St Matthew House

By Fr. Ray Valencia

“I was a   stranger and you welcomed me”—Matthew 25:35

The story   of St. Matthew House, Columbia, Maryland

On a bright, sunlit Sunday,   April 25, 1999, His Beatitude, the Most Blessed THEODOSIUS, Archbishop of Washington,   DC, Metropolitan of All America and Canada gathered together with members of   his faithful flock, civic, government, and business leaders to dedicate St .Matthew   House in Columbia, Maryland.


One of only a few homes in   the country designed specifically for individuals with severe physical disabilities   and the only one of its kind in the state of Maryland, St. Matthew House consists   of fifteen individual units for residents and a resident manager’s apartment.   Each of the residents’ units is 540 square feet and provides the following standard   features: one bedroom, living room, bathroom, and a kitchenette. The units are   fully equipped to meet the physical and spatial needs of the residents. Wide   door passages, specifically designed kitchens with lower cabinets and appliances,   grab bars in the bathrooms, and a wheelchair accessible roll-in shower are features   in each unit.

The units are evenly distributed   over three floors of the 18,500 plus square foot home. Wider hallways, a large   community room, and a lounge make up common spaces that are wheelchair accessible.   A communal kitchen, dining room, library and computer work areas are also provided   for the residents. A hydrotherapy room provides the residents with an opportunity   to bathe in a specially designed tub. The tub allows them to receive some help   with circulation in their limbs, thus enabling them to remain healthier by lessening   the risk of infection and muscular deterioration.

The many windows in St. Matthew   House’s large, three-story inner atrium and open spaces provide much natural   light throughout the entire home. A front porch as well as open and enclosed   patio areas enable the residents to enjoy the fresh air in the outdoors.

All of these special features   combine to make St. Matthew House the unique and extraordinary living opportunity   for physically disabled adults of low and very low income that they are otherwise   unable to find in our state.

The location of St. Matthew   House in the fully accessible, barrier-free Kings Contrivance Village Center   enables the residents to shop, bank, socialize, and generally carry on the activities   of normal life. Howard County’s barrier-free public transportation stops at   the Center. All these factors make St. Matthew House’s site an ideal neighborhood   for people with physical disabilities.


The genesis of St. Matthew   House has its roots in a self-professed God-given vision to one of the parishioners   of the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew, Maria Turley, on Holy and Great Friday,   April 29, 1994. In the vision she received, Maria saw in detail the house that   God wanted built. Upon sharing this vision with two fellow members, Maria was   encouraged to relate her experience to me, her priest. On Tuesday, May 3, I   met with Maria at her apartment wherein she disclosed the vision she had received   from the Lord to build a home for physically disabled adults who are no longer   able to live alone but are not in need of the services of an assisted living   facility or a skilled nursing home.

In our discussion Maria, a   nurse practitioner with experience in the field of rehabilitation services and   a person with multiple sclerosis, pointed out that although private and public   agencies in this region continue to develop housing programs for the chronically   mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and the frail elderly, there were no   existing independent living facilities in our state exclusively for adults with   severe physical disabilities. She asked if the parish would be willing to help   make the God-given vision she had received a reality. She realized that the   parish which held its services in Slayton House, a local community center, its   third home since its founding in 1988, had been saving to build a church of   its own.

I asked Maria to write a two-page   concept paper on the vision. I would present it to the Parish Council of Stewards   at our upcoming May meeting. We would also discuss it on our overnight annual   retreat at the beginning of June. She did. It was presented and discussed by   the Council. The Council decided to forward the proposal to the parish for discussion   and possible endorsement.

Mailings went out and two   parish meetings were held in June and August to discuss and decide what we,   as a parish family, would do, if anything. On Sunday, August 14, 1994
  the parish voted unanimously, with four abstentions, to sponsor the establishment   of St. Matthew House. We saw and still see it as a God-given opportunity to   serve the least of these in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.


What Maria did not know when   she passed on the vision to me and to our parish family was how the Lord had   arranged other details in the plan. She did know at the time that I was the   Vice-President of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council (CMEC) and a board   member of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center & Homeless Shelter in   Howard County. The Lord would use these situations in this work.

Earlier in 1994, then Governor   William Schaefer through his Housing Secretary, Jacqueline Rogers, brought to   the attention of the CMEC Board a state initiative for faith community-sponsored   housing. This God-provided connection made the way possible for our first grant   in December 1994 of $50,000 from a brand new private Maryland foundation called   Start-Up, Inc whose mission it was to help fund start-up costs for faith community-sponsored   housing initiatives.

At this time, I was also an   active member of Howard County’s Clergy for Social Justice which was convened   and chaired by a rabbi with over twenty years experience in Howard County. He   kindly made the way clear for my access to Mr. Mark Sissman, the then President   of the Enterprise Foundation, a national, nonprofit charitable organization,   headquartered in Columbia. The mission of the Enterprise Foundation is to see   that all low-income people in the United States have the opportunity for fit   and affordable housing, moving them into the mainstream of American life. The   Enterprise companies work in more than 150 locations nationally and have helped   to provide more than 61,000 houses since 1981. After sharing our God-given vision   with Mr. Sissman, Enterprise agreed to become our development consultant on   the project.

Additionally, through a local   newspaper article on our project, we were put in touch with Community Residents   of Arlington, VA. Community Residents, Inc, a private, non-profit agency, has   had over 25 years of experience in developing and managing residential properties   and supportive programs for persons with disabilities. Upon hearing our dream,   Community Residences generously and eagerly joined us in our effort. It became   our cosponsor and is the present manager of our home.

These God-created and God-given   circumstances, among others, played pivotal roles in helping to get the project   off the ground. From this base, we proceeded to raise over $1.5 million in grant   funds for the construction of St. Matthew House. The capital grant monies received   came from the following sources:

HUD       811 Program (September, 1995)
      Supportive Housing for Individuals with Disabilities
Federal       Home Loan Bank of Atlanta
      Sponsored by the Columbia Bank
The       Maryland Affordable Housing Trust
The       France-Merrick Foundations
The       Rouse Company, Corporate Giving
Howard       County Housing Commission
The       Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc.
Start-Up,       Inc.
The       Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation, Inc.
Owner’s       Equity from SMHD, Inc.

  In addition   to a $50,000 capital grant contribution, The Rouse Company made the 1.25 acre   parcel of land in the Kings Contrivance Village Center in Columbia available   to SMHD for a nominal fee of $28,000 as the site for St. Matthew House. Worth   noting is that the appraised value of the land is $400,000. Worth repeating,   the home’s location in the Village Center enables the residents to continue   to be full and participating members of the community, just as it was envisioned.


Our parish and its parishioners,   who number approximately 113 adults, have also played an important role in the   formation of St. Matthew House. In addition to the prayers and monetary contributions   of the parishioners, five of them sit on the Board of Directors. Two members   of our parish community, Ms Kristine Patico, LCSW and Mrs. Janice Theodorakis,   PhD, stepped forward to work with the Enterprise Foundation as grant writers   and administrators for our project. Their skills and efforts were invaluable   to the project’s success.

Activity and interpersonal   relations continue between the parishioners and the residents. Parishioners   have given furniture and have helped the residents fix up their apartments.   The residents, though of many faith backgrounds, loved having their apartments   blessed. Some have expressed an interest in Orthodoxy. The parish prepares a   meal for the residents once a month. Two families at a time take turns on a   rotating schedule. There is also a food pantry for the residents to which parishioners   contribute. When any of the residents need to be in the hospital, parishioners   are there to visit. Our parish is now finally engaged in the building of our   own church, and it will be on the grounds right next to St. Matthew House.

This brief account of the   genesis and establishment of St. Matthew House is offered only in the hope that   it will inspire you, the reader, to continue to be open to hearing the voice   of the Lord, and then having the courage and boldness of faith to follow His   instruction and lead in all areas of ministry and service. If nothing else,   this testimony serves to demonstrate what can be accomplished when just a few   persons commit themselves and their whole hearts to serving the Lord with and   in His love as He has shown and called us to do. As can be seen with this project,   He calls and directs; it is up to us to respond and follow. The results are   truly to His glory!

Fr. Ray Velencia   is pastor of St. Matthew Orthodox Church, Columbia, MD.

Taken   from the OCA Resource   Handbook for Lay Ministries