Fellowship Square’s residents come from next door and around the world. They have labored in occupations with little or no retirement benefits; from teacher to beautician to farmer. Some residents are formerly homeless; while others are refugees from forced labor camps. One thing they share is survival on a limited income. Without Fellowship Square they would live in less than ideal conditions. Each individual adds to the diverse communities that make life at our Fellowship Square properties special.
Staying Active During COVID – Dasha Soldatenkov
This year has brought with it many challenges. In the face of the pandemic, life as we knew it has changed drastically. Though a trying time for all of us, many have adjusted to a new way of living, and Fellowship Square residents are no exception. Many of our residents are resilient in the face of these challenges and we’d like to introduce one such example:
Dasha Soldatenkov, a Hunters Woods Resident, moved to the United States when she was eleven years old from Moscow, Russia. Her family is comprised of her parents and a younger sister. Since coming to the US, Dasha has lived in Maryland, Delaware and now Virginia where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from George Mason University in 2005 having taken classes in Sociology, Criminology, Psychology and Russian.
Upon graduation, Dasha started her journey in social work and volunteering for her community. During her time volunteering for Russian communities, Dasha was “interviewed in many Russian media outlets” and described as “the best volunteer for Russian Cultural events.” Earlier in her career she worked as a telehealth technician, a rehab aide for physical therapy, a home health aide, and she taught courses for candidates pursuing their Personal Care Aide (PCA) certification. In 2014, Dasha continued her healthcare education as a certified nursing aide and a certified telemedicine/telehealth professional. In 2020, she proudly received her telemedicine/telehealth professional (CTTP) certification from Global Health Access Institute. Not only has she worked in health care, she has also worked in retail for twelve years holding managerial positions throughout.
Dasha is one of the youngest residents at Hunters Woods Fellowship House. She moved into the community in June of 2020, at the age of 39, after having volunteered for Fellowship Square multiple times and was named volunteer of the year in 2014. She explained how an ‘invisible disability’ has hindered her since early adolescence has continued to present challenges for her everyday life. Her early educational career was spent among groups of 5 or 6 other students where she says she felt like an ‘oddball.’ “It’s like the quote on Forest Gump. Life is like a box of chocolates — you don’t know what you’ll get,” and Dasha made it clear that you cannot judge a book by its cover.
Dasha described how she is close to her parents and appreciates being able to live with people of different backgrounds and cultures at Hunters Woods Fellowship House. She likened Hunters Woods, and Fellowship Square as a whole, to a family. “They are there for you.” Dasha told me, further saying, “Without the staff, there would be no Hunters Woods — all [staff] go way beyond their responsibilities to help resident life thrive.” Dasha shared that there is a small community of other residents from Russia at the Fellowship House and they would get together frequently before the coronavirus pandemic.
Due to ongoing pandemic, many changes have been implemented at the Fellowship Houses for the safety and protection of all residents and staff. Although Dasha misses getting together for activities and events, she is familiar with the many technological advances of today. She uses technology regularly to stay in touch with her family and is an avid proponent of telehealth and the important services it can bring to individuals isolated in their home or who do not have access to transportation. She describes the evolving environment as a “virtual world” that includes “social distance caring for each resident.”
Dasha has embraced the implementation of new programs at the Fellowship House which include food deliveries and a variety of virtual activities and meetings to keep residents informed. She is able still able to volunteer and helps with translation for some residents with limited English to Russian. Other volunteer roles she fills include finding sponsors and grants for different activities, bringing music and entertainment to Hunters Woods Fellowship House, and advocating for her fellow residents. Dasha, as well as the other Fellowship Square residents, continue to show just how resilient they are every day – they make Fellowship Square a truly special place to live.
~ Credit: Interview by Tatiana Cherry-Santos, Intern
Resident Veteran – Mr. Alfredo Diaz
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 marked the cessation of fighting between the Allied nations and Germany; seven months before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations …”
(U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 2015). However, it wouldn’t be until June 1954 that Congress would mark November 11th as an official holiday for all veterans, renaming former Armistice Day to what is now known as Veterans Day. As the holiday approaches, we here at Fellowship Square wanted to highlight one of our very own veterans.
Mr. Alfredo Diaz, a resident at Lake Anne Fellowship House, served 21 years in the United States Army. He was first drafted in 1972 as a result of the on-going war in Vietnam. “It was a responsibility that they asked of me and I went ahead and did it,” Mr. Diaz replied when asked how he felt when his number was called on. “I wasn’t nervous–not at all,” he continued, specifying that the most demanding part was the training as it included three months of physical activity. Basic combat training comes in three stages and once graduated; soldiers must complete two other phases known as advanced individual training for their military occupation specialty (United States Army, 2019).
After his two-year service, Mr. Diaz returned and attended San Francisco State University where he majored in International Relations. After graduation, Mr. Diaz spent time working within the Banking sector and Safety and Hazard Services but stayed in the Army Reserve where his MOS was an Intelligence Analyst. He then was called back to the front lines in South Korea and other locations such as Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. He described seeing combat while in Panama and Iraq at foreword operation bases.
While reflecting on his service, Mr. Diaz informed me that he never experienced a “worst part” and proceeded to list off the many best parts such as education, the medical insurance benefits, accessibility to use commissary, and of course the ability to travel. While serving and being away from loved ones, Mr. Diaz gave insight into how he stayed in touch. “Internet was on the rise, so email became popular,” also sighting the commonality of phone calls and letters.
Life after service was a smooth transition for Mr. Diaz. Animated, he described how he would proudly, “serve again if asked,” and the experience is, “great to any man or woman.” However, Mr. Diaz has not completely left the arena, he, along with other retired vets, is a member of the American Legion. Established in 1919, the American Legion is a nonprofit of U.S. war veterans that are active in issue-oriented U.S. politics. Its primary political activity is lobbying on behalf of the interests of veterans and service members, including support for benefits such as pensions and the Veterans Health Administration. It has also historically promoted Americanism, individual obligation to the community, state, and nation; peace and goodwill (American Legion, 2015). Mr. Diaz explained how the Legion meets once a month and this way he can keep in touch with fellow comrades. “We all stand proud to serve this nation,” Mr. Diaz proclaimed when reminiscing about his time serving and other veterans.
This Veterans Day, be sure to take a moment to thank and remember the many men and women who have served. For more information on Veterans Day, visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
~ Credit: Interview by Tatiana Cherry-Santos, Intern