When Debby Shore was in college, she volunteered at a District shelter for runaway youth—children experiencing significant conflict with their parents, children who had been abused and no longer felt safe at home, and children whose parents were on drugs or in prison. They lacked stable relationships with family, and were homeless as a result.
When that organization collapsed, Shore, inspired and undeterred, decided to found her own, and Sasha Bruce Youthwork was born.
Now celebrating its 40th year, Sasha Bruce Youthwork (SBY) has reunited more than 13,000 homeless youth with their families and continues to combat the homelessness of 3,000 young people in our area. Tracy Bernstein, former senior advisor to the United States Chief of Protocol and now chair of SBY’s board of directors, works to spread the word about SBY in the community.
“I was invited to come to an event that they had about seven years ago, and I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about an organization that was doing such critical work in the city for such an important, at-risk, underserved group,” says Bernstein, herself a mom of four kids.
Since that time, Bernstein has worked tirelessly on SBY outreach and events, such as the one taking place at the Howard Theatre in April. The benefit concert, sponsored through a new partnership with Maryland-based MOM’s Organic Market—a fitting association, considering the family-oriented nature of the store’s name and philosophy—will raise money for SBY programs and participants.
MOM’s Organic, which opened its first DC store in October, is owned by Scott Nash, who met Bernstein at a fundraiser and was captivated by the idea of helping the District’s homeless youth.
“One of the main reasons we’re motivated to make money is to do good with it, and Sasha Bruce definitely qualifies as an organization that’s doing good,” says Nash, a father of three.
The impact of all these SBY champions can be seen in women such as Cinnamon Pittman, a 22-year-old single mother who has participated in SBY’s programs and come out stronger for them. Pittman had a rocky relationship with her mother, who was addicted to drugs throughout Pittman’s childhood. Pittman was living with her mother and brother when tensions reached a boiling point and Pittman ended up leaving her house with her one-year-old son, Shane. “I was calling around and trying to find transitional or independent living options, and I came across Olaiya’s Cradle at Sasha Bruce,” says Pittman. “I put my name on a waiting list, and two hours later they called me back for an interview.”
For young women like Pittman, who have a child but may not have the stability of schooling or a job to find an apartment of their own, the Olaiya’s Cradle group home offers a place to stay long-term while they get on their feet.
Additionally, SBY advises its residents on skills like job-hunting, and pairs them with local mom volunteers to offer support and guidance.
“We want to provide them with mentors who can be role models,” says Shore. “And mentors who are mothers too have been through the challenge that [parenting] is, even in the best of circumstances.” For more information, go to sashabruce.org.