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The William Penn House will be closed for repairs starting Sept. 1, 2019 to provide necessary repairs and maintenance of our 102-year-old building.

During this time online donations are temporarily suspended. We are grateful for your support. Click here for giving options. For more information, contact: Thank you.

What an inspiring weekend as we witnessed and supported the March for our Lives on March 24!  We opened our doors all day as a comfort station, providing beverages, bathrooms, and a place to rest for weary marchers – plus brownies and fruit donated by generous neighbors!  We even had supplies for poster-making in the conference room, thanks to a generous contribution from one of our guests.

More than 600 new friends, young and old, stopped by, and at least 20 posters were made right in our conference room.  Even more inspiring to us on the staff, 30 volunteers gave time and talent to create a welcoming space for marchers, share encouragement and conversation, and keep coffee, water, and toilet paper stocked.  We could not have done it without this generous support!

Click below to see photos from the day.  We hope to see you next time!

March for our Lives

Sign on WPH dining room table, Jan. 2017

William Penn House Annual Report 2017

2017 was an exciting year of growth and change for us at William Penn House, celebrating 50 years of service and expanding our support for peace & justice activism and education to respond to today’s environment.  Please click the link above to read more about our activities this year.  We look forward to having you join us in 2018!

Reflections on the Human Rights Seminar

Naomi Madaras
September 2017

I looked forward all year to facilitating the DC Human Rights seminar with the University of Washington Bothell. I remembered meeting the students from last year’s seminar and was impressed by their engagement with speakers and their insightful questions. This year the students continued to impress: twenty students from six countries, two pursuing master’s degrees, and the rest undergraduate in their final year of school. All the students had minors in human rights, mostly majoring in history, political science, or law.

Over the week students wrestled with academic and philosophical dilemmas in international policy. What is a just response to a refugee crisis in an economically turbulent country? Are America’s calls to human rights in other countries a hypocritical stance, given our country’s history of genocide and slavery? What constitutes a “war crime,” and who gets to define it? Can war ever usher in positive change?

I too, as the program coordinator, spent my evenings before the program sitting with questions. What would it mean for me, a Quaker, and someone who strives to live a life of anti-racism and feminism, to take a group of young people to meet activists from an extremely conservative institution like the Heritage Foundation, which often stands against the values I hold dear? Is evil on a spectrum, with the KKK and white supremacists on one end and the US State Department (complicit in US imperialism, to be sure) somewhere in the middle? Why was I more comfortable with bringing this group to the greatest monument to militarism in the world—the Pentagon—than to one of the most conservative think tanks in the country? I struggled with questions of accountability and identity. Having protested outside the very same doors where I entered wearing business formal attire, I wondered if I was cheating on my activist life. I thought about reformist versus revolutionary approaches to social change. I wondered if entering these offices signified my implicit affirmation of their stance, or if the carefully-worded and confrontational questions posed by the students were a form of insider-revolution. Could it be both? I don’t have an answer to these questions.

On the last day of the week, a colonel and instructor at the Army War College presented to the group. He spoke about the immorality of war and reminded the students, “There’s right, there’s wrong, and then there’s what is. We can only work with what is.” The colonel shared that over the course of his career he had advised senior officers whether to bomb enemy cities and armies, and many times he had given the green light for “the greater good.” Afterwards I walked him to his car. He turned to me and apologized: “I’m sorry I spent a whole hour talking about war in your Quaker house.” I thought to myself, “That’s not the most concerning part of the presentation…”

What I’m left with after this week-long seminar is grief and hope. Growing up Quaker in a peace activist family, I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders at a national protest in 2002 when president Bush was planning to invade Afghanistan. At that age, I believed America could turn around and stop engaging in brutal wars. I grieve because our nation has only continued. I grieve because for more than half my life, America has been bombing multiple countries, the atrocities of which I knew astonishingly little until hearing from speakers during the seminar.

And I am filled with hope. The students left this week with a renewed dedication to justice and a deeper understanding of the terrorism of US militarism. Witnessing their hunger for knowledge and their dedication to strengthening human rights and dignity universally, I hope they can take the inspiring and disturbing aspects of their seminar in DC and apply it to their paths forward.

As you may have noticed, we have just launched a completely re-built website!  We have updated the website to be mobile-friendly and make better use of current web technology, and to allow regular posting of news updates (such as this one!).  Please explore the site – we hope you enjoy it!

If there is any information from the old website that you cannot find here, please let us know.  Some things may have been lost in the transfer, but it will be easy to fix that if needed.

We look forward to seeing you here again soon!

Starting from the Margins: The Ethics of Relational Service

Reflections on the recent service-learning program with youth from Guilford Park Presbyterian Church

Naomi Madaras, Program Coordinator

Much of service learning is about relationship. Often, students and group leaders come to DC expecting to form an instant relationship with marginalized community members, right off the bat (one might imagine handing a cup of hot soup in exchange for the gratitude of a neighbor experiencing homelessness). But these expectations are fraught with paternalist assumptions and can perpetuate a savior mentality among the students and chaperones toward community members. When students arrive to William Penn House we try to help them understand that service in the Quaker tradition must be relationship-based if it is to be ethical. When I say that, what I mean is in order for us to be accountable to our community, we have to let go of our expectations, especially our expectations of gratitude from others. Service-learning is a complicated method—one that depends on humility, flexibility, self-reflection, and imagination. Above all, service learning depends on listening.

Recently, we hosted a group of middle-schoolers from Guilford Park Presbyterian Church for a 2-day program that embodied relational service-learning. One afternoon, several youth volunteered with Capitol Hill Village, a nonprofit neighborhood organization that assists senior citizens to remain in their homes as long as possible. Twelves young people visited a senior apartment complex a few blocks north of William Penn House and divided into small groups to hand out medical deactivation kits provided by Capitol Hill Village. Residents could use to these charcoal-based kits to safely dispose of expired medication. With one pair of youth per senior on each floor of the complex, the students got to know their senior leader as they placed a kit on each doormat. Unprompted, they asked questions like, “What’s your favorite thing about living in DC?”, “What do you like to do in your free time?” and “How many people live in the building with you?” Afterward the entire group gathered in the common room where the youth and seniors mingled, talking about museums, music, board games, and the best snacks from the vending machines.

What was unique about this service program is the lack of expectations. Instead of arriving to the site expecting to make instant relationships based on others’ gratitude, these inspiring students simply came to distribute medical deactivation kits. There’s nothing particularly rewarding or Kodak-worthy about putting a kit on someone’s doorstep, but this was a request from Capitol Hill Village, our partner organization, and we listened to their call. In the midst of following that request, the students had a chance to talk with people sixty years their senior—people who had extremely different lives than they did. The students from Guilford Park were almost entirely white American, and the seniors entirely Black and African-American, and mostly women. The seniors responded enthusiastically to the students’ questions and invited them back any time they were in the area. Even after two hours of chatting, the group did not want to separate and reluctantly bid each other farewell.

This is the kind of relational service-learning we at William Penn House envision for all our groups. We seek to begin with the marginal, menial, and important work that receives no applause and develops no instant fuzzy feelings. Sometimes this is all a service program can be, for multiple reasons. But groups that are ready to begin at the margins can more easily develop humility and patience and only from that place can we build relationships with partner organizations and community members. We must remember that relationships, like plants, cannot grow unless we have adequately prepared the soil. And that preparation takes patience, humility, and deep listening.

WPH is closed for repairs starting Sept. 1, 2019. Online donations are temporarily suspended. We are grateful for your support. Click here for giving options. For more information, contact: Thank you.