Many women become homeless due to a traumatic life event, a sort of event that many of us could relate to and all of us would find challenging: illness or death of a loved one, loss of a job, a failed relationship or domestic or sexual abuse. The strength it takes to surmount such life curve balls is immense. But NEW alumna, Taniya Johnson was able to find such strength.
“I feel victorious!” she said recently. “I overcame some very hard obstacles.” It was the death of Taniya’s mother and then the dissolution of her marriage shortly there after that left Taniya reeling. “I resorted to drinking,” Taniya said. “And it got really, really bad.” She became homeless. She finally entered an addiction program but she had to convince herself to stay. After 45 days though, she became interested in helping others in their recovery. The only problem was, she still had nowhere to go.
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.
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.” Read more
More than 140 friends and supporters joined New Endeavors by Women to celebrate our 25th Anniversary at our annual Moving Out of Homelessness event on November 14, 2013. Our supporters, rallied by mistress of ceremonies Gwen Tolbart of Fox 5 News, helped us raise nearly $70,000 to help fund our five housing programs for homeless women and children! Read more