Looking Back: Five Special Memories from My First Year at the Village

To celebrate his first year at the Village, Volunteer and In-Kind Services Coordinator Adam Brunell shares five special moments at the Village made possible by volunteers and donors.

1. All Volunteers: Family and Friends Day – May 6th, 2016

Last spring, Heidi [N Street Village’s Volunteer and In-Kind Services Manager] and I were worried that because of the weather we had to postpone, and possibly cancel, one of the most exciting days at the Village: Family and Friends Day. Those who were in D.C. last May remember that it rained a lot—and I mean a lot. Last spring it rained for a D.C.-record fifteen days in a row, shattering the previous record by five days. In middle of these rainy weeks, Heidi and I wondered, “Should we cancel Family and Friends Day, or should we pray the weather gets better?”

In a Friends and Family Day miracle, the sun came out of the clouds just in time for over 70 volunteers from Studio Theatre, Bucknell Alumni Association, and the D.C. area community to replant the Village’s garden together. After spending the morning weeding and replanting the our garden with strawberries, tomatoes, kale, basil, and more, we all went inside and enjoyed an ice cream social. For my first major volunteer event, Family and Friends day was a smashing success and a great opportunity to connect with long-term members of the Village family. A huge shout out to all our volunteers for spending the morning keeping the Village beautiful!

2. Bloomberg BNA: Washington Kastles Tennis Match – August 2nd, 2016

A long-term supporter of the Village, Bloomberg BNA sponsors all kinds of events at the Village, such as workshops helping women enter the workforce an advance their careers. The most anticipated event of year, however, is the yearly Bloomberg-sponsored tennis match. This past August, Bloomberg provided a dozen women (and me!) with tickets to the six-time champion Washington Kastles as they took on the visiting New York Empire.

The women, Bloomberg, and myself watched the Kastles men’s and women’s teams narrowly triumph over the Empire in a what turned out to be a wildly unusual battle. At one point, the head coach—who had been retired for decades—had to enter mid-match after a Kastle player went down with an injury. The coach surprised both teams and the audience with a turn-back-the-clock performance behind the raucous cheers of the home crowd. For many of the women the match was the first live tennis event they had attended. We at the Village thank Gopi, Peter, and all the Bloomberg team for treating us to a wild night of live tennis.

3. Morgan Stanley: Coat Drive – November 4th, 2016

Out of all the donation drives for the Village, perhaps the most important is the Annual Winter Coat Drive. With the addition of Patricia Handy, the number of residents at the Village doubled to over 400, and our donors stepped up to the plate.  The next step was getting the coats to our clients at every site, so Heidi and I brainstormed how we were going to be able to distribute hundreds of coats to four housing programs across the district. We soon realized we would need outside help to make the task possible.

We reached out to our friends at Morgan Stanley, and together we developed a plan just in time. Morgan Stanley rented a bus for the day, so each woman could take the shuttle our main site. The plan was a success–women got a chance to see our entire coat selection and pick out their favorite coat.  In addition to renting a bus for the day, Morgan Stanley sent a dozen employees who provided much-needed event support for what turned out to be a surprisingly complex operation. All in all, we distributed nearly 200 coats to women in the Village family with the help of Morgan Stanley—thank you for making this possible!

4. Women@Hyatt: Patricia Handy Winter Holidays Party – December 13th, 2016

Soon after I joined the development team at the Village, our new Chinatown housing program, the Patricia Handy Place for Women, opened its doors. By May, the Village had welcomed over 200 women into the newly renovated facility in the heart of Chinatown. Getting the program up and running so quickly was a challenge, a challenge that would have been insurmountable without the support of our team of volunteers.

After a busy spring and fall, Pat Handy—as the shelter has come to be known—celebrated our new community and accomplishments with our first building-wide party, the Winter Holiday Party. Woman@Hyatt, an all-women group celebrating and advocating for women at Hyatt and in the greater community, threw an extravagant winter holiday perfect for this celebration od our new community. Woman@Hyatt decorated the multi-purpose room with holiday colors and served a three-course dinner with their usual contagious enthusiasm. Our gratitude goes out to Cherwana and Women@Hyatt for making the inaugural winter holiday season a special one at Pat Handy.

5.  Washington/Virginia Ministers’ Spouses, Widows, and Widowers: Bedding and Linens Donation Drive – April 13th, 2017

I couldn’t end this article without mentioning the support we receive from churches, synagogues, mosques, seminaries, and other religious-based organizations representing the Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i faiths, and more.

Just this month, the Washington/Virginia Ministers’ Spouses, Widows, and Widowers finished a four month tremendously successful linen drive. At the end of it all, they donated three car-fuls of blankets, sheets, pillows, bath towels, washcloths, and more! We send our appreciation to such a thoughtful, generous group for their huge donation drive.

Bonus Event: Irish Students Visiting the Village – Summer 2016

Last summer the Village was blessed with the presence of eight students from Ireland who were participating in Washington Ireland Program (WIP). From running a summer clothing giveaway to preparing breakfast for our entire day center, the Irish students worked hard to support the clients and even teach us some Irish slang along the way (did you know that calling a person “massive” is a compliment?). The students were studying a range of topics from different universities, and each day they utilized knowledge from their studies to bring excitement to the Village community. Thank you to all the WIP students who spent part of their semester volunteering with us. Fair play—you are savage volunteers and did a deadly job. (Did I do that right?). Thanks WIP!

 

There are far too many volunteers and donors who contributed their time, talent, and treasure to mention in this brief reflection. It was difficult to leave out so many wonderful people and organizations, but I want to take the time now to thank everyone donor, volunteer, and member of the Village family who worked with us to empower homeless and low-income women in D.C. The Village would not be able to carry out its mission without the support of 400+ individuals from local businesses, organizations, and families in the D.C. community—and beyond.

Looking back at my first year, I could not have had a better time and or felt more inspired by the Village community. I am eagerly looking forward to year two—may it be as exceptional as year one!

With appreciation,

Adam Brunell

Volunteer and In-Kind Services Coordinator

 

Remembering Pastor John

Pastor John in front of N Street Village's flagship building while it was being constructed (1996).

Pastor John in front of N Street Village’s flagship building while it was being constructed (1996).

Dear Village Friends,

As many of you know, Pastor John was the senior pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church from 1970-1997. Through his dedicated leadership and his unwavering commitment to the biblical concepts of hospitality and “welcome for the stranger,” and with the tireless support of his beloved wife Erna and the interfaith community that coalesced around him — N Street Village was born.

I got to know Pastor John and Erna well over my years at N Street Village. I know what a force of nature he was — and will continue to be. His passion for justice and his commitment to the poor and disadvantaged knew no boundaries and continued until his very last days. I had regular conversations with him over the past few months and he was true to form — funny, provocative, radical, spiritual, and loving. On the occasions when I heard him honored for his role in founding N Street Village, he would reply “I’m just an implementer — this was God’s plan.”

We invite you to join us Monday, March 9, 2015 at 11 a.m. as we celebrate Pastor John’s life. The service will be at Luther Place Memorial Church (1226 Vermont Ave. NW) and there will be a reception following in N Street Village’s multipurpose room. All are welcome.

A life well done indeed. From now forward, may we be true to his spirit in the work we do with our hearts and our hands.


Schroeder Stribling
N Street Village Executive Director

Read more about the amazing life of Pastor John on his Wikipedia page.

What did you do this year?

Schroeder 2 - CopyAs I look back on the past year at N Street Village, you come to mind.

In the midst of your busy days in 2014, you found a way to make a difference here.

Because of you:

  • 171 women had a safe place to call home in our transitional or permanent supportive housing programs
  • 51 low-income families had affordable housing
  • 31,457 nutritious meals were served
  • More than 1,000 women had access to life-saving programs through our Day Center and Wellness Center

Thank you. Your investment ensured that N Street Village was here to provide comprehensive, wrap-around services and programs to those who need us most.

As I now look forward to 2015, I know that there are many challenges still ahead. Affordable housing in DC continues to be in critical shortage, and the wait for a needed rental subsidy can last many years. The average cost for a one bedroom apartment is now more than $1,400 – far beyond the reach of someone who is working a minimum wage job. These truths leave so many women at risk of poverty, homelessness and the myriad of health, mental health and other consequences that ensue.

This holiday season and every day of the year, N Street Village is committed to providing shelter, housing, food, health care, income supports, crisis assistance, and day shelter for our city’s most vulnerable women. And we are privileged to watch many wonderful stories unfold as these individuals use the resources of our Village to transform their lives and reach their personal goals.

I imagine that you think much as I do: when any of us are in need of support, we want to be greeted with dignity and kindness, and we want to know that the help we receive will be effective. That happens daily as together, we work to keep the doors of this Village open, to create our community of respect, and to empower women to make measurable progress in their lives.   This past week alone we welcomed 21 new women to N Street Village – we are extending this same promise and possibility to each of them.

Today, let us celebrate what we have accomplished together this year. And may we find inspiration and strength for the journey ahead in the coming New Year.

Yours in gratitude,
Schroeder Stribling

 

 

From the Executive Director: A “Close-Up” Perspective

Schroeder 2 - CopyDear Village Friends:

You may have seen the article in The Washington Post this week by Petula Dvorak.

I am sure that you have been hearing the many media reports about the situation at DC General. The problem is a very real and pressing one—and yet, the story told publicly often misses much of the overall complexity of the issue. I have been involved in DC’s policy and planning work as a local leader/advocate and also as a member of the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness and have had a “close-up” perspective.

From that perspective, I would like to emphasize the following:

  • For 2 years now, we have seen a dramatic spike in family homelessness in DC (in most cases, “families” are “women with children”); many more families than anticipated came to request shelter in the winter months. Acting on an emergency basis to this crisis, the District housed hundreds of people at DC General and also put families in hotels—an unideal, inefficient solution and one to which there seemed no alternatives given the few resources in the hands of those charged with addressing it
  • Over the past 5 years we HAVE made some progress in addressing individual (often ‘chronic’) homelessness in DC—and programs such as N Street Village’s Erna’s House are examples of what we have accomplished in working together between government funders, private developers, and service providers
  • A situation like DC General however won’t be fixed by simply addressing that crisis, but rather by understanding and beginning to remediate the underlying problems which are causing the crisis…such as:
    –A shrinking and dramatically inadequate amount of affordable (and decent) housing in DC
    –Vast and unyielding socio-economic disparities in education, health, and access to vocational opportunities

We have a lot of work to do in all of these areas and it will take every community, every board/group/mission/organization, AND our government partners to make progress and to address deeply entrenched poverty and its related problems, such as those exemplified by DC General. I always encourage us to remember and share the idea that “we are more alike than we are different.” A few small turns of fate of circumstance could render us in one another’s position—and whether we are motivated by our faith or a sense of justice or compassion—we should fulfill a social compact that ensures equity, dignity and opportunity for everyone.

With thanks to Petula and The Washington Post for printing this article, we DO hold N Street Village as an example of what can be possible. AND it is the dedication and generosity of all of you—our Board, our volunteers, our neighborhood, our contributors and others—who have created this community of compassion and potential.

May we all stay ‘on fire’ for the mission of N Street Village and for the larger objectives of social equity and opportunity that we represent.

With gratitude for all of you, who are so committed and engaged.

Schroeder Stribling
N Street Village
Executive Director

P.S. We did not know that Petula was going to write about N Street Village in her article, it was a nice Tuesday morning surprise.

More reading on the topic:

The Spirit of Leadership

SarahBy Sarah Pope Miksinski – Sarah works at the Food and Drug Administration.  She originally hails from Louisville, Kentucky, and she currently lives in Washington DC.  She has a B.A from Earlham College (1994), and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Oklahoma State University (1999).

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The human spirit. 

I first visited N Street Village in the spring of 2012, and the first word that occurred to me as I walked through the door…”spirit.”  It was over a year ago, but I remember it well.

20130807-IMG_8911I visited N Street Village as part of the Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government program, a leadership training program that included approximately 25 colleagues from various federal agencies.  At the time of our visit, my colleagues and I had worked together for about six months.  Our work included various “benchmarks” that exposed us to many types of leadership experiences and provided opportunities to discuss leadership in various venues.

Before we arrived, N Street Village was simply a venue on our agenda – one of many benchmarks and assignments for us as we pursued our training.  And yet, right as I walked through the front doors, I knew there was something incredibly special about the Village: people smiled and issued friendly greetings to us as we literally disrupted their daily routine and invaded their space. Not to mention, the sheer success of the organization’s mission, the commitment of the staff, and the unquestionable importance of the services that N Street Village provides to the community.

As I now look back at that visit, what I remember most is the human spirit in the people we talked to.  I remember their stories, their challenges, their struggles, and their courage.  I remember their willingness to share their experiences without reservation, and I remember their strength and perseverance.  Admittedly, some of the stories were quite difficult to hear.  Women described incredible struggles with addiction, homelessness, and domestic violence.  Others had stories of abuse and/or rape.  Their strength and courage were impressive, and I remember being absolutely humbled and speechless at multiple points throughout the day.

On that day at N Street Village, I learned one of the most important lessons I have ever learned as a leader: the spirit of leadership is everywhere. 

IMG_7585A leader may be the man or woman standing at a podium in front of hundreds of people, the person who directs others in terms of tasks or vision, or the one who possesses the ultimate authority to make high-level decisions.  However, a leader can also be the woman who rebuilds her life entirely from a life of abuse and homelessness, a person who volunteers and gives of their own time to help those in utter despair, the young woman who shares her powerful story without hesitation or remorse, or those who remain steadfast in their commitment to do the right thing for themselves, their children, their families, even in the darkest of times and when it seems that no one is watching.

I will always remember the leadership spirit of the N Street Village community itself – the leadership shown through the quietly dignified sharing of a difficult story, the leadership shown by a simple smile on a rough day, the leadership present in the sparkle of hope in a person’s eyes, and the leadership shown through a quiet and unalienable commitment to those who are enduring the darkest of times.

As I walked the halls of N Street Village on that day, I made a decision: I would give back to N Street when I could, in honor of the incredible spirit of leadership I witnessed that day.  So, as I enter this holiday season, I now take a moment to celebrate the inspiration and leadership spirit of N Street Village.

To the special people at N Street Village:  I hope this is the first gift of many, and it was my distinct honor to meet you all.  Thank you for your leadership, and thank you for sharing your inspiration, courage, and hope with us all.

Soviet Jewry Exhibit at Washington Hebrew Congregation

By Schroeder Stribling, N Street Village Executive Director

It was an honor to be present for the opening of an exhibit at Washington Hebrew Congregation on Sunday night December 8th, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the vigil and movement to liberate Soviet Jewry.  N Street Village is especially honored by the deep ties that we share to the leaders in this extraordinary history – including Norman and Joanne Goldstein, Marcia and (the late) Rabbi Joe Weinberg, Joan and Oscar Dodek, and Pastor John and Erna Steinbruck, among others.

The Soviet Jewry exhibit – which will be up until April 6, 2014 – is a great testimony to our human potential.  This history is a vibrant example of the fact that we can indeed unite and work in communion and in community for justice, peace and freedom.  Especially this past week as we honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela, may we be bound together in hope and determination to continue our efforts and see the promise ahead for the social justice we have yet to achieve.

 

Be Positive You’re Negative: World AIDS Day and Every Day

SARAH THAPPABy Sarah Thappa – Sarah is a member of AIDS United’s AmeriCorps National team with the Washington AIDS Partnership and serves as the HIV Health Promotion Specialist at N Street Village. She does HIV education, counseling, outreach, and testing in addition to health promotion classes on various topics. Sarah hails from Northern Illinois and graduated from Carleton College ‘13 with a B.A. in Biology.

***
Let’s kick off this post with a pre-reading quiz… 

Which city has the highest rate of HIV?
a.
Accra, Ghana
b. Dakar, Senegal
c. Washington, D.C.
d. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The answer is c. Washington, D.C. The highest concentration of HIV in the world is in Sub-Saharan Africa; however, if Washington, D.C. were a country in Africa, it would rank 24/54 for highest HIV prevalence rates. Ten states account for 2/3 of the HIV diagnoses in 2011, and the South accounted for 48% of those diagnoses.

What percentage of a population infected qualifies as an epidemic?
a.
0.5%
b. 1.0%
c. 2.0%
d. 5.0%

The answer is b. 1.0% of a population infected with a disease defines as an epidemic. The District of Columbia has a reported 2.7% HIV infection rate, according to the Department of Health.

***

ProcessThis past Sunday, December 1st, 2013 was the 25th celebration of World AIDS Day. N Street Village has marked the day by discussing HIV and AIDS with its staff and clients and by looking at how the disease directly affects our community.  We honored the many friends and family we have lost to the disease over the past decades and celebrated the lives of those living with HIV in our community.

There are currently an estimated 34 million people living with HIV throughout the world and an estimated 1.1 million living with HIV in the United States. Racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS from the very beginning of the epidemic. In Washington, D.C., the population with the greatest prevalence rate is African-American heterosexual women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American women accounted for 64% of new infections among women in 2010.

Homeless women are particularly at risk of contracting HIV disease. They are frequently victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, which have been linked to increased likelihood of infection.  Homeless women who struggle with addiction may exchange sex for drugs or money, which increases their risk of exposure.

At N Street Village, 11% of the women served report being HIV positive.  The disease continues to push the limits of health care resources available to low-income women in the District. N Street Village is committed to connecting its clients to appropriate medical care by offering primary medical and psychiatric care on-site through Unity Health Care and through partnerships with nearby providers. Additionally, N Street Village combines stable housing with on-site support services, including a day center providing for basic needs, a wellness center with holistic programming, and mental health and addiction services, all of which empower its clients to make healthy life choices.

Today, more people are living with HIV than ever before. HIV is preventable. HIV does not discriminate. I challenge you to join me in looking at how this virus manifests in your life. Who do you know who is living with HIV? Do you know or love someone who has died of an AIDS related illness? What do you do to reduce the stigma and discrimination for those living with HIV?

And most importantly, be positive you’re negative—get tested

Sources for this post include:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Kaiser Family Foundation
Department of Health and Human Services

It’s no SNAP.

N Street Village AmeriCorps volunteer Sarah Thappa reflects on her experience with SNAP benefits and the program’s impact on the N Street Village Community.

Food Stamp ApplicationAs I stood there, my frustration surmounted and I gave into the tears. Grasping onto my bike helmet, I managed to stammer, “You mean, you want me to bike to the Anacostia food stamp office?” The office staff member just looked at me and nodded yes.

I wanted to scream and tell him how unreasonable that was, how far away that was, and how I couldn’t possibly go there and still make it to work on time. But, I refrained because I knew it wasn’t his fault. That’s the system. That’s our nation’s food stamp system. It’s frustrating, irritating, and demoralizing. At that moment, I began to understand only a bit of what women in need of N Street Village services go through.

It took two weeks and four trips to get my Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. I went to the wrong office in Petworth in my first attempt. Two days later, I woke up at 5 a.m. to wait in line outside the H Street location. I triumphantly walked out of H Street location hours later with my approved documentation, but that was just the beginning. You have to go back to pick up your card 24 hours later.  I made sure to call before I biked over to the office.  They were open and told me to come over. By the time I got there, the computer system had crashed and the staff told me to go to the Anacostia office. At that moment, I was so frustrated and had neither the time nor the will to bike to Anacostia, so I chose to return two days later to finally pick up my card.

During my interview to become an AmeriCorps volunteer, I made sure to ask about the feasibility of living on an AmeriCorps stipend in Washington, D.C. The interviewer assured me that it is doable. Not easy, but definitely doable—especially with food stamps, which I would qualify for as an AmeriCorps volunteer.  It took weeks for the food stamps fact to sink into my system. I remember people at the grocery store pulling out stamps and having to put food back when I was younger, and I wasn’t ready for that. But, I decided I had to be okay with it if that’s what it would take to survive on an AmeriCorps’ salary. Today, SNAP benefits are now accessed using a look-a-like debit card, so I can swipe with fewer stigmas. However, I still get irrationally nervous and self-conscious when I use my benefits because I fear that someone is going to pass judgment.

To get SNAP benefits, a person must bring the completed government paperwork, a copy of your license, government identification, proof of address, a bank account statement, and a letter stating your income. That’s a lot of information to collect.  For me, I could call home or print another copy if necessary. But, I kept thinking, ‘What about the women I work with at N Street Village?’ I began to internalize N Street Village Executive Director Schroeder Stribling’s words from orientation about always aiming to be in solidarity with the women using the Village’s programs. Going through the benefits application process was a peek into what our city’s most vulnerable go through every day. They fight for access to a system that can be helpful if you have the knowledge and the means to navigate it correctly.

Friday, November 1, 2013, marked the day that 47 million Americans experienced cuts to their monthly SNAP benefits. One of those people was me. While my monthly decrease is only $11, that manifests as a weeks’ worth of yogurt, milk, and carrots in my budget. Many will experience larger benefit cuts. The $39 billion budget cuts to SNAP benefits over the next 10 years seem much more real when I think about the impact it will have on the women I work with every day. Living on $6.30 a day is a challenge for me, but then again, that’s $6.30 more than many of the women at N Street Village have.

SARAH THAPPASarah Thappa is a member of AIDS United’s AmeriCorps National team with the Washington AIDS Partnership and serves as the HIV Health Promotion Specialist at N Street Village. She does HIV education, counseling, outreach, and testing in addition to health promotion classes on various topics. Sarah hails from Northern Illinois and graduated from Carleton College ‘13 with a B.A. in Biology.    

 

A country without compassion?

This blog post is in response to Charles Blow’s August 9, 2013 New York Times op-ed piece, “A Town Without Pity,” which was about America’s attitude toward the poor and homeless.  Blow’s article is a must read for all who are concerned about the poor and disenfranchised.  As Blow comments in his article, we were once the land of liberty that welcomed the world’s poor and homeless.

Yet today, many in America seem to have nothing but disdain for the poor.  Only last week, I wrote about the vengeance being unleashed in the House of Representatives against safety net programs for the poor. They propose massive cuts in these programs often wrapped in language of contempt for those in poverty.  As one who has been involved for 40 years with my congregation, Luther Place Memorial Church in D.C., serving homeless women at N Street Village, I want to offer a different perspective on the issues of poverty and homelessness in America then the one so prevalent in America today including in the chambers of our Congress.

My pastor of 27 years, John Steinbruck, gradually helped open our congregation’s eyes to the social justice message of the biblical texts, and he guided us in how to be good stewards of our church property and resources. N Street Village, a continuum of services for homeless and very low-income women, grew out of some old, run-down townhouses and a parking lot owned by the church. N Street Village supporters from multiple faith traditions helped build this amazing place of healing.

N Street Village

When our new facility was opened in 1996, we were proud to display biblical texts of compassion, justice, and hospitality on the entrance to N Street Village.

We discovered through working with the homeless women who came through our doors that they were not lazy freeloaders seeking to get a handout as often is the claim by those who want to cut safety net programs.  These women were desperately seeking help for lives that had seen abuse, abandonment, mental illness, addictions, loss of jobs and housing, and more.  We have witnessed so many wonderful transformations on our block through our customized safety net programs for the homeless.  N Street Village now serves more than 60 percent of the population of homeless women in DC and is one of the premier programs in the nation offering a complete continuum of services to women seeking to reestablish wholeness of life. Government support, along with private charity, and private participation were all instrumental in achieving our success.

Religious historian Karen Armstrong identifies compassion as the most important and common tenet among the world’s major religions and the Dalai Lama (who visited N Street Village in 2007) similarly says that compassion and social justice is the common message of all the world’s major religions. I end with words of Karen Armstrong who says: “We can either empathize with those aspects of our traditions, religious or secular, that speak of hatred, exclusion, and suspicion, or work with those that stress the interdependence and equality of all human beings.” The choice belongs to each of us.

Gary MaringBy Gary Maring – Gary is a member of Luther Place Membership Church and one of the founders of N Street Village.  He continues his commitment to N Street Village through membership on the Board of Directors and volunteer service.  Out of his 40 years of experience serving at Luther Place and N Street Village, he was moved to publish “Faith, Social Justice, and Public Policy.” He also authors a blog, which focuses “Faith, Social Justice, and Public Policy.”