Nobody likes “one size fits all.” None of us likes thinking we’re exactly the same as the person we’re standing next to. No one believes that what works for someone else will automatically work for us.
But we often think that way when it comes to people who are chronically in need.
I’m guilty of it. I used to think of “the homeless” as if they were a monolithic challenge awaiting some common solution. And I once suspected that’s how the charities that worked with disadvantaged people thought of them too: a commodity, almost.
Understanding just how wrong I was has been the biggest surprise — the most reassuring realization — during the four years I’ve been involved with The Washington Post Helping Hand.
What is Helping Hand? It’s the annual fundraising campaign that starts today. Each of our charity partners — So Others Might Eat, N Street Village and Bright Beginnings — works with desperately needy people in the Washington area. Most of those they help are experiencing homelessness. Many are hungry. Some are in the throes of addiction, or suffer from mental illness or chronic medical conditions.
All of the charities see their clients as individuals in need of individualized assistance. They don’t see cases. They see people — and they craft their approach accordingly.
Throughout the holiday season I’ll be sharing stories of people in our area who have overcome adversity and the people who helped them. Here are snapshots of the nonprofits I hope you will support. (You can learn more — and donate — at posthelpinghand.com.)
As its name implies, So Others Might Eat started as an organization to feed the hungry. That was in 1970. Since then, SOME has expanded to become one of the broadest service providers in the District. Its handsome new Conway Center on Benning Road NE illustrates that breadth: It contains both apartments for people who were once without homes and classrooms so they can participate in employment programs.
Last year, 726 single adults and 143 families with 320 children lived in SOME’s affordable housing. Nearly 200 people graduated from job training. And true to SOME’s original purpose, the charity served 433,169 meals at its first — and still thriving — location on O Street NW.
To donate to SOME by mail, make a check payable to So Others Might Eat and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.
Yes, there is an N Street Village on N Street NW (between 13th and 14th streets). But the N Street Village spirit also animates the charity’s four other locations around Washington.
What they all have in common is their audience: women. The flagship headquarters includes a safe space where these women experiencing homelessness can spend the day, safely off the streets. There they can learn about the other programs N Street Village offers, including mental wellness programs, access to health care and addiction recovery services, and housing.
Last year, nearly 2,000 women were served by N Street Village. Housing was provided for 767 women and 51 families.
To support its work by mail, make a check payable to N Street Village and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Bright Beginnings has a new building, too: a bright and cheery early-childhood center in Southeast Washington. It and a nearby location serve 104 infants and toddlers and 44 3- and 4 year-olds in prekindergarten.
But these kids are only the chubby-cheeked tip of the Bright Beginnings iceberg. The charity has a two-generation approach to combating poverty. While children go to its preschool, their parents participate in its educational programming.
Moms and dads who are experiencing homelessness learn life skills their parents may not have taught them. They complete their education and work on résumés. And they can take jobs, knowing that, after class, Bright Beginnings provides day care late into the evening.
To contribute to Bright Beginnings by mail, make a check payable to Bright Beginnings and send it to: Bright Beginnings, Attn: Helping Hand, 3418 Fourth St. SE, Washington, D.C. 20032.
Our Helping Hand goal this year is to raise $225,000 by Jan. 4. Can we do it? Well last year we raised $267,200, blowing past our goal of $200,000. As they say in those investing ads, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But I’m confident that with your help, we can.
Tomorrow: An artistic flowering at N Street Village.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.