NEW is happy to welcome Allyson Jernagin, a NEW alumna to the board!
In 2007, as a NEW resident, Allyson’s case manager asked her what her goals were. First, she said, she wanted to reconnect with her family. Then get a job, and finally own a house.
Today Allyson has achieved all her goals.
“NEW gave me the foundation I was lacking in order to move out of homelessness and continue my recovery,” she said. “As a board member, I just want to be a part of NEW and help in any way I can and let the NEW women know that their situation isn’t where they have to end up. There’s always promise and hopefulness in tomorrow.”
Allyson will bring her skills as an accountant to the board, as well as a genuine love for the place that gave her a second chance. “I am so happy to be a part of continuing NEW’s mission,” she said.
For a few years now, Deloitte employees have been a loyal force of NEW volunteers. They serve as board members; run workshops; take field trips with our kids, and they help us with strategy and long-term goals. This year, our Deloitte supporters grew when two of their employees – NEW’s board member Kristen Grigorescu,and committee member Jake Hunter – applied NEW to Deloitte’s Matching Gifts Program.
“Back in May 2020, Deloitte decided to lead by example by reinforcing our unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with each other and in our communities,” said Grigorescu. “It really changed the culture and mindset of the firm as we tried to address the harsh reality that systemic bias, racism, inequality, and injustice continue to exist.”
Deloitte started the Deloitte Black Action Council which aims to take a stand and make a difference on important societal issues, which includes championing racial equity and social justice. Then Deloitte asked employees for ideas of nonprofits they were interested in supporting. That’s where Kristen and Jake came in. They knew about NEW and had seen first-hand the impact NEW makes.
“The tone from our top leaders empowered us to know that we have a responsibility to support others,” Grigorescu said. “Deloitte’s practitioners agreed that now is the time to help our communities when they need it the most.”
The process of getting Deloitte to choose NEW as one of the nonprofits they would support was not hard, said Grigorescu. But the outcome has been tremendous: more than 1,000 Deloitte employees from all over the country donated to NEW, totally $44,000 from individuals. And then Deloitte matched that.
“Our individual donors not only provide essential direct support for our programs, but they also help us qualify for additional federal funding. Deloitte and their employees’ generosity, helps us tremendously to meet our financial goals. We are so grateful.”
Does your company have a matching gifts program? Inquire about the process and see if your donation to NEW can go further!
When Millicent Owusu was a girl growing up in North Carolina, she noticed something: All kinds of people seemed to feel comfortable telling her their problems. She would listen to all of them. She didn’t mind it, and in fact she liked it. “I love helping people,” said Millicent who has been a case manager and counselor at NEW’s permanent-supportive housing program, Rachael’s House for six years. “What I do is really a calling.”
For more than 25 years now, Millicent has worked as a social worker in different states and with different kinds of people, from domestic abuse victims, children in foster care, homeless and substance abusers, and now with women who have experienced homelessness.
She has a Master’s degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Human Services and recently earned a second Master’s in Critical Mental Health Counseling. She will be taking the National Counseling Exam soon.
Millicent believes that the biggest gift she offers her clients is a feeling of comfort they get from her that allows them to open up and express their feelings. One woman, “T” came to NEW recently and would not talk to anyone. T had suffered a mental breakdown and had lost her job, her house and her kids. The trauma manifested itself in a muteness that no one could break. But then, for some reason, T started talking to Millicent and little by little Millicent could help her. That Millicent said, “was a real success.”
Millicent has loved working at NEW where, she said, because the atmosphere is more relaxed, she is able to do what she does best: build strong relationships centered on trust. “NEW is the best job I’ve ever had,” she said. “I love NEW because of the atmosphere and the ability to have a person-to person relationship with the ladies.”
With Millicent’s new Master’s degree, she has a goal of eventually opening her own counseling service someday, one that focuses on the whole person, in mind, body and spirit.
“Working with people to help them get to a better place is definitely what I am meant to do with my life,” she said. “It’s not always easy but it is a real privilege to be with people at their darkest hours, and help them work their way up to see the light.”
Resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I think resiliency is being tested and strengthened
in all of us now. Many of you have reached out over the past year to inquire how our ladies are doing and quite frankly in answer to that question, they are doing well, given our current circumstances.
Throughout my career working with individuals experiencing homelessness, I have been privy to many of the circumstances faced by those I have served. I have thought on more than a few occasions, “no one should have to endure that and I could not have survived that!” The trauma suffered as a result of physical and emotional abuse, abandonment and lack of nurturing love and support have made them resilient. While the circumstances of their lives have been daunting, they have persevered. As I pondered their resiliency, I asked Antoinette, one of our program managers her thoughts:
“I do think that life circumstances and trauma experienced by our clients contribute to their resiliency. I also believe that it is imperative that we assist our clients with recognizing how their strengths (resiliency) impact their ability to become survivors, while also acknowledging how trauma and life circumstances can contribute to personal challenges. Resiliency is a strength that our clients may not recognize in themselves due to feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem, etc. While engaging with our clients, we should create a safe space and use language that is empowering, strength based, and encouraging.”
This is what our staff strive for here at NEW, to help our ladies recognize their value, strength and impact. Thank you for your support and genuine care that allows us to empower those we serve.
Yasmine, 35, was born in New Jersey, one of four siblings. She had dreams of becoming a writer, always keeping journals where she detailed her life’s ups and downs. But motherhood and an abusive relationship set her off track and she found herself in Arizona in need of an escape. She and her kids got on a bus and four days later, she arrived in Washington, D.C. where she stayed at My Sister’s Place, a nonprofit for domestic violence survivors. About nine months ago, she and her three kids, Lily, age 6, Cody, age 4 and little Ethan age 3 moved into NEW’s New Horizons, a permanent-supportive program for mothers and children .
Yasmine is grateful for NEW and her case managers. “No matter what, it’s nice to know that our den is our den.”
Yasmine is upbeat and hopeful despite her challenges and her love and care for her children is obvious. While Yasmine is working 16-32 hours a week at night as a concierge in Northwest, her mom or neighbor watches the kids. The flexibility of her job allows her to be at home during the day to help with online school. She gets home around 8 am, squeezes in a short nap, and then gets her kids dressed and ready for the day. Lily and Cody log on to virtual school at their nearby school.
“I try to be as creative as possible with the kids,” Yasmine says. “We find playgrounds and go on nature walks. I try to keep them as active as possible.” Lily loves sticks, bugs and all things nature. Cody loves trucks and he runs down the sidewalk when he sees one drive by. Ethan loves the drums and will take anything, a spoon, a pencil, and start a beat. (“And he’s good!” his mom says.)
“I try to let them show me how to be a mom,” Yasmine says. “In order to maintain my sanity, I have to let them lead.”
Yasmine still has dreams of becoming a writer. She has 14 college credits but she doesn’t have time to finish at this point. “Until I get an extra hour for myself…” she says. But she already has a title and a couple pages of her first book, “Melon Street,” a memoir. Maybe if things calm down soon, she could take an online writing class. But then she’s also trying to get Lily into a ballet class, Cody into a Karate class, and she would love to find a little drum set for Ethan.
“I’m trying to battle being complacent,” she says. “NEW is very appreciated, but this is a starting place not a stopping place.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.