Former NEW executive director, Mary Popit doesn’t mince words about the woman who will be honored with the award that bears her name. “Without Anne, NEW could have fallen apart.” She’s speaking, of course, about Anne Raffaelli, a longtime supporter and former board chair of NEW. She stepped down in December 2015 after more than 23 years of service, and is this year’s recipient of the Mary Popit Partner in Caring Award.
Mary says Anne brought a “stick-to-it-iveness” to NEW that has sustained the organization. “You have to have a good staff AND a good board that offers oversight, and makes sure you see the bigger picture. You can’t have one without the other. Anne was instrumental in making sure that happened.” Wanda Steptoe, NEW’s current executive director – who took over from Mary describes Anne more succinctly: “Committed, passionate, caring.”
Anne says she was simply doing her job as a board member, being an “asker in chief,” and asking the questions that needed to be asked. “Because it’s what a board should do.” Asked what she considers her biggest contribution to NEW, Anne says, “I like to think I fostered a spirit of giving and inquiry in the board.”
Both Mary and Wanda recognize the big things that Anne brought to NEW, as a volunteer, supporter, and a board member. She was a supportive soundboard during key moments of transition – when Mary left and Wanda arrived, and more importantly, when the organization found itself needing to adapt. Says Wanda, “Sometimes it’s hard to grasp the changes, but Anne understood that we needed to meet our clients along the continuum of care, and that we needed to be flexible about that.” She is speaking of course, of NEW’s housing programs such as New Hope, New Journeys, New Generations, and more.
Again, Anne does not see this as anything but normal. As far as she is concerned, “Those who can, help those who need. We all have an obligation to the women who come to NEW.” And that obligation doesn’t end once their time at NEW is up. “Sometimes they’re maybe a bit too broken to be put back together, and we can’t just shuttle them out the door. We all deserve a place to live in dignity.”
Wanda says that caring stems from the importance Anne places on her own family. “Her love for family is a driving force in her life, and I think she recognized that it’s what holds us up, and is absent in the lives of the women who come to NEW. Many of them end up without shelter because they don’t have the family support we take for granted.”
Anne is quick to respond to that reflection warmly. “Everyone can make bad choices, fail at things, make the wrong move, fall down. But most of us have a support system to keep us on track when we get back up.” Anne’s words come from a place of lived experience. She remembers being a single parent of two young children while still in grad school. But she wasn’t without means or friends or family, and it made all the difference. “Because they gave freely, I could move to a different step. Whether it was dinners or babysitting or an extra pair of hands, I had help when I needed it. The women at NEW don’t.”
Anne says her experiences deepened her empathy for the women who came to NEW’s doors, and translated into passion for NEW’s mission – to help women and their children build new futures, and find their new home. Wanda says that commitment made Anne indispensable. And fearless. “She is not afraid to make the ask.” By which, Wanda means fundraising. Anne maintains that NEW was never in danger of closing its doors, but Mary and Wanda will say this – Anne Raffaelli has been important to NEW’s financial stability. Whether it’s asking important questions, steering staff when needed, or probing the budget, her contribution has been invaluable.
Asked how her time, and how the organization has, and can continue to make a difference, Anne says that it’s about recognizing ourselves in the faces of women of NEW. Why is that so hard? “Well, for one thing,” Anne says simply, “We don’t even look. It’s not easy to make people look. But if we can, and we do, then we’re making a difference.”
Please join us next month, at the 2016 Moving Out Of Homelessness gala, where Wanda Steptoe will do the honors and present Anne Raffaelli with the Mary Popit Partner in Caring Award for 2016.
The gala will be held 6:30 – 8:30 pm, October 25, 2016 at the Marriot Marquis in Washington, DC (901 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001)