With the Civil War slogging into a second bloody year, Washington, D.C. teeming with Union army soldiers overwhelmed by a surge of abandoned children and single mothers, on March 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act of Congress to incorporate St. Ann’s Infant Asylum.

More than a century and a half later, the home, created by three Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul nuns near 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in April 1860, has grown into a major hub for District women and children.

“Our first home was located in what is now Freedom Plaza, ” said Sister Mary Bade, CEO of what is now the St. Ann’s Center for Youth, Children and Families that sits atop a hill in Chillum, Md., overlooking the D.C.-Maryland border in Northeast.

The two-building complex is the source of temporary housing, life-skill classes and career counseling for women, along with food distribution and a connection to a program to assist in home purchases for the low-income.

Today St. Ann’s is one of the area’s longest continually-serving social services agencies.

With a $5 million annual budget, St. Ann’s supports mothers and their children experiencing homelessness through transitional housing and support programming.

“Every mother comes into the program with a history and a burden, ” Bader said. “We try to meet them where they are, build upon their strengths and help them go from to the future and become independent.”

“Last year, seven families completed our program and moved into independent housing, ” said Bader adding that the women and children participate in residential programs and come from the population and from the community to attend their Child Care Center and their Early Head Start program.

The facility, located two and a half miles north of the Basilica of the National Shrine and the Catholic University of America, reflects the expansion of post-Civil War Washington and the influence of the Catholic church on the District.

A fundraising gala, postponed from year by the coronavirus, is to be held May 13 to observe the 160-year history of St. Ann’s and honor the Daughters of Charity order. Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and ex-lieutenant governor of Maryland, will emcee the virtual event.

Recording artists Terrence Cunningham and The String Queens will provide musical performances. Journalist Tommy McFly will appear as a guest speaker. St. Ann’s Center Board Chair Tonya Sharpe and author Jason Reynolds will honor Jake Garner and Miguel Coppedge with the Michele Heidenberger Volunteer Award.

The gala theme, “Our Roots Run Deep” honors St. Ann’s Center’s 160-year history of supporting vulnerable mothers and their children in the D.C. region.

Bader said that a gala is essential for many reasons. “It is crucial to us. It is a celebration of 160 years of an organization that helps women, children, and families support our missions, programs and supports the families that they serve.”

St. Ann’s 2021 virtual gala and fundraiser, traditionally called “Hope Blossoms,” will take place Thursday, May 13, @ 6:00 PM EST. Theme: “Our Roots Run Deep.” Tickets: http://hope2021.givesmart.com

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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