RCA 100 Anniversary Celebration Speech

The Ebell celebrated 100 years of supporting charities that assist women and children with the announcement of a $10,000 donation to the RCA fund from Ebell member Olivia Headley and her eponymous foundation. The party continued with a delicious luncheon, and thoughtful speeches from Dr. Stephany Powell, Executive Director of Journey Out, one of the most recent additions to our RCA Charities roster, and Judy Vaughan, Founding Director of Alexandria House, one of the charities we’ve supported the longest.

Reproduced here is Judy Vaughan’s exceptional speech.

Every year when we submit our grant request, we reflect on the similarities between Alexandria House and the Rest Cottage Association. The first and most obvious similarity is that both are houses of hospitality where women could find loving care and have an opportunity to recreate their lives.

In preparation for today, however, I had the opportunity to review a brief history and timeline of the Rest Cottage Association compiled by Ebell member Shan Sutherland. In doing so I was struck by several other similarities that I would like to share.

One of these characteristics that the Rest Cottage Association and Alexandria House have shared and practiced since our beginnings (even if you have 80 more years on us) is that of “taking action.” One very concrete example of “taking action” by members of the Ebell has been preparing an evening meal once a month at Alexandria House. (AND if you ask the current residents, this is a favorite form of “taking action” because then they don’t have to cook that night.)

But the other important aspect of your 100-year commitment to “take action” is that this is not seen as charity but as civic duty. (That’s a direct quote: “We do not think this this is charity work but a civic duty.”)

And even though we might say this slightly differently at Alexandria House–for us, “this is not seen as charity work but as work for justice”–there is a shared recognition that resources in our city, in our society are not equitable and it is our responsibility/civic duty to work for change. We know that this disparity is impacted by race and class. Nine percent of the population in Los Angeles are African American/African ancestry; 40% of the homeless population is Black.

One other example of this inequity is this: we are in a housing crisis where the majority of people are having to pay more than three-fourth of their income for rent; where rents have increased dramatically and wages have stayed very much the same; where owners don’t want to take Section 8 vouchers anymore because they know they can get so much more money for their units. It is no surprise that even with ALL the promises of ending homelessness in ten years, 20 years, the numbers continue to grow (with women and children having the greatest increase). Part of our civic duty, part of our work for justice, is to address this housing crisis so that people living on the streets, in shelters, on couches or in cars have places to call home.

And there is a third similarity. For December 13, 1970, it states: “The Christmas tea, for the former guests of the Rest Cottage, was given with 144 in attendance.” I was really struck by this fact. The Rest Cottage liked teas; Alexandria House likes teas–it’s how we introduce people to the house.

But even more significantly, the Rest Cottage stayed in touch with former guests. So does Alexandria House. In fact, the former guests of Alexandria House are the heart and soul of our work; they are the foundation of the community. The Alexandria House alumni (which is the name they have given themselves) welcome new guests, cook dinner, serve on staff, become monthly donors, come for resources but also demonstrate every day that there is life after homelessness; that homelessness is a situation; it is not a definition.

One of the commitments for many of the Alexandria House alumni is to work to change unjust systems so that others might not have to experience what was a traumatic part of their own lives–whether this be through advocating for more resources for young people aging out of foster care, focusing attention on the realities of human trafficking, protesting how the criminal justice system treats survivors of domestic violence, or emphasizing the almost impossible task of finding affordable housing.

These are critical times. The encampments that are happening throughout the city make it impossible to ignore the crisis of tens of thousands without homes. We know that Los Angeles is the “homeless capital” of the United States. Today in the Los Angeles Times, we read that California is the worst state in the nation. We all need to step up our “taking action.” I know the Ebell has, and so have we.

One of our recent efforts is to ask supporters to host a house meeting–we’ll come for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert–so that those who have the experience of homelessness can share their stories, break stereotypes, and contribute to an analysis that leads to clear action possibilities. At our first Speakers Bureau Training on April 14th we had more than 20 past residents who attended…and we are ready to go.

At that first training, Nancy Berlin suggested that we start with something that will capture people’s attention, that will make a connection. So I thought I would try out this suggestion now as a way of saying “thank you” to the Rest Cottage Association. And even though I was supposed to do this at the beginning and not at the end, here goes…

I have tattoos–does anyone else?

At 65 my first tattoo was a sun…. I got it as part of a commitment to break through stereotypes; so when I heard something negative about a person who was homeless and had tattoos I could say, “Well that’s interesting because I have one….”

There is a “not in my backyard syndrome” that is keeping affordable housing from being built. Thank you Rest Cottage Association and the Ebell for your recent efforts to break through stereotypes and give a platform for diverse stories to be told.

The second tattoo story actually relates to my daughter when she turned 18 She called to tell me she had gotten a tattoo and because they can be expensive, I started to fuss at her. But then I had the presence of mind to ask what it said. Well Mom, it say, “DNA doesn’t make a family, love does.” That gave me pause.

Thank you Rest Cottage Association for your support over the years in offering (as your mission statement says) “loving care” and helping to make a “family” or a beloved community.

My final tattoo story is this…. One of our most recent residents (who has a number of tattoos) was sharing her story and acknowledging that she had done many things that she was ashamed of in her efforts to keep her three young children in housing. But her greatest fear was (in her own words) “Losing God.” What I could share with her was the tattoo on my shoulder. It is a single word–faithful. God is faithful to us; we can’t lose God because God never lets us go…and we, in turn, are called to be faithful to each other. “Look,” I said, “I believe this so deeply I have it tattooed on my shoulder.” And together we were able to cry in relief and gratitude and move forward.

In reading the history of the Rest Cottage Association and the Ebell, in considering the 100 years, this is what you are for us, the Alexandria House and all the organizations you have supported over the years–the original Rest Cottage and now so many others. You have been faithful…to the mission, to the vision, to the work. And for this we offer our profound thanks.

Judy Vaughan

Founding Director

Alexandria House

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