It was a novel idea 30 years ago: Give people more than a bed for the night, give them a chance for a brighter future. In 1988 in DC, most shelters were only emergency shelters, meaning at 7 p.m., people could get dinner and a place to sleep, but by 7 a.m. the next morning, everyone had to be out, dragging all their belongings with them. There were some daytime drop in centers here and there, “but if you were trying to get your life together and find a job, it wasn’t exactly an easy thing,” said Mary Popit, who was the Executive Director of NEW from 1996-2005.
A group of women, including Mary Ann Luby, working in the emergency shelters for women saw this problem first-hand and decided to do something about it. They asked city officials if they could start a transitional housing program, giving women a place to live for three months, allowing them more time to get their lives in order.
The city gave them 611 N Street and some money and the story goes that on July 4, 1988, these women were making up four beds. The next day, four women came through NEW’s doors with a desire to get their lives back on track. Each one got a case manager, an education consultant, an employment professional and a housing professional.
New Endeavors by Women was born.
Times were financially precarious in DC at that time, however, and the funding for NEW soon dried up. But these audacious founding women were undaunted. They started writing to Congress telling their NEW story and asking for help. That’s where Mary Popit comes in. She was working in Congressman Pete Stark’s office when she received a letter that tugged on her heartstrings. She alerted others in her office and “we started looking for ways we could help,” Mary said.
NEW struggled, waiting on checks from DC, applying for grants, raising their own funds, anything to continue to help women gain confidence and stability in their lives. The city even told them to phase the program out but it was wintertime and the women thought, “This is silly. People are homeless. And we have this building.”
Mary Popit started fundraising and writing grants. “My efforts were on helping NEW,” she said. Debbie Curtis, Ann McCormick and Anne Raffaelli, who would become instrumental volunteers and board members, also helped out in the beginning.
The story of NEW is about guts, survival and perseverance, not unlike the story of each woman who walks through our door. NEW survived and 30 years later, NEW has helped more than 3,000 women achieve stability, confidence and a place to call home. With five locations and seven programs, specific to the needs of the women, NEW serves about 200 women and children a year. From that initial seed of an idea 30 years ago has blossomed an organization dedicated to helping women take control of their lives, and achieve the type of stability that everyone deserves.