DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Director Polly Donaldson will be receiving THC’s 2015 Community Leadership Award at our Living in the City event next week. Director Donaldson’s unyielding commitment and dedication to progressing communities through affordable housing, accutane vs claravis policy development and being the voice for many throughout Washington, DC has more than merited this award. Prior to her appointment, Polly had a 28-year career in the non-profit sector and in the international community development and affordable housing arenas, working with organizations such as the Institute of International Education, Partners of the Americas, The Center for Democracy and, of course, Transitional Housing Corporation. For 11 years, Director Donaldson served as THC’s Executive Director, where she significantly increased the number of homeless families served annually from 40 to over 500, in transitional and permanent affordable housing. You can read her full bio on the DHCD Website. We asked Polly a few questions about herself, here’s what she had to say!
What motivated you to help start THC?
I was a volunteer with the board of Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington (SMGW) through my church, St. Margaret’s, and wanted to have a local engagement where I was living as a balance to my work in international development. SMGW was given a gift from St. Alban’s Episcopal Church DC of $80,000 to help with housing the homeless, which was a huge issue in 1990. I was part of the SMGW leadership that was charged with figuring how best to use the funds. Via The Rev. Tom Knoll, pastor at Trinity Lutheran, we met the Christ Lutheran Church congregation. Trinity Lutheran had developed Trinity Arms, a transitional housing building with HUD funding, through their Community Family Life Services (CFLS) affiliate. Together, SMGW, Christ Lutheran and CFLS formed Transitional Housing Corporation and began to develop our first Partner Arms building, modeled on the Trinity Arms. In these early days, THC had no staff; it was all volunteers with some Samaritan staff and Christ Lutheran Church’s Pastor, Norm Theiss, helping. I didn’t know much about homelessness except from what I saw living in the city, walking to work downtown every day. And I probably knew even less about the extent of family homelessness but I did know that the crack epidemic was wreaking havoc on family stability by those who were addicted. My involvement with THC and the development of the first Partner Arms was my way of working locally to build community and to try to help the mothers and families overcome their addiction, and reunite with their families and regain their ability to support themselves.
How have you been involved with THC?
First as a volunteer, as the SMGW liaison for THC’s board in 1990. I then served on the THC board from 1994-1998, and as president from 1995-97. In 2004, I made the career shift from international community development to local community development when I was appointed executive director of THC. And, of course, I have always been a donor.
What are your most memorable experiences working and volunteering with THC?
The first move-in at Partner Arms 1 is my most memorable experience volunteering with THC. It was the day after the
Clinton inauguration. I participated in the inaugural festivities late into the night, and the next morning we had the first move-in of all 14 apartments to make them ready for the first families. This was a huge volunteer effort organized by the THC and Samaritan Ministry boards and Christ Lutheran congregation and involved over 50 volunteers from many other Episcopal churches. It was a really great day.
What have been the most challenging moments working and volunteering with THC?
The most challenging time was in 2008-2009 during the national economic crisis when the credit and lending sectors were frozen and THC was carrying the cost burden. Cornerstone and Freddie Mac both provided support that helped sustain THC, and continued to be key support for THC throughout the years.
What is your vision for Washington, DC?
For THC, I envisioned it growing to be one of the plavix stent lead housing agencies in DC, while also helping to create and implement broader housing and homelessness policy. Now in my new position at DHCD, I am implementing Mayor Bowser’s vision for a fresh start for our city in terms of investing in, protecting, producing and preserving affordable housing for our residents, both current and future.
Talk about an inspiring or transformative moment in your life.
My job as executive director at THC gave me the opportunity to live my faith every day through my work. That continues to inspire me even now.