St. Mary’s Court hosts brunch to fundraise for community

A local senior living facility hosted its annual fundraiser Sunday to raise money to create better programs for its Foggy Bottom residents.

All of the proceeds from the fundraiser, which featured a brunch, silent auction and raffle, will aid activities and programs for residents of St. Mary’s Court, a nonprofit living facility located at 24th and H streets for seniors and individuals with limited mobility.

The majority of funds from the brunch are raised through the sale of tickets, which were $32 per person, and the silent auction. Local businesses donated both the raffle prizes and auction items.

A number of the brunch attendees were also members of group FRIENDS, which was started three years ago to establish dialogue between community members and GW to solve issues and concerns.

GW donations to the auction included four GW basketball tickets and a signed copy of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s book, “Reflections on Higher Education.” The brunch and additional activities allow St. Mary’s to provide programs such as art and computer classes with no cost to residents.

Grace Charbonnet, a member of the FRIENDS group and a resident at St. Mary’s, said the University helps the community extensively and that relations “have been marvelous.”

“The University is very generous with us,” she said, noting that GW donated a bus to the residents of St. Mary’s.

Fellow resident and FRIENDS member Doris Edland agreed.

“President Trachtenberg is always willing to work with us and the University tries to make relations as good as possible,” she said.

But some community members have a different opinion of the University. Dorothy Miller, a Foggy Bottom resident and member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, a local board that makes zoning recommendations to the city, has frequently expressed her dislike of the University. She said that the FRIENDS group is not representative of the neighborhood.

“I am no friend of the University. What they do is illegal,” she said, referring to the University’s expansion and business initiatives despite its nonprofit status.

The idea to form the group was the brainchild of Foggy Bottom and West End residents because of animosity between the community and the University, said Michael Akin, GW’s director of Foggy Bottom/West End affairs. The group has grown from six residents and three administrators in January 2001 to 250 members today.

“The best way to build trust is to establish a sense of community,” Akin said.

The biggest issues between GW and the surrounding community, Akin said, are the University’s expansion into the neighborhood and student noise and behavior issues.

“You can never solve all disagreements, but you can manage them,” Akin said. “Community members have the right to weigh in on every matter, and we encourage them to.”

Akin said one example of open discussion between the community and GW is the development of the old hospital site, or Square 54. This past summer there were a total of five meetings to collect community input on the project.

Despite opposition to some University actions, community members at the brunch said that they do not dislike GW students.

“Students are getting much better at respecting the community,” said Rita Champagne, one of the first FRIENDS members and a resident of the District for 28 years. “We still have a ways to go, but things have improved.”

Akin said students are involved with community members as well. A group of GW students volunteers at St. Mary’s every Sunday, and others shop for mobility-impaired individuals and plan a “Senior Prom” for St. Mary’s residents every year.

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