If you’re a Georgetown resident, chances are you’re familiar with any neighborhood establishment that has been around for three decades. In the ever-evolving landscape of Georgetown commercial doorsteps, such places are rarities.
However, in 2017, one organization with which you may not be familiar is quietly marking 30 years in the community. Georgetown Ministry Center — a nonprofit whose entryway is tucked discretely into an alleyway on the side of Grace Episcopal Church on Wisconsin Avenue — has been serving individuals experiencing homelessness in Georgetown since its humble beginnings in 1987.
The shelter, operated in conjunction with several local congregations, offers a safe haven to the community’s most vulnerable homeless neighbors during the coldest months of the year.
Georgetown Ministry Center’s anniversary is being recognized both as a celebration of the progress that has been made and as a solemn reminder of the oft-hidden societal issue that still permeates the neighborhood’s historic streets.
GMC was founded after Georgetowners were moved to find an appropriate community response to the death of an elderly homeless man named Freddie, who died of exposure in an icy phone booth on M Street in 1984.
The Georgetown Clergy Association and Georgetown University were instrumental in organizing a governing board and raising start-up funds. A short time later, GMC began operating from a cubicle-sized room in Grace Church. It has since grown to include a service-rich drop-in center, a street outreach program and a winter shelter. The shelter, operated in conjunction with several local congregations, offers a safe haven to the community’s most vulnerable homeless neighbors during the coldest months of the year.
GMC is marking more than one milestone this year. Not only is it commemorating 30 years of service in the community, but its executive director, Gunther Stern, is planning his retirement after a tenure nearly as long. Stern joined GMC as its executive director in the fall of 1990. In the ensuing years, his name has become synonymous with the organization — both to its supporters and to the homeless individuals he visits on the street. Stern is credited with reaching Georgetown’s most isolated members of society; his is a familiar face that even the most withdrawn individuals have come to trust.