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Women Bisnow
September 17, 2008

for the People


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

Alexandria-based Volunteers of America is the 14th largest non-profit in the country, with a portfolio of almost one billion dollars, yet many have never heard of it. Jatrice Martel Gaiter, EVP for External Affairs since April, plans on getting the loud speaker out.   


“The people we work with don’t engender empathy. We don’t have telethons, no celebrity wants to help our cause, no one wants to put the crack addict who is rebuilding their lives on TV,” she says of why they often fall under the radar. Luckily, Gaiter comes from a big New Orleans family that knows how to battle their way up. Gaiter’s the oldest child of an Army Colonel who fought in WWII, Vietnam and Korea. “My father grew up in abject poverty, the youngest of 18 children. My mother grew up in the projects of New Orleans. They were able to make their way out of poverty and pressed on their children the importance of education.” Gaiter graduated from Syracuse Law and began a career with United Way in Miami. “Miami was very stressful. The Haitian and Nicaraguan communities were in trouble and people were not used to speaking to a woman. It was the first time that my life was threatened.”


Working for women, children and families throughout her career, Gaiter was president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington for eight years. “We worked with teens in Wards 7 and 8, the poorest in DC. Boys told me that they couldn’t walk down the street in a group in their neighborhoods because people thought they were a gang.” Gaiter calls her move to Volunteers of America a continuation of her passion.


In the next 10-20 years a big influx of middle class people will become poor elderly people, she says. The non-profit is going to focus a large part of their work on the elderly because of this shift.  Also, “people who are developmentally disabled are living longer. During Katrina, many Volunteers of America volunteers evacuated with them.” While the group has always helped veterans—1 in 4 homeless are veterans—they are newly committed to the needs of female veterans as Iraq is the first conflict with substantial engagement of women. With support through federal, state and local government grants and close relationships with HUD and the Department of Corrections, the unsung non-profit has been “doing the things that other people don’t want to do” since 1896. Under Gaiter, they are going to keep being the voice of the voiceless, they’re just going to start singing louder.

Congressional Schools of VA
Arent Fox
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