Columnist

“The meek shall inherit the Earth,” goes the Bible. “Women and children first,” goes the lifeboat adage.

If only these things were always true. If you’re poor in Washington, forget about expecting a whole planet. You’d be happy to inherit your next meal and a place to sleep. Things are even tougher if you’re a homeless woman or child.

We are fortunate that in our area many nonprofit groups try to help. Today, we’re announcing that three of them are the latest partners in The Washington Post Helping Hand: Bright Beginnings, N Street Village and So Others Might Eat.

Bright Beginnings provides day care and preschool to children in homeless families. This allows parents to work, and it helps children who have grown up under less-than-ideal circumstances get ready for kindergarten.

N Street Village works with homeless and low-income women in Washington, providing temporary shelter and permanent housing, along with medical and mental health services, employment assistance and more.

A newly renovated fence surrounds the District’s easternmost boundary stone, at Eastern and Southern avenues. (Bethany Davis)

As its name suggests, So Others Might Eat meets the immediate daily needs of the people it serves by providing meals. It also oversees hundreds of housing units around the city and offers job training, addiction treatment and counseling.

A committee of Post volunteers selected these three charities from more than 100 Washington-area nonprofits that applied to become Helping Hand partners.

Stay tuned. When the Helping Hand campaign kicks off in November, I’ll introduce you to the clients served by these groups and explain how you can help.

Setting boundaries

The guys at Anvil Works, a metal studio in Hedgesville, W.Va., like doing interesting jobs. For a blacksmith, jobs don’t get much more interesting than restoring the ornamental fence that encircles one of the 200-year-old boundary stones marking Washington’s border.

“One of the unique things about it as an object is the circle is divided into seven sections, instead of four or eight or six, as would be more normal and is geometrically a lot easier,” said Anvil Works’ Steve Dykstra.

You know what else is a lot easier? GPS, which is how we know where things are today. But in 1791, surveyors Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker marched through the Maryland and Virginia wilderness, marking out what would become the capital city of a new nation. A few years later, sandstone obelisks were placed at the southern, northern, eastern and western points, with similar stones placed every mile between them.

In 1916, the Daughters of the American Revolution’s District of Columbia chapter funded the installation of protective fences around the stones. On Saturday, a ceremony was held to rededicate the renovated fence around the easternmost marker, which stands at the intersection of Eastern and Southern avenues.

Stephen Powers, an engineer who lives in Arlington, plays mother hen to the stones, visiting each one annually to check on its condition. Over the past few weeks, he and fellow members of the American Society of Civil Engineers, National Capital Section, cleaned up the site and spread 75 bags of mulch to make it look nice.

The original fence was made by the Fred S. Gichner Iron Works, founded in the District in the 1880s by an Austrian immigrant. The bottom of the fence had largely rusted away over the past century, but Anvil Works founder Lee Badger was able to salvage as much of the original metal as possible while welding in replacement parts.

Why didn’t Gichner divide the circle evenly, the way you’d slice a pizza? Perhaps it was Masonic symbolism, but Stephen thinks they wanted to echo the simpler design of the non-cornerstone fences. Those fences are square, not circular. They have four corner posts with nine bars between each one. Thus from above, the metal fencing resembles the 40 stones themselves.

Said Stephen: “I think they wanted to keep the nine-bar design, and to keep the nine-bar design they had to do seven posts. The bars would have been spread out too much in a six-post circle.”

To me, the most striking part of the design is the way the pointed posts curve in at the top, as if to keep something inside from getting out, not something outside from getting in.

“We joked that once you got the stone, you’d have to die in there,” said Lee of Anvil Works.

Tearing apart a ‘Family’

A pointed cage may have proved useful for “Family Circle,” a sculpture in a small park at 18th and Harvard streets NW. Some of its dancing metal figures have gone missing. The work was created by D.C.-born artist Herbert House, who now lives in Chicago.

“They liked it that much, huh?” Herbert said when I called him to break the bad news. “Tell them we don’t pay ransom.”

Herbert created “Family Circle” out of old car bumpers. He wondered whether someone wrenched out the figures to sell as scrap.

The irony is, the base of the group was recently restored. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities tells me it is exploring options, which may include restoring the missing figures.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.