For President & CEO George H. Lambert, Jr., the work of the Greater Washington Urban League is more than simply helping people in one particular situation. It’s providing the skills and resources to affect a life transformation as well. Giant Food has supported the Greater Washington Urban League through the Community Bag Program.
Tell us about Greater Washington Urban League.
The Greater Washington Urban League (GWUL) is part of the Urban League movement. There are 90 some Urban League affiliates and we just happen to be one of those affiliates.
Our footprint is the District of Columbia and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The mission for us is really to elevate the standard of living for African Americans and historically underserved communities. Certainly, at our core, we’re really a civil rights organization. The National Urban League was founded in 1910 and we were started a little bit later in 1938. Since then, we’ve guided individuals on the road to self-sufficiency, impacting over three million lives.
There are five pillars of service for the National Urban League. Urban League affiliates across the country, depending on need, size or resources, may be involved in some or all five of those pillars, which are health, housing, education, workforce development and social justice.
While we have a portfolio in all five of those pillars, I would say that we have a very robust housing portfolio. The reason I say that is because we do a lot in the housing counseling space in District of Columbia. For first time home buyers, you can come to us, and based on income and other factors, you can get up to about $115,000 from us toward a down payment. Housing in the District of Columbia is very expensive. It’s really a sacred trust and at the end of about six years or so, you start paying that back. But the important thing is that it certainly has provided a lot of support for folks becoming first-time home buyers and becoming buyers in the District of Columbia, to make that dream come true in terms of owning a home and starting to build wealth for themselves and their families.
What sets your organization apart from others in your community?
Let me begin by saying there are so many deserving and great organizations in the region. We certainly partner with many of them and collaborate with many of them as well on the work that we do. But I will tell you that we certainly think about ourselves as a friend, a counselor, a protector and a trusted voice for many of the folks that we serve.
The other thing is that our goal is to move folks from what we refer to oftentimes as situational improvement to sustainable improvement and to a life transformation, which is important. It’s more than helping them in one spot or one situation but helping them with skills and resources to affect a life transformation as well. That’s so important.
Financial literacy is very important to the work that we do as well. People need to be empowered with financial education and what opportunities it presents to them. That education is empowering as well.
Our goal is to move folks from what we refer to oftentimes as situational improvement to sustainable improvement and to a life transformation.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work you are doing.
Numbers are great, but it’s what’s behind them that I want to know about. I start my staff meetings with storytelling. When I open the meeting, I ask our staff to share stories about folks that we’ve helped and just where we are. One of the stories I’ll never forget involves a gentleman who came to us, looking for help in finding a job or a better opportunity. But as we were doing the intake process, we learned he was living in his car. So, we were immediately able to help him resolve his homelessness and then we were able to get him employed as well. Storytelling is important. So just like I’m talking to you, as I move around the community, I’m talking with supporters, funders, or the folks that we engage with. I want to hear and tell those stories.
We have about 200 individuals that became first-time home buyers through the partnership of the Greater Washington Urban League and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. But that’s a number and what I’m always more interested in is, what is the impact of that number? And the impact is that we changed the net worth of those individuals. So that’s the important thing. That’s the thing that we really underscore at GWUL. It’s not so much the number, as the impact. Yes, it’s important and yes, we can put numbers up on the board all day long, but it’s the impact of the work that I most care about.
What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?
I am proud of the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, we are a trusted voice in the community in terms of the work that we do at the Greater Washington Urban League. It says to me that even our funders really trust us; they come to us particularly when there’s a heavy lift for new opportunities as well.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has really been bittersweet in the sense that our portfolio has grown, but it has grown because the need is so tremendous at this point. And one of the things that I talk about a lot now is that while we are all in the storm of the pandemic, we’re not in the same boat. The folks that we serve are in a very different boat. They’re in a boat in terms of many of them have lost jobs, so there’s no income coming into the home. They’re in a boat in terms of challenges with education, getting kids to school. We’re all in this big storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. Our focus is really on trying to help folks to move out of the boat that they’re in now to a better situation so that they can survive and thrive and make some life transformation changes as well.
We’re all in this big storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.
We do a lot with small businesses and one of the things that we saw right away during the pandemic is that many of those businesses shut down. Many of them were not able to pivot. Many of them will not come back. One of the things we focus on now is helping many of them to engage in considering what might be a new opportunity, a new partnership for them, or how to reinvent that business.
And then of course, back to what’s happening in the housing arena. I was so pleased that the District of Columbia government came to us to help folks who were behind in rent. The moratorium on rents is ending soon. And we know that that is a critical issue that we need to be involved in to help folks navigate through that. So, we spent a lot of time and invested a lot of work in that initiative as well. But again, we’re all in the storm of the pandemic, but we’re not all in the same boat.
What do you want people to know about The Greater Washington Urban League?
That for our customers and clients, we are a friend or a counselor and certainly we are a protector and that is the work we are committed to doing on their behalf. And knowing we will stay the course with you; we will be there in those battles with you, knowing that our team is available.
One of our funders asked us a couple of months ago to come back to the office. We’ve never stopped working. We started teleworking more than 18 months ago, but one of our funders is now asking us to come back into the office so we could be able to serve walk-in clients. We have a skeleton team that has been in the office now for the past couple of months for walk-in clients, folks who may not be able to access the internet or a computer. They just want to walk in, be able to sit and talk with someone. We’re there for them.
How did you hear about the Giant Food Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good programs?
I’m a native Washingtonian, so I’ve known about Giant Food and its philanthropy for many years. Brandi Petway of Giant is on our board and has been an excellent board member. We support the brand and really appreciate their partnership with Greater Washington Urban League
How will you use the funds raised from these programs?
Giant Food has been absolutely a great partner. No question about it. When we first went into COVID, we had to pivot very quickly in terms of helping our team set up so that they could telework and continue to serve our clients. The funds we received from the Giant program were invaluable in helping us make technology investments and upgrades that were not in our budget.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Giant Food has always stepped up for us. The company has been a great partner in supporting our annual back-to-school festival focused on healthy eating and nutritional health. We’ve also been involved in making the COVID vaccine available, and Giant has partnered with us for three pop-up vaccine sites in our parking lot. Their partnership with us has been phenomenal, and I’m sure with others as well.