PD&R, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Policy Development and Research

The Refuge of Hope Disciple Center

A little over a decade ago, Doctors Charles and Judy Farmer, two pastors dedicated to alleviating the plight of the disadvantaged, founded the Refuge of Hope Disciple Center. As native Washingtonians, their vision was to positively impact the lives of people in the District of Columbia. Refuge of Hope distributes emergency food, clothing, and educational supplies to those in need. It also operates a community outreach center that provides career education and training, crisis intervention counseling, community field trips, drug prevention programs, and several summer youth camps.

The Behrend Builders: Tikkun Olam
Amy Goldstein and Ruth Behrend Small established the 'Behrend Builders' in memory of their parents, Suevia and Rudolph B. Behrend, through an endowment at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Behrend Builders follows a literal interpretation of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam ('repair the world') and is part of the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center 'Repair the World' program. Through the program, volunteers learn carpentry, painting, finishing, and masonry skills they then use in helping to renovate low-income communities in the District. Volunteers come from the local business population, synagogue and church congregations, and schools.

According to the Behrend Builders, an essential part of rebuilding the District is facilitating the spiritual bond that occurs among the approximately 5,000 people who volunteer for the program each year.

Repairing Hope
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the DC Metropolitan Police Department, as part of their 'Operation Goodwill Program,' donated five row houses that had previously been used as crack houses and were subsequently seized by the government. Following the arrest and conviction of the infamous 'P Street Crew' who previously controlled the properties, the buildings sat vacant and unoccupied - a sore reminder to the community of the drugs, violence, and degradation that had occurred within their walls.

After gaining ownership of the buildings, Refuge of Hope approached Richard Feldman, the Project Director of the Behrend Builders, hoping to enlist the program's help in renovating the buildings into a community outreach center. In the summer of 1999, Refuge of Hope and the Behrend Builders began their partnership. Today, over 2,000 volunteers and $55,000 in donations later, most of the work is done. Says Feldman, "One building is complete, and two are almost complete. All we need now is assistance in heating and air conditioning, and donations for the windows and doors, for three buildings to be done."

Unfortunately, the Behrend Builders program will have to cease its work on the properties after completing the first three buildings. The remaining two buildings were so ravaged by the drug trade that they are unsafe for lay volunteer construction. It will take the help of local builders to complete the project. Once the three-building shelter is operable, the Refuge of Hope will start looking for materials and labor to reconstruct the remaining two buildings.

Upon completion, this joint venture will create an outreach center that will include:

  • Crisis intervention counseling for youth and their families.
  • Emergency temporary housing for displaced families.
  • Child development and a recreation center for youth.
  • Classrooms for the adult career education program.
  • A food pantry and a clothing bank.

With compassion, hard work, and interfaith cooperation and understanding, what was once a haven for violence and dissolution in a community will be transformed into a symbol of hope and safety.

For more information, contact: Richard Feldman, Project Director, Behrend Builders, (202) 777-3245, richard@dcjcc.org

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