In 1975, a 29-year-old heiress named Alexandra Bruce died from a gunshot wound to the head. Though it seemed at first that she had taken her own life, three years later her Greek husband was indicted for murder. But as he had gone back to Greece and could not be extradited, a trial was never held.
If you were in Washington then, the name Sasha Bruce — for that is what her friends and family called Alexandra — would be tinged with sadness. She was a child of wealth — the daughter of diplomat David Bruce and his hostess wife, Evangeline — who met a tragic end.
Sasha had worked with social-justice issues while in college at Radcliffe. Her parents did not wish Sasha to be remembered chiefly for her demise. And so in 1977, the Bruces helped a District charity buy a former embassy building on Maryland Avenue NE. It was transformed into an emergency shelter for homeless teens and named the Sasha Bruce House. The charity that ran it, which had been founded three years earlier by an indefatigable woman named Debby Shore, became Sasha Bruce Youthwork.
Today, Sasha Bruce Youthwork offers safe homes, life skills classes and workforce opportunities for more than 1,500 young people each year. In 2016, Sasha Bruce reunited 264 runaway youth entering its shelters with family.
Sasha Bruce Youthwork is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. To donate by mail, make a check payable to “Sasha Bruce Youthwork” and send it to: Sasha Bruce Youthwork, 741 Eighth St. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. Attention: James Beck.
In 1968, the Rev. Tom Nees watched the riots that broke out in the wake of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on the TV in his home in Dayton, Ohio. The knowledge that some of his white parishioners would be relieved that King was gone saddened him immensely.
Three years later, Nees moved to Potomac, Md., to lead another largely white church. Over time, he decided his talents were needed somewhere else: in the impoverished community along 14th Street NW. He founded a church, and with the small congregation renovated a decrepit 43-unit apartment building on Belmont Street NW.
The building provided housing for homeless families, but it provided other services, too: a health clinic, counseling, legal help. . . .
“We’re not saving souls,” Nees would say. “We’re saving people.”
In 1983, Nees speculated that subway construction was likely to mean they’d have to move the operation east of the Anacostia. And that’s where its descendant is today.
In 2016 alone, Community of Hope, the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that grew out of the Community of Hope of the Nazarene — the church Nees founded — has improved the lives of 700 District families, including 1,200 children. Nearly 10,000 low-income patients have received services at the charity’s three health centers.
Community of Hope is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. Make a check payable to “Community of Hope” and mail it to: Community of Hope, Attn: Helping Hand, 4 Atlantic St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20032.
In 1969, 11 churches in Falls Church, Va., banded together to create the Falls Church Community Service Council to address the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in their area. The needs were great and under that umbrella, other organizations soon grew.
Among them was Homestretch, spun off by the Community Service Council in 1990 as a separate nonprofit with the aim of helping homeless families in Fairfax County.
From the start, the idea was to attack the root causes of a family’s homelessness. Families that enter Homestretch move into their own homes, yes, but they also are required to take life skills classes, learn a trade, improve their English (if they don’t speak it), save money and repair their credit.
Around 50 families are in the Homestretch program at any one time, participating in a two-year process that is designed to equip them with the tools they will need to prosper.
“We’re not really a housing program,” said Christopher Fay, executive director of Homestretch. “Housing is a big part of what we provide, but we’re a change program: What can you do to change the course of your life?”
Homestretch is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. To donate, make a check payable to “Homestretch” and mail it to: Homestretch, 303 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, Va. 22046, Attn: Nan Monday.
The three Washington Post Helping Hand charities were selected in 2014 to be featured in this column for three years. Next year we will select three new charities to spotlight.
For now, I hope you will consider making a donation. Our goal is to raise a total of $225,000 by Jan. 6. So far, Post readers have donated $52,595. To give online, please visit posthelpinghand.com.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.