000 beds by the end of 2014. In addition, on March 29, we will sponsor the National Conference on Ending Poverty, in collaboration with Montgomery County’s Office of Community Partnerships. Local, national and global leaders – all heroes in the campaign to end poverty – will be on hand to share successful and innovative approaches. I hope to see you there.

Mark Bergel is founder of A Wider Circle. For more information about A Wider Circle, visit www.awidercircle.org. For information about CNN Heroes, visit www.CNN.com.