Members of the Friends of Southwest DC board meeting at the Southwest Library, left to right: Ellen Spencer, Carolyn Harvin, Regina Harrison, Russell McIntyre, Peter Eicher, and Peri Hamlin. Absent: Cheryl Parham, Eric Smith, Gabriele Strauch
By Southwester Staff
Friends of Southwest DC is celebrating its 25th anniversary, marking a quarter century of supporting neighbors, awarding small grants to Southwest organizations, and making Southwest a better place to live.
When Coralie Farlee and a few neighbors at River Park sat down in 1998 to discuss how they could give back to their community, little did they imagine the impact they would have. They founded River Park Friends, which in 2010 changed its name to Friends of Southwest DC. Since its modest start 25 years ago, Friends of Southwest has awarded hundreds of small grants, totaling over $450,000.
“Over the years, we’ve provided funding to support almost 50 different nonprofits working in Southwest,” said Peter Eicher, president of the organization. “We’re proud of all that’s been accomplished: food banks, summer camp, school supplies, youth and PTA programs, senior programs, art programs, gardens, tree-planting, Girl Scouts, neighborhood events, Christmas toys, and so much more. It’s been wonderful to be a part of helping the community in so many ways.”
The grants have meant a great deal to Southwest residents. “We couldn’t have done it without you,” said Jay Shorter, leader of DC STORM, which mentors Southwest youth and takes a group each year to Hampton, Virginia, to visit historic sites and HBCUs. “These grants from Friends of Southwest opened entirely new windows for Jefferson Middle School students. They’ve returned wiser, more respectful, and with a positive outlook on education. It’s a life-changing experience for them.”
The EmmaUS Learning Center was awarded several grants from Friends to take elementary schoolers on field trips, including to Turkey Hill Dairy, where some saw cows for the first time and experienced the joy of learning how ice cream is made. On a trip to the historic Harriet Tubman home in Maryland, the kids were thrilled to meet some of Tubman’s descendants. One young participant, Janelle, wrote after the visit how grateful she was that “I could learn more about my history. This was a great way to celebrate Harriet Tubman.”
Barbara Ehrlich, a former president of Waterfront Village, recalls that “a grant from Friends of Southwest DC seven years ago was instrumental in establishing the Village, which has since grown to serve over 200 senior citizens in Southwest. We’re so grateful for this support and for later grants from Friends, which were really crucial in setting up the Village and putting it on a sound footing.” Friends of Southwest DC earned the Waterfront Village Champion’s Award in recognition of its civic leadership.
When COVID struck in 2020, Friends of Southwest DC reached out to organizations helping the neediest in our neighborhood, initiating grants to a newly established food bank, a hot meals program, a community garden providing fresh vegetables to Southwesters, and a Thanksgiving meals program, as well as contributing to a job-training program for Southwest residents who lost jobs due to COVID shutdowns. These grants helped hundreds of our neighbors weather the worst of the pandemic.
Friends of Southwest DC has also been a leading supporter of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, providing funding over the years for dozens of SWNA’s projects, from computers for kids to the Southwest History Trail to the SWNA website. Friends of Southwest DC is a recipient of SWNA’s Community Spirit Star Award. (Editor’s note: SWNA is the publisher of The Southwester.)
The jewel among Friends of Southwest’ DCs many grants has been college scholarships. For each of its 25 years, Friends has contributed to the SWNA scholarship program, becoming one of its largest donors. Through the years, Friends has funded dozens of scholarships, most recently four undergraduate scholarships in 2023. In 2022, in partnership with SWNA, Friends established the annual Coralie Farlee Graduate Scholarship for a Southwest student, which Friends has funded each year at the level of $5,000.
Joyce Bouvier, who served many years on the board of directors of Friends of Southwest DC, recalls the early days of the organization. “We were always on the lookout for new ways to help,” she said, “especially with youth programs. We made grants for programs at Randall Recreation Center, for summer camp scholarships for Southwest kids at DC Sail when it still operated in Southwest, and to support a local Girl Scout troop. And, of course, we always supported Camp Arena Stage and Arena’s ‘Voices of Now’ program for the Jefferson Middle School ensemble.” As early as 2002 the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club cited Friends of Southwest DC for its “outstanding service to the youth of Southwest Washington.”
In 2022, Friends of Southwest DC achieved new milestones, awarding a record 19 grants totaling almost $60,000. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen presented the organization his annual “Brickie Award” for outstanding service to Ward 6 by a community organization.
Friends of Southwest DC has continued to award grants in 2023, including to several new organizations. But it’s never easy. “This year has been tough for us,” said Peter Eicher, the organization’s president. “We rely entirely on donations from members of the community to be able to make grants. They’ve been so generous over the years. But this year, for reasons that aren’t clear to us, the number of donations has dropped dramatically. We’ve had to turn down worthy grant applications and reduce the size of others. It’s heart-wrenching to say ‘no’ to organizations working to improve our neighborhood, especially when parts of the community are booming.”
To support Friends and all it does for our Southwest community, donations can be made to Friends of Southwest DC, P.O. Box 44434, Washington DC 20026, or online at FriendsofSWDC.org/donate.