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Pam Michell in 1991

It was 1990:

  • The first web server was created and became the foundation for the World Wide Web
  • Archie, the first content search engine was introduced.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica saw its highest all time annual sales – 120,000 volumes.
  • Socialist governments were collapsing in Eastern Europe.
  • Iraq invaded Kuwait.
  • Jim Moran was first elected to Congress.
  • Ice Ice Baby was the number 1 song.

Yes, it was a long time ago – before some of you were even born!

Between 1980 and 1990, I had five different jobs and my family wondered if I could hold a job for more than 2 years. Then on November 5, 25 years ago, I walked into a little white farmhouse at 3514 Lockheed Boulevard, site of the first shelter in Fairfax County, to be the executive director of an agency called Route One Corridor Housing or R1CH, Inc. My predecessor had been fired and morale was low. We had Mondloch House I (8 beds), Mondloch House II (12 families) and the Kennedy Shelter for 50 single adults. Shelter was the answer to homelessness and it was all about “3 hots and a cot.” Have we come a LONG way!

There are many, many high points (and some low points) to my 25 years here. Below is a brief list of some of my fondest memories:

  • May 1991, the dedication of the expansion of Mondloch House II, when Bob Criswell, pastor of Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, coined the phrase “hope and hospitality” to describe our work. It became our byline for many years
  • After a man died in the winter of 1991, the County put a hypothermia trailer in the Kennedy rear parking lot. It had to be taken out by crane each year until the County realized that it was smarter to just leave it there
  • The bubbling toilets at Kennedy – and their lovely smell
  • Our expansion beyond shelter with the purchase of Turning Point and the rental of 10 apartments for Stepping Out transitional program
  • Driving our first 15-passenger van – although Martha was probably even more excited
  • Going on the roof and into the “bunker” at Kennedy with Martha to see what we could see/find
  • PSH for families with the purchase of 4 townhouses, back when there was a lot of money and few rules so we would be creative in responding to homelessness
  • Martha finding a naked man under a bed in our of our family PSH units
  • The summer that the plumbing at Kennedy wasn’t and we had to relocate residents, get meals from Mondloch, and use a mobile bathroom on the Kennedy parking lot
  • Our name change to New Hope Housing and our admin move from Mondloch House I to our current location
  • The launching of Out of Poverty in 2001, after the authors of the program came to train senior staff in person
  • Eating chocolate with whoever wanted to join me
  • Max’s Place opening (February 2000) when the neighbors picketed as we held an open house to try to be good neighbors
  • The work of the county-wide SRO task force that was the beginning of an 8+year process to open Mondloch Place
  • Dreading blizzards, hurricanes, and floods – although staff always came in
  • The opening of VIC-HOP and the outpouring of volunteer support
  • Our first housing first residents – Dwayne, Charlie, Jimmy, and Bill
  • Many, many, many meetings at the County to develop the 10-year plan to end homelessness
  • Taking over Susan’s Place and being a player in Arlington County
  • Winning the contract for Alexandria Community Shelter
  • Bringing our housing first philosophy and model to Arlington and Alexandria
  • Eating Martha’s green Christmas dessert and Lavora’s potato salad
  • Sorting through donations and finding so many treasures – including the flying pig
  • The opening of Mondloch Place- a dream come true

What am I most proud of? In no particular order:

  1. Our value of “welcoming the unwelcome”
  2. Our philosophy of hope and hospitality and dignity and respect
  3. The recognition we have received for our unique role in homeless services in Northern Virginia
  4. The commitment of hundreds of volunteer hours each year by members of the community who care – as board members, as part of a group project, as one-on-one colleagues with resident
  5. Our ability to be flexible and adapt to changing needs, environment, and funding – and our willingness to try something new
  6. Giving second and third and fourth – however many it takes – chances to staff, residents, and ourselves
  7. The policies and systems we have changed
  8. The lives we have helped change

And last but not least, the amazing people I have met along with journey:

  • My executive director colleagues in Alexandria and Fairfax. Without them and their support, advice, and encouragement, I don’t think I could have survived 25 years. It can indeed be lonely at the top without great peers.
  • An amazing staff – literally hundreds of people who have worked at New Hope Housing over these 25 years – meeting residents where they are, offering hospitality even when it means plunging the toilet or cleaning up some horrible mess, working long hours to listen to a resident who just needs a listening ear, or doing whatever paperwork is necessary to get a resident housed. And those managers who are always on call. Without all of you there would be no New Hope Housing.
  • And of course, the residents. They challenge me every day; they make me wonder why I have been so blessed in my life. Through them I have learned to be thankful for so much. They are so strong and resilient – and inspire us all as they change and grow and begin new chapters in their lives.

It’s been an amazing and joy-filled 25 years.