Elizabeth Forester Discovers an Empowering Community on N Street

Forester copy

Elizabeth Forester


Walking up to N Street Village, I was incredibly nervous. I did not know what to expect and worried that I would not fulfill my supervisor’s expectations. My fears were quickly assuaged. On my first day of work in Bethany Women’s Center at N Street Village, I was greeted with cries of “Oh, you must be Elizabeth, the new intern!” I was immediately welcomed, offered hot biscuits, and began conversing with the Bethany women. N Street Village is a “community of empowerment and recovery for homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C.” N Street Village has several different programs, including recovery for drug and alcohol abuse, Luther Place Night Shelter, various permanent and supportive housing opportunities, the Wellness Center, and Bethany Women’s Center.

Bethany Women’s Center is a drop-in day center in which women may come and spend the day participating in different activities in conjunction with the Wellness Center; eating breakfast, lunch, and a snack; taking showers; doing laundry; picking out clothes from the clothes closet; doing a weekly chore; or simply fellowshipping with other women. Bethany Crisis Care helps connect women with emergency services, including mental health services and night shelters. Bethany Women’s Center began operating in the 1970s and has been open every day since.

As an intern at Bethany’s, I was “on the floor” much of the time, meaning that I visited with the women, dealing with minor tasks throughout the day. I led Mystery Solvers (an activity in which we solved riddles); job search classes in the computer lab; and operated the clothes closet; as well as setting up meals, settling minor disputes, and working an innumerable amount of puzzles with women. Bethany Women’s Center strives to create a safe and welcoming environment for every woman who walks through the doors, and I was honored to become a minor cog in this wheel. My family will tell you that I have never been gifted with much patience, but this summer, I learned how to wait for (and enjoy) a woman painstakingly choosing a new outfit from the clothes closet, teach a woman who has never used a computer before how to submit an online application for a job, and explain to a woman struggling with mental illness that there were not any leftovers from lunch.

The most powerful lesson I learned at N Street Village was how passionate and how truly caring the community of N Street Village is. The staff is welcoming and nonjudgmental, and the clients are dedicated to the community. I saw this love and respect for N Street carried out one particularly memorable day. N Street Village set up a philanthropy day with the local Whole Foods, in which ten percent of the day’s profits would be donated to N Street Village. All day long, clients came in with Whole Foods shopping bags, having spent some of their money at the far more expensive grocery store in order to help this beloved community in whatever way they could. Beyond all of the services N Street Village offers, beyond the passion the staff members bring to the job, the love that the clients have for the community taught me how truly special N Street Village is.

What separates N Street Village from other places is the unwavering belief that every woman may be empowered, that every woman can have a fresh start. It is this belief and dedication that sustains the organization. It is not just a place where women may receive services. Rather, it is a community that supports you on your journey and believes that everyone can change. N Street Village meets you where you are and helps you along the way with both physical services and emotional support. Throughout the summer, I met women who were once clients at Bethany’s. These women had found jobs and places to live and had come back to visit the loving community that first empowered them. I saw that N Street was not just a caring environment; it was a caring environment that actually creates change—an organization that practices what it preaches, empowering women beyond just rhetoric.

Although I have worked extensively with people who are homeless before, Bethany Women’s Center was an entirely new immersion experience. The amount of information I learned about both the women I served and myself is immeasurable. I could say that this experience was life-changing, but I already knew I wanted to work on poverty issues before this summer; hence, this summer of service was one of confirmation. I have always been interested in law and in public service, but my experiences this summer demonstrated how these two interests can intersect. After I graduate from college, I plan to attend law school, eventually becoming a legal aid attorney, preferably in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Though this internship was not explicitly connected with the law, it nevertheless strengthened my desire to help those in poverty within a legal context. Every other Monday, lawyers completing their pro bono hours requirement came and met with women for two hours. There were always more women than time to help them, and I do not know how effective a portion of two hours once every other week can be for someone in need of legal counsel. Of course, it is important that this service is offered at all, but I look forward to becoming an attorney that can work full-time on the multitude of injustices that people in poverty face. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow from the women and staff at N Street Village.