House of Ruth

2022 Washington Women of Excellence

2022 Washington Women of Excellence

Pictured from left: Jennifer L. Porter and Mayor Muriel Bowser from the Executive Office of the Mayor; Sandra Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

On Thursday, March 31, at 6 pm, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Mayor’s Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives recognized Sandra Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth as a Washington Women of Excellence — at an awards event. The eight honorees have all led trailblazing careers and in particular this class of women have fostered new pathways for mothers, women, and girls in the District of Columbia to thrive.

On the SAME NIGHT! Sandra Jackson was also recognized by the DC Democratic Women’s Club to honor her leadership, dedication, and service to women, children, and families of the District of Columbia. As they said, “As CEO of the renowned House of Ruth, you are among three community innovators DCDWC will recognize during our virtual Annual Women’s History Program scheduled for Thursday, March 31, 2022. The Servant Leadership Award celebrates exceptional community icons who advocate sustainability within our communities. Your leadership demonstrates the nobility of shared power, raising the needs of others and supporting individuals to develop and perform as highly as possible.”

We are so glad to have Sandra Jackson as president and CEO of House of Ruth, and proud of this well-deserved recognition.

Looking To The Future

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

As we start to prepare for House of Ruth’s 50th anniversary, my heart and mind are full. With your help, this organization has helped so many women and children transform their lives, and heal from trauma and abuse. As we look ahead to the next 50 years, we are planning for bright futures for our clients.

House of Ruth has always been led by our client’s needs. We started housing women who had experienced homelessness, and then in conversation with many of them, realized the intersection of domestic violence and homelessness. Prior to House of Ruth, women who made the hard decision to leave an abusive situation found themselves and their children homeless. And for others the fear of being homeless prevented them from leaving. We started offering childcare because we found that if you help women — children come with them, and they need a safe, nurturing place to go as well. When learning about the traumas many of our clients have faced, we realized trauma informed counseling was a needed tool, and opened our Domestic Violence Support Center.

And now, faced with rising rents, and the increasing unaffordability of Washington, D.C., we are once again being client led to offer affordable housing to ensure our families can continue to be successful in their journey to independence. Affordable housing provides stability, supports families by liberating them from poverty, violence, physical and mental hardships and placing them on a path of new opportunities and increased confidence and self-reliance. A stable place to live means a place for families to spend time together, establishes home as a place that protects — instead of endangering — their physical and mental health. Stable housing provides the foundation necessary to prepare, support, teach and model skills for future generations. It also allows families to totally engage in communities and advocate for their communities through support of local leadership.

We are building partnerships, and reaching out to funders, and listening closely — and we realize there is a deep need for affordable housing in D.C. Not just for our clients — but for thousands of families. We hope to raise $50 million for this capital investment before our 50th anniversary in 2026. We also hope this money will help us offer between 150-200 affordable apartments.

But we are not stopping there. We are also working on partnerships to encourage home ownership — to help our clients, who have secure, reliable jobs and affordable apartments, to start saving to purchase a home. We are breaking the cycles of trauma, violence and housing insecurity for our clients (and their children) as we open the door to the knowledge of home ownership and building generational wealth for future generations.

Thank you for continuing with us on this journey; you help make all of this possible.

Sandra: Sharing My Story

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

I have been blessed to learn about many of you — our most loyal donors and supporters — over the past eight years that I have been with House of Ruth. And through my monthly notes, I have tried to give you a little light into who I am. I want to be more clear this month, and help you understand who I am and why I am so driven to help the women, children and families at House of Ruth.

I always knew I wanted to help people. Maybe it has to do with my name — Sandra — which means helper of mankind. But I also know how much my mother shaped my life. She was my first role model of a social worker. She influenced my decision to pursue the helping profession and become a social worker. She instilled within me the value of service and supporting others to reach their goals. She also demonstrated hard work and a “can do” spirit. I can never remember her saying something was impossible, it was always clear there was a way to make it happen. Therefore, I push myself and yes, I push others — never asking more of others than I ask of myself. I strive for the highest goal, and I do not quit until I reach that goal.

On the other hand, I nurture my faith, and love time with my family, laughing, dancing, eating crabs and listening to the greatest music of all time — Motown. I love to go to concerts and my friends laugh at me because when some of the old groups from the Motown era are coming to town, they tease me saying “Do you really want to see one real original member (1 Temptation or 1 Top) from the original group? And I respond “yes,” because it is the spirit of the music, lyrics from the songs that speak to my soul.

I honestly believe — my life was orchestrated and ordained from the beginning. I am where I am supposed to be. There were times when things happened in my life, it was not always clear where it was leading, and I did not know how it would propel me to something better. But as I look back, I can see now what I was being set up to be, what I was supposed to learn from that experience and what vineyard I was supposed to be cultivating.

I have a great passion for children — because they are so vulnerable but have some much potential. And when their lives are nurtured and supported with healthy relationships, resources, and opportunities — they thrive and flourish. My children have had that, and I believe every child deserves that as well. So, I have made it my mission and life’s work to ensure that every child that I have the reach to touch — through my work at House of Ruth — will succeed in life.

Thank you for joining me on this journey and thank you for supporting the women, children and families at House of Ruth.

 

It always seems impossible until it’s done.
– Nelson Mandela

Affordable Housing: The Next Frontier!

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

As I’ve mentioned in the May, June and July notes from me to you; House of Ruth has only grown in the last 45 years in direct response to requests and needs of our clients. This is no exception — in our 12 housing programs (which you can read about in my (May note here) — we serve hundreds of women. Some of these women have taken what they need from House of Ruth — have been life coached to complete a degree, or helped to find a higher paying job; or supported in staying in a good job. Their children are flourishing at Kidspace (click here to learn more) and the women have gone to therapy (click here). They are ready to move out, and yet stay in the neighborhood which has become home. The issue? There are no apartments or homes they can afford left in D.C. They cannot get a voucher, and if they get a voucher, it is impossible to find a vacant apartment. We have heard this from client, after client, after client.

So, we are exploring affordable housing. We have received preliminary funding from the Day One Fund, and we have a knowledgeable board chair who specializes in real estate. Between myself (born and raised in D.C.); our board chair, with his knowledge of the real estate market; and loyal funders like you — we are bound and determined to offer our clients the next step in their journeys — a permanent home of their own.

Even when I started at House of Ruth in 2013, we had clients who could partner with D.C. and get help with a down-payment and purchase nearby homes. Additionally clients were able to rent apartments close to our programs; keeping their children in the same schools and themselves in the neighborhood they were comfortable in. This is certainly not possible today — prices on houses and apartments have just gone up and up; particularly during the COVID housing market.

We have looked at apartment homes as varied as 200 apartments in SE D.C. or 12 apartments in NW D.C. No matter what, I am committed to having homes that our clients and former clients can be proud of; homes that I would be willing to live in myself. This is vital to our clients’ futures … and I will be telling you more about it as the work goes on in the coming year.

Thank you for your support of our clients, and their futures.

Sandra Jackson Recognized Among 2021 Purple Ribbon Awards Winners

Last month, House of Ruth’s President & CEO Sandra Jackson was recognized as one of winners of the 2021 Purple Ribbon Awards under the Program/Shelter Executive of the Year category. The Purple Ribbon Awards are open to all organizations and individuals involved in the domestic violence field, and are judged and scored by a national panel of respected professionals from the domestic violence field.

House of Ruth staff were honored to nominate Ms. Jackson for this award. She has a unique ability to inspire trust and support from the House of Ruth community. In September 2020, the House of Ruth board unanimously promoted Ms. Jackson from Executive Director to President and CEO of House of Ruth. Her leadership and commitment to the work have been important assets to our clients, staff, board of directors, donors, and also the larger community of change agents actively working together to meet the needs of women and children in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Jackson cares deeply about the survivors of domestic violence and homelessness that House of Ruth serves. As an accomplished social worker and leader, she expertly applies her skills and wisdom to grow House of Ruth’s ability to bring healing, hope, and long-term stability into the life of each individual we serve.

Be sure to visit the Purple Ribbon Awards website to see the full list of winners!

Healing The Trauma Within: Domestic Violence Support Center

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

Mental health is an issue for everyone, from Olympic athletes to trauma survivors. Treating homelessness and domestic violence survivors for their traumatic injuries as well as their physical ones has always been a priority at House of Ruth. All of our programs are vital; particularly during the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice in the United States. What I am thankful for, this year and always, is the therapeutic services we offer at House of Ruth, because we know healing the impact of trauma within is vital to the long-term success and stability of our women, children, and families. Starting in 1998, and every year since, we have employed at least one (and currently four) full-time therapists who are experts in providing trauma-informed, clinical care to survivors of trauma, and domestic violence regardless of gender, ages 16 and up. This is vital because the safe housing is the beginning process of healing the inner wounds as a survivor of trauma and domestic violence. The funding from government, and strong support from donors, allows us to offer this vital support at no cost, without session limits, and without a need for insurance or a diagnosis. This eliminates many of the traditional barriers to therapy ― a ‘diagnosis’ may help insurance pay for therapy, but it can also stigmatize survivors. Without these barriers, our Domestic Violence Support Center (DVSC), serves hundreds of women and men each year.

In the past few years, we have expanded our DVSC services to not only include individual therapy and group therapy (which helps to de-stigmatize therapy) and build up the emotional strength of trauma survivors while also helping build bonds between clients. We are also reaching out to support staff in our organization and others to help them develop self-care practices, as well as always supporting survivors of domestic violence. Survivor comments assessed after two and six months for both individual and group therapies reveal more than 90% report feeling stronger, and more able to face their own challenges, through the support of therapy.

I am grateful that DVSC also helps survivors long after their crises are past. Experiencing trauma or abuse, leaving your home/community, coming to House of Ruth, moving into an unfamiliar home/community, leaving behind all you know, and starting anew are more than enough for most people to deal with at one time. The therapeutic support we offer means that you can access help when you are ready ― not on our timeline. Some clients start work at DVSC as soon as they arrive at House of Ruth ― some former clients reach out years after they have left. Many people helped at DVSC have never been a House of Ruth housing or childcare participant at all. All survivors of domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, regardless of gender are welcome at the Domestic Violence Support Center.

Thank you for supporting this vital service for survivors.

More Than Women: Children And Kidspace At House Of Ruth

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

As I mentioned in my May article (you can read it here), housing is and has always been the foundation of House of Ruth’s services. But a crucial service ― a vital service ― that we also provide is childcare. And if you have children, you recognize that high-quality childcare is expensive, hard to find, and vital to a parent’s success (it is impossible to work if your kids are not in a safe place).

The first decade of House of Ruth was focused on helping as many women as possible; and building stable funding. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, House of Ruth finally felt we were in a position ― well, we realized we had to be able ― to provide childcare. But, as with housing, from the beginning we knew we needed more than ‘just’ childcare. Trauma impacts children even in the womb, and the clients we serve have experienced multiple traumas. We opened in 1976 as a shelter for women but realized almost immediately ― if you want to help women, children very often come with them.

So, Kidspace opened in 1990, in the basement of a church. In addition to highly skilled, motivated teachers who wanted children at House of Ruth to catch up and even surpass their peers, we have always focused on offering additional services from occupational and speech therapies to individual therapies as appropriate. Most of the children at Kidspace are not delayed due to a lifelong diagnosis but are delayed because of the traumas they’ve experienced. Given care, and time to heal, most of the children we serve at Kidspace enter kindergarten ready to learn and grow.

After moving around for a few years, House of Ruth invested in and purchased two homes on Pennsylvania Ave SE that had hosted a family-run private school. While the homes were not built for childcare, they were a huge step up for both the staff and the children. Thirty years after the purchase, though, those homes were dilapidated, run-down and not adequate spaces for children to learn and thrive.

In 2016, a generous donor committed $1,000,000 to build a new Kidspace on the existing land. With that commitment, a vision of a world-class childcare center with facilities that match the quality of care always offered at Kidspace, came into being. I was serving as operations director at this time, and while I knew raising the money and building the space would be difficult ― I also believed strongly that it was the only path forward for House of Ruth. As I moved up into Interim Executive Director, Executive Director, and now President & CEO I kept that vision of serving children in an incredible space. Because of my vision, and that of our board, and most especially because of the amazing support of our donors ― that vision, THIS YEAR!, became a reality. Here is the virtual tour of Kidspace, and a picture of the children coming into the space on the first day we opened in March 2021.

I will say what touched my heart the most is the little girl who came into this amazing space, with the giraffe balloon arch and a cookie and stuffed animal to greet them, crying. When we asked her what was wrong, her mom explained, “She loves her teachers so much she doesn’t want to come to a new school. I explained that the teachers are the same, but she’s still worried.” When she saw her teachers ― more than the new playground, or fancy building ― it reassured her, and she joyously came to school. That’s the truth of House of Ruth ― no matter the building, our clients are treated like superstars by our caring, compassionate and concerned staff.

It’s what has helped keep me going this year ― that and driving by Kidspace at night ― I still can’t believe how beautiful it is when it is adorned with the lights at night. Thank you for making the vision a reality!

Housing: The Foundation

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

This has been a challenging year. As I find myself reflecting on the clients we serve, and their strength in the face of so many challenges they have faced in 2020-21; I find myself so glad and thankful that House of Ruth exists. Our existence is only 45 years old ― and we wouldn’t be here today, without your support.

Veronica Maz, House of Ruth’s founder, was a Georgetown University professor who was inspired by a trip she took with students to D.C.’s ‘Skid Row’ (you can read more about her trip here). From the first night we opened, in 1976, we knew that women need more than a roof over their heads and a bag of groceries to heal from trauma, abuse and homelessness. All the services we offer today ― to each woman and child ― who comes to House of Ruth for help ― starts from our commitment to helping people heal from the pains of life.

Today, we have 12 housing programs ― six are for families, and six are for single women. The smallest hosts eight families, and the largest can welcome 50 women at once. Most can help 12 women or families at a time. Each housing program, and every one of the 91 staff members at House of Ruth, have a laser focus on each individual client. People are not the same, their experiences are not the same, and their path to healing will not be the same ― that is why we focus on trauma-informed care, and why each woman living in our programs helps develop her own plan, and goals.

When a woman moves into House of Ruth, with her family or alone, she meets with her case manager as soon as possible. She and the case manager talk about how she is doing; and what her hopes, goals and aspirations are for the future. This road map, informed by the client and brought into focus in partnership with staff, guides every action taken with the client during her time at House of Ruth. Some women want to get a promotion; a job; a degree; custody of their children; to finalize a divorce; to buy a home of their own. We listen, draw out their hopes and dreams; and then work together to help achieve them.

The housing we provide is safe, comfortable, and furnished. While each program has general guidelines for how long a client might stay, all of our programs meet women where they are. One client stayed at our short-term facility for three years ― it was not ideal, but she needed extra assistance before she was ready to move on. And, when she did move on, she got an apartment of her own. We help our clients succeed by showing them how strong and capable they are ― and standing with them until they are ready to stand on their own.

Housing is the foundation of House of Ruth’s programs ― it is where we started, and where much of our work remains today. But please know that we offer so much more than housing to each client that comes to House of Ruth. Thank you for your support these past years; together we will overcome today’s crises and help position our clients for future success.

“Do your very best in a given moment, you may never know what kind of foundation you are building for the future.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

Focusing On Staff Wellness

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Post by Sandra L. Jackson, President & CEO of House of Ruth

We are focused on wellness and healing from trauma at House of Ruth, and during ongoing mass shootings; the recent Chauvin verdict; continued racial unrest and ongoing pandemic — not to mention that our clients have their own traumas — it continues to be a challenging time.

As we continue to navigate these challenges in 2021, I wanted to share with you how we have responded to these challenges that is different than our investments in PPE and will be a long-lasting investment at House of Ruth.

We invested in staff wellness.

Now, staff wellness has always been a priority at House of Ruth — and the longevity of our staff speaks to how well we have done it. At the same time, the way staff wellness has looked in the past is different from what we know now, what we value now and what we invest in now.

Starting last year, thanks to a generous grant from the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we started bi-weekly sessions with our Kidspace staff — on the clock — focusing on their wellness. We know that when our staff are mentally healthy — they bring their “A” game to their work supporting the children and families. We offered meditation sessions; and offered staff the opportunity to speak in a confidential, trusted setting about their challenges, needs and opportunities. The program was so well-received that we have expanded it this year to more teachers at Kidspace, as well as a staff member from each of our family housing programs (where our families live). We hope to create enough cohorts that every staff member has one of their own.

I, too, have a trusted and valued cohort of CEOs that I meet with, navigating my way through these times, and I am very thankful for their support and guidance. As I am grateful to you for your support and guidance — I hope you are taking care of your own wellness, as generously as you partner with us to take care of the women and children at House of Ruth.

“A healthy outside starts from the inside.” — Robert Urich

Living the Dream: Advocacy, Service, and DC’s Beloved Community

Last February, House of Ruth’s President and CEO Sandra Jackson participated in a panel discussion on advocacy, leadership and service in the Washington, D.C. community alongside other recipients of the Georgetown University John Thompson, Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award.

Below is the recorded panel discussion on Living the Dream: Advocacy, Service, and DC’s Beloved Community.