For most of the afternoon, lines of people snaked through the courtyard and into the house at 701 Maryland Ave. NE.
The occasion was an open house at Sasha Bruce House, a Capitol Hill shelter home that has served as a crisis couselling center and temporary refuge for about 300 troubled youths during the past two years.
In 1977, the home opened as a memorial to Alexandra (Sasha) Bruce, daughter of the late ambassador, David K.E. Bruce, Sasha Bruce died in 1975 at the age of 29.
The house was established in part by her mother, Evangeline Bruce, who is a board member of the Washington Streetwork Project, the program sponsoring the home. Funding for the home also is provided by donations, local and federal government monies and United Way.
Throughout the afternoon, friends of Mrs. Bruce, board members, couselors and the teen-age residents of the home stood in the courtyard or carefully inspected the house, which many of them said they supported both morally and financially.
The visitors admired the colorful, airy bedrooms, questioned couselors and asked about the renovations, which include a new roof, new plumbing, electrical fixtures and brightly painted or wallpapered rooms.
In the family room, guests applauded the antics of the young people who directed the tours, performed in an impromptu "Gong Show" and thanked their benefactors in poems they had written for the occasion.
"It's so nice and cheerful. It just looks so much more pulled together, as if they really know what they're doing," said Mrs. Paul Burling, one of the guests. Her viewpoint was shared by many of the guests who had seen the house two years ago when the roof still leaked and the program was just developing under the leadership of co-directors Deborah Shore and Deborah Johnson.
Another guest, award-wining columnist Joseph Alsop, summarized his view of the house by repeating a comment made by one of the youths earlier in the day. "It sure beats going to jail," Alsop chuckled.
The view is supported by Shore, who is now program director (Johnson recently became a board member), along with other youth advocates working with the program.
"We see a lot of kids who are homeless either because their families don't want them or their homes are unstable," Shore said.Programs like the Bruce House represent an alternative to imprisoning homeless youths who get into trouble.
In April, the home began a federally sponsored, 18-month pilot project called CAY (Community Advocates for Youth) to counsel and help find homes for a minimum of 60 delinquent youths who might otherwise be imprisoned.
Of the 12 youths now living at Bruce House, eight are under the CAY program, Shore said. The 300 youths who already have gone through the program have either returned home or have been sent to live with relatives, in group homes, foster homes or on their own, Shore said.
"That all sounds very neat, but it's not," smiled Shore."Some of it is a very lengthy process. I think there are a lot young people with special education needs and discipline problems."
Since its opening, the apparent stability of the program and its motto, "once a client, always a friend," has earned Bruce House the respect of Evangeline Bruce, youth advocates, parents and teen-agers.
Ella Minus, parent of a former Bruce House client, said she volunteered her services as a board member "because of the work I felt they did with my (15-year-old) daughter."
A 17-year-old resident said she was brought to the house by police officers she had run to for help following continuing trouble at home.
"They told me they were taking me to a house. I thought it was going to be like a jail," she recalled. Instead, the girl said she found "a whole big family. I consider them like my brothers and sisters."
A former resident, aged 16, added that he believes the counselors treat the youths with concern and respect. "They didn't talk to you like you were a dummy, but like you were an adult," he said.
Friends influenced him to get into trouble, said another youth, 14. At Bruce House, he said he realized, "I ain't got to go around doing nothing somebody else does. I got a mind of my own."
Then another resident, aged 16, expressed his emergence as an individual in a poem, "I Found Myself."
In part, he wrote, "I found myself dying on my own mistakes. I found myself crying of the unfortunate breaks. I found myself when almost at end. I found myself when I found my friend, the Sasha Bruce House."