Governors Spouses Meet at Frederick Douglass Museum & Caring Hall of Fame
March 7, 2014 10:45 AM
NAHC Vice President of Technology Policy Richard Brennan Addresses Governors' Spouses at the Frederick Douglass Museum.
The National Governors Association Governors’ Spouses Program recently held its winter meeting at the Frederick Douglass Museum & Caring Hall of Fame. The meeting provided a chance for the spouses to learn about the museum from Richard D. Brennan, NAHC’s Vice President for Technology Policy and the Caring Institute’s Managing Director. Attendees also heard from Mike Curtin, CEO of DC Central Kitchen. Curtin assumed leadership of the nonprofit from Robert Egger, a former Caring Award winner and founder of the kitchen. This renowned Washington institution is America’s leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise.
DC Central Kitchen’s success in combating hunger and creating opportunity earned Egger induction into the Caring Hall of Fame. Its achievements also hold vital lessons for governors’ spouses, who have long been active in raising awareness about the nation’s most pressing social concerns. Taking advantage of their unique positions, governors’ spouses spearhead statewide initiatives and collaborate with other community groups or national organizations to improve the well-being of people who live in their states. They also foster effective partnerships among the public and private sectors and a diverse mix of organizations in communities across the country and the world. The achievements of these initiatives and public education campaigns — whether in support of early childhood immunization, family literacy, volunteerism, or housing for needy families — would not be possible without the leadership and commitment of our nation’s governors’ spouses.
In recognition of their vital contributions, the National Governors Association Spouses Program was formally established in 1985. The program provides spouses with a chance to trade experiences with colleagues and share advice about their unique responsibilities and concerns. It also provides them with opportunities to learn about the latest research, trends, and activities in their areas of interest. Each summer and winter, the chair of the Spouses’ Leadership Committee identifies an issue or set of issues to serve as a focus for the Spouses’ Program sessions. In recent years, topics of concern have included wellness, preventive health issues, and physical fitness, early childhood learning and development, prevention of domestic violence and child abuse, environmental conservation, and leadership development. The focus of this year’s program was “Changing Lives and Transforming Communities,” the title of Mr. Curtin’s address.
This core of meal distribution and job training fuels a host of other innovative programs at DC Central Kitchen, Curtin told the audience. The Food Recycling program turns tons of leftover surplus food into thousands of balanced meals every day. And each morning, the First Helping Team hits the streets to provide warm meals and social services to homeless residents of DC’s Wards 7 and 8.
To help fund these programs and create good jobs for its culinary graduates, DC Central is breaking new ground in the world of social enterprise. Its School Food Program serves 4,200 locally sourced, scratch-cooked meals to 2,000 low-income DC children, proving that school meals can be nutritious, affordable, and sustainable all at once. And the Healthy Corners program delivers fresh produce and healthy snacks to 30 corner stores in DC’s “food deserts,” where access to nutritious food options is limited. This smart, business-like approach to doing good allowed DC Central Kitchen to earn more than 60 percent of its income through social enterprise in 2012.
The success of this model isn’t limited to the District of Columbia, Curtin pointed out. Through the Campus Kitchens Project, DC Central Kitchen empowers 5,000 student volunteers every year to implement its model in 31 communities across the United States. At DC Central Kitchen, they believe waste is wrong – whether it’s leftover food, local produce, or human potential, Curtin explained. They know DC Central kitchen has everything it needs to defeat hunger, poverty, and poor health: resources, commitment, and creativity.
DC Central Kitchen also has support from caring people like Frederick Douglass whose spirit still lives in the Frederick Douglass Museum & Caring Hall of Fame. This was the first Washington, DC, home of the great abolitionist, Brennan said, as he gave NGA spouses a tour of the house, filled with Douglass memorabilia. The former home of the silver-tongued orator and one-time slave is at 320 A Street NE, just a block from the U.S. Supreme Court. Stroll two more blocks and you’ll reach the U.S. Capitol where Douglass often went to lobby for civil rights.
The quest for justice brought him to the District, Brennan told the NGA spouses. By then he had earned renown for advising Lincoln during the civil war and recruiting black soldiers for the Union Army. Though the war ended slavery, it didn’t end oppression, so Douglass continued to promote the progress of blacks. He was editing a newspaper on racial issues when he bought the charming Queen Anne townhouse with its elegant bay window, enclosed courtyard, and ornate mansard roof. The seven years he lived there were an era of trailblazing public service as a statesman, an ambassador, and an acclaimed public speaker.
His words live on in his speeches and in the artifacts he left behind. His rolltop desk is still where he placed it, Brennan told the spouses. So is a collection of his books and papers. There’s a group portrait of Lincoln’s cabinet, a lithograph of Douglass by his grandson, and a signed order from Lincoln permitting Douglass to pass through Union lines. In addition, there’s the violin that Douglass taught himself to play because he thought all free, civilized men should study music. It sat near his desk waiting for another tune until the Caring Institute was founded by Val J. Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice.
The spark for this undertaking came from a 1985 meeting between Halamandaris and Mother Teresa, Brennan related. When she urged him to do something about America’s poverty of spirit, he founded the Caring Institute to honor role models who selflessly serve the world. His mission took concrete form after NAHC bought the Douglass home and gave it to the institute in 1989, Brennan said. For two years, NAHC staff volunteered materials and time to remodel the house and build a Caring Hall of Fame. The result of their work was unveiled during the Caring Awards, a yearly event to honor those, like Douglass, who make a difference in the world.