Winstead doesn’t yet have the keys to that house. Or a lease. Or even an address. But, for the 31-year-old who works as a supervisor at a bank, homeownership is more than just a dream. It’s a goal — one that for the first time in her life feels attainable.
A year and a half ago, she was working two jobs when a divorce and the loss of child care caused her to fall behind on her rent. Soon, an eviction notice was taped to her door, and she found herself searching online for shelters in the Washington region, fearing she and her daughter were going to end up on cots, sharing a room with strangers.
Now, she has money in her savings account, a connection to an organization that helps low-income workers become homeowners and a plan that culminates with her getting her daughter that room by the end of the year.
“I’m not going to cry,” Winstead says when we talk. “But there is literally no way. No way I would have been able to save up money to buy a home if I hadn’t come to St. Ann’s.”
In some ways, life is continuing as normal at St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families in Hyattsville: Mothers are working, studying and participating in programs aimed at helping them leave more self-sufficient than when they arrived. Children are learning, playing and thriving in ways other circumstances might not have allowed.
But the center, which offers temporary housing, career counseling and life-skill classes to single mothers, has not gone unshaken by the coronavirus pandemic. It has been forced to shift some of its services online, close a child-care center that connected the community with residents and figure out how to instill stability in the lives of single mothers, even as it loses some of its own.
This month, the center was supposed to hold a fundraising gala to celebrate its 160th year in the region. A committee had been meeting since last summer to plan the event. They had booked a venue, settled on a menu and sent save-the-dates to a guest list of about 300 people.
Now, the fundraiser has been postponed, leaving the center’s staff to put together a budget for this coming year not knowing how much funding it will receive.
They also don’t know when it will feel safe again to start accepting new families and whether, when those families arrive, the staff will be able to offer a hug or hold a hand.
“Or wipe a nose of a child,” says Sister Mary Bader, the chief executive for the center. She lives among the women and children in the two-building complex, and before the need for social distancing, she could scoop a baby into her arms or let a toddler climb onto her lap. She worries about that loss of touch.
“It might sound odd to say this, but I really think it’s going to be a huge challenge to us,” Bader says. Much of the work the staff does involves helping women and children heal from traumas, and that is difficult to do through a mask, a pair of gloves or a screen.
“It’s certainly going to change the way we do things,” she says. “Our whole means of interacting and relating to people will be different for a while.”
The Washington region is home to countless local and national nonprofits, and before the spread of the novel coronavirus was even declared a pandemic, some were bracing for what was coming.
In the past few months — as the economic and public health impacts of the virus have become clearer — many of the region’s nonprofits have had to adjust, rethink and revise how they serve people. And they’ve had to do that while figuring out how to maintain their own footing because the only certainty in this uncertain time is that more people will need to lean on them.
More than 1.4 million in the District, Maryland and Virginia have filed for unemployment benefits in the past 10 weeks, and those job losses have occurred to residents in poor and wealthy communities, such as Sterling, Va., which has a six-figure median income, according to an analysis of data The Washington Post published Thursday.
The numbers are similarly alarming across the nation, with more than 38 million Americans filing for unemployment in the past nine weeks.
For some of the organizations holding up the Washington region’s safety net, this time will bring unprecedented challenges.
For St. Ann’s, it will mark a new test in a timeline filled with them. To figure out how to move forward, it just has to look back. The organization was founded during a crisis, and it has reinvented itself time and again since.
The theme that had been picked for this year’s gala was “Our roots run deep.” Those roots started growing in 1860. The organization was created to serve women and children during the Civil War, and it continued to do so through the 1918 flu pandemic, both World Wars, the Great Depression and now, a pandemic.
Over the years, it has changed its name and purpose. It went from “asylum” to “orphanage” to “center,” which now houses mothers and children, sometimes for years, if that’s what they need to escape homelessness.
“We’ve seen incredible success like we never have before in terms of families leaving us and going into permanent housing,” Bader says. “It’s nothing short of incredible how they are doing that.”
Right now, one of the residents is studying to become a nurse. Another is working toward getting certified to become a Montessori teacher.
A pregnant woman who came to the center with a 3-year-old who has visual and learning disabilities was able to get her GED and move into her own apartment earlier this year. She was working in the center’s child-care program before it closed and also earns money making wigs.
Winstead says that before she found the eviction notice on her door, she was working 9 to 5 at a bank and spending three nights a week and every weekend working at Capital One Arena as a teller. But she had to cut back her hours, she says, when her ex-husband temporarily moved out of town and could no longer watch their daughter while she worked. Eventually, she couldn’t afford her $1,400-a-month rent.
When she came to St. Ann’s, she and her daughter were given an apartment that came furnished, complete with a shelf filled with children’s books. They share a kitchen, laundry room and playground with other families, but otherwise have their own space.
Winstead says she used to think it was better to forget the past. Now, she realizes it is something to hold on to and learn from.
“I used to say, ‘I don’t want her to remember any of this stuff,’ ” she says of her daughter. “Now, I want her to see where we were and how we are in a much more amazing place. I want her to see, ‘My mommy did it, my mommy figured it out, she took care of what we had to take care of.’ ”
When they move into their new house, she says, she wants her daughter to know that from these hard times, her mom created something better for them.
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