A D.C.-area woman has used her own personal tragedies as an impetus for a mission to help others, founding an organization that assists senior citizens and young people who find themselves in dire and life-threatening situations.
Wanda Johnson, CEO of Seniors And Youth Support Services (SAYSS), held a successful fundraiser on Feb. 18 at Fire Station No. 1 in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Red & Black Affair featured the Bliss Band, along with the Bowie State University Dance Ensemble and a Lou Rawls impersonator named David Statton aka “DC Lou.”
In the face of double tragedy, Johnson persevered to create her successful foundation, of which she is now chief executive officer.
Johnson’s 18-year-old son, Jerome, was fatally shot in 2000 while courting another teenager in the Baltimore suburb of Pasadena. The teen was set to attend the University of Maryland at the time of his death, his mother said.
Then a few years ago, Johnson’s mother, Clevonia Nicholson, died after being diagnosed with dementia following a debilitating stroke. It was the “deplorable” conditions of her mother’s nursing home that spurred Johnson to develop a campaign to assist those who can no longer help themselves, founding SAYSS in the process.
Johnson describes her group as a nonprofit organization “designed to make life a little easier” by making non-medical companion care and personal care more affordable by deducting significant percentages from the bills of seniors, considering that large portions of the senior community depend on fixed incomes and have limited funds remaining after bills are paid.
“Our program educates our senior community by providing seminars on depression, identity theft, aging safely while gracefully discussing the effects of dementia and many other subjects pertinent to aging loved ones,” she said.
The organization also assists youths in healthy growth and development by facilitating a Community Youth Program for youths from ages 8 to 12 and 12 to 18.
“That’s an age group that’s been heavily impacted by domestic violence, cyberbullying, second-degree assault, depression, mental and physical abuse,” said Johnson, herself a survivor of sexual assault as a preteen.
SAYSS collaborates with The Solace Center — a mental health service that provides mental evaluations and therapy to those who may be in need of additional services, said Johnson.
“There’s just so many young people who have no one to turn to,” she said. “They have issues, but they have no where to work it out — to discuss their pain, in turn, they act in violence. There are ways to stop this activity, and that’s why we’re here to try and do something — too many of our young people are being lost to the penal system, especially our boys.
“Additionally, too many seniors are facing worsening conditions, mainly at assisted living centers, where too many employees don’t really care about the clients and are mainly just trying to collect a paycheck,” she said. “It’s very hurtful to see your loved ones facing these odds. They were once thriving, hardworking people who contributed to the tax base and to our society. It’s sad to see them in their final days living in such sad conditions.”
After attending Howard University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in human services and gerontology from Kaplan University. Currently headquartered in Largo, she aims to make her program more widespread throughout the D.C. region to serve more constituents.
The organization is currently seeking volunteers and interns of all ages, particularly those seeking nursing careers or interested in helping children and seniors. Contributors may make donations via www.sayss.org. For more information, call 240-788-7335.