Bearing Witness to the Vision of the Late Ward Six Councilmember Nadine P. Winter

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By Daria Winter

Nadine WinterWhile she became a three- time survivor of cancer, Nadine Winter, the late Ward 6 Councilmember, hauled her frail body around preaching early detection, health screenings, healthy eating, and exercise as the key to improving the quality of life among all low and moderate income African Americans in D.C.  From 2001 until the moment she succumbed to pneumonia in August 2011, Nadine served as Founder and President of Health Outreach Information Network (HOIN), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization she started to organize, educate, District residents around health education. Located in Greenleaf Senior Housing Complex at 1200 Delaware Avenue, SW, the main office of HOIN became a distribution site for health information, food and clothing for families throughout the city.  She created a radio show, “For the Record,” on WYCB to take the HOIN message of disease prevention to a broader audience. The ongoing strategy was to motivate and organize an army of volunteers to engage in outreach and mobilization efforts by going door to door, from neighborhood to neighborhood, especially in the areas where the poor lived.

From 1958 to 1975, Nadine Winter founded and became the Executive Director Hospitality House, Inc., a social-service, community-action agency located near NE Washington that addressed the needs of the city’s poorest residents. Before the founding of Hospitality House, she worked at Junior Village, a center that housed the District’s dependent children, and that’s where her idea for Hospitality House was born.  She soon moved into the neighborhood to live among those whom she served, setting up the House at 507 Florida Ave. NE. While there, Agnes Meyer of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation offered to pay her salary full time as the Director of Hospitality House Inc. This grant enabled Nadine to become the full-time Director of the agency that she founded to serve the needs of poor and destitute families and of individuals who had exhausted all other sources of income and assistance.

Through the Hospitality House Nadine began developing programs and activities to attack the dire conditions of poverty that existed NE and SE D.C., where families lived in alley dwellings that lacked indoor plumbing and electricity. For these poor alley dwellers and others in similar conditions of poverty, their only beacon of hope became Hospitality House, Inc. The House developed the first shelter for families in the District of Columbia, soon opening more than seven across the city developing a reputation for helping with the immediate needs of the poor.  Their well known motto was “help is quick but not a handout.” The agency became recognized as one of the most successful settlement house operations in the District, receiving acclaim in the 1972 book Beyond Black and White, in which Dr. James Comer provided a snapshot of his experiences as a volunteer there.

Through government contracts and a grant from the United Planning Organization, Hospitality House, Inc. ran a consumer education program, credit union and community branch of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. One of the most significant contributions by the organization was the creation of the first District of Columbia Urban Homesteading Program, becoming a model for the nation.  The program thrust Nadine onto the national scene initiating the DC Urban Homesteading Program.  Mayor Walter E. Washington gave the project his full support on the local level.  After several meetings with the Under Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.), H. R. Crawford, Nadine was able to secure a commitment from H.U.D. to identify properties that would be suitable for the program. Hospitality House, Inc.

In collaboration with the D.C. and federal H.U.D. offices, she created a mechanism for the transfer of vacant and abandoned properties owned by the District and Federal governments to the DC Urban Homesteading Program to be given away to eligible families for $1 by a lottery. The recipients of the 50 properties had to agree to live in the property, rehabilitate it to meet code standards, and maintain it for at least five years. Nadine developed a Housing Resource Center in collaboration with Federal City College to provide the technical support for the families selected for the program. Under the center, she recruited those with the expertise to train ex-offenders as staff and to provide direct assistance to local residents.  The program became the national model and she traveled across the country helping other cities and states set their respective programs up.

In 1974 she ran for a seat on the District’s council and became the first Ward 6 representative to the newly elected Council of the District of Columbia in 1975 under Home Rule and served four consecutive terms until 1990. While a member of the Council, she became the Chairman Pro Tempore; Chairperson of the Committee on Housing and Urban Development; and the Chairperson of the Committee on Public Works.  During her years of service on the Council she was instrumental in creating legislation on Rent Control, the Housing Finance Agency, and Mandatory Recycling in the District of Columbia, among so many other legislative actions. She was appointed by the Chairman to represent the District of Columbia on the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation and while serving on the council, became a founding member of the National Congress of Black Women, which she served throughout her life.  She was elected delegate to the National Democratic Convention from 1968-1988.

In so many ways her life became defined by the plethora of activities she created to serve the community. Where she saw a need, she could envision a complete program to attack the systemic challenges that created the problem. She could draw talented and skilled volunteers into the programs that she created to make the efforts viable because of her reputation of success. She could direct training, even for government workers and program directors, for effective outreach into poor and moderate income neighborhoods. She developed research that included reliable statistics and information about health conditions among low and moderate income individuals in the District of Columbia. Outdoor health fairs and outreach activities were opportunities to educate the people who trusted her to provide them with the truth. She remained dedicated to serving the poor and the homeless; her footprint remains among the people who needed the hope she provided. Nadine Winter will be remembered among the women who took charge.

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