Donna has a New Home
Read about Donna’s inspiring story through the eyes of a new Reston Interfaith employee.
I met Donna at a housing celebration that her case manager arranged for her at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. After months of being literally homeless, ten days in Reston Interfaith’s Hypothermia Program and more than 30 days at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter, Donna was finally moving into a home again. As a new member of the Reston Interfaith staff, I was delighted to help recognize this client’s milestone, and I admit, a bit curious to meet her. I, like many people, conjure up a variety of perceptions of the homeless. Meeting Donna will forever change those perceptions for me.
I arrived to find the shelter busy with its usual activity: clients coming from or departing for appointments, volunteers delivering donations, staff managing the reception desk and preparing food for its 70 residents. I worked my way to a handful of clients gathered around a cake and found Donna, a frail, gray-haired woman with gentle blue eyes. She could have passed for anyone’s grandmother.
I asked if she would tell me her story so that I could share it with Reston Interfaith’s devoted supporters. I wanted to know what led to her homelessness and what it took for her to gain stability again. She was shy and humble, but her gratitude for the support she received at Reston Interfaith compelled her to open up. She cut a slice of cake for us both, and told me about her journey.
Donna received her nursing degree from the University of Pennsylvania, which led to her career as an operating room nurse. It was the birth of her son with physical and learning disabilities, however, that spearheaded her second career as president of the Northern Virginia Association for Children with Learning Disabilities. In this role, she, “along with the help of many parents,” was instrumental in creating the current law that requires schools to adopt a learning disability program. Following her divorce from her son’s father, she worked her way through law school at night while working as a legal assistant for a government law firm during the day. After law school, she returned to her first passion in the medical field, working in the skilled care unit of a local hospital.
Donna eventually retired due to a medical disability. As her son’s medical bills and other cost-of-living expenses grew, Donna struggled to make ends meet in an area where the cost of living had tripled during her time here. Donna was ultimately evicted from the home she had lived in with her son for more than 20 years.
It was through her son’s medical team that she learned about Reston Interfaith. With supportive services such as Fastran, SNAP and Medicaid, Donna was able to start her journey back to self-sufficiency and a new apartment. Volunteers like His Hidden Treasures have provided everything from a bed and dresser to kitchen appliances, to help her get settled in her new home.
I asked how she was treated during her stay at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. She gave the staff an “A+”, saying she had learned so much through this experience. She noted that she gained 7-8 pounds while at the shelter because of the “great food.”
Donna wouldn’t allow me to take her photo. She said that those who know her would be stunned by what has become of her appearance. What I saw, however, was a brave woman and mother committed to making a better life for herself. I was honored by the embrace she gave me at the end of our talk.
Angela Suarez, Reston Interfaith Staff
Footnote: Donna wanted to be sure I recognized the many organizations and individuals that made her success possible. I may not have captured them all, but please know how truly grateful she is to each and every one of them: