Several hundred people recently converged on the ballroom of the Holiday Inn and Suites in Alexandria, Virginia, during a fundraising breakfast for a nonprofit organization that aims to help families find affordable and transitional housing.
The Alexandria-based organization, Community Lodging, works with people who have become homeless for a variety of reasons, from domestic violence to being unable to find work.
Jasmin Witcher, the organization’s director of development, said the fundraiser is critical to a program at a time when programs like theirs are dwindling.
“We are touching the lives of more than 200 individuals every day in our affordable housing and transitional housing programs,” Witcher said. “Last year we helped 150 children in our program and another 44 families … and they are not returning to homelessness when they complete our program.”
One of the participants, a single mother of two named Denise, moved several attendees to tears as she talked about how the organization helped her start life over again.
“This organization was key to my journey,” said Denise, a graduate of Community Lodging’s Transitional Housing Program who declined to give her name out of fear of retaliation by her abusive former spouse. “They helped me go back to school, how to budget, helped me to find job opportunities and helped me to find employment.”
Denise, who came with her children to Community Lodgings in 2013, said the hardest thing of her situation wasn’t leaving an abusive marriage, but was staying away even though she was conflicted about her feelings toward her former partner.
“I started to go back,” she said. “It takes time to leave. ”
Today Denise is doing well and Charlene Braxton, a case worker for Community Lodging, played a critical role in her transition as well as other women and men.
“I have a passion to help people who want to empower themselves and it is not just women,” Braxton said. “I have a couple of fathers who are raising their children by themselves.”
Witcher said homelessness is often invisible until wintertime.
“We see a lot of families who are homeless because there are not beds in the shelter,” she said. “They have to sleep in their cars and they are spending the day at the library or looking for places where they can get out of the cold.”
The Community Lodgings Youth Education Program also worked with 143 children last year through the organization’s after-school and summer enrichment program.
Lynn Thomas, executive director of Community Lodging, said the youth program is critical because “we try to give them a life line to get them out of poverty.”
Marie Muscella, chair of the Community Lodging board of directors, is optimistic about the future. She said the organization plans to renovate their facilities, expand after-school programs and, most importantly, change lives of clients and volunteers.
“Whether I volunteer to teach yoga or serve on the board, I realize that I can make a difference,” Muscella said.