Matthew Desmond, sociologist and author of the books “Evicted” and “Poverty, By America” recently wrote a New York Times article on the persistence of poverty in the United States. In it, he references the idea that the increased access to consumer goods like cellphones over the past several decades reflects an improvement in the lives of our neighbors experiencing poverty. He writes:
You can’t eat a cellphone. A cellphone doesn’t grant you stable housing, affordable medical and dental care or adequate child care. In fact, as things like cellphones have become cheaper, the cost of the most necessary of life’s necessities, like health care and rent, has increased. From 2000 to 2022 in the average American city, the cost of fuel and utilities increased by 115 percent. The American poor, living as they do in the center of global capitalism, have access to cheap, mass-produced goods, as every American does. But that doesn’t mean they can access what matters most.
Later in the same article, he shares, “Poverty isn’t simply the condition of not having enough money. It’s the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that.”
Similar to Desmond’s conclusion later in the article, at A Wider Circle, we know that ending poverty will not be as simple as ensuring our neighbors have more money (though this is certainly important). Rather, we also need to reimagine the systems and structures that sustain our communities, standing in solidarity as neighbors to build a society where choices are abundant and exploitation is a thing of the past.
Or, as A Wider Circle’s new vision statement puts it, our vision is a world without poverty, where people have what they need to thrive.
This vision is at the heart of our new strategic plan. Today, just over a month after the launch of this new plan, I’d like to share more with you about how this plan came to fruition, and how you can stand in solidarity with us as a neighbor so that together, we can make this vision a reality.
When we embarked upon this strategic planning process a year ago, a remarkable opportunity became apparent — the opportunity for A Wider Circle to evolve and grow from the vision of one person, our founder, to a truly shared vision of those individuals that make up our circle.
Being deeply involved in this process has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. I remember my early conversations with Amy, our President & CEO, and the energy that surrounded our collective desire for A Wider Circle to embrace who we already were. We didn’t need to become a brand new organization, but instead, we aimed to become more aware of our shared values and purpose in action, so that we could continue doing all the amazing things we do — now, with a renewed sense of intentionality in our organization’s evolution.
The plan that resulted from this is simultaneously very different from how we’ve spoken in the past, and at the same time, a complete reaffirmation of who we always have been: a circle of compassionate neighbors, giving and receiving support, in service to our community.
The context around the strategic planning process was unique in many ways. The COVID-19 pandemic upended the natural rhythms of daily life, while the protests following George Floyd’s murder sparked a “racial reckoning” and a renewed focus on equity. The “Great Resignation” emphasized the importance of safe and inclusive workplaces that value work-life balance and staff development. Additionally, A Wider Circle’s founder had stepped down after nearly twenty years of leadership, and Amy Javaid stepped in first as interim, then permanent, President & CEO.
Each of these factors impacted not only the end result of the plan but the process itself. It was inclusive, iterative, and intentional. We worked with an outside firm (TCC), established a strong internal strategic planning committee, held focus groups and strategic working sessions, distributed surveys, and sought feedback from all stakeholders. This level of involvement enriched the process and helped ensure that the end result was reflective of our circle’s shared vision.
I can still clearly remember our all-staff retreat last June where TCC introduced the strategic planning process. In that room, something incredible happened — an alchemy of best practices and authentic “opening up.” TCC facilitated the process beautifully, inviting everyone to contribute and adorning walls with large post-it notes that captured bold new ideas and desires expressed in bright-colored markers. It was electrifying to hear passionate voices rising, people saying what had previously been left unsaid or unheard, and to feel the excitement of things coming to life in a brand new space.
I also cherish the memory of team meetings and one-on-one conversations, where we were free to ask the hard “why?” questions. Previously, we might have accepted “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as a sufficient answer, but not anymore. With Amy’s remarkable leadership, we were able to have these difficult conversations in good faith, knowing that by doing so, we were benefiting both our neighbors and our team’s wellbeing.
Throughout the entire strategic planning process, an emphasis on collaboration and interconnectedness emerged as a central theme. A Wider Circle recognizes that we cannot tackle poverty alone and that we must work with others to change the systems and narratives that create and sustain poverty. Our three impact goals — Be a Good Neighbor, Build and Sustain Community, and Co-Create a Better Future — reflect this collaborative approach, that A Wider Circle is essentially one part social service provider, one part social service partner, and one part social change agent. You can read more about these impact goals here.
A Wider Circle staff, volunteers, and other friends may remember the origin of our name — an Einstein quote about “widening our circle of compassion,” to ripple out into greater and greater layers of impact in the larger community (and the world) in which we live. Like this ripple effect, we believe we must also look inwards to optimize and continuously improve who we are, how we serve, and how we collaborate to create change. That is really what the strategic planning process and the plan itself are all about.
As we move forward, we invite you to join us — become part of our circle and widen the circle of compassion. There are three ways that you can join A Wider Circle on this path forward:
- First, share our work with your own circle. Send friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors links to this blog post, the strategic plan, our website, or the signup page for our email list so that they can learn about A Wider Circle and get involved.
- Second, support A Wider Circle with your time and talent. Volunteer with us on a regular basis, or when you can. Join our social justice committee and get involved with our advocacy work.
- Third, sustain A Wider Circle by funding our work. The truth is that we cannot do what we do without being able to pay our staff, fuel our trucks, or keep the lights on at our Silver Spring Center and Ward 8 Hub. Your donation, whether it’s $20 or $20,000, is what makes all of this possible.
Click here to donate to either support general operating expenses or invest in one of our biggest current needs, bulk donations, which will allow us to furnish even more homes each year.
I deeply believe in our new strategy. But more than the strategy itself, what I appreciate most is how this process has enriched our working environment by empowering everyone to become leaders of A Wider Circle and true neighbors to our community. I feel blessed to have been a part of it, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
As mentioned earlier, one goal of this process was to turn our work into the shared vision of our circle, so that we can collaborate together to create equity in our region and beyond. That circle includes you, and I hope you join us so that one day, a world without poverty will no longer be our shared vision, but our reality.
Adam Albanese is the Director of A Wider Circle’s Career Support program. He also served as the staff liasion and committee leader for our strategic planning process.