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
Debbie Curtis comes to NEW’s board with an impressive resume. Currently the deputy director of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, Curtis has 23 years of experience working on Capitol Hill, where she was one of the leading experts on health insurance, Medicare, and mental health parity. All of which means she knows exactly what due diligence to perform and where to look under any organization’s hood for budgets, numbers, and efficiency. A long time supporter, she strongly believes in the mission of NEW. Also, as she puts it, “There’s very little overhead at NEW. It’s very hands on, and what you see is what you get.” Read more
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.