2015 Annual Report
Washington, D.C. - as a local city home to many and yet serving as the nation's capital city - had a most eventful year. A new Mayor - Muriel Bowser - took office, promising to serve all wards of the city and to turn the page on past political scandals. The changing of the times was ushered in by the passing in late 2014 of long time local political figure and former Mayor Marion Barry. Along with a new Mayor came 5 new City Councilmembers also pledging for a new start. At the same time, national aspirants to the Presidency often used the city as a backdrop. So too, international visitors - highlighted by the several day visit of Pope Francis - put their indelible stamp on the life of the city.
Yet challenges facing the city and region seemed as daunting as ever if not more so. Tragically the number of homicides in the region rose over 30%, while the city's homicide rate climbed over 50%, with over 160 people being slain in 2015 as compared to 105 in 2014, with many others injured by the violence. No one cause was seen as driving the deadly violence, leaving city and community leaders scrambling for ways to address the situation. Tragic events elsewhere both in the nation and worldwide - from riots in Baltimore sparked by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, to the tragic church shootings in Charleston, and the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris - touched persons of all backgrounds in the city.
The city's on-going economic redevelopment also heightened the sense of change, and for many, growing unease. The city was amongst the highest in the country in terms of rising housing costs. So too, the Census Bureau had the city's population growing by over 1,000 a month, topping over 672,000 in July - the first time in almost 40 years the population was that high. Many of those moving in were "millenials" often having much higher disposable incomes than long time residents. The rising cost of housing and expansion of high end retail stores and restaurants, while a boon to some left many worried whether they could afford to stay or whether their children would be able to afford a home in the city where they were raised. It was in this context of change - in terms of development and demographics - along with a rise in tragic violence - that the Cluster and its members sought to serve the city and its residents.
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The Cluster's Homeless Services Unit - staffed by Julie Turner, MSW and Linda Mah, MSW - met with almost 700 vulnerable and homeless persons and families across the city - over 200 of those served were women. By working in partnership with a half a dozen congregations, the staff came into contact with many of the city's chronically homeless as well as many of the newly homeless - those coming out of the criminal justice system or experiencing displacement and homelessness for the first time.
The staff sought to first meet their immediate, life-threatening needs - offering over 600 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Over 230 persons were referred for needed medical care. Almost 400 referrals were made for emergency utility, rent or mortgage assistance. Over 100 applications were made for basic ID documents to help assist in garnering essential services. Over 30 persons were assisted with immigration issues, and over 85 persons were referred for legal aid.
The staff also sought to help the homeless or needy to meet the underlying causes of their situation. The staff assisted with over 550 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits for which they qualified. Over 300 such applications were successful with many still pending at year's end. Some 400+ persons were assisted with seeking job training or placement, of which over 150 were successful. About 500 persons were assisted with seeking mental health care, and over 400 with seeking substance abuse treatment. As well, 340+ persons were helped to find housing with over 65 persons - many who had been long term chronically homeless - being successfully placed.
The purpose of the Unit's work is to meet critical, life-threatening emergency needs, while seeking to permanently break the cycle of need by addressing underlying causes - to restore people and families back to lives of self-reliance and independent living.
The staff's work on behalf of the homeless was recognized by Street Sense - which organizes the publishing and selling of newspapers by and for the homeless. Street Sense awarded the Cluster with its 2015 Good Neighbor Award. Julie Turner of the staff had worked with dozens of Street Sense vendors for several years to garner additional services and permanent housing.
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The Cluster served as a co-founder of WACIF 28 years ago and continues in its role as one of its leading investors. WACIF's mission is to create and grow economic opportunity throughout the metropolitan area. It currently has over $8 million in capital under management and during the year closed 18 loans totaling over $1.7 million - all to low and moderate income small business owners, affordable housing developers and community serving organizations.
One of WACIF's great 2015 stories includes financing affordable housing. It financed a successful renovation with a long-time partner, the Housing Initiative Partnership (HIP) in Prince Georges County, Maryland. After completion of another project, one of many WACIF has financed with them over the years, HIP was able to graduate to a traditional financing institution allowing them to acquire even more capital to grow their work for those in need. The impact of WACIF's work was recognized this year as the organization received the 2015 Chairman's Distinction Award at the DC Chamber of Commerce Annual Choice Awards.
Since its founding, WACIF has closed on over 335 loans totaling more than $27 million, helping to leverage over $150 million in financing for local low and moderate income entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations. WACIF has assisted over 2,800 small businesses, helping to create or sustain more than 1,530 full and part time jobs and $55 million in access to capital for small businesses.
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The staff and interns continued to utilize the city's 311 system for public services, as well as making direct appeals to local and federal agencies, to address many issues that impacted the quality of life for all residents and visitors. Over 8,000 requests were made for cleaning up graffiti, replacing missing signs, planting trees, re-striping of pedestrian crosswalks, repairs of sidewalks and alleys, cleaning up of illegal dumping sites, and other issues affecting residents, visitors and businesses. Requests included:
- Hundreds of possibly vacant buildings were reported for inspection. Across the city, many buildings were left vacant by speculators, as well as single family homes left vacant for various reasons. In many cases the properties became hot spots for drug use, or structurally unsafe or hazardous.
- Federal bridges and parks defaced by graffiti or other damage were successfully addressed via the National Park Service and the city's Department of Transportation.
- Streetlights were repaired to improve visibility and safety.
- Buckled or damaged sidewalks and curbs were repaired to prevent hazardous falls as the city has many seniors and others facing mobility challenges. So too, about 100 heavily used pedestrian crosswalks - many badly eroded from prior winter storms, were re-striped to provide safer passage.
- Hundreds of trees were planted in public space at the Cluster's request, while dead branches and trees were also pruned or removed and replaced.
The requests by the Cluster sought to make the streets and neighborhoods of the city cleaner and safer for all the city's residents and visitors.
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The Cluster promoted many activities to improve the lives of residents. Job-training events and classes, home-ownership clinics, and "aging-in-place" efforts were either promoted or organized by the Cluster and its members. With a growing elderly population, more and more neighborhoods in the city have sought to create "senior villages" to help long-time residents stay in their homes and get assistance with daily or weekly activities such as getting groceries, making doctors' visitors, or having socializing events
close to home and preventing isolation.
After two years and at the Cluster's urging, the city restored in-person visitation opportunities at the DC Jail. The Cluster had worked with many in the city's re-entry community to seek restoration of in-person visitation as a means to strengthen family ties and friendships - so crucial to successful reintegration. So too, at the Cluster's urging the DC Jail in 2015 offered for the first time to its 2,000 residents library services, operated by the DC Public Library.
Staff continued to push for youth services in the city - by seeking continued modernization of aging public schools such as Benjamin Banneker HS, the expansion of after-school activities through improved and expanded athletic endeavors such as lacrosse for girls and boys, as well as restoring budgets to help maintain staff and class sizes at schools such as at Woodrow Wilson HS.
National events were also noted and supported - such as organizing the tolling of congregations' bells on the 150th Anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln, just as had occurred on the morning of his death in 1865.
The agency was featured dozens of times in local print, as well as on tv and radio, as the Executive Director responded and commented on current issues facing the city and region.
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2015 was the 150th Anniversary of the founding of First Congregational United Church of Christ. Many special events were held by the congregation over the course of the year to both celebrate the occasion and to challenge the membership for its future.
The Cluster also mourned the passing of two leaders - the Rt. Rev. Lane Davenport, Rector of Ascension and St. Agnes - a long time downtown resident and Rector who contributed in many ways to the life of the Church and the downtown, as well as the passing of Mr. Ron Linton. Mr. Linton, a member of St. Matthew's Cathedral, had served successfully for a number of years as Vice President of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, as well as having served under 3 Mayors as Chairman of the Metropolitan Airport Authority, the DC Water and Sewer Authority, and most recently as Chairman of the DC Taxicab Commission. Chairman Linton's family directed gifts be sent to the Cluster in his honor; those funds were used to buy new football uniforms for the Coolidge H.S. team, a DC public school. Godspeed to them as their legacy continues to benefit many.
Rev. Kendrick Curry, Senior Pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church and current Vice President of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, was sworn into service as a Boardmember of the DC Water and Sewer Authority - which is in the midst of large scale capital / infrastructure improvements. Rev. Sid Fowler, serving as Interim Senior Minister at First Congregational U.C.C., was sworn into service on the Mayor's Interfaith Council. Rev. Tom Knoll, Pastor of First Trinity Lutheran Church, serves on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Business Improvement District. Cluster clergy and members continue to serve the city in a variety of ways by helping to provide input and oversight on important Boards and Commissions as they have done for many years.
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The staff consisted of Terrance Lynch, the Executive Director, who has now served the agency for over 30 years; Julie Turner is the Senior Outreach Worker having been with the agency for over 25 years, and Linda Mah was newly welcomed as the Associate Outreach Worker.
The 2015 Officers were:
- Maxine Maye, President - Lincoln Congregational Temple, U.C.C.
- Rev. Kendrick Curry, Vice President - Pennsylvania Ave. Baptist Church
- Annesley Schmidt, Epiphany Episcopal Church - Treasurer
- Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church, U.C.C. - Secretary
- Laura Canfield, Assistant Secretary - Calvary Baptist Church.
A full listing of Directors is available upon request. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations is independently audited annually. Such audits are available upon request.
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