by jill sieracki | November 20, 2013 | Lifestyle
Sr. Mary Bernard and Sr. Marie Mathilde enjoy a moment at the mission’s DC residence. Together they share more than 125 years of service to the elderly.
For about 80 years, Sr. Marie Mathilde has dedicated her time to those in need, first in her native Belén, Colombia, then later in France, and eventually in Washington, DC. “Pursued by the Lord, I encountered Little Sisters at every turn,” says Sr. Marie Mathilde, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, yet still can be found at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Harewood Road home playing guitar, joining residents and volunteers for meals and prayer, and playing pinochle. “With much prayer, I recognized the beauty of their vocation and decided to join.”
As an international congregation of Roman Catholic religious women, the Little Sisters of the Poor have cared for the world’s poor, aging adults since 1839, when founder, Saint Jeanne Jugan, first brought needy women into her own home in France. Her act of kindness blossomed as more older adults in need were brought to her doorstep and today, the Little Sisters’ network of homes for low-income seniors can be found in more than 30 different countries, including Kenya, Australia, and Italy. “It was in my freshman year of high school that God put me in contact with the Little Sisters of the Poor in Cleveland, about a 45-minute drive from my home,” recalls Sr. Mary Bernard, who recently celebrated 52 years of service and whose father lived for several years in the care of the Little Sisters in Enfield, Connecticut. “When I saw the love and care the residents of that home received, I felt drawn to becoming part of the Little Sisters’ mission.”
Over the decades, the sisters have seen both the need and their responsibilities grow, including the addition of skilled nursing units. But the organization still maintains long-standing traditions, such as an on-staff begging sister (Sr. Jeanne Véronique in DC) who solicits food and donations from area businesses and markets. Fifty-two percent of the Little Sisters’ funding comes from donors. Early in her life, Jeanne Jugan took the elderly into her home, but she realized she could not sustain them on her own, says Sr. Mary Bernard. Consequently, the founder turned to others for help and in doing so, she was affording an opportunity for all those who gave to become part of her mission.
Today, volunteers provide transportation to appointments and outings, visit with residents to help lift them out of solitude, and support activities such as crafts and the choir—with the latter two activities especially helpful to residents who may feel sad around the holidays. “In looking to the future, we need more young women who see the joy of giving their lives to Christ in service of the elderly poor,” says Sr. Mary Bernard. “My greatest achievement occurs on a daily basis, each time that I am able with a word, a smile, a service, to make the elderly happy, to make them feel loved.” Little Sisters of the Poor, Jeanne Jugan Residence, 4200 Harewood Road NE, 202-269-1831
Rachel Green stands in a playground behind Marguerite’s Place, a community center for SOME’s families and children.
Recent years have proved challenging for many American families, particularly in the Washington area, where nearly 6 percent of the population is currently unemployed. “Now more than ever, people need help,” says Rachel Green, 40, who as family services administrator for So Others Might Eat (SOME) helps the area’s homeless find affordable housing and works to move them from dependency to self-sufficiency. “When those cutbacks happen, the neediest feel it the most.”
Father Horace McKenna, a Jesuit priest who dedicated his life to serving the poor and homeless, worked with an interfaith group of priests, ministers, and laypeople to found SOME in 1970. Its mission was to feed the area’s poor residents, and the first meals were served out of the basement of DC’s St. Aloysius Church. Over the years, services expanded into other areas, including addiction treatment, job training, and long-term affordable housing (with this latter offering in great demand among area residents). “We focus on filling the gaps in terms of services and needs,” Green explains.
For her part, Green has dedicated her career to helping others, first with the Healthy Babies Project, which aims to decrease infant mortality in Wards 5, 7, and 8, then later with SOME, where over the past six years she worked her way up from program manager at Barnaby House, one of SOME’s affordable housing communities, to her current position.
Her own experience inspired her passion for philanthropy. “I grew up in the Caribbean, and when I was in my last year in high school, my school blew away in a hurricane,” recalls Green. A professor at her sister’s American college, Lafayette College, in Easton, Pennsylvania, helped place Green at Westtown School, a Pennsylvania boarding school, where teachers rallied to meet her “emotional and physical needs,” including clothing and money to call home. “It was just something that will stay with me forever, the kindness of strangers, and it did something inside of me that made me want to get into [a field] where I am pouring in to other people,” she says.
Green is proud that she and her team recently helped two families move from homelessness to home ownership. “What gives me hope is just the everyday little steps that I see the families making: The great success story can happen… but even the small steps that I see, with someone maintaining sobriety, someone being able to work a job that pays minimum wage but [still] having a couple thousand dollars saved,” says Green, who says her major hope is that the nonprofit will help all area residents out of poverty. “Our goal is to put ourselves out of business.” Support SOME at its annual dinner gala on Saturday, November 23, at the National Building Museum, 440 G St. NW, as well as at the Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger, Thursday, November 28, at Freedom Plaza, corner of 13th St. NW and Pennsylvania Ave. NW; visit some.org
Dr. Raymond Martins practices at Whitman-Walker Health, a leader in community-based HIV/ AIDS medical care and other services.
“I’ve always wanted to take care of communities,” says Whitman-Walker Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Raymond Martins, 39, who became attracted to virology as a specialty in 1994 during his medical studies at The George Washington University. “Working with individuals is what empowers me on a day-to-day basis, but I love the idea of improving a community’s health.”
Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Whitman-Walker Health was established in January 1978 to offer medical treatment to gay men who were facing barriers to health care. Named for poet Walt Whitman, a gay man who served as a health care worker during the Civil War, and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a pioneer for women in medicine, the center today is a leader in HIV/AIDS medical care and also offers services from primary care to dental treatments.
“My goal coming here was to improve the quality of care for our patients, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure that Whitman-Walker was going to be financially viable into the future,” says Martins, 39, a Connecticut native who fell for the DC area while attending GW. “We’ve been able to put together a model that is both sustainable and gives high quality care.” The nonprofit health center reinvests monies gained from insurance patients to help others who can’t afford coverage.
Its services are needed: DC has the highest HIV diagnosis rate in the nation at more than nine times the national rate, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. And with the World AIDS Day observance approaching on December 1, it’s up to area doctors and health facilities such as Whitman-Walker to inform, counsel, and treat the community’s diverse population. “The one thing that’s definitely different here is that there’s been a lot more HIV in the heterosexual population than in other cities,” explains Martins, who, before joining Whitman-Walker in 2008, worked in private practice. “Since it’s in multiple communities, you have to fight [HIV/AIDS] in different ways,” he adds, which includes creating distinct informational messages for the area’s gay and straight populations, along with campaigns for IV drug users.
With a new facility set to open in late 2014, Whitman-Walker will continue to help patients in need. And Martins views these patients, including two HIV-positive mothers who came to him for treatment when they discovered they were pregnant, as his true heroes. “Because of their children, I was able to convince them to go on medication,” he recalls. “They were both able to have undetectable viral loads, we took precautions during their delivery, and they both delivered HIVnegative children.”
He continues: “The two mothers now religiously take their medications because they want to be around for their children. I see the kids coming to their appointments…. If ever I’m having a bad day, I think about these two patients, and it makes me happier than anything.” Whitman-Walker Health, 1701 14th St. NW, 202-745-7000
Cofounder of Hope For The Warriors, Robin Kelleher attended the Fourth Annual Run For The Warriors.
It’s devastating to learn that a loved one has been injured while deployed. And it can be even more traumatic if you’re unable to afford to visit him or her. Robin Kelleher learned this in 2004, when her good friend (and fellow military wife), Shannon Maxwell had to deal with the severe injury of her husband, who had been wounded during his tour of duty in Iraq. “There were two soldiers [at the military hospital in Germany] who died alone because their wives were not able to travel,” remembers Kelleher, 48, who had been living near the Maxwells with her then-husband, a marine, at Camp Lejeune. “That really set the stage for some of the decisions we made when we started the organization.”
Founded by Kelleher and Maxwell in 2006, Hope For The Warriors officially began after a Run For The Warriors event on Armed Forces Day that year. The event drew more than 2,000 runners and raised $75,000 for travel expenses and the organization’s A Warrior’s Wish program. “The goal was really to bring everyone together to support service members and families,” recalls Kelleher, whose father was in the Army for 30 years and served three tours during Vietnam, and whose grandfather served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
In its early days, she says, the organization sought to be a “gap-filler” for services that the government had been unable to provide, such as family travel and groceries. Today it continues to provide daily support for service members and their families via 11 programs, including the wish program, hope and morale activities such as golf tournaments, a scholarship program for spouses, and a critical care coordination program that provides grants to cover expenses incurred while warriors are injured (such as those related to child care and lodging). The organization has helped thousands of people since its start, providing support to more than 4,500 military families in 2012 alone.
“You can sit around and complain about the government and ask, ‘Why isn’t the military doing this?’ Or you can say, ‘The military is not doing this right now, so we’re going to do it,’” says Kelleher of her organization. Today she lives in northern Virginia, where she relocated after her former husband received orders to move in 2009. Hope For The Warriors also has offices in New York and Florida, but the organization’s president and CEO finds herself in an ideal place to oversee activities—especially with respect to our area’s military population, bases, and medical centers.
It’s “horrific sometimes” to see service members and their families suffering, Kelleher says, but she is honored to be able to provide financial and social support through her organization. As she explains: “The responses that we get from our service members—about how thankful they are, about the respect that we’ve shown them, the work that we’ve done with them that has given them hope again—to me, there’s no greater accomplishment than that.” Hope For The Warriors, 5101-C Backlick Road, Annandale, VA
photography by stephen voss