By Beverly Gyllenhaal
Way too many of my friends had plenty of money one day, and the very next day, they simply did not. My best friend’s husband walked out -- throwing her into financial turmoil that has lasted nearly two decades. Another friend’s husband recently died of an aggressive brain tumor, leaving her with many thousands in hospital bills that won’t be covered. Bad things happen, and you suddenly struggle to pay the bills along with everything else.
I wish my friends lived in our neighborhood. Our Village could offer them something priceless –- a caring community, supportive services, amazing programs – all at a price they could easily afford.
Our Executive Director Leigh Sempeles said something last week about our Reduced-Fee Memberships that shocked me:
“Foggy Bottom West End Village is blessed because we have financial resources for Reduced-Fee Memberships,” Leigh told me. “We have enough funds right now for 10, maybe 15 more people.”
FBWE Village already has 19 Reduced-Fee Members (RFMs) – for our size, among one of the highest of all D.C. Villages. That’s because, since our inception, the FBWEV Board and our Development Committee have made raising funds for these memberships a top priority. Many of you have contributed, and the Village applauds your generosity as well.
The reason these slots go unfilled is not for lack of trying. And, it’s not because Foggy Bottom and the West End is such an affluent neighborhood. Every community, no matter how advantaged, has its share of low-income residents.
Here’s what I’ve come to know since becoming Village Membership Chair: Many low-income neighbors in Foggy Bottom and the West End appear financially secure. And they take care to ensure that you never find out that they aren’t.
Since becoming Village Membership Chair, I’ve had the privilege to speak confidentially and frankly with some of our RFMs. They tell me of a sense of shame and embarrassment at not having enough. They fear being judged. They take pride in overcoming anger over circumstances they couldn’t control, and also in being grateful for the many blessings they have.
I wonder if this shame and embarrassment could be why recruiting reduced-fee members seems especially difficult. But as Membership Chair, I intend to fill these unused slots. And I really need your help.
You never know when my girlfriend’s story will be your friend’s story. If it already is, urge them to contact Leigh via the Village office and apply for this very special RFM opportunity. The application process is easy. And perhaps most important of all, everything about being an RFM is strictly confidential.
Executive Director’s Note: FBWE Village offers reduced-fee memberships to men and women with limited income who live in the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A boundaries. Reduced-fee members meet federal low-income HUD guidelines. Whether or not an applicant owns their home is not taken into consideration. The annual member co-pay is $100 for an individual or $150 per household. In some circumstances, the membership co-payment is waived.