N Street Village, a shelter in Northwest Washington that calls itself a “community of empowerment and recovery for women,” celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala Wednesday night at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom. Since N Street Village opened its doors in 1972 pledging to “be there,” it has remained open to thousands of women 24 hours a day — 365 days a year — transforming lives.
“Tomorrow morning, someone new will be at our front door,” Schroeder Stribling, executive director of N Street Village, told the crowd gathered in the elegant ballroom. “We don’t know her name. Another new woman will be with us the next day. We made a promise to them, which we have kept for 40 years and which we won’t forsake: we will be here.”
Some of the women who arrived at the shelter had been beaten, others suffered mental illness, some had health problems, and some had lost their jobs and had nowhere else to turn. N Street provided them shelter and recovery programs to help with their healing. I wrote about two women from N Street Village, whose lives were transformed by the People’s Inaugural Ball in 2009.
More than 600 people attended the fundraising gala on Wednesday, which raised more than $760,000, organizers said. The ballroom was packed with a who’s who of Washington, including: Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Sen. Kay Hagan, who each received the N Street Village 2014 Founder’s Award. Other attendees include: Sen. Roy Blunt and Abigail Blunt; Sen. Michael Enzi and Diana Enzi; D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray; D.C. Council member Jack Evans; former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams; executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on homelessness, Laura Zeilinger; and gala co-chairs Linda Daschle and Michele Norris.
Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Grammy-award-winning a capella troupe, opened the celebration with a rendition of “Ella’s Song.”
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” they sang. “Hear me talking ….we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
Three women, whose lives were changed by N Street Village, received the 2014 Steinbruck Award, which organizers say is “presented annually to women whose leadership, persistence, and determination reflect that of Erna and John, co-founders of N Street Village.”
Ann Hill, who lost her job and apartment after being diagnosed with cancer, found herself homeless in 2012. She rode the bus and subway before hearing about N Street Village. “When I reached N Street Village, I was in a critical state,” Hill told the crowd. “When I got there, N Street treated me like I was special…. I have recovered from my illness. I am back at work. I have permanent and supportive housing. Now, I have my own lock and key. I can go and come when I want to.”
Evelyn Brenson, who lost her job and place to live after being diagnosed with liver disease, arrived at N Street Village’s temporary shelter in the late 1990s. “It is good to have a roof over your head,” she said. “You don’t really think about it until you are homeless.”
Brenson, who eventually moved out of the shelter and became a volunteer at N Street Village, recently learned that cancer was spreading in her spine. “I continue to survive with the help of N Street Village,” said Benson, who now lives in affordable housing in Northwest Washington.
Marshalle Gaither, a high school dropout who lost everything after her grandmother, sister, son and father died within a period of three years, arrived at N Street Village’s Recovery Housing program two years ago. Gaither, dressed in silver, stepped to the microphone Wednesday night and sang: “There will be mountains I will have to climb…..”
“With everything I’ve been through,” said Gaither, who is now a college student, “I’m being honored for hard work. On behalf of my sisters at N Street Village, I was asked to say thank you.”
The crowd rose and gave Hill, Brenson and Gaither, a long and sustained standing ovation.