October 16, 2018 at 8:04 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Wanda Alston Foundation honored at 10th anniversary gala
Bowser, Williams and D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), who were among the speakers at the event held at Ajax catering hall in Northwest D.C., hailed the group for its groundbreaking work in support of homeless LGBT youth through various programs, including its Wanda Alston House.
The foundation and house are named in honor of the life and legacy of the late Wanda Alston, a veteran D.C. LGBT rights advocate who served as the first director of the city’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs during Williams’ tenure as mayor.
“Wanda, as we know, left us too soon,” Bowser told the gathering. “She dedicated her life to building a fairer and more equal Washington, D.C.,” the mayor said.
“We know that our LGBTQ youth have special needs,” Bowser continued. “We know they’ve been bullied in school, bullied at home, bullied out in the world. And they don’t more than any other group have a safe place to live,” she said. “So, our focus on the Wanda Alston House is so critical to a very vulnerable group of people.”
In recognition of his strong support for the Alston Foundation, the foundation’s board this year named Williams the recipient of its 2018 Distinguished Service Award. Bowser presented the award to Williams on behalf of the foundation at the Oct. 10 gala.
Among those who discussed the work of the Alston Foundation at the gala were attorney Darrin Glymph, who serves as chair of the foundation’s board; June Crenshaw, the foundation’s executive director; and public relations firm executive Everett Hamilton, who served as the gala’s co-chair.
In addition to Todd, D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Kenyon McDuffie (D-Ward 5) also attended the gala.
Glymph surprised many in the audience when he recounted how financial problems the Alston Foundation was encountering two years ago prompted the board to consider shutting the organization down. He praised Crenshaw for playing an important role, along with the board and staff, to help navigate the group out of what had become a crisis.
“First of all, I want to thank June Crenshaw,” Glymph told the gathering. “She is amazing. And she’s been a blessing to us,” he said. “But tonight she was very kind because what she didn’t tell you is that when she was hired about two years ago, she was hired as an interim executive director. And she was tasked with closing down the Wanda Alston Foundation,” he said.
Glymph said the board a short time later decided to put in place a stepped-up fundraising plan to keep the doors open and move past earlier funding shortages that brought about a $120,000 deficit.
“I am just overwhelmed by the support we have received this evening from the community,” Glymph told the Washington Blade in discussing the wide range of contributions made by corporate supporters, small businesses, and individual donors.
“I just knew that there was love for Wanda Alston and the work that we’ve been doing to help the homeless youth,” he said. “But tonight, the community responded and its’ just been amazing.”
He said the gala raised about $65,000 for the foundation and its work.
Glymph, Crenshaw, and other Alston Foundation officials and those attending the gala said they were moved by an Alston House resident identified as Rene who spoke at the event and who, according to Crenshaw, exemplifies how the Wanda Alston Foundation has helped change people’s lives.
In brief remarks that included singing and poetic verse, Rene told of her experiences as a homeless “gay girl” on the streets of D.C. and her transformation into a life of hope through her stay at the Alston House.
“Imagine you are opening your eyes and you’re covered in baggage,” she told the gathering. “Totally laying on your chest a duffle bag that’s filled with your belongings; a travel pack of confusion in your heart; a satchel of depression on your shoulders,” she recounted.
“I never thought I would be here today singing these lyrics with such passion in the full knowledge of what it means to be a bag lady, dragging my life behind me with no way to safely lay my burdens,” she continued.
“I finally found a place of peace within this foundation that I’ve been searching for,” she said. “They say home is where the heart is. And Wanda Alston became my heart. The director, the staff, the residents there, they all became my family,” she said weeping and sobbing.
“I built, I made, I thrived within this foundation — something I never thought I could do on my own. This foundation opened their heart to me and told me the world is yours…And that’s all the foundation has been to me — unimaginable support.”
The audience responded with a tumultuous, prolonged round of applause and cheers when she completed her remarks.