Thirteen years ago, to this day, A Wider Circle was born. I remember clearly having to make my living room hospitable for the students who had emailed about doing an internship. Several of them had been students in my classes, but I worried about how they would all respond to spending the thousands of dollars they spent on their education to do an internship in my apartment. I had a small apartment, and the building was a typical apartment building, certainly not a typical place for undergraduate students to do internships. Happily, not one flinched at all – they had the passion and love of their fellow human beings to go for it.
Their belief in the plan that was A Wider Circle led the small group to immediately begin hammering away at programs and services that would address the dangerous, dirty, and scarce conditions I had witnessed in our nation’s capital region. These were conditions that nobody whom I knew would allow their children to endure each day, and I was embarrassed to not have known more about how my neighbors were living. I was embarrassed that we allowed people in our midst to live this way.
I knew it was going to be an all-out effort for me. I knew I would be changing everything about my life, and I knew it was the right thing to do. For some reason, when I decided to go for it, I cried. I have cried many times since, always because of the interactions I have with people we serve or simply the stories I hear from my team about their interactions.
I hoped and believed back then that I would find people each semester to sign up for internships, and one day I hoped to raise enough funds to hire some staff – maybe a few young folks who could work for a modest salary and still give it their all. I knew I did not have the business acumen of many, but I also knew change had to occur.
Looking back, I did not think that I would find as many incredible people – of all ages – who now make up this staff. I knew we would need a board, but I wondered how we find a board that would be as capable and yet as ego-less and selfless as this movement needs.
Thirteen years later, the staff and board here are a dream come true, and I never use that phrase lightly. In fact, I have never used that phrase until recently – to describe the team here. And we have an Advisory Board filled with dedicated and capable people – and our core volunteers are more selfless than I could have imagined.
Thirteen years ago, I never thought we would have more than 15,000 volunteers coming here each year – with thousands more about to join the ranks. They help us serve the more than 25,000 children and adults we serve each year.
Finally, on the eve of our 13th birthday, as I talked with ten women who were enrolled in our new Job Preparedness program, there was one palpable energy in the room. These women were optimistic. We talked of being a family in this effort – that we would not rest at A Wider Circle until they had jobs that brought them independence. We were not in it for 8, 9 or 10 bucks an hour. We wanted them to live different lives, and perhaps more than at any time in these 13 years, I felt a strong sense from every single person in that room that, after this intense week of classes, they were going to go forth with confidence and purpose to create the change they need in their lives.
I have heard from many in my 13 years about how crazy I am for talking about ending poverty. I would like to think they are wrong, for I see it differently. I see poverty today as the lunch counter at which people could not eat fifty years ago because of the color of their skin. I see poverty today as women not being allowed to vote because of their gender. Poverty is wrong in the very same way, and we need to right it. Most people I meet have been in poverty since birth – and their kids were born into it, just as their parents were.
Thirteen years after A Wider Circle was founded, I feel more urgency than ever, but I am more optimistic than ever, as well.
Celebrating our birthday today is important, but as I have seen in the eyes of the people who started over an hour ago in full effort here, we celebrate the birthday with an urgency and intensity that our neighbors need. We need to right the wrongs and come together as a family. The ten women last night showed me that we are moving in the right direction. Please, please do all you can do to move with us. We need one another – and we all benefit the same – even if we feel those benefits in different ways.
To choose to live for others is to be fully human. I believed that when I started this work, and I know it more than ever today. With urgency, with gratitude for all who have helped, and with serious purpose, we move into our 14th year.