Photo of women painting a wall at Calvary Women's Services
Women veterans from The Mission Continues paint a wall at Calvary Women's Services. Photo by Ben Cooper

Before Rita Hackett arrived as a resident at Calvary Women’s Service in August 2019, she had hit “rock bottom,” living on the streets and getting involved with drugs.

The months since then have been a stark contrast. Hackett has utilized the resources offered by Calvary in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast D.C. to get her life back in order. The nonprofit provides housing and resources to homeless women.

For that, she’s grateful. And for the 68 veterans, all women, who came to Calvary on March 5 to help make over various areas of the facility, Hackett is just as appreciative.

“It means a whole lot, it means we’re thought about,” Hackett said. “It’s not just a transitional, you know, somebody out there cares about us and cares how people live.”

A photo of women veterans doing a makeover on the outdoor area of Calvary Women's Services.

Veterans from The Mission Continues work on moving garden beds at the outdoor area of Calvary Women’s Services. Photo by Ben Cooper

Calvary welcomed the volunteers as part of a partnership with the nonprofit The Mission Continues, which recruits female veterans to continue their service in communities across the country.

Much of the day-long makeover was focused on transforming the outdoor area with planters, new tables, fresh paint and more.

“Sometimes we come out here and it’s just dull and just plain, although the inside is beautiful. There’s a roof over my head, good meals. Coming out here now, we probably don’t want to go back in,” Hackett said with a laugh.

Stacia N. Frederick, Calvary Women’s Service’s senior community engagement manager, paints a wall inside the building. Photo by Ben Cooper

It wasn’t just the residents of Calvary who felt the impact of the project. The volunteers, who were part of a five-month leadership program with The Mission Continues, also found it meaningful.

Jamicka Edwards, an Army veteran, was no stranger to homelessness. She was without her own place to live in 2015 after a divorce and losing her job.

So when the March 5 makeover commenced at Calvary, it meant that much more.

“I’m trying to hold in my tears — it’s amazing,” said Edwards, who was doing her first project with The Mission Continues. “I didn’t know what our service project was going to be, but it’s even more special to me that I’m here and being able to give back in this capacity because I know what it’s like for these women. Some of their stories, I was there, so I get it.”

Calvary Women’s Services provides three programs: Calvary Transitional Housing Program for 45 women; “Reach Up,” which provides transitional housing and serves survivors of domestic violence and houses 31 women; and “Sister Circle,” which provides supportive transitional housing for up to 16 women. Each runs at capacity, according to Heather Laing, Calvary’s chief development officer.

[Read more: Report shows “Me Too” stories are a constant among homeless women]

Residents are placed into Calvary through D.C.’s “Coordinated Entry” program. That program utilizes “standardized access and assessment for all individuals” to help them find permanent housing placement.

More than 90% of the residents in Calvary’s programs are African American and 60% are over the age of 45, according to Laing. The 2019 Point in Time Count revealed similar statistics for the homeless population in D.C., where about 87% of people experiencing homelessness are Black or African American and nearly 60% are age 45 or older. According to 2019 Census Bureau estimates, 46.4% of the District’s overall population identified as Black or African American.

“The women who live here at Calvary are amazing women. They’re resilient, they’re working to change their own lives,” said Kris Thompson, Calvary’s CEO. “So to have [The Mission Continues] supporting that effort and supporting those individuals is really tremendous.”

[Read more: Service Spotlight: Calvary Women’s Services]

That sentiment was echoed by Susan Thaxton, vice president of programs for The Mission Continues and also a Navy veteran.

“Calvary was completely aligned with what it is that we do, and they too are empowering women and getting them ready for the next phase of their lives,” Thaxton said.

For Hackett, who said that she’s taken advantage of classes and a job fair that led to her being hired at Calvary, the cleanup was inspiring. When asked where she saw herself in the future, Hackett pointed to the crowd of women working to make Calvary a better place to live. 

“I see myself doing this. You know, helping somebody else less fortunate,” Hackett said. “And having my own place, where I could have my grandkids running around.”