2006 Washingtonians of the Year: Vivian G. Bass

“It’s a thrill to meet one of our residents unexpectedly—at the bank, at a Renaissance festival, waiting at a bus stop. They are part of the community. That defines who we are and what we do.”

By: Leslie Milk, Ellen Ryan

Photograph by Matthew Worden

It looks like every other house in the neighborhood. But the “family” that lives there isn’t made up of ordinary people. They are adults with disabilities and staff members who help them live meaningful, independent lives.

This is one of 20 group homes and dozens of apartments operated in the area by the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes. Residents are treated with such dignity and respect that the program has become a model for residential programs all over the nation.

This is the house that Vivian Bass built. She has been the 24/7 hands-on director of the program for more than a decade. Bass led the group to accept residents who are deaf as well as mentally retarded and residents with mental illness.

Ten years ago, when Great Oaks Center—the Maryland institution for people with severe disabilities—closed, Bass persuaded the JFGH board to accept five of its residents.

Today the more than 150 adults served range from the high-functioning to the severely disabled. But JFGH actually serves hundreds more—the family members of residents.

“They told me my daughter would be a vegetable,” one mother said. “Now I go to her house and she’s preparing vegetables.”

Thanks to Vivian Bass, such little miracles are part of daily life in these group homes.