The Rev. David B. Wolf- Next Step Breakfast 2023

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Who we are, What we do, and Where we’re going! 

The Rev. David B. Wolf, Executive Director

SMGW’s Next Step Breakfast – 22 March 2023 

The National Press Club   

Thanks for that generous introduction, Colby. We’re delighted to have you back as our emcee a second time, 10 years after the first!  Please acknowledge Colby and his wife Gwen who, together, have been our mission evangelists and participant advocates for over a decade! Colby has written about us in his Saturday Washington Post column while Gwen has supported individual participants as they work toward their goals. And welcome to all of you here live in the Press Club, and to you who are viewing virtually: I’m especially pleased if you’re listening for the first time, to learn who we are and what we do, because Samaritan loves learners!   

We love people committed to learning, growing, and changing – people who know what it means to be stuck, to struggle – to find sustainable and meaningful employment, or an affordable home, or just a way forward after decades of incarceration. People who, as in the Good Samaritan story, are stuck in life’s ditch and need, not a patronizing hand OUT but an empowering handUP.  The ditch may be deep: the result of a bad break, a bad choice, bad public policy, systemic racism – or all the above.  

But none of that matters when a program “participant” sits down with a SM caseworker. Then, the only questions that matter are: One, if you want a better life,what do you think that looks like?  Two, are you ready to change AND participate in that change by accepting the required coaching to achieve your goal? And finally, will you take the necessary steps – ACTION steps– to meet your goal? 

If you commit, if your answer is “yes” to all those challenging questions, then Next Step staff will give you ALL the coaching, ALL the expertise, ALL the diligent follow-up, and ALL the technical support you need for as long as you need it, just because YOU said ‘yes’!

Now…let’s be real: Who among us has not been stuck in life’s ditch?  What our participants receive in Next Step is what we all need to receive: we call it rigorous compassion which is actually two gifts. On one hand, it’s material support and emotional encouragement.  On the other hand, it’s interpersonal challenge and accountability. It’s what your best friend OR your spouse OR your colleague OR your pastor says . . . that you would rather not hear . . . in biblical terms, it’s the truth…in love!     

Rigorous compassion is a gift from someone we trust that empowers us to grow. And SM offers that gift to folks who typically have no trustworthy person in their life to offer it – until they come through our doors, now at six locations, with two more on tap.    

With hybrid options and participant pipelines evolving in partnership with non-profit partner Byte Back and others, we engage and equip an increasing number of participants for an increasingly complex world – almost 600 in 2022, but an ever-increasing number as the pandemic wanes, notably returning citizens, workers over 50, the un-employed and under-employed, and young adults lacking essential “soft” skills or a “life plan” of any kind.  And as part of our loan-to-own initiative, we equip goal-accomplishing participants so they can continue their work at home, not just in our offices, as homey as those are!        

We can do all this with your generous help – and a heavy reliance on volunteers – not because we’re cheap but because we believe in community collaboration, in a Partnershipwhere everyone experiences the change they want to see in the world, both as individuals and as community.  

So, when I speak of empowerment, I speak of how we cultivate change in ourselves and inour community-at-large. Samaritan’s Partner Council is a uniquely positioned, faith-based “community of communities” that includes several hundred volunteers and over sixty partner churches, schools, and mission providers.  That’s impressive! We’re making a difference.

So, what does our immediate future look like?  First, we’re proud to announce a training partnership with IT trainer Byte Back. In January, we jointly launched the first of many integrated, employment-training cohorts combining STRIVE soft skill and Byte Back hard skill instruction!  

Second, in December 2022, we added Adult Basic Education to the Next Step repertoire through the merger of Southeast Ministry with Samaritan Ministry. This integration of program services also includes new office space located in Congress Heights, in addition to our Anacostia office, in SE DC.

Third, a long-time association with the Lay Assistance Ministry (LAM) group of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, took hold in 2022, bringing tangible value to Next Step in the form of direct financial assistance for participants actively achieving their goals in our Arlington office.   

Soon, you’ll hear Next Step participant Tyrone King speak of how, after nearly 30 years of incarceration, he learned how to set goals, navigate the digital world and, most importantly, how to DREAM again.

Then you’ll hear Nancy Calvert, a volunteer whose own lived experience and professional training uniquely qualifies her to serve in our Arlington office, herself a living example of empowerment.

Finally, you’ll hear from John and Carol Coonrod, she our former Partner Council Convener. You’ve heard of people wearing three hats; well, for almost a decade, Carol wore four

A quote that’s been on my office door since our earliest days, reads, “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time; but if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.”   

Almost four decades later, that wisdom still speaks to who we are and the “change-work” we’re all about, inviting partnership on all levels. Samaritan Ministry wasn’t founded to “help people with a handout” but to “participate in one another’s liberation” with the implied invitation that those whom we serve will participate in ours, if we let them. This demands a level of compassion, commitment, and vulnerability not found in many places. But Samaritan Ministry isn’t just any place; we’re a pioneer non-profit in a region struggling with an increasing socio-economic gap, due not just to the pandemic but also to a legacy of systemic racism – a gap between those of us who do very well and those of us who are trying to get a toehold on a steep slope. Some on that slope are Samaritan participants but ALL are our Biblical neighbors.    

So, none of this work comes easy. But I believe our cause is just and our recipe right: compassionate coaching + proven training + access to opportunity equals the hand-UP participants urgently need in our region, especially NOW!  Results do inspire; but I find our recipe to be most inspiring because it reminds me that my liberationis found in welcoming the stranger who is really our neighbor in disguise, just temporarily stuck in life’s ditch.  

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being the gifts you are, to each other, but especially to our neighbor, stuck in life’s ditch, who IS really you and me.  May God bless you, as you bless Samaritan Ministry with your commitments of time, talent and treasure!


Watch the full speech here: