December 14, 2009, Washington, D.C., - “We decided this year to see if we could do a project that would help a non-profit because we could impact more people instead of doing an individual house as we did last year," stated Vera Maher, Managing Coordinator of The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. "That was a great effort, but we thought if we could find a non-profit in our neighborhood that could use some help—it would be fun to do the project here."
"And this facility is great because they reach upwards of 150 people per day in this tiny center. They do OBGYN, podiatry—they do everything for woman and children—and it is within the shadow of The Nationals' ballpark," continued Laura Zabel, The Associate Director for Rebuilding Together, D.C. "So they (The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation) were really interested in this center and we ended up making this relationship a go and went from there."
Just a few short blocks from Nationals Park and The U.S. Capitol stands The Unity Health Care Center in the SW quadrant of Washington, D.C. at 850 Delaware Avenue--which provides medical services for District of Columbia residents--regardless of their ability to pay. This past Thursday, December 10th and Friday, December 11th Maintenance and Front Office Staff of Our Washington Nationals were on hand helping renovate the facility--rebuilding labs, adding countertops and bookshelves while enhancing the safety aspects of the over 60-year old facility. The second partnership between The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and Rebuilding Together, D.C.
"Fortunately, there was no need for major construction stuff here. The building is in pretty good shape," stated Ms. Maher. “Overhead as you walked in you might have noticed a lot of unsightly exposed wiring. We ordered up some 'wire molding' that will cover all of it up--all the way to a panel box—so it is no longer a safety hazard and be more attractive. We are painting, doing that wire molding downstairs and we have also built a reading corner for the kids. In the second waiting area (down the hallway from the main entrance) our guys built a bookcase in their shop and then installed it here. Of course, we (The Dream Foundation) will furnish books for that bookcase too, after the project is finished.”
"They (Unity Health Care) are trying to make do with what they have--and together--we are just trying to help them renovate a few areas that will assist them in taking on more clients and make it more efficient for their needs. They have a lot of rooms they can’t use just because of the original layout. So building the bookshelf and the countertops help utilize the facility for the betterment of everyone," believes Ms. Zabel.
The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation offered a $5,000 Grant to Rebuilding Together, D.C. to get the work started at the SW Unity Health Care Facility. That donation provides materials and supplies. All the labor is provided by Our Washington Nationals and the entire workforce gives their time freely. Nationals Corporate Sponsors Hard Times Cafe & Five Guys Burgers provided a free lunch for volunteers last Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Vera Maher: “It has not been difficult at all to recruit volunteers with The Nationals. The skilled workers from our maintenance shop seem to enjoy doing the work. These people are our carpenters, plumbers, electricians and painters that normally work in the ballpark. And we try to time (this effort) to this point of the year because they are not completely slammed with work as they are during the season. Remember, even when the playing schedule is complete (at Nationals Park), there is a very large close down ritual they must complete which takes up a lot of their time—including repairing anything at the ballpark which couldn’t be completed while ball games were taking place. This is the perfect part of their schedule where it is not taking them away from anything overly important for a few days so they can spearhead this. And as far as the office workers go, that hasn’t been a problem either. Usually, we can get 20 to 25 people per day to work. It's usually not too large of a group and we haven’t had any problem getting those volunteers. People really seem to want to participate. We just have to find the right time to accommodate everyone.”
Rebuilding Together, D.C. helps renovate about 100 homes per calendar year. But with the current economy still in a downturn, utilizing their grants to assist as many in need as possible must be maximized. Their requests for assistance has tripled over the past year. Not only is Rebuilding Together, D.C. hearing from those needing housing & building repairs, but also those in need of food and clothes.
"Just yesterday (Thursday, December 10th), I had someone call me crying. She is homeless with two children," recalled Ms. Zabel. "So the need is now more than ever.”
Which makes picking the most worthy person or group harder? (Nats320)
“Yes, it is hard to do. (sighing) But, we have many fine partners like The Washington Nationals whom we have been able to draw on for assistance. We simply would not be able to make any in-roads without our generous sponsors."
One of the main conditions for Unity Health Care to be granted this renovation was the very fact the facility is not going anywhere any time soon. The District of Columbia owns the building. And the medical services provided are needed in SW for years and years to come. "We did consider a couple of other places," said Ms. Maher. "But with one, their lease was fairly short-term, only for two more years. That would not have made a whole lot of sense to get into one of those projects if they are going to be emptying and leaving. So part of the decision is—are you going to be here for the work to make a difference? Does it serve the public? And will our work have a major impact? Unity Health Care fit all the requirements and being near Nationals Park made it perfect."
As mentioned earlier, this is second such project between The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and Rebuilding Together, D.C. Last January you may recall, Maintenance and Front Office Staff for Our Washington Nationals helped restore Angela B's residence in S.E. Washington. A major job that included the building of a brand new roof for her then leaky house.
Laura Zabel says that project gave Rebuilding Together more exposure: "She (Angela B.) actually referred us to a couple of neighbors (an 80-year old veteran, an elderly couple and a needy family with children). So we have been working on even more projects in that neighborhood right across the street from her house. We’ve kept a good relationship with her and have gone over there a few times to check-up on her. We even painted a couple more rooms there as well to give her some more assistance. All that because of The Nationals project with her."
Although The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and Rebuilding Together, D.C. don't have a formal agreement for continuing jobs, the two charitable arms work together to find out who might best benefit from The Dream Foundation's Neighborhood Initiatives each winter--while always keeping in mind the foundation's core values that include children's health, recreation and education. When The 2010 Winter Caravan takes off with players from Our Washington Nationals early next year, the Unity Health Care Facility on Delaware Avenue in SW will be a stopping point in late January or early February, 2010. Those dates have yet to be finalized.
PS--Nats320 attempted to interview the director of Unity Health Care's Delaware Avenue SW Facility a few times last week to get their point of view on The Dream Foundation's efforts. But Unity Health Care made so many stipulations to control editorial content of the story--we passed.
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