Who We Serve
Residents at our Fellowship Houses are active, independent, and remain engaged with life in their communities. Some residents are area natives, with most of them coming from the East Coast and states east of the Mississippi River. However, many residents relocated from across the country, or from other nations, to be near family members.
Residents often worked in occupations with little or no retirement benefits such as teaching, cosmetology, unskilled labor, and farming. Some are even refugees from forced labor camps. All have limited means and many live on Social Security or Supplemental Security Income alone. Without Fellowship Houses, many of our residents would live in less than ideal conditions or be homeless.
Our residents want the security of knowing they have a safe place to live. On average, they stay from five to 15 years and are interested not only in good health, but in socialization, and continued mental stimulation. They represent a variety of faiths and many have vibrant spiritual lives and appreciate having clerical guidance and support. They also want ongoing access to excellent medical care and supportive services that allow them to live on their own.
Growing Up in the Midst of the Civil Rights Era – Gabrielle Bryant
Gabrielle Bryant, resident of Largo Landing Fellowship House, grew up in Washington DC near the U.S. Capitol in a mixed-race neighborhood with few black residents. Initially, neighbors looked upon Ms. Bryant and her family in a disapproving way, often acting in an unfriendly manner and sometimes even cursing at them for no apparent reason.
During the early days of her life, Ms. Bryant recalls watching TV with her family and witnessing blacks being hosed down and beaten by the police, especially the young, black boys when caught for causing trouble. She observed the stark contrast of leniency in how the white-colored kids were punished for the same crimes.
Once, when she was a child traveling to North Carolina with her family to see her grandfather, they stopped to find a women’s restroom with signs that separated ‘colored’ and ‘white’ facilities. That was one of the first experiences that she recalled of segregation. Looking back during the civil rights movement, she recalled that there were a lot of protests when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died, and Washington, DC’s H Street was burned to the ground.
Gabrielle attended Terrell Junior High School, a segregated institution, and later transferred to Stuart Junior High School which welcomed mixed races. It was quite different for her – being around white students when she was used to being surrounded by only blacks. At first, Gabrielle kept to herself and minded her own business because she didn’t want to suffer harsh retaliation if she said something others didn’t like. But she was able to adapt. Over time, friendships were fostered, and eventually, one of her best friends was a white student.
Ms. Bryant believes the greatest accomplishment of the civil rights movement was the legal right for blacks to vote. She also feels strongly that in order to improve current civil rights issues, people should be educated on how to talk to each other, and to understand the real issues people face in their daily lives. An example – over time and through the love and kindness that Gabrielle’s mother demonstrated to others in that unfriendly childhood neighborhood, friendships were built and there was eventually a sense of people coming together.
As each of us strives for peace and happiness in our lives, the life experiences like those of Ms. Bryant reflect an ongoing need for all of us to be appreciative and respectful of others – regardless of race. She now feels she can talk to anybody, and it does not make a difference; she doesn’t live in fear anymore and feels God watches out for her.
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 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