Making the Connection Between Listening and Independence

Woodley House is fortunate to have dedicated employees who care deeply about serving others.

In this blog, I would like to introduce you to our Residential Director, Edward Barnett. Ed oversees the running of Valenti House (our transitional home), Crossing Place (our crisis home) and Holly House (our long-term group home), as well as our Supported Independent Living Apartment Program with apartments throughout the city.

Ed’s dedication to serving others comes from a strong religious and spiritual foundation. His mother was a missionary, so he and his six older siblings naturally grew up helping people. In the early 1980s, he was ordained as a minister and did missionary work in Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. This past month, he spent two weeks on a mission trip to Africa, where he conducted leadership training to pastors and leaders in Kenya (Kakamega, Butere, Kisumu) and Uganda (Torreo and Mbale). In 2013, Ed celebrated 22 years of ministry as a pastor, and has been happily married for 28 years. He has three children who all serve and work in the public service field, giving back.

Being a problem-solver is Ed’s most important job. He studied electrical engineering in college, which has prepared him to think through the issues that come with managing roughly 30 people, ensuring consumer concerns are addressed, and making sure the quality of Woodley House facilities enable recovery in a safe, secure environment.

Unlike many other service providers, Woodley House offers support every step along the journey towards recovery, from crisis to independence. Barnett tells the story of one consumer who recently went through multiple stages of recovery with Woodley House:

“We had a consumer who came to Crossing Place, our crisis house – homeless, did not have any direction, could not care for himself, did not have much support. Within two weeks, we were able to stabilize him and bring him to a place where he could be cognizant enough to understand directions. We transitioned him from the crisis house to Valenti House, where he stayed in the transition program for about a year, and then we transitioned him from that program over to Holly House, where he stayed for about two to three years before he transitioned out. And now he’s out of our program.”

Most transformations he has seen working at Woodley House start with listening and nurturing.

“You have to listen, because listening doesn’t just tell you what consumers need. Sometimes it tells you what they missed in life. And you try to fill some of those voids to give them confidence to step out and try new things, to reshape their thinking and reshape their lives from the tragic situations they have had in the past.

“They begin to imagine and dream for better lives and better living. And with a little support, they learn day by day that they are competent enough to take care of themselves. And they begin to try a little bit more, and then a little bit more, until you begin to see a form of independence develop.”

Barnett says that working at Woodley House gives him the opportunity to live his ideology, which is “Be your best every day. Give – whoever it is you serve – your best, without looking at where they came from or who they are.”

Before coming to Woodley House, Ed was with the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, working with mentally ill children and adolescents, as well as supervising and training counselors. He has a Master’s Degree in Counseling.

We hope you will join us in thanking Ed for his dedication to making Woodley House a pathway to recovery for hundreds of Washington, DC area residents each year.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The field of Mental Health is in an historic moment , not because of a great new break through in therapy; but because of catch up regulations in funding streams. Practicing in the field for over thirty years, I would like to think we are driven by sound thinking and strong empirical data, leading to good policy and practice. The truth is, though sound thinking and good data are part of the field, funding sources and bureaucratic convenience are just as often the propeller and tiller of our ship. We are in an historic moment because powerful and well meaning people in our society are working hard to create a better more humane Health Care System. They will succeed. We will have a model that is cognitive behavioral at it’s essence as opposed to a disease model. The change brings 1950 thinking into the 21st century. This is a great leap forward. We need to remember what brought the system to this point. The disease model was the best collective thinking at the time. New ideas, therapies and approaches developed in each of the following decades. Funding streams did not keep pace with the advancement of ideas leading to a tortured system which sometimes stands in the way of best practice. If we are not careful we will set up a system which will age just as poorly as the last.

Woodley House Inc. has provided care to people suffering from mental illness since 1958. I am often asked how we are able to provide such excellent care when the field we work in has varied to such an extreme. When I think how to rationally answer this question; I think of our core values but I also think of the myriad of adjustments the agency  has gone through to continue to exist and serve. Woodley House’s stated core values are Dignity and Respect. These words have guided our Board of Trustees and our four Executive Directors through the many changes in mental health service over the last 56 years. Contained in these words Dignity and Respect is an appreciation for people as individuals and not a collection of symptoms. These values, pared with an ability to find funders who believe treatment should be individualized, has allowed Woodley House to continue to function even when its approach was not always mainstream. Recently I was reading notes from our founder, Joan Doniger, which reflected problems she was having with the “SYSTEM” during a period in 1964, when she served as Executive Director. I was amazed that although the precise problem was different the battle with bureaucracy was the same that I find today. The “one size fits all” outlook of bureaucratic policy existed then and continues to today. Once the policy is in place it fails to change as the field progresses causing antiquated funding streams and new ideas to go begging for financial support.

If todays policy drafters can resist the “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” outlook and build flexibility into the policies to allow for funding new and more effective approaches the field of mental health will take a giant step in avoiding the pitfalls of the past and the pain it delivers to consumers and families relying on caring and effective services.

More to come

Gary W. Frye

Executive Director

“Anything you need to know about mental health – the knowledge is here.”

SJ_PhotoWoodley House is fortunate to have dedicated employees who are passionate about our mission to help people with mental illness live full and healthy lives with dignity. In this blog, I would like to introduce you to our office manager, Stellvonne Jackson.

Stellvonne has been at Woodley House for six years. She started out as our medical biller and clinical filer, and her role at Woodley House has grown over time. She currently manages our operations, insurance, billing, board correspondence, audit support, and acts as my assistant.

“I love finding a solution for problems, and I love finding new ways that we could possibly come up with more money so we can do what we do bigger.”

Stellvonne spends most of her time following the money. At Woodley House, this means making sure that the providers we bill pay us. Often times, information gets lost and systems don’t talk well with each other. So Stellvonne spends a lot of her time documenting and re-documenting our work. She is applying what she is learning studying for her Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership to create processes and systems to more efficiently collect accounts receivables.

Stellvonne’s commitment to fiscal integrity is critical because on average, Woodley House is reimbursed only 73 cents for every dollar of care we provide. In order to maintain our highest standards of care, Woodley House must raise over $250,000 annually from private donors.

Because Stellvonne’s job has changed so much since she started here, she is constantly learning new things, which is one of her favorite things about her job.

“We’re a small company, so you’ll be given tasks that you’ve never seen before and you have to catch on quickly. You just have to figure it out.”

Working at Woodley House has helped Stellvonne personally as well. In 2012, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and experienced severe depression after a near-death experience. She was able to learn a lot about her diagnoses by listening and learning from the staff and consumers.

“Anything you need to know about mental health – the knowledge is here,” she says.

What keeps Stellvonne at Woodley House is our commitment to consumers.

“Woodley House truly stands behind respect and dignity for consumers. Our consumers are great people, and you hear that everywhere at Woodley House, throughout all of the staff. In a lot of places, people will work for a paycheck, but I feel that the people here really work because they care about the consumers. I think that’s a really big deal. You can send your family here and know that they’re going to be taken care of. My son is a special needs person, so I look at, ‘Is this a place I would send my son if I needed to?’ and I say ‘Yes.’”

We hope you will join us in thanking Stellvonne for her dedication to making Woodley House a pathway to recovery for hundreds of Washington, DC area residents each year.


Charity Yoga Classes for Woodley House in April

Love yoga? Never tried it, but curious? DC’s Tranquil Space yoga studio, located in Dupont Circle, is hosting several all-levels charity classes during in April, and all proceeds benefit Woodley House. Pay what you can ($5 suggested donation), get your OMM on and help Woodley House!

Grab your mat and come on down to the studio, which is located at 1632 17th Street NW, just south of the corner of 17th and R. The April charity classes benefitting Woodley House are:

  • Wednesday, April 9 4:30 to 5:30 pm
  • Sunday, April 13, 330-4:30 pm
  • Wednesday, April 16 4:30 to 5:30 pm
  • Wednesday, April 23 4:30 to 5:30 pm
  • Wednesday, April 30 4:30 to 5:30 pm

Tranquil Space, we thank you for your support of Woodley House this month! Please spread the word about this fun opportunity to de-stress, stretch, and support Woodley House.