A Tour of Woodley House
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Woodley House has been one of the DC region's mental health leaders, helping thousands of people. We recently toured some of the houses that make it so successful.
In the 1950s, when Joan Doniger was working as an occupational therapist at Saint Elizabeths Psychiatric Hospital, she saw a good number of patients with mild mental illnesses who, in her view, needed treatment, but not in a hospital. There were few options available.
She opened a home for them to work toward recovery. Nearly 60 years later, Woodley House is still helping people, including veterans with PTSD, live with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and major depression.
Since Woodley House opened its doors on Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park, it’s helped over 15,000 people. The nonprofit takes a graduated housing approach, offering a range of options from short-term crisis care in a house called Crossing Place…
…to longer-term group living in the organization’s flagship 20-bed home called Valenti House, or in the eight-bed home in Shepherd Park called Holly House. All three are staffed 24/7, so clients always have someone when they need help or need to talk.
The goal is to become self-sufficient, which could take months or years. Self-sufficiency comes by having each person actively participate in their recovery process. “If you’re going to live on your own, independence comes from being able to participate in your own decisions about your life,” says Woodley House board chair Isabel Jasinowski.
“Sometimes people just need a safe place to become stable,” says Woodley House development director Linda Meixner. The organization also has 18 apartments throughout the city as a supported independent living program—the next step toward independence. Residents live in supported independence with roommates, who are also part of the Woodley House program.
Since many of the participants have been homeless or have been serving in the military for many years, the program offers life skills training. It can range from knowing how close to stand to someone to balancing finances. That’s one of the ways the program gives people a safe haven, but also encourages them to venture out.
The organization, which has an annual budget of nearly $3M, raises funds through its annual movie benefit, started by Margaret and Jack Valenti; Jack was special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson and later head of the Motion Picture Association of America.
The organization also raises money through grants and government funding from the DC Department of Behavioral Health and HUD. Woodley House will soon launch a major gifts program to rebalance its reliance on government funding and increase private, individual and multi-year donations. The gifts program will create financial security for the next 60 years.