Our History

Covenant House Washington is the Washington, D.C. affiliate of Covenant House International, the nation’s largest privately funded nonprofit organization responding to the needs of young people who suffer from homelessness, abuse and neglect. Covenant House Washington’s mission is to serve suffering children of the street with absolute respect and unconditional love. Our work is guided by the five principles of:

  • Immediacy
  • Sanctuary
  • Choice
  • Values Communication
  • Structure

We place ourselves on the frontline to address the challenges faced by homeless and disconnected young people as they transition to adulthood because we believe in their worth, value and dreams.

In 1972, Covenant House established its first official intake center and shelter to serve homeless young people in New York City. Throughout the 1970s, Covenant House continued to expand its social service programs in New York City and by 1980 was ready to branch out to other cities. For the next two decades, Covenant House grew at an exhilarating pace under the leadership of Sister Mary Rose (1990-2003) and Sister Tricia Cruise (2003-2008), opening outreach programs, crisis centers, employment and education service centers and long-term, transitional living programs in 20 more cities in the United States, Central America and Canada. Since then, Covenant House has grown into a network of more than 20 affiliate agencies in cities in each of these regions. Currently, under the leadership of Kevin Ryan, Covenant House serves thousands of homeless young people each year, giving them the love and support they need to find their way off of the streets and out of truly debilitating life situations.

As part of Covenant House International’s rapid expansion, Covenant House Washington was born. The Covenant House Washington story is one of promise and a 20 year commitment to meeting the needs of homeless and disconnected young people in the Greater Washington community.  Opening its doors in 1995, Covenant House Washington ran its first Outreach Program from a small store front located at 2028 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue on the southeast end of the district.  Under the leadership of first Executive Director, Vincent Gray, word spread quickly about the new organization and its great mission to serve suffering children of the streets, with absolute respect and unconditional love.

In March of 1996, they opened the first Community Service Center… utilizing rented space at 3400 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave in southeast DC.  The new facility offered an opportunity to add educational services, case management, pastoral ministries and a host of other wrap around services to Covenant House Washington’s list of supports for community youth.

In June of 1997, the Transitional Living Program opened in the Villages of Parklands, focusing on meeting the needs of young mothers and their children.

In December of 1997, the doors of the Crisis Center opened… offering nine beds to homeless youth in need of a safe place to sleep.

In January of 2000, Covenant House was able to purchase its own flagship location on the northeast side of the district at 7 New York Avenue.  This new space housed executive offices and became the major hub for the organizations Community Outreach operation.

Covenant House also had plans to purchase new property in the southeast through a partnership with Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR).  The new development initiative was looking to create a new arts, education, and recreational campus unlike anything ever seen in the Southeast area before. The developers offered Covenant House the opportunity to be the first nonprofit located at the site… But first they had to raise the money!  In June of 2000, Covenant House kicked off a Capital Campaign to build the new location.

Within just a few years the Covenant House Washington team had raised $6.5 million dollars to build the new Service Center located at 2001 Mississippi Avenue in southeast DC.

The greatest contribution of the capital campaign was a private gift of $1.5 million dollars from the family of Nancy Dickerson Whitehead.  Nancy was the first woman to be hired as a network correspondent by CBS News.  She also served as a committed board member to Covenant House International, a devoted mother and trailblazing journalist with a passion for politics and world affairs.  Nancy gave selflessly of her time, financial resources, and professional influence for the benefit of children and youth served by Covenant House.  After her death in 1997, the Whitehead family made the $1.5 million dollar contribution to Covenant House Washington to support the future advancement of the organization she loved in the place she called home.

Covenant House Washington’s Community Service Center has been named in Nancy’s memory, and stands as a lasting tribute to her love and generosity, and as a beacon of hope for youth in crisis.  Since the Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Community Service Center was dedicated in 2003, Covenant House Washington has continued to be a trailblazer in the community, championing the transformation of homeless and disconnected youth with support of phenomenal leadership!

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