By Michelle Moodhe
An Interview with Sandy O. Washington, Founder and Executive Director of LifeStyles
“I have so many dreams of what LifeStyles can do in the future…The organization’s programs are evidence-based and can be replicated in other areas. My goal is to see a ‘LifeStyles-oriented’ organization in at least every state.” – Sandy O. Washington
LifeStyles of Maryland Foundation, Inc. has dedicated nearly 16 years to providing life changing services to those in need. This non-profit organization focuses on empowering not only the individuals but families, as well, through their various programs. LifeStyles acts as an outlet and resource center that assesses the specific needs of each individual and from there employs the necessary service.
Programs range from food/clothing pantries assistance, emergency assistance (concerning: housing, employment training and placement, transportation, prescription coverage etc.), as well as operating three transitional homes services. Programs at LifeStyles not only provide necessary goods and training programs, but offer faith-based supportive social services to their community as well. The list goes on; health care, economic basics, human services, education and employment direction, all of which are viable programs that can be found at LifeStyles.
The exceptional staff and volunteers have truly made this organization a success story. Due to the leadership of Founder and Executive Director Sandy Washington, LifeStyles has since raised $15 million. Mrs. Washington has an extensive background filled with non-profit organization work, gubernatorial appointments and several awards of recognition. Her dedication to helping her community and assisting those in need has impacted Charles County in the most positive way. She is also the Vice-President of the Maples Foundation and the Maples Limited Liability Corp. which offers housing to the elderly. Mrs. Washington’s impact and knowledge of the Charles County community is beyond impressive, so we sat down with her to learn more.
1) As the Founder of a successful non-profit organization, can you take us back to the beginning, what inspired you to establish the LifeStyles of Maryland Foundation?
I wish I could say that I knew exactly how LifeStyles would evolve when we started, but I didn’t. All I knew was God had given me the desire to serve people. To help them in any way I could, through all the barriers that they may encounter. I talked it over with longtime friend and co-founder Sonie Jones, and LifeStyles began in a one room office in LaPlata. Helping people one at a time and then helping one hundred and then helping thousands. We saw that there were so many hurting people that just didn’t know where to go. That’s where we fit in.
2) Looking back what has been the most memorable moment at LifeStyles?
When we worked with the Charles County Homeless and Emergency Shelter Committee to start the Safe Nights program. The opportunity to shelter hundreds of people during the winter months and work with the faith community has been life changing for our organization, the homeless population and the faith community. Every denomination and non-denomination has come together to provide assistance for people in this program. So many have gone from homelessness to permanent housing. LifeStyles has become the go-to organization for information relevant to our homeless and at risk population. To hear the personal stories from people who stated that we saved their lives, is humbling but it lets us know that we are on the right track.
3) I understand you have a wonderful team behind you at LifeStyles, can you tell us a bit about the staff and volunteers?
Our staff and volunteers are dedicated to serving the community. That is essential to the organization’s success. We believe that this is more than just a “job” or “career,” but a calling for each of us to serve others. It takes special people to do what we do, and I’m grateful that our staff cares enough about others and their community. We have a staff of 12 and multitudes of volunteers that work 24/7. Our offices are never officially closed and we can only do it through the support of our team.
4) We heard that Lifestyles is preparing for a big move?
Yes, this is the first time our organization has had to move in 14 years. This new location will provide us the opportunity to serve more people and to expand our services. It includes having a client service area where there will be showers for individuals and families, a computer lab, laundry room to provide free laundry services, and a place where those we serve can have a “charging station.” We are excited about this new addition, and even with all of the changes, still feel that we need more space! We hope to be moved and settled in July.
5) In a few years LifeStyles will be reaching its 20th anniversary, what are your future goals for the organization?
I have so many dreams of what LifeStyles can do in the future. I am excited about the growth we’ve had over the last few years and see how it can continue to grow to providing more housing and training programs. The organization’s programs are evidence-based and can be replicated in other areas. My goal is to see a “LifeStyles-oriented” organization in at least every state.
6) Are there any new services or programs you don’t currently offer that you would like to in the future?
We would love to have an established, permanent emergency and transitional shelter for families. Right now, “Safe Nights” is the only “family-style” shelter in Charles County. We hope to develop a “housing first” model that will provide immediate housing for families and will then develop the wrap-around services that are necessary for them to move into more permanent housing and employment. That has been our long-term goal and we have been taking steps to improve the housing services offered in Southern Maryland. As the needs of those we serve change, we always want to make sure we meet their needs. This new office space will allow us to expand services to provide a client service station to serve as a warming and cooling station and to provide more educational and training opportunities for our homeless and at-risk families.
7) Are there any events with LifeStyles that our readers can look out for in the upcoming months?
Our 11th annual “Charles County Walk to End Homelessness” is Saturday, November 16th at the La Plata Town Hall. This three-mile walk is fun yet reflective fundraising events to have community members support our “Safe Nights” program. Registration will begin in August by visiting our website: www.lifestylesofmd.org. We always expect between 400 – 600 people to be in attendance and its appropriate for all ages. This year we would also like to encourage community walks, where individuals can organize a group and walk in their own communities to raise these much needed funds.
8) In what ways can our readers help?
Readers can help in multiple ways. We always need volunteers to assist at our office with the food pantry, clothing closet, and serve as case manager assistants and volunteer transportation drivers, and administrative support. We have public food distributions throughout Southern Maryland that volunteers can assist with outreach and the distribution of food. We need continual donations of clothing, food, lunches and meals for our shelter programs, household items and financial contributions to assist the community. We are in desperate need for twin-sized beds and mattresses at this time to accommodate the needs at our transitional homes. Help in getting people out of tents or sleeping in their cars is our number one priority.
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Michelle Moodhe is a contributing writer to Southern Maryland Woman magazine.