2016 Annual Report
2016 was a year of violence and division - locally, nationally and abroad. Violence tore at communities and devastated families - from police-involved shootings in incidents as minor as traffic stops, to police themselves being victims of unprovoked attacks, to hate and terror-related attacks such as occurred at a nightclub in Orlando - communities were devastated by the tragic toll. Washington, D.C. had 135 homicides - each a tragedy, even though this represents a decrease from the prior year. The city and its surrounding cities and counties had more than 300 homicides combined. Wars continued abroad, inflicting countless casualties amongst families and children, and resulting in a global refugee crisis.
America as a whole was deeply divided as it went through the 2016 Presidential campaign. The feeling of division continued even after the election as President-elect Trump prepared to take office.
It was in this context of seemingly countless tragedies and stark division and uncertainty that member congregations and the Downtown Cluster of Congregations sought to provide healing, outreach, and services to those in need - spiritually and otherwise.
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The Cluster's Homeless Services Unit - staffed by Julie Turner, MSW and Linda Mah, MSW - met with over 550 vulnerable homeless persons and families across the city. 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 meet their immediate, life-threatening needs - offering over 400 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Over 220 persons were referred for needed medical care. About 150 referrals were made for emergency utility, rent or mortgage assistance. Almost 70 applications were made for basic ID documents to help assist in garnering essential services. Over 25 persons were assisted with immigration issues, and over 70 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 340 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits for which they qualified. Over 200 such applications were successful with many still pending at the end of the year. 170 persons were assisted with seeking job training or placement, of which over 100 were successful. Almost 300 persons were assisted with seeking mental health care, and over 325 with seeking substance abuse treatment. As well, almost 300 persons were helped in their efforts to find housing with 57 persons - many who had been homeless for years - being successfully placed.
The purpose of the Unit's work is to meet 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 outstanding work on behalf of the homeless was recognized nationally as the Washington Post published a front page story on the work of Julie Turner helping to secure an elderly homeless woman $100,000 in benefits owed to her by Social Security. Julie not only helped the woman who was living on the streets near Metro Center to obtain her back owed benefits, but to secure permanent housing as well. The story received national coverage in both print and on tv news shows. While affirming to have achieved services for this very vulnerable homeless person (who had been hospitalized after being beaten on the streets), the tragedy is that there are too many similar cases of persons who are homeless yet qualify for and should be receiving benefits - both federal and local.
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For almost 30 years WACIF has leveraged the funds of investors such as the Cluster to help develop affordable housing, daycare and community-serving programs, and to encourage and expand small and minority-owned businesses. WACIF currently has assets of over $8 million with the Cluster being its second largest investor as the Cluster and its members seek to put funds to work in the community.
In 2016 WACIF closed on over 15 loans totaling over $1 million helping to create over 40 new jobs supporting individuals and families throughout the region. Since its inception WACIF has closed on over 350 loans totaling more than $28 million, helping to leverage over $150 million in financing. It has assisted almost 3,000 small businesses, helping to create or sustain more than 1,500 full and part times jobs and make possible access to over $55 million in capital for those businesses and community groups it has worked with. The Catalogue for Philanthropy recognized WACIF as one of the best nonprofits in the region for its effective work in creating economic opportunity.
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The Downtown Cluster of Congregations leads the city in making requests for services to help neighborhoods through the city's 311 system. The agency made some 7,500 requests for services of all types - planting of trees, repair of hazardous sidewalks, clearing of graffiti, removal of trash, identifying hazardous, vacant buildings needing safety measures, and other services. The Cluster requested the planting of over 1,100 trees across the city as well as a similar number of requests for removal of hazardous dead limbs and trees. Almost 300 hazardous sidewalks were inspected for repair owing to the Cluster's requests. Several neighborhoods saw tremendous declines in graffiti as the Cluster made almost 3000 graffiti clean up requests - with the goal being to make neighborhoods graffiti free.
The Cluster was recognized for alerting the city to the widespread outage of street lights at night, often in areas where crimes had occurred and the lack of lighting may have been a factor. As a result of the Cluster's effort, the Mayor called for a citywide sweep to identify what street lights were out and where, and upgraded the 311 system so citizens could text in the location of street lights that were not working. Residents called in over 4,000 street lights as not working in the first 3 months of the effort - over 5% of all street lights in the city! The agency's Executive Director called on the city to replace its decades old system with smart lighting so out lights can be identified and repaired swiftly and not have to wait to be alerted by someone seeing the light out at night. Hopefully the system can be modernized to provide a safe and effective network for residents and visitors. The Mayor has pledged to have the streetlight grid replaced by 2018.
On Nov. 3rd, the Mayor issued an appreciation for the Cluster's use of 311, recognizing the Executive Director as "311 Super User" as he is the most prolific user of the system; this was part of an event held by the Mayor to recognize the 10th Anniversary of the consolidation of 311 and 911.
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The Cluster continued to support community initiatives and to link member congregations with activities in the community. The Cluster often spread the news on both employment and volunteer opportunities - such as the effort by "Reading Partners" to find volunteers to pair with over 250 students.
The Cluster and its members supported the efforts to expand and grow "Senior Villages" in the city and to encourage age friendly development that allows persons to age in place in their long time homes and neighborhoods.
The Executive Director served on the DC Host Committee for the Opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture. The Committee helped organize events across the city and advertise the city's many historical and cultural sites available to be enjoyed and visited in addition to the new Museum which opened in September to great acclaim.
The Executive Director continued to serve on the city's Lead Elimination and Healthy Homes Committee for the DC Department of Energy and the Environment - the primary goal is to reduce exposure to lead particularly for minority and low income children who often are at highest risk. Despite reductions, hundreds of children in the city a year continue to be found at elevated blood levels of lead exposure.
The Cluster hosted at one of its meetings the General Manager of Metro, Paul Wiedefeld. The Cluster played an important role in urging Metro to continue to open early in the mornings on the weekends both so those attending worship services could get to their congregations as well as those going to and from work, as lower income residents rely heavily on metro.
The Cluster continued to support efforts to expand afterschool activities for youth, urging more academic, art, and athletic activities as a means of gaining important life skills.
The Cluster provided information on homeless hotline outreach numbers and basic aid for getting showers, laundry and coats to the religious community to disseminate as congregations are often the first point of contact for many seeking basic assistance.
In February, following heavy snowstorms in the city the Cluster asked the city to undertake the feasibility of clearing snow not just from streets but also sidewalks, as a significant hazard to many residents was simply getting from their homes to their corner stores for bread, milk and supplies. Many residents of the city are elderly or have health or mobility issues that prevent their clearing their sidewalks for safe passage.
The Executive Director was asked and performed "Card Checks" as an impartial third party to determine if workers had requested Union representation at regional businesses.
The Executive Director was also often asked to speak on issues facing the city - on radio, tv, and by print media - on dozens of broadcasts and articles.
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First Church of Christ, Scientist Washington DC merged with The Third Church of Christ, Scientist, Washington, DC and celebrated the completion of its new sanctuary on 16th Street NW at I Street, N.W. The opening of the new sanctuary culminated some 20 years of planning and effort to bring about a more appropriate, useful, open and green sanctuary space. The Cluster assisted in many ways during this very long process.
Rev. Kendrick Curry, Vice President of the Cluster and Pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, served on the DC Water and Sewer Authority. Rev. Sid Fowler of First Congregational UCC Church served on the Mayor's Interfaith Council giving input on critical faith and religious issues facing the city and community.
The Cluster's staff and members mourned the loss of one of its own, Linda Mah, MSW. Linda who served as the Associate Outreach Worker passed after a brave battle with cancer. She is mourned and will be missed.
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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 the late Linda Mah as the Associate Outreach Worker.
The 2016 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
- Daryl Branson, Assistant Treasurer, Shiloh Baptist Church
- Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church - Secretary
- Laura Canfield, Assistant Secretary - Calvary Baptist Church.
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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