In a story about the official opening of the Friendship Arms Apartments in last week's Maryland Weekly, the position of Harry Dalton was incorrectly reported. Dalton is general manager of a coalition of five churches which founded the apartment complex for elderly and handicapped citizens. Curtis M. Ferguson Management Co. is the property manager.
Marjorie A. Embrey gazed dreamily at the winter sunshine outside the windows of the Friendship Arms Apartments, 5805 42nd Ave., Hyattsville.
"This is heaven to me," she said earnestly. "I just never dreamed I would live here. I'm completely happy."
Six weeks ago, Embrey, 59 -- who had been widowed in August and was living with her daughter -- became the first resident of the facitlity for the elderly and the handicapped, which opened Nov. 6.
The project contains 105 apartments designed for low-income elderly citizens, and 45 for handicapped persons. The project is the result of an unusual coalition of five Hyattsville churches which for nine years fought sewer moratoriums, zoning boards, lack of money and red tape to solve a common problem -- the need for decent housing for senior citizens.
Representatives from the five churches and new residents of the complex gathered Saturday to cut the ribbons and celebrate the official opening.
The project was conceived in 1970 by members of the First Baptist Church of Hyattsville which had land available for a building but not much more.
Their concern was sparked by reports that 75 percent of Hyattsville's elderly residents lacked adequate housing.
"They lived someplace but it was a shanty," said Claude Davis, the first chairman of the Senior Citizens Housing Committee at First Baptist. "We quickly realized we couldn't handle it. We bit off more than we could chew."
Committee members decided they needed to join forces with other churches. Soon the coalition included St. Matthews Episcopal, St. James Catholic, Riverdale Presbyterian and First United Methodist.
Eventually, they joined forces with The Harkness Group of Silver Spring, a private developer which put up initial capital and had extensive experience with government housing programs. The final project housing included both state and federal housing funds.
"You have what I believe is a model which could be constructed in other parts of the state and throughout the nation," said Lt. Gov. Samuel W. Bogley III, who spoke at the opening ceremony.
The ecumenical nature of the project drew praise Saturday.
"I think the sense of community in this part of Prince George's county is strong," said the Rev. John H. Clifford of the First Baptist Church. "The clergy seemed to have a real sense of common need to solve community problems." The cooperation was enhanced, Clifford said, because church members "seemed to have a lot of working relationships" unrelated to church affiliations.
"It was a common interest and a concern for the elderly in the community," which held the group together, said the Rev. Thomas L. Dixon of St. Matthews Episcopal. "There weren't any big obstacles to helping on this."
"This has just been a blessing to me," said Marjorie Embrey, the first tenant. "I really was a person in need of a place to stay. It gives us a feeling of independence. We don't have to live with our children."
"Everybody is so nice here," sighed Dorothy Sharpe, 65, who moved in two weeks ago. She had been living in a $300-a-month apartment near Andrews Air Force Base. When her husband died in late November, she sought help quickly. Her rent at Friendship Arms is $86 per month, plus heat and electricity. "It sure means a lot," she said gratefully.
There are benefits in addition to the economic advantage of low-cost housing, according to the Rev. Donald P. Worch of St. Jerome's Catholic Church.
"You'll keep people in the community without having them go to strange places," he said. "You keep them in contact with the churches they have grown comfortable with. You keep a continuous flow in their lives without a break."
Project manager Harry Dalton said 75 percent of the units have been rented. He expects all will be rented by the first of the year.