For more than a year, the Wrights lived without gas and electricity in their one-room apartment on R Street NW. "We don't want nobody to have to help us," said Wright (not his real name). "And we didn't know who we could go to," added his wife.
When Wright happened to meet Ernest Williams, a member of Emmaus Services for the Aging, Wright told him that his wife needed help getting food stamps.
It wasn't until later, when Williams visited the Wrights at home, that he discovered the couple also was without electricity and gas.
With the help of Williams and Emmaus, the Wrights are living comfortably again.
Emmaus Services for the Aging was formed 18 months ago to identify and provide for the needs of the elderly in the Thomas Circle and Logan Circle areas.
The program is funded mainly by the D.C. Office on Aging, But, volunteer workers and additional funds come from the five area churches which make up Emmaus Fellowship. Those churches are Foundry United Methodist Church, Luther Place Memorial Church, First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, Metropolitan AME Church and National City Christian Church.
In the past six months Emmaus has provided about 230 services to 55 people. These services include bringing groceries to the home-bound, taking people to doctors' appointments, straightening out problems with food stamps and other government services and checking in on others with a daily phone call.
"We simply discover their unmet needs and match them with an agency that can help them," said Diane Amussen, director of the project.
Amussen believes that through the daily phone calls and visits, several potential tragedies have been avoided. She and Williams have discovered, by accident, a woman who had been existing on crackers for two weeks and another woman alone in her apartment after a hospital stay who became hysterical after three days when she still couldn't care for herself. A score of others have been found who didn't have enouggh money to buy food for the month after paying their rent and medical expenses.
Through their surveys and contact with some of the 1,300 persons over 65 in that area (according to a 1970 census), Emmaus has found that elderly residents often are distrustful of the "system" and those who work for it. They also have found that people talk about their problems more openly with Williams, who was lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, than with other volunteers.
Unlike other volunteers, Williams, 63, a part-time worker, spends part of his days ambling about the neighborhood checking in on senior citizens he has helped and always stopping to talk to elderly strangers to find out if they have any problems. "I know all the people, I'm one of them," Williams said.
"These people have been burnt," Williams said. "Right away they think you're from the government. They're afraid you're going to take away what little they got.
"Sometimes you're talking to somebody and you know he doesn't have enough to eat. But he tells you everything's okay, he don't want any help. You just have to walk away, you can't make them accept help."
Now that Williams is well known in the neighborhood, people call out to him and sometimes tell him about a friend or neighbor in trouble.
After his initial contact, when Williams records the individual's name and address, another Emmaus volunteer usually follows up with a long visit to determine whether any local agencies can help.
Although the elderly inner-city residents list lack of food and income as their major problems. Amussen believes the major problem is loneliness.
"There's no one there to give them a reason to live, to eat and take care of themselves properly," Amussen said. "When they get lonely they just can't go off to a movie or museum anymore."
The tiny staff of Emmaus consists of one full-time employe, Amussen, and two part-time workers who are paid for eight hours of work a week. Williams, a retired laborer, works many more hours. "I'm working from the time I leave home until I come home at night, He said.
In addition, up to 30 volunteers from local churches and schools work from the Emmaus office at National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle.
Now that Emmaus has made inroads into the neighborhoods, the staff is continually trying to locate contacts or "key people" who are familar with the neighborhood and know of possible problems.
Amussen and Williams have had contact with resident managers at apartments, the barber shop owner, a manager at McDonalds on 17th Street NW, and mailmen. "These people know the neighborhood and sometimes are the first ones someone will go to when he's in trouble," said Amussen.
In addition to informal contacts, Amussen plans continuing luncheons for the resident managers so she can acquaint them with Emmaus and improve rapport. She hopes that the managers will contact Emmaus in emergencies and encourage tenants to contact them with problems.
Emmaus has roughly 150 elderly person on its records now who they either assist actively or check in on occasionally. Amussen said this is about all the present staff and volunteers can handle. She already has a backlog of first contacts made by Williams and is hoping to draw more volunteers now that the program is no longer in the planning stages.
"What we're doing so far isn't grandiose," said Amussen. "But it's helping people who'd still be hungry or scared or totally alone otherwise." CAPTION: Picture, Until Emmaus Center intern Daryl Yoder picked her up, Mrs. Sandra Cohen had not been out of her apartment in five years. Companionship and transportation are just two of the services that the center provides to the elderly living in the Northwest section of the District. By Gerald Marineau -- The Washington Post