To members of the Washington world of volunteers, Mary Alice Stoddard is the kind of worker who is the backbone of many service orgainzations in the city. That's why the Jewish Social Services Agency of Washington selected her as co-winner of its 1978 volunteer social service award. Nominations were submitted by social service agencies throughout the metropolitan area.
John Theban, executive director of the Family and Child Services Center (FCSC) of Washington, an agency Stoddard has worked with for 20 years, acknowledges her as a volunteer board member dedicated to "supporting good family life for kids growing up, or getting it to those kids who have lost it."
Agency officials said the center is second only to the District of Columbia Red Cross in receiving the largest amount of United Way funding. It has a budget of $3 million annually, and United Way provides approximately $800,000.
Services include two senior citizens centers, counseling and family services, an adoption agency, family day care, foster care programs, winter and summer youth camps and services to the aging. In 1977, the center served nearly 20,000 people.
Francis J. Ryan. deputy director of the agency, said Stoddard has worked diligently with the agency's 38 other volunteer board members to shape innovative community programs and find the funds to make them work.
"You call her up in the morning to be here at noon and nine times out of 10 she's here," said Ryan,
Stoddard's explanation of her enthusiasm is simple.
"It's like dominoes, one thing leads to another," said the matron, with the pewter-gray hair and lively sense of humor. "Besides, I'm not the type, with my children grown, to go home and play bridge with the girls."
Although Stoddard, 66, views herself as just another spoke in the wheel of the multi-service from cradle to grave," FCSC history proves otherwise.
She tackled her first major project in 1963, when she and other volunteers developed a foster care plan that aided the city in closing Junior Village, and overcrowded, trouble-ridden detention center for homeless youth.
The plan was to assemble families for foster children, using funds provided by the Children's Bureau. Homes were leased, furnished and maintained by the agency for foster parents who took in a maximum of five children. The mother in each household was then hired as a staff member of the agency and given a stipend and full employe benefits. Funds to take care of the children were also provided by the city welfare department, now the Department of Human Resources (DHR).
The success of the program led DHR-sponsored foster parents to organize, seek larger stipends and initiate programs of their own that eventually changed the direction of foster care in the District. The FCSC developed similar homes for handicapped and emotionally disturbed children.
However, the real success of the assembled families, said Stoddard, has been their stability. Of the 13 homes now operated by the agency, recent statistics show that the majority of the 60 youths in the program remained in the homes where they orginally were placed. Only a few youths were moved once or twice.
The agency's foster homes serving about 106 senior citizens and emotionally disturbed youths also have remained stable.
Two years after establishing the foster care program, Stoddard became the agency's first female president in 65 years. Soon afterwards, she worked in a local anti-poverty program directed by a protege of the late Saul Alinsky, a nationally known community organizer.
The project, a social services referral agency in the Arthur Capper Dwelling in Southeast Washington, was known as the Neighborhood Services Project.
"The theory was to see what you could accomplish if you cut out manageable areas of the city and saturated them with services," said Theban.
In the middle of the experiment, the director, Everett Cope, died from a brain tumor. The project was in danger of being phased out.
"So as a rank amateur, I ran it," said Stoddard, rolling her slate-blue eyes."Needless to say I called Theban everyday."
Jeanette Miller, the social worker assisting Stoddard on the project remembered her as a capable and compassionate administrator. Recalling a case involving a couple with several children and $250 in debts, Miller said, "I had asked Mrs. Stoddard to get some legal consultation for (the man) because her husband is a lawyer. What they did was send the man a $250 check. I think this exemplifies the kind of person she is."
Her interest in volunteer work developed during World War II, said Stoddard, when she spent two years contacting the families of soldiers as an aide in the home service department of the Red Cross.
"I remember I went to one house, and the woman had been drunk for so many days, she took everything in the room and threw it at me."
Her supervisor told her to go back and get the information she had missed. She did.
"That's what showed me I was a thwarted social worker."
In 1958 she came to the Family and Child Services Center.
"I can't remember what happened in between that time. I must have done something. I guess I stayed homed and took care of my two children."
The children, Audrey and Sheila, are now 44 and 41.
Throughout her years with the agency, Stoddard has served on all its committees, held office, squeezed funds out of the city government and Capitol Hill, worked on various advisory boards and, when necessary, even become an expert in sewer drainage and other motley causes to advocate agency programs.
"Being a part of this agency, whether as a volunteer or professional is rather like being a part of 10 or 11 agencies. Even if you're deaf, dumb and blind, you couldn't help but learn a lot," said Stoddard, who claims her education never extended beyond the equivalent of a high school education.