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.
NEW Board members help NEW staff with myriad tasks from big to small: overseeing the budget, strategizing for the future, securing auction items, working on committees and more. But the most recent action of one board member – and the Chair of the Board no less!- took selflessness to a whole NEW level!
Evan Piekara, who has served on the Board for almost four years and as Chair for one, wanted to do something more for New Endeavors during these strange Covid-19 times. He was inspired by the staff, many of whom are considered essential, to write letters to all 25 of them and express his thanks for their work with women in need.
“NEW’s staff has always provided phenomenal service, and the staff continues to bring the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity to help provide essential services during this pandemic,” Piekara said. “They are doing what they can to encourage, empower, and provide support to help these women continue to move out of homelessness during such a challenging time.”
Piekara, who is a senior manager at accounting and advising firm, BDO as well as a father, dedicated more than three hours to writing the notes. When one case manager heard about the letters, she said, “My heart is full.”
Executive Director Wanda Steptoe noted, “It’s this kind of compassion that has come to define our Board. Each Board member truly has an authentic passion for NEW and a deep desire to help women in need in any way they can. I look to the board and people like Evan for the hope that we need in the world today and always.”
Since joining the NEW Board last summer, Iris Drayton-Spann, an HR professional has been struck by a few things. One is the diversity of thought at the Board meetings. Another is the acceptance and encouragement of such diversity of thought. “It never ceases to amaze me,” Drayton-Spann said. “The Board is not just a fundraising board, it’s a think tank.”
Drayton-Spann, who is Vice Chair, has served on another board in the past, but this one has really impressed her. NEW Board members come from myriad professional backgrounds and are not self-serving. Rather, they are genuinely trying to use their unique skills to truly serve New Endeavors by Women. “We all ask ourselves, ‘What am I contributing?’ The Board is really taking what we do seriously.”
Born and raised in DC, Drayton-Spann is Vice President, HR and Organizational Development at WETA and a Certified Diversity Executive. She felt drawn to NEW. “I want to ensure that women and children who are homeless don’t feel neglected, alone, without hope, there is a brighter path, and organizations like NEW are on the front line to ensure change will happen, to be there and be present to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Two things have impressed Drayon-Spann about NEW: The holistic approach that the organization uses to address the needs of the entire woman, and also the nonjudgmental care that the women who come to NEW recieve. “NEW doesn’t throw anyone away or cast anyone aside,” Drayton-Spann said. Every woman has different needs and are at different places in her journey, and NEW meets her where she is. That has really impressed Drayton-Spann.
“Drayton-Spann has been an incredible addition to the NEW board,” Executive Director Wanda Steptoe said. “She brings big picture strategy and ideas to the table, but then if someone needs to go out and buy lotions and skin care products to put together a pampering basket for an online auction, she is always more than willing to volunteer. We are very blessed to have her on our Board.”
Drayton-Spann has felt at home on the NEW board and feels that this is right where she should be, helping women in DC who have experienced homelessness, in both big and small ways, and doing it together with a group of smart, good, and motivated fellow Board members. “In NEW,” she said, “I have found my tribe.”
We are a nation that loves as defined by a well-paying job, a nice house and a white picket fence. The people who become the best at their craft are our national heroes. We write story after story about them. We quote them. We elevate them. We tell our kids to be like them. And when they die we mourn their deaths deeply.
We are a nation that places a high value on these people, these lives, these stories.
It’s hard to know how many homeless people die in the United States each year. (That in and of itself is telling.) But the National Coalition of the Homeless estimates it’s at least 13,000. That’s 13,000 lives unmourned, 13,000 stories untold, 13,000 mothers, daughters, sisters, friends That’s 13,000 fellow humans.
Walking down North Capital Street recently, I was saddened to witness a couple step over a man sprawled out on the sidewalk. They didn’t look at him. They didn’t stop their conversation. They kept walking. For them, it seems, his was a life unvalued.
At New Endeavors by Women (NEW), we serve some of the most vulnerable women in the city. They come to us having suffered enormously, from abuse, addiction, and mental and physical illness. They need housing, food, clothing and a new sense of self-worth. We house them and provide them with individually tailored one-on-one case management. The goal is for the women to achieve stability and confidence that will propel them onto a new, healthy path.
The more than-3,000 women who have come to New Endeavors since 1989 are survivors. Their stories are heart-breaking. From the get-go, some women hardly stand a chance: addicted parents, abusive boyfriends, foster care after foster care. And yet they make it to our door with an incredible strength to keep going. We here at NEW know that each woman’s life is as valuable as anyone’s, and we work to build her up so that she’ll realize that too.
Success looks different here at NEW. Success is first, a woman walking through our door. Success is building trust. Success is regular meetings with a case manager. Success is therapy. Success is taking one minute at a time to get to a healthier place. Success is building confidence and feeling valued as a human, in the immediate community and beyond.
I met D. a couple years ago, when I first started working here at NEW. She was a loyal participant in NEW’s Walking Club, where we talked about jazz musicians, her love of sunflowers, and her grandson. She had this awesome raspiness to her voice that years of smoking had afforded, and she hummed as she walked. She was saving money. She had a part time job. She was well-liked among the women. Little by little, she was succeeding. A part of her story was also one about addiction. And she struggled with it. But that part of her story doesn’t negate the other parts of her story. That part of her story doesn’t define her and it certainly doesn’t make her life less valuable.
D. died riding on the Metro last spring. She left behind a sister, a daughter, grandchildren and a boyfriend. Many of her friends from NEW spoke at her funeral about her smile, about her frustrations, about her life.At NEW, we know that every life holds value: the heroes and the homeless, the successful and the struggling, the powerful and the powerless. It’s a message we try to live and infuse into our community. But it’s hard for many people, with a confined definition of success, to understand.
D. and the 13,000 homeless who die in the United States every year are heroes. Not for their talent, money or fame, but because they are community members, they are survivors, and they are human. Isn’t that ?
Why do our board members volunteer their time to help women and children who have experienced homelessness?
A native Washingtonian, Iris Drayton-Spann serves as vice president, human resources and organizational development at WETA-TV in Arlington. She is committed to non-profit organizations and is very interested in homelessness and women’s issues.
“I want to be an additional pillar at NEW to help continue their work, impact, growth and longevity,” Iris said. “Their work inspires me to be better, to show up, fully engaged and to purposely contribute. I want to ensure that women and children who are homeless don’t feel neglected, alone, without hope, there is a brighter path, and organizations like NEW are on the front line to ensure change will happen.”
Serving others is nothing new to board member Joe Eggleston, an associate at Goulston & Storrs.
In high school in St. Louis, Joe participated in a 3-week long community service project at a homeless shelter for women and children. “It had a profound impact on me and my worldview,” he said. He continued to regularly volunteer for the shelter though out college. “Over time I developed relationships with families and a better understanding of homelessness.”
Before becoming a real estate lawyer, Joe taught at an underserved high school in St. Louis.
“It is so heart-wrenching to see someone sleeping outside,” Joe said. “It is less visible, but equally devastating for families to sleep on a different person’s couch every week. Homelessness, in whatever its form, just should not exist in a time when we have figured out how to fly to space, build skyscrapers, and video conference anyone in the world from a tiny device that fits in our pocket. Everyone deserves a safe place to sleep at night and I want to be part of the solution.”
Athena Katsampes is an associate at WilmerHale. She has clerked for a U.S. district court judge and served as a legal intern at the FCC. Athena is passionate about women’s issues and homeless causes and wants to make an impact by volunteering at NEW.
“I feel compelled to contribute to the DC community because I believe it is important that we all help each other in our times of need,” Athena said. “Everyone has dark periods in their life—it is important that, at the times when we have the capacity to do so, we help those who seek help. I have spent my life developing certain skills, and I want to use those skills to contribute to organizations that provide a safe place for people to get back on their feet when life gets tough.
Lindsay Spadoni works as an attorney-advisor in the office of legal counsel at Treasury and previously worked at HUD. She has extensive volunteer experience, including teaching and tutoring through the AmeriCorps program.
“I hope that I can introduce and connect NEW to my network,” Lindsay said. “I think that talking to people about NEW and its mission, as well as contributing to its fundraising efforts, is important to provide for NEW’s continued success and ensure that NEW reaches its long-term goals.”
Noah Sullivan is an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher where he specializes in litigation and administrative law. Prior to that he served as counsel and chief legal advisor for Virginia Governor Terence R. McAuliffe. Noah has a strong belief in public service.
“My parents committed their careers to serving the underserved—my dad was a social worker, my mom, a special education teacher—and so I have always strongly believed that it is my obligation to help others, especially the most vulnerable,” Sullivan said. “More specifically, I believe that housing is one of the most important factors in alleviating poverty: it is foundational.”
Case managers in DC are required to take 40 trainings a year through the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. Each training runs from 2-8 hours and covers intense topics such as domestic violence, suicide risk and sex trafficking, taught recently by a survivor. The trainings also cover landlord and tenant rights, cultural competency, and fair housing which delves into the history of redlining and its lasting effects on DC residents even today.
One training that has become especially important recently is on trauma-informed care. This approach requires case managers to understand that many clients have suffered past traumas that can be triggered inadvertently. The client must first and foremost feel safe with the case manager and build a relationship based on consistency and trust. Instead of telling the client what to do, the client and case manager collaborate solutions together. With this approach, case managers don’t ask, “What’s wrong with this woman?” And instead ask, “What happened to this woman?” It’s not only a more compassionate way of working, but it’s also more effective.
The women here are lucky to have the case managers they do, and I too am grateful. Case managers are the backbone of our work and imperative to our success. I am forever thankful for their smart and thoughtful work and their continued desire to help women with such challenging histories get on that NEW path.
Executive Director, NEW
Director of Programs James Brown has a unique perspective on homelessness: He’s been there.
James started drinking at 13. He started using heroin at 18. “I knew it was wrong,” he said. “My parents and grandparents had good work ethics.” Throughout much of his addiction, James was in school or working. He was a truck driver, then for 8 years, he worked for Goddard Space Center as a satellite controller. He used drugs through it all, but finally lost his job and found himself addicted and on the street.
He was robbed at gunpoint. He was beaten by the police. He was in nine detoxes and three treatment centers in 12 years. James’ dad was also an alcoholic but he got sober on his own, without any help. James thought he should be able to do the same. “I wanted to get clean,” James said. “I thought if my dad was man enough to get clean on his own, I should be able to get clean on my own too.” Finally, he attended a detox that was seven months long, longer than the others. He started praying and meditating, going to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, and finally in 1994, he got sober.
“One step in the 12-step program is the third step,” James said. “Ask God, what does he want you to do? I felt he wanted me to become a social worker.”
James went back to school to earn a sociology degree where a professor told him he was a natural for social work. He switched his major and ended up earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in social work. “My parents always rescued people fleeing bad situations like domestic violence or abuse and my grandparents were always helping neighbors, so helping others was just embedded in me. It was part of my life.”
James worked for other nonprofits before coming to NEW in 2007. “I like New Endeavors,” James said. “I like that we’re constantly evolving. I like that we have a family environment which bleeds over to the clients.”
James’ background certainly helps him relate to the women. “I think because I’ve been where they are, we have a mutual bond,” he said. “It helps me be more compassionate and empathetic than most.” James knows from his life on the street that these women don’t trust anyone but themselves. “I understand the dynamic of changing people’s mindset. It’s very challenging to re-orient the ladies when they have had no one to protect them and yet miraculously they survived.”
A life on the street also demanded that James be able to assess a person or situation quickly, a skill that translates to being a successful social worker. James recalls many women that he has helped through the years, get stable and heathy.
“I find helping the women here at NEW satisfying and fulfilling,” he said. “I continue to ask God what he wants me to do, and he continues to tell me, go help people, be a social worker.”
This year’s Moving Out of Homelessness Auction and Gala saw both new and long-time supporters come together with NEW alumnae and staff, for a good cause and a good time. Hosting this year’s event in the bright Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center, NEW raised more than $130,000 by auctioning off items like drinking history tours, cooking classes, swing dance lessons, and even tickets to the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor which this year honored Dave Chappelle.
We all had a great time! And we are, as always, so thankful for our supporters who so generously help us help women in DC achieve stability, confidence and a home.