Speech at Friends & Neighbors Breakfast 2016 – Jean Michel Giraud
Good morning. My name is Jean Michel Giraud. I’m President and CEO of Friendship Place.
It’s great to see lots of familiar faces here…and to see new faces too. Welcome to the Friendship Place family!
I’d like to recognize Councilmember Mary Cheh and Senator Michael Brown. Many thanks to both of you for all the ways you support our mission.
This year, Friendship Place will end or prevent homelessness for more than 1,500 people, making us DC Metro’s premier provider of permanent solutions to homelessness.
What a long way we’ve come since a handful of people sat at kitchen tables and in congregation basements 25 years ago brainstorming ways to help their neighbors living on the streets and park benches of Upper Northwest DC.
There are a few folks here today who were part of those initial conversations. I’d like to recognize these Friendship Place founders: Jean Duff, June Kress, Jim Nathanson, Dick Schleicher, and Don Boardman, would you stand, please?
You were way ahead of your time. You laid out the core values and vision that have propelled us forward ever since:
• Dignity & Compassion
• A Sense of Community & Belonging
• Resilience & Innovation
• Action…leading to…
• Solutions. Permanent Solutions.
At Friendship Place, we find ways to say “yes” to people who have nowhere else to turn. This approach dates all the way back to our founders.
So let me tell you what saying “yes” means to us at Friendship today:
• It means that if you’re a teenager who’s run away from an abusive home, wandered the streets downtown, and fallen prey to human traffickers, we’ll help you find safety, recover your fragile self-esteem and explore possibilities for a future you never dared imagine.
• It means that if you’re holding down a job, living in a shelter, and every day you’re terrified the bus won’t get you back on time for curfew and you’ll end up sleeping on the street, we’ll get you keys to your own place, where you can come and go as you need to.
• It means that if you’ve been evicted and your family is living in a car, and your kids’ grades are dropping, while you’re desperately trying to figure out where to get them showered for school, we’ll help you find an apartment you can afford and give you and your family the support you need to get back on track.
• It means that if you can’t get a place to live because you don’t have a job, and can’t get a job because you don’t have a place to live, we’ll help you get both at the same time – even if you have a criminal record…or a prior eviction. And we won’t make you sit through weeks of training first, because we understand how urgent your situation is.
• It means that if you’re an Iraq War veteran living in a shelter while battling the demons of PTSD, we won’t leave you behind; we’ll find you a place to live…and walk you through the VA maze to get the help you need for long-term recovery.
• It means that no matter what challenges you bring with you when you arrive at our door – we welcome you in with no moral judgment – and work with you right as you are, at your own pace, to achieve your own goals.
It just so happens that Friendship Place’s 25th Anniversary coincides with my 10th anniversary with this wonderful organization.
I’m so proud of what all of us together are accomplishing every single day – and I couldn’t be more grateful to our amazing staff, board, volunteers, partners, and donors. Thank you so much!
Of course, we continue to dream of new possibilities.
We’d like to hire a street outreach worker to connect with LGBT youth living on the streets….Did you know that LGBT youth make up 40 percent of all homeless youth? Many of them have been kicked out of their homes by their own parents. We know we could make a huge difference to them.
We’d like to do much more for the over 100 formerly homeless families we’re working with in permanent supportive housing — like setting up a program to link the kids to adult mentors and enriching activities – sports, music, theater, nature, art, mindfulness, and more. I’m sure you know that a single connection like this can change the entire course of a child’s life.
We’d like to do more for the seniors who have finally found comfort, dignity, and safety in our permanent supportive housing programs after years of living on the streets, often with serious mental health challenges, so that they can age gracefully in place.
These are just a few ideas. Given the creativity and energy of our staff and volunteers, the possibilities are endless.
Our only limitation is money.
This is where you come in. We want to stretch ourselves to do more. But we can’t do it without your generous, faithful financial support.
We don’t know what the next 25 years will look like –– so much is unpredictable: the economy, the political landscape, the job and housing markets.
But we do know that whatever happens, with your support, Friendship will rise to the occasion and say “yes.”
We owe our founders nothing less.
Thank you so much.