BY amBaSSadorS Stuart BernStein and paul frazer | August 18, 2014 | People
Two former ambassadors share why they support Sasha Bruce Youthwork, celebrating 40 years of helping DC’s at-risk youth this September.
Paul Frazer and Dr. Tina Alster with Wilma and Stuart Bernstein
Stuart Bernstein, American Ambassador to Denmark, 2001–2005: “My great-grandparents arrived in Washington from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s. Growing up as a fourth-generation Washingtonian, I felt a sense of gratitude for their courage and foresight to seek a better opportunity for their family. This city has been so good to us, providing a wonderful community and the good fortune to be in business here for more than 50 years. I learned early on from both of my parents the importance of giving back and helping others, and most importantly, to help those who aren’t so blessed. My parents were constantly involved with charities, and my father, Leo, taught us to ‘always give 17 ounces to the pound.’ This is the spirit of leadership and generosity I grew up with and share with my kids and grandkids today, and it’s what prompted me to get involved with Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a dinner at the British Embassy on September 23.
“Founded by its current executive director, Deborah Shore, Sasha Bruce Youthwork leads the campaign to prevent youth homelessness in our nation’s capital. Since its inception, it has connected more than 13,000 homeless youth with strengthened families. Yet after all this time, the Sasha Bruce House remains the only emergency youth specific shelter in DC.
President Barack Obama painting a wall at the Sasha Bruce House in 2009
“When I was asked by President George W. Bush to serve this country as an ambassador in 2001, it was the greatest honor of my life. As a proud American, I truly believe in American democracy—that all people are created equal and that everyone should have the same opportunities. In reality, this isn’t always the case. In a city and a country as rich as ours, that so many should remain homeless or underserved is unconscionable; 3,000 youth are homeless in our city
“It is hard to imagine if it were my own children who were on the streets. So when we hear firsthand from homeless youth of their struggles, often through no fault of their own, and how Sasha Bruce has saved their lives, it really hits a soft spot. Take, for example, the story told by Charmia Carolina, a 21-year-old mother of two beautiful daughters. Charmia became homeless when she was in the eighth grade. With the help of the dedicated staff at Sasha Bruce, Charmia learned marketable skills, raised her daughters lovingly, and now has a full-time job and great prospects for her future. She said of her experiences, ‘No one cared for me until I came to Sasha Bruce…. Now I feel like it is one big family. I think everyone deserves at least an opportunity.’”
A mother and her baby who are part of SBY’s Olaiya’s Cradle, an independent living program for homeless youth and their children.
Paul Frazer, Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, 1992–1994: “As a parent first, I cannot imagine what life would be like for my son if he were to face the incredibly daunting challenges of the homeless, without the opportunity of a consistent education or the basic support that a family provides.
“After several years of working abroad, I relocated my family permanently to Washington, DC, where we have established an ongoing sense of community. My wife, Tina Alster, and I have been involved in a variety of organizations that touch on education, discrimination, the arts, and health.
“We became involved with Sasha Bruce Youthwork because of a personal conversation. For us, it was the Sasha Bruce board chair, Tracy Bernstein, who so passionately articulated the mission and activities of the agency. Sasha Bruce engages youth at some of the most critical moments in their lives and patiently works on a series of steps that reflect an investment in the long-term well-being of that person. SBY recognizes the critical importance of confidence building, of helping youth work through an at-times lengthy process of personal development, and of providing them with the tools to obtain the education and skills to enable him or her to move to a greater level of personal achievement in their lives. How could we not see an opportunity to support this organization that is so positively transformative?
Stuart Bernstein with, from left, Kenya Massie, Ra’Nesha Lee, and Kellie Forde, who were aided by SBY.
“Why should a young person have to devote each day to social and economic survival rather than to the basics of just being a young person? Life is challenging enough under normal circumstances; let’s not lose an opportunity to help those who need it most. Our youth represents our future as a community and as a society; we cannot dodge the challenge to assist in any way possible.”
Sasha Bruce Youthwork will be holding its 40thanniversary Celebration Dinner at the British Embassy on September 23. To attend and to support the work of SBY, contact James Beck at 202-675-9340 or email@example.com.
photography by zbigniew bzdak/chicago tribune/mct via getty images (obama); eli meir kaplan (frazer, bernstein)
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