2020 Annual Report
2020 surely was a year unlike any other. The needless, tragic death of George Floyd and other African Americans by law enforcement officers brought an overdue reckoning of how policing is done and an overdue confrontation of embedded racism in many institutions. A pandemic spread to all corners of the country, with some 20 million people contracting the disease, with over 500,000 in the DC region. Some 200,000 new cases a day were being reported at year's end, and the national death toll stood at 345,000, with over 10,000 in the DMV. Though a vaccine was approved by year's end, the illness was surging with a tragic level of hospitalizations and deaths.
In addition to the nation's grappling with racism and the pandemic, political divisions in the country hardened. The rancorous Presidential campaign resulted in the election of Joe Biden as President, and of the first African American woman, Senator Kamala Harris, to be Vice-President. Yet despite this historic win and a clear electoral and popular vote victory by his opponent, President Trump refused to concede and citing conspiracy theories of the election being stolen prompted his supporters to rally against the election. Such rallies in Washington, DC ended in violence and hate crimes. Black Lives Matter banners were stolen and burned from historic African American congregations. The President's speeches, tweets, and support for legal and administrative actions to overturn the election results impeded the transition to a new Administration - creating increased dangers for all.
In Washington, DC homicides rose for the 3rd straight year to 198, the highest total in 16 years. The victims included at least 11 juveniles - victims including babies as young as 11 months old. Carmelo Duncan, 15 months old, was shot while riding in a car with his father - a murder that shook the city and its leaders.
It was in this context of pandemic illness, tragic violence, and political turmoil that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members sought meaningful ways to make a difference here in the nation's capital city.
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The DCC's Homeless Services Unit met with 185 of the city's most vulnerable and homeless residents. Over 40% were women. Most of those served were at high risk of being victims of theft or physical or sexual assault ... women, the elderly, those suffering from mental illness, as well as other conditions. Many of those served had already been victims of theft, violence or abuse.
The pandemic meant many sites for meeting the homeless were closed and so the staff increased outreach to public space areas - around parks and neighborhood corridors where the homeless often live in bus shelters, doorways, or by metro locations. The staff worked to provide PPE to many as well as assisting those that were qualified in filing for Covid-related relief for those that qualified.
The staff sought to meet the immediate, life-threatening needs facing the homeless - offering over 140 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Over 100\persons were referred for medical care for physical and behavioral health needs. Over 70 referrals were made for emergency utility and rent assistance, over 35 for obtaining basic identification documents which are essential for all other services, as well as over 60 referrals for legal aid and immigration assistance.
The staff sought to help the homeless to meet the underlying causes of their situation, assisting with over 130 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits with over 90 being successful and many more in process at year's end. Over 30 persons were assisted with job training or job placement referrals. Some 30 persons were helped in their efforts to find housing with 13 persons being placed into new safe housing. A number of persons in abusive situations were assisted and over two dozen persons were assisted in efforts to prevent their displacement.
The purpose of the Unit's work is to meet life-threatening emergency needs, while seeking to break the cycle of homelessness by addressing underlying causes - to restore people and families back to lives of self-reliance and independent living.
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For over 30 years WACIF has leveraged the funds of investors such as the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a founding member of WACIF and its leading investor to help develop affordable housing, daycare and community serving programs, and to encourage and expand small and minority owned businesses. Since its inception, WACIF has assisted over 5,000 small businesses, helping to create or sustain more than 2,000 full and part time jobs. In 2020, thanks to the support of longtime partners like the Downtown Cluster, Wacif was called to play a leading role in the regional response to COVID 19. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration selected Wacif as a lead implementer for the city's signature COVID 19 small business program, the DC Small Business Recovery Microgrant. Political polling firm Morning Consult partnered with Wacif to launch the Small Business Resilience Fund, a partnership that won the 2020 Washington Business Journal Citizenship Award and ultimately mobilized more than $500,000 to support underserved entrepreneurs in maintaining their operations and preserving jobs. Ultimately, through November 2020 Wacif has deployed more than $7,000,000 in capital to more than 1,400 entrepreneurs, a more than fivefold increase relative to 2019 capital deployment. Financial capital deployment has been one component of Wacif's leadership during this unprecedented year the organization has also offered multi month loan payment coverage for all borrowers in its loan portfolio, and complemented this financial relief with new advisory offerings covering resilience related topics including digital presence, online retailing, business model pivoting, and maintaining physical and mental health. In recognition of the organization's deepening impact, Wacif's many fundraising successes this year included a competitive, national award from the US Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency to launch an enterprising women of color business center for the National Capital region. In November 2020, Wacif was also recognized as a featured nonprofit in Catalogue for Philanthropy, an honor that recognizes Wacif as one of the region's best community nonprofits.
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The Downtown Cluster of Congregations leads the city in making requests for services to help make neighborhoods safer by use of the city's 311 system. These are in addition to requests it makes to federal agencies for services (e.g. - National Park Service for care of its numerous parks and the US Postal Service for graffiti removal on postal boxes, etc.). Cluster staff made over 15,000 requests for services impacting all corners of the city - for the planting of trees, repair of hazardous sidewalks, clearing of graffiti, removal of trash, helping to identify vacant buildings as well as other services. The Cluster requested the planting of over 1,000 trees in public spaces as well as a similar number of requests for the pruning of hazardous dead limbs and the removal of dead trees. Over 500 hazardous sidewalk locations were reported for repair, along with requests for pedestrian striping of crosswalks and repair of curbs and potholes. Over 2,000 requests were made for graffiti removal. Over 800 requests were made with regards to illegal dumping and sanitation enforcement to help the city be cleaner and address its on-going issue of rat infestation in certain neighborhoods. The Cluster identified to the city over 5,000 faded to illegible or missing signs for replacement that could impact safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and others.
Over 1,500 properties were reported to the city as possibly vacant as such properties pose numerous safety issues to immediate and nearby neighbors with the goal of having the buildings properly secured and hopefully hasten their return to active use to provide housing, jobs and other services to the neighborhoods they are located in.
The Cluster continued its effort begun in 2016 to have street lights properly working - reporting over 850 for all types of repair. Too often violent crimes have occurred in the city on streets where street lights were out. The agency's Executive Director continued to call on the city to replace its decades old electrical grid system with smart lighting so non-operating lights can be immediately identified and repaired.
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Health and safety were critical issues for all in 2020. The Cluster frequently sent out to its members and others updates to help address issues facing them and the community as a whole - from pandemic responses and protocols, to impacts from demonstrations, to issues related to violent crime. Members were helped with getting weekly access to updates on the city's COVID response and restrictions which were constantly evolving and changing throughout the year. So too in wake of the protests following the tragic death of George Floyd, the Cluster shared updates on street closures, curfews and events that could impact safety.
The Cluster and its members spoke out against the federal actions in clearing Lafayette Square Park and the President's use of St. John's Church, a member congregation, as a backdrop to hold a press conference, a member congregation, in the President's response to peaceful protests against racism that were occurring both here in the nation's capital and other cities and communities across the country.
The Cluster sought to collaborate with Peace Walks DC in efforts to address the tragic toll of homicides here in the city...from sharing event information, to participating in a city wide summit to build community-centered approaches to ending violence.
2020 saw the completion of the restoration and modernization of the MLK Central Library. The Executive Director had served on Mayor Anthony Williams Blue Ribbon Library Task Force from 2002 - 2004 and helped craft the report that called for the modernization of the city's branch libraries and for a new Central Library. After some 15 years the more than 20 branch libraries have been modernized and the MLK Library has reopened, all with the goals of being lighter, brighter and cleaner, with expanded electronic offerings and more community uses.
2020 also saw the restoration of the Chinatown Friendship Arch. The Cluster had worked with Chinatown community leaders and residents in calling for the restoration of the Arch for a number of years and finally was able to secure funding in 2019. The restoration was begun in the spring and completed in the fall. The Arch was originally built in 1986 when Marion Barry was Mayor as a sign of the Sister City relationship between Beijing and DC and quickly became a cherished DC icon.
The Cluster reiterated its call for the Washington Football team to change its name; the Cluster had first requested the team owner to rename the team in 1996 when he purchased the team at that time. At last owing to widespread protests in the wake of the Black Lives matter protests, the team agreed to change its name.
The Cluster shared information with its members and others to help them to continue successfully operating in the city. It was able to help get the word out for example for congregations to re-register with PEPCO their tax-exempt status to receive tax relief. Similar actions were taken in 2019 when the city sought new certifications on registering congregations' tax-exempt status. The Cluster helped to extend the time for certifications as well as spreading the word on the process and getting aid for congregations on filing needed documents on-line.
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The Executive Director Terry Lynch and Rev. Karen Curry of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church served on the city's DC State Athletic Commission with a charge to expand and improve athletic opportunities for the city's youth. Rev. Dr. Kendrick Curry continued his service on the DC Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors which was engaged in billions of dollars of infrastructure work in overhauling decades old tunnels and addressing the critical function of assuring safe drinking water to all communities.
The Executive Director continued to serve on the Lead Poisoning Elimination and Healthy Homes Advisory Committee convened by the city's Department of Energy and the Environment.
Rev. Tom Knoll, after 35 years of service at First Trinity Lutheran Church and having served in numerous roles such as a Boardmember to the Downtown Business Improvement District, retired.
The Cluster congratulated its Executive Director, Terry Lynch, on completing a successful kidney donation to his Sister-in-Law Laura Audette in May of 2020 at the Mayo Clinic. The Cluster and its members have long supported organ donations for saving and improving lives.
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The staff consisted of Terrance Lynch, the Executive Director, who has now served the agency for 35 years; Julie Turner is the Senior Outreach Worker having been with the agency for over 30 years.
The 2020 Officers were:
- President: Maxine Maye - Lincoln Congregational Temple, U.C.C.
- Vice President: Rev. Kendrick Curry - Pennsylvania Ave. Baptist Church
- Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt - Epiphany Episcopal Church
- Assistant Treasurer: Daryl Branson - Shiloh Baptist Church
- Secretary: Jean Grier, First Church of Christ, Scientist
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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