The highest award Michelin gives a restaurant is Three Stars; IVC’s DC/Metro Maryland Region has given three of its stars to Joseph’s House, an end-of-life home for the homeless in Washington.
Founded in 1990 by Dr. David Hilfiker, Joseph’s House was a personal project to bring a true family to those dying of AIDS who were otherwise left on the streets in their final months and days. Hilfiker moved his family into an impressive and sturdy corner house in the Adams Morgan area and gradually invited the neediest to share their lives.
Patty Wudel, executive director and spiritual guide for twenty years at Joseph’s House, shows a staff of eight and a number of volunteers, by loving example, how to bring the dying into a living community.
Helen Taney, Marie Claude Terrot, and Kevin Dailey are among the many volunteers who help Patty keep this community alive and prospering. Helen, herself a retired nurse, helps with the nine-bed medical needs. She and Marie-Claude joined Joseph’s House over five years ago. Kevin, a retired social worker, brings 35 years of urban experience to the tasks of the house. All three volunteers – the only IVC people Joseph’s House has ever known – do whatever is needed, ranging from their own specialized backgrounds to folding laundry, preparing meals, doing the dishes, and brightening the house with flowers (Marie-Claude’s specialty).
Patty Wudel sees many volunteers – some of them full-timers and most of them younger than the IVC veterans – come to her community of love and service. But the IVC workers form a special place in this unique home. “Every new resident and every new worker changes us and changes themselves,” she says. “Some of our residents, for example, come right off the streets with a medical referral for hospice care. Others have had tragedy befall their own families. But they all desperately need the love and kindness we try to give. The maturity and experience of IVC workers cannot be matched otherwise,” Patty adds.
The IVC workers at Joseph’s House form a special community among themselves. Each had either experience or interviews at other IVC agencies before realizing that this spiritual community was perfect for them. Helen spent five years at So Others Might Eat (SOME) where Kevin also interviewed. Marie Claude considered another highly respected agency before walking through the door at Joseph’s House and finding it to be where she belonged.
IVC takes special joy and pride in these three volunteers. For their part, they have discovered in Joseph’s House all they ever wanted from volunteer work. Kevin finds this family all that many years of professional social work could not fully provide: love and continuity. Similarly, Helen’s nursing career prepared her for something beyond a work shift and or a teaching mission but she never found it until she walked into Joseph’s House. Marie-Claude’s life work was as a professional translator, a disciplined career but one somewhat detached from the human side of life she found here.
To an outsider, these IVC volunteers seem like a true God-send for a home that never wants to be an institution. The family-scale of Joseph’s House contrasts with the size of other IVC partner agencies, necessarily larger and less personal than this one. Helen, Marie-Claude, and Kevin have bonded to each other, to Patty, and to her vision of a community which focuses not on death and dying but instead on love and living.
While the mission of Joseph’s House is not complicated, neither is it easy. It tries to give its residents the best days of their lives however long those lives continue. The stars at Joseph’s House shine a bit brighter because of these IVC volunteers.