Wheeler Creek CDC Turns 20

Board members (standing, left to right): Harold Thomas, Chanel Crump, Rhonda McPherson, Aaron Coles, Caroline Jones, Shavon Smith, Dr. Crystal Kuykendall; (seated, left to right) Juanita Darden and Dr. Bessie Swann.

Wheeler Creek Community Development Corporation (WCCDC) kicked off its 20th-anniversary celebration with an elaborate reception at its Washington Highlands office on April 27. As easy-listening music wafted through the room, board members, residents, community activists, politicians, and other stakeholders floated about sipping wine and feasting on a spread of crab balls, buffalo wings, quesadillas, and delectable salads while exchanging pleasantries and free hugs in a festive style. Happy feelings were in the air, and with two decades of 20 major accomplishments, coupled with national and citywide acclaim under their belts, it was indeed time to pop the cork and celebrate.

A Corporation by the People for the People

In June 1997, a small group of thoughtful, committed public-housing residents from the former Valley Green and Skytower apartments wanted to uplift tenants from the distressing socioeconomic conditions plaguing their community. With the backing of the DC Housing Authority, the Enterprise Foundation, and local private developers, a nonprofit partnership was formed, and the WCCDC, dubbed “A Corporation by the People for the People,” was born with a mission to create housing, employment, and business opportunities for residents and the surrounding Washington, DC, areas.

Soon after, the self-determined group was awarded a HOPE VI grant, and in less than five years it completed the construction of a 314-unit, mixed-income housing development that gave former public-housing residents the opportunity to become first-time homeowners. In a YouTube presentation, Executive Director Dr. Bessie Swann states, “The Corporation’s purpose was to help low-income housing residents overcome the effects of poverty.”

Through extensive education and training, WCCDC offered an all-embracing approach to self-sufficiency, empowerment, and economic success, and quickly established itself as one of the premier community development organizations nationwide. It is highly regarded locally as the resident expert on creating sustainable neighborhoods and communities. WCCDC has been selected often to oversee the Community and Supportive Services Program (CSSP), which is the social services component of a multimillion-dollar federal grant to demolish dilapidated properties and build mixed-income communities. In 20 years, WCCDC has successfully administered the CSSP at four different sites representing over 2,200 mixed-income housing units.

First in, Last Out

Community activist and board member Harold Thomas moved to the Frederick Douglass Dwellings public housing in 1958 and was the last tenant to leave before its demolition in 1999. Spanning Alabama Avenue and adjacent to former Stanton Dwellings public housing, Frederick Douglass Dwellings was the second distressed property to be revitalized. Thomas, who was elected advisory neighborhood commissioner under former DC mayor Walter Washington, has a storied history of activism, residency, and employment with the DC Housing Authority. He worked with Kimi Gray, the one-time welfare mother who garnered national attention as a tenacious public-housing advocate from Kenilworth-Parkside in NE.

Having experienced firsthand the challenges, misconceptions, and shortcomings of public housing, Thomas believes WCCDC’s vision is much needed, as the urban housing stock is increasingly becoming out of reach for low-income residents. Thomas raises a toast to another 20 years of self-sufficiency and empowerment.

A Drive Worth Taking

When board member Chanel Crump was weighing her options for homeownership in the city, she preferred to purchase in Northeast, but the cost of homes in that area drove her across town to Washington Highlands in SE. Crump is happy she made that drive in 2001. She loves her well-kept neighborhood and her neighbors, who are ‘decent.” Though her two-year term on WCCDC’s board is expiring soon, Crump says she has enjoyed the experience and learned “how to make things happen within your community.” Like Thomas and Crump, each guest attending WCCDC’s anniversary kickoff has a story, circumstance, situation, or housing issue that concludes happily ever after due to a 20-year commitment to overcome the effects of poverty.

A 20-20 Anniversary Celebration

Dr. Crystal Kuykendall was asked to offer her services as the event coordinator for WCCDC’s anniversary. Following the kickoff reception will be a May 19 commemorative plaque installation at the community center, and to cap off the 20-20 Anniversary Celebration, a Black-Tie Awards Gala at The Arc on June 9, where guests can dress in formal attire and celebrate 20 major accomplishments in a remarkable 20 years in grand style. Perhaps Dr. Kuykendall envisions partygoers getting so philanthropically drunk, they will give cheerfully to WCCDC’s continuous service to the community. “This is a good cause to give!”

Bottles up!

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