Jamicka Edwards held back tears when she arrived Thursday to do a community service project at Calvary Women’s Services, a transitional housing provider for homeless women.
The 41-year-old Indiana native was once homeless herself.
“It is even more special to me that I am here being able to give back in this capacity because I know what it’s like for these women, Ms. Edwards said. “Some of their stories, I was there, I get it.”
The Mission Continues, an organization that matches former members of the U.S. armed services with leadership and service opportunities across the country, brought about 100 enthusiastic women veterans, including Ms. Edwards, to Calvary in Anacostia to refurbish the facility.
In addition to repainting inside and out, the veterans put in new picnic tables, added a basketball hoop, installed more planters and updated indoor meeting spaces with more furniture and storage units.
“I have had a lot of experience [doing service projects] where I had people take drills out of my hand, and vie for the hammer, or try to carry things for me, but it is a really different experience working with women,” said Mary Beth Bruggeman, a Marine Corps veteran and president of Mission Continues. “I am super excited for you to experience that today and the fact that we are serving women here at Calvary makes this extra special.”
Ms. Edwards lost everything when she divorced her husband in 2014, including her job and her home.
“My ex-husband wanted to hurt me, not physically, but he destroyed me mentally,” Ms. Edwards said. “And usually when you get divorced the woman takes everything and the husband gets nothing. Well, he took everything and left me and my kids with nothing.”
Ms. Edwards, who served in the U.S. Army, turned to veterans organizations to find resources to help get back on her feet, but she soon recognized that both she and her peers needed more.
“I realized eventually I wanted to be in a position to help people the way they helped me,” Ms. Edwards said.
She decided to apply for The Mission Continues’ Women Veterans Leadership Program to gain the skills to start her own nonprofit one day similar to Calvary to help veterans transition back into civilian life.
According to the Point in Time Count, there were about 3,800 single homeless adults in the District last year, a quarter of them women, and about 1,000 homeless adults in families, with three quarters women.
Calvary offers transitional and permanent housing, mental health services, placement programs and job- and life-skill training, and is the only homeless services provider for single women east of the Anacostia River.
Rita Hackett, 60, one of the residents at Calvary, said she thinks the work the veterans are doing is “wonderful” and thanked them from the “the bottom of her heart.”
She is truly grateful though for the sisterhood of women she lives with because “when you go through a crisis we all go through it together.”