Thursday 04.04.2019

Catholic Agencies View Washington Archdiocese Through People, Not Power

imageWhen Daughter of Charity Sr. Mary Bader looks out over the Washington, D.C., skyline from across the Potomac River in Virginia, what draws her attention are not the national monuments or U.S. Capitol building — symbols of national power and politics the capital city is well known for. What she sees are cranes. “Crane after crane after crane” — towering symbols of construction and, to Bader, growing inequality in the region.

Bader has led St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families as its CEO for 11 years. Under her leadership, St. Ann’s and its two-building complex in Hyattsville, Maryland — just across the street from Washington, D.C., but within the archdiocese — have gone through a few extensive changes.

In 2013, Bader and her team recognized that the D.C.-area was in a state of flux. “We looked to the community to see where the greatest need was,” she said. With cost of living and family homelessness both on the rise, they decided to renovate St. Ann’s main building to open “Hope House” — a brand new transitional housing facility with 15-18 living units for single mothers experiencing homelessness.

Despite shifts in its approach, St. Ann’s, which was founded in 1860 by the Daughters of Charity, has remained committed to its 159-year-old mission to care for some of the area’s most vulnerable women and children.

“[These families] are an inspiration,” said Bader. “They are a gift to St. Ann’s.”

Dedication to cause and adaptability in a changing landscape are not qualities specifically unique to St. Ann’s. Catholic social justice organizations across the entire Washington Archdiocese have been doing this for decades, and continue to do so in the region’s current period of transformation.

Leaders of these organizations understand their work on the ground allows them to see Washington through a different lens — one more colored by people than by power. These leaders describe a diverse and vibrant D.C.-area Catholic community made of many different groups working in conjunction and collaboration to serve the various needs of this unique area.

“The church is doing a lot; I don’t think people realize it,” said Bader. “[A lot of people] would suffer more if the archdiocese wasn’t working on it.”

The church in this instance includes religious orders, non-profits, parishes, individuals, and dozens of resources and services offered through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. From homelessness to food insecurity to quality health care access, Catholic groups are addressing a number of pressing issues in a region that is becoming increasingly unaffordable for poorer residents.

All of those cranes Bader mentioned are the most recent products of economic growth and investment that has been coming into the area for nearly two decades now. The influx of new money and new, largely white, residents has caused some dramatic transformations in D.C. neighborhoods.

“Constant gentrification,” Bader told NCR, has made many of the newly developed areas — decked out with boutique shops, restaurants and apartment complexes — “untouchable for most people making less than $75,000 to $100,000.”

A recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that Washington, D.C., experienced the highest “intensity of gentrification” of any city in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013. According to the study, about 40 percent of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods experienced gentrification during that period, displacing thousands of residents with lower incomes, including 20,000 black residents.

“There is a great disparity between the haves and have-nots in this region,” said Bader. “People don’t realize the challenges of the working poor.”

The challenge of affording a stable life in the D.C. area is all the more difficult for single mothers.

“It’s very, very hard,” said Brittney Booze, a former resident of St. Ann’s and native to D.C. “I’ve experienced it; I am experiencing it, but the life skills I’ve been given through St. Ann’s definitely gives me an upper hand on controlling that situation and getting all the resources that I need.”

Booze found St. Ann’s via a Google search almost three years ago. Homeless, 23-years-old and pregnant, she knew she needed a transitional housing program to find stability for her new baby and was thankful to be accepted into St. Ann’s.

“Being pregnant and not really having anywhere to go, St. Ann’s was basically a safe haven for me,” she said.

What was once an infant asylum during the Civil War — though in a different building — is now a multi-faceted center equipped to provide dozens of teen and homeless mothers with all the resources they need to succeed in a competitive world and region.

Bader emphasized to NCR that St. Ann’s is much more of a “program” than a “shelter.” Mothers who live at the center have access to education, employment and mental health counseling; clinical and social work services; and a child care center that is also open to children in the nearby community. St. Ann’s also mandates that mothers attend weekly life-skills and parenting classes.

Booze, who lived at St. Ann’s for two and a half years and transitioned out with her son this past January, is now training to become a medical assistant, working on launching a podcast, and continuing to practice public speaking — a skill she picked up at the center. She attributes much of her current success to the skills she learned at St. Ann’s.

“They equipped us with a lot of life skills — financially and for working,” she said.

Bader told NCR that the community feeling at St. Ann’s is another key contributor to the success of the mothers who live there; in 2018, 93% of them obtained employment within three months of eligibility. Mothers living at St. Ann’s become friends and learn to support one another, Bader said, such as shopping together or babysitting for each other in times of crisis.

Communal living and social events also help create a sense of home for the mothers and children. Booze remembered how meaningful it was that St. Ann’s made sure her son had gifts for Christmas, relieving her of a stressful financial burden.

“That was one of the biggest impacts for me,” Booze said, “knowing that St. Ann’s had my back.”

Originally published by National Catholic Reporter. Click to read the full article.