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SOME Seniors Use Their Voice

During the first advocacy session I led at SOME’s Senior Center in January 2017, I asked all the seniors present to envision a DC that was perfect for all senior citizens. I anticipated that most of the conversation would revolve around increasing low-income affordable housing, more home delivered meals and a better and more senior-friendly transportation system. All of those topics did arise, but the seniors were all zeroed in on one thing—advocating for a stoplight or signage that would increase safety as they crossed Good Hope Road from Kuehner House. Cars come through at high speeds, and the seniors reported that drivers often failed to stop to allow them to cross, which causes them to sometimes miss their bus and to be afraid that they may be struck by a speeding car.

Betty Gentle leading an advocacy session at SOME's Senior Center

Betty Gentle leading an advocacy session at SOME’s Senior Center

Sometimes when we seek to bring about positive change, we can get so stuck on the end goal that we often overlook the small, yet impactful changes that we can possibly make much more quickly. Having listened to our seniors, I decided to focus on getting a stoplight or a sign placed on the crosswalk.

In February, Brittany Kitt, SOME’s Senior Services Director, excitedly told me that Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White would be coming to the Senior Center to honor our seniors for the conclusion of Black History Month. Councilmember White had just been sworn in at the beginning of January, and we had been brainstorming how to get him to Kuehner House to see the services we offer seniors—affordable housing for formerly homeless seniors at Kuehner House, emergency housing for abused and neglected elderly seniors at Kuehner Place, the Homebound Program and the Senior Center. Now I had an opportunity to talk to him about the very unsafe crosswalk.

Councilmember White with SOME Seniors

Councilmember White with SOME Senior Center attendees and staff, outside Kuehner House.

On the day of Councilmember White’s visit, I reminded the seniors that, if given the opportunity, they should tell him about the crosswalk and how they would really appreciate if he could help make it safer. The seniors did just that and were true advocates for their cause. Since Councilmember White had to cross that very crosswalk to get to the Anacostia Library to give a speech, he saw how dangerous it was and assured the seniors that he would do something to make it safer. The seniors were ecstatic!

A couple of weeks later, Councilmember White spoke at the SOME Center for Employment Training graduation ceremony, and I planned to again bring up the issue of the crosswalk. After he finished speaking with the students and guests, he immediately came over to give an update. He also talked about how much he enjoyed spending time with our seniors.

New signage and a new coat of paint help make crossing Good Hope Road much safer for SOME Seniors.

New signage and a new coat of paint help make crossing Good Hope Road much safer for SOME Seniors.

During my next advocacy session at the Senior Center, I was excited to report on my conversation with Councilmember White. However, as I began to offer my update, the seniors interrupted me with great news—the faded sidewalk had been repainted, neon signs pointing to the crosswalk had been posted and the sign alerting drivers to stop for pedestrians had also been replaced on the crosswalk!

This accomplishment may seem small, but it is a representation of SOME’s community strength. Staff from multiple departments and our amazing seniors all worked together for what the seniors felt would improve their quality of life. Councilmember White’s compassion and due diligence truly helped increase safety and also instilled a new sense of confidence in the voices of our seniors.

Our seniors deserve to live in a DC that is safe and comfortable. After all, it is their skills, labor, and tears that help build it.

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