The Selfless Act of Writing Letters to Spread a Little Love

The Selfless Act of Writing Letters to Spread a Little Love

When the pandemic hit in March, NEW saw an outpouring of supporters wanting to help. In person volunteering was off but the women — especially the seniors living alone — needed connections more than ever.  

NEW launched a volunteer letter-writing campaign, enlisting volunteers to regularly write letters to the women at NEW in an effort to help them feel a little less isolated. Almost 60 volunteers signed up and have since then written hundreds of letters. The NEW women love these little expressions of support and encouragement from strangers in their community. They look forward to them, and often display them around their rooms and apartments.

“My ladies absolutely adore the letters,” said Case Manager Dom Dipini who still meets her clients regularly, masked and at a safe distance, despite the pandemic. “They talk about the letters all the time.”

Volunteers started writing and mailing letters to women at NEW in March.

It’s been a little light in a dark time for the NEW women and a help for the case managers trying to keep their clients positive and healthy.

But the letters have equally affected the letter writers as well, providing them with a way to care for people in their community during these strange times. 

“I have been writing a weekly note to one of the women living at a NEW location for over four months,” said volunteer and NEW Vice Chair board member Iris Drayton-Spann. “I usually write the notes over a weekend, so that I can mail them to her once a week.  I put positive quotes or sayings or words of encouragement. I have music playing in the background as I write my notes. My husband always knows when I’m writing out my notes, from the gentle sounds of jazz and R&B coming out of the Alexa dot.”

It’s also made the volunteers more thankful for what they have, realizing that not everyone has a support system to fall back on. Kristen Burke has been writing a letter a month to her pen pal, sometimes including poetry or watercolor paintings.

“I have enjoyed creating the cards for her,” she said. “In a time that I often feel anxious and isolated, I reflect on my gratitude in having community—whether that be roommates to share meals with, family to call, or friends in different cities to text and FaceTime with. It makes me further appreciate my community. And now I have loved being able to extend my community to the include NEW and my pen pal.”

The letter writers have found routine and solace in their efforts as they spread a love for women — strangers whom they have never met — who have experienced homelessness.

“I feel so much better after I write these note cards,” Drayton-Spann said.  “They put me in a different mindset, because of the pandemic. I’m able to express kindness to someone else and hopefully put a smile on her face when she checks her mail.”

These little acts of kindness seem so much more important right now, at a year marked by division. Another volunteer, Rev. Minette Wood wrote about her experience writing letters.

“I recall waking up on a rainy day with a passionate urgency to write to my pen pal. That day, I wrote my first letter. In writing, I felt strangely connected to my pen pal (whom I never met).  What matters the most to me is not that she necessarily replies but, that she receives, reads, and is encouraged by the note.  As a letter writer, I am planting and sowing seeds of hope and encouragement. The note, letter or card is planted in her heart and her thoughts, so when those weak moments, triggers, voices of negativity, and loneliness attempt to sabotage her success, she will have something that speaks to her positively, hopefully lifting her spirits, knowing that someone genuinely cares.”

The women at NEW have not written their pen pals back, but that has not dissuaded the volunteers from continuing their selfless act, and relationships between volunteer and letter recipient forms nonetheless. Because the holidays can be challenging for many people, some volunteers are planning on writing even more letters this month. 

“I hope she enjoys the notes, because I value being able to write them to her,” Drayton-Spann said. “I just want her to know, she is loved, she is special and she is my NEW pen pal.”

Click here to volunteer to write letters to New Endeavors by Women.

What now? A letter from our Executive Director

What now? A letter from our Executive Director

I would be hard pressed to find anyone right now who hasn’t felt the stress of the last week. These times continue to be unprecedented, and even though the ballots have finally all been counted and the winner named, the country remains divided and our problems numerous. Because we know the kind of giving people you are, you might be wondering:

“What can I do to make it better?”

Supporters like you have already done so much to add goodness to our NEW community and beyond. Because of your generosity of heart and your giving spirit, we have continued to be able to serve almost 200 women and children through the pandemic including 27 new women and 3 children. NEW is small enough that you really do have a direct impact on the lives of the women NEW serves. We are so impressed that despite all that is going on, we have been able to rely on you and you have shown up virtually, financially and so thoughtfully with brightly colored bags full of goodies for our women. You have provided the caring and hope that the world has needed during these challenging times.

What now? Our work continues as our case managers every day help women step by step regain control of their lives, even in a pandemic. Like you, the NEW staff is a bright spot in a dark time and seeing them care for the women brings me so much joy.

We all need to take a breath and find a little peace, even if just for a moment, before we can find the energy to continue to care for the most vulnerable women in our city. Together, with good people like you in our community, city, and country, we can help women in need, help end homelessness and help put a little good back into the world.

Email Moira if you would like to virtually volunteer as a pen pal to one of our women, or if you have an idea about a virtual workshop or game night.

Or donate here.


Wanda Steptoe
Executive Director
New Endeavors by Women

Letter from the Executive Director, Wanda Steptoe, about Covid-19

Letter from the Executive Director, Wanda Steptoe, about Covid-19

What does a stay-at-home order look like for someone experiencing homelessness? This is a question I think about often these days as we adapt to a new world- one that would have been unimaginable at this time last year. As businesses like gyms and libraries closed, access to simple resources like showers, working outlets, and air conditioning became even more difficult to navigate. Inequity and poverty have not paused in the face of a global pandemic, but neither have we.

We are still here, providing safe housing to 152 women and children. Our case managers are meeting with our clients via phone and socially-distanced meetings to check in on their progress and health. We’ve increased cleaning services and purchased PPE for clients and staff so we can limit the spread of germs. Throughout this process, the women we serve have remained hopeful, optimistic, and resilient. One woman joked that she wouldn’t be adding a year to her age at her next birthday because this one doesn’t count. We agree!

What’s our secret to continuing this work in such uncertain times? You. Our community of supporters has met these times of isolation with intentional connection. You have met uncertainty with generosity and love. I am excited to share this issue of reNEWal with you so you can see the beauty your generosity has cultivated.

Wishing you health and joy,


NEW Spotlight: Long Time Supporter Debbie Curtis

NEW Spotlight: Long Time Supporter Debbie Curtis

With only 26 staff members, including case managers for 152 women and children, NEW depends on its board of 15 committed volunteers to ensure the success of the program.

Volunteers like Debbie Curtis have served on the NEW board for five years, but her connection to NEW goes back to 1998 when she worked in long-time NEW supporter, Senator Pete Stark’s office and met NEW’s Executive Director Mary Popit. Debbie started organizing clothing drives for NEW and encouraging her friends to donate things like panty hose, which the NEW women especially appreciated.

Living in DC, Debbie saw first hand the need for services for women experiencing homelessness. She started attending NEW’s annual Moving Out of Homlessness gala, bringing her baby daughter, Anya with her.

Debbie has continued to support NEW because she believes not only in its mission, but in the dedication of its staff. “NEW actually succeeds in helping women out of homelessness as opposed to moving the women between homelessness,” she says. “I feel so confident the money is going into services, going directly to helping women transfer out of homelessness.”

As NEW programming has evolved to meet the needs of the women through the years, so too the board has evolved and today NEW board members bring a diversity of background and expertise to the work. Debbie works for the DC Health Benefit Exchange, but the board also includes an HR professional, a banker, lawyers, and public policy experts.

“The breadth of the board has really grown and that is so important and intentional and I have been so impressed with that evolution,” Debbie says. “There are now more mechanisms in place to make sure we have a strong board and a variety of people to serve.”

Because of board term limits, Debbie can only serve one more year, but she has no plans to stop supporting the program.

“By supporting NEW, I feel that I’m helping to reduce homelessness in the District. It’s just disturbing the growth of homelesness,” Debbie says. “And also the people at NEW, the clients, the staff, are wonderful and everyone cares about each other and are working to improve people’s lives.”

A NEW Look: Sarah Gochenaur, Devel and Comm Director

A NEW Look: Sarah Gochenaur, Devel and Comm Director

Sarah Gochenaur (sounds like go-ken-our) arrived in the DC-area in 2014 with $200 in her pocket and two suitcases. The oldest of four kids from Long Island, Sarah, NEW’s new Director of Development and Communications, moved in with her boyfriend, now husband, and started looking for a job.

“Any job under the sun, I have probably done it,” she says: tax preparer, volunteer program associate, corporate partnership developer, outdoor education professional. But when she started working for AmeriCorps, she discovered her love for nonprofits.

“I feel like I have a responsibility to make the world a better place so nonprofits have provided this beautiful avenue to do that,” she says. “Working with nonprofits gives me faith in humanity and it’s easy to see that people are more beautiful, thoughtful and wonderful than you ever thought before.”

Sarah started working in development in 2017 at Capital Area Food Bank where she realized she was good at developing relationships with potential corporate partners. She came to NEW from Muslim Advocates where she was Development Officer. She was drawn to NEW and it’s mission, especially with its focus on women. “Women are really the backbone of families and entire communities. They really are the crux of society. If we fail them, if we don’t take care of them to help them get up again, we risk whole communities suffering. It just makes sense to be concerned about women, housing and stability.”

Sarah started working at NEW in May and while the pandemic has made it a strange time to start a new job, Sarah says that everyone at NEW has been welcoming and that she has already been inspired by the work.

“If I had to show someone a nonprofit that gave me faith in the world,  it would be NEW,” Sarah says. “Seeing the staff go above and beyond, knowing that the support from donors hasn’t stopped with COVID, everyone understands that our work keeps going even in the face of a global pandemic. It’s inspiring.”

A Student, a Case manager, and a National Honor Society Award 

A Student, a Case manager, and a National Honor Society Award 

R” moved to Washington, DC a few years ago with his mom, brother and two sisters. The family was fleeing a domestic abuse crisis and looking to start over. They found NEW. Today R. and his siblings are academically thriving. In a recent newsletter, we wrote about his sister L. who is attending college. Well, now R. is coming up behind her, earning a 3.56 to finish his sophomore year at Bishop McNamara High School AND getting inducted into the National Honor Society. 

“The sky’s the limit for R.,” his case manager Wakeena Corbin says. “When he found out about getting in the National Honor Society, he called me and said ‘Oh my gosh Ms. Wakeena!’ I told him, “See, all your hard work paid off.” 

Wakeena has been a constant support for R. who loves history and chemistry and plans on pursuing an engineering degree. “Ms. Wakeena, she keeps me on top of my work,” R. says. “She’ll call me and when my computer tablet broke, she went to school to get me a new one.”

Wakeena says that R’s success has inspired his younger siblings, sixth grader K. and ninth grader E. “Now the brothers and sisters are competing against each to do well in school and keep up,” she says.

Wakeena helped R’s sister through the college application process, and she is excited to help R., who wants to go to college in California, too. 

“R. is absolutely wonderful,” Wakeena says. “He knows I believe in him.”

“I’m very grateful for the people here at New Endeavors,” R. says.

NEW Dedication: Wakeena Corbin, Case Manager

NEW Dedication: Wakeena Corbin, Case Manager

Case Manager Wakeena Corbin was 10-years-old when she started living in foster care in DC. Her mom was an addict who couldn’t take care of her or her sister. “Foster care wasn’t bad and it wasn’t good,” Wakeena says. “What I did in order for me to make it was I took each situation and made it my best I could.”

Wakenna brings that positive can-do attitude now to the women and children she serves at NEW. “I tell the women, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve done that, in another lifetime.”

At the age of 13 Wakeena found a mentor that she is still in contact with today. She lived in a group home and became a teenage mom. “I couldn’t do what my mom did to my child. I wanted to do better for her, so I went to school and bettered myself. I believe in school. School is what changed me. And never ever did I decide to pick up a drug.“

Wakeena earned a degree from Virginia State University, but when she returned to DC, she had nowhere to go and was homeless. “I would go to Bethany House to eat in the morning, and at night I would go to the Lutheran Church.” Soon she saw a job opening for staff support at NEW. She interviewed with Director of Programs James Brown and was hired. With her first check, she was able to pay her first month’s rent on an apartment. Six months later, she was promoted to case management.

Since then Wakeena has worked with NEW mothers, seniors, and kids, helping them find the stability that NEW brought her. 

“I love what I do,” she says. “I love Mr. Brown, I love working with Ms. Price, I have learned so much.”

Wakeena has especially enjoyed working with kids like R. who has excelled at Bishop McNamara High School.

“If I can catch the kids at a young age, then maybe we can keep them from becoming a statistic. Because somebody caught me so that I didn’t become a statistic.”

Wakeena’s mom died in 2009, never getting clean, but Wakeena harbors no anger toward her. “I always forgave her,” she says. “I knew that she was sick and she had to do what she had to do. I wish I had known about NEW earlier, but I didn’t and everything happens for a reason.”

In Response to Recent Events

In Response to Recent Events

Our team at New Endeavors is anguished alongside our community by recent events. From the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer to the violent response in our own city toward protesters advocating for the fundamental rights of black people we are, like many people, sad and scared. Through our work at NEW, it is impossible not to notice the stark inequity in Washington DC and across the country. People of color are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and poverty due to systemic, institutional racism and discriminatory practices. We cannot address homelessness without also addressing this inequality.

The women we serve are at the heart of everything we do. They are mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters, grandmothers, aunts and nieces. They are artists, writers, grocery store stockers, chefs, political wonks, hospitality workers and store clerks. They are readers, bingo players, walkers, shoe lovers, students, leaders, churchgoers, and friends. They are resilient, scared, courageous, motivated, tired, sad, and joyful. 

In short, they are people. And like all people, they deserve to feel safe in their community. NEW can partner with them for  housing and a chance at a new life, but we have to rely on each other in our city and in our country to ensure they have the rights that every human being needs and that every human being merits. Within our buildings, these women are safe and we are honored to serve as a harbor for their healing and growth. Even so, life does not stop at our front doors. It is imperative that we work together toward systemic changes on behalf of our residents, our staff, and our community. 

Please stay safe. This work will last longer than the protests, beyond the hashtags and news coverage. But we are committed, and we will continue to work toward a more just future alongside you.  

It’s been a challenging time for all of us as we adjust our days, our budgets and our expectations to COVID-19. And now, add a city and country grasping for footing after the death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer and we all feel even more out of control, unstable, and concerned about the future. Here at NEW we know that one way we can process our own feelings is to think about the needs and feelings of others.

We need you. The women need you. Your community needs you. Now more than ever women and children in DC need a safe and stable place to live.