Our Spotlight of the Month for the month of November 2011 is a young lady who has been toiling in the neighborhoods for a very long time. She is the Founder and Director of Children of Mine Youth Center, an after-school program which serves as a safe haven for more than 100 children every week. We will talk with Mrs. Hawkins about the Children of Mine Center and what it was that led to its opening. We will also discuss her aspirations – both her own, and those of the individuals under her care at the Children of Mine Center.
Destiny - Pride: Good morning, Mrs. Hawkins.
Mrs. Hawkins: Good morning.
Destiny - Pride: We thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share your story with our visitors so that they can learn about you, your commitment and the great work you have been doing here in Ward 8 of this City. We would like to begin, as we usually do, by finding out a little about your family background and your upbringing, so please tell us where and to whom you born. Are there any siblings, children, etcetera?
Mrs. Hawkins: I was born in Washington, DC. My mother’s name is Mildred Frasier. My father’s name is Douglas Frasier. I was born into a family of seven girls and two boys. We worked very, very hard. We attended DC public schools, as well as vocational schools when we became eligible, at the age of 17 and 18. We had seven girls and two boys who worked diligently. Two boys went into the service and the girls worked hard within the metropolitan area.
I started a vocation of servicing the least, the lost and the lonely after retiring from DC public schools as an Administrative Aide. I came out a very young woman, broken down, but not worn out, and recognized, after seeing so many deficiencies in the government and in the City, that something needed to be done. At that time I was only thirty-two years old. I serviced children not just in DC, but in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere. It came primarily during the City under Siege/War on Poverty era, where there were so many defaults, so much despair with our youth. I started in my home, developing a bible study group.
Destiny - Pride: Before we go any further with that, please tell our visitors what in your upbringing has helped to shape you into the person you are today?
|Mrs. Hawkins begins preparation for the day's meals|
Mrs. Hawkins: It was through the care and loving manner of my mother, who worked as a domestic woman every day of the week. But you would have never known it by her appearance because she never wanted the people for whom she worked to know that we were poor. Everyday, I would meet her at the corner after she had departed from her domestic job to take from her food that was leftover from the families that she serviced to bring home to us, her family. It was through her encouragement and her strong will that enabled us to encounter and overcome the humps and the bumps during our young ages.
Destiny - Pride: Who has impacted your life in influencing you to be who you are today?
Mrs. Hawkins: Some of the folks from our community – Ms. “So and So” down the street, who acted as a surrogate mother to us in the absence of my mother. And the church, primarily. At that time it had a great influence over me. Unfortunately, you do not have those kinds of people or services provided today, and I believe that is what’s lacking with a lot of our children in the absence of their parents, or even in the presence of their parents. A lot of the elders, or a lot of the people who live in various communities are afraid to question the children or address a lot of issues that occur from the children’s behavior.
Destiny - Pride: What church was that?
Mrs. Hawkins: I went to Third Baptist Church, at 5th and P – Rev. Bullock’s church at that time. His wife was the former principal of Cardoza High School [Washington, DC].
Destiny - Pride: You are the founder of the Children of Mine Youth Center, located here in Ward 8 of Washington, DC. Tell us about the Center and what it was that motivated you to open it.
Mrs. Hawkins: Well it was needed and necessary, as I said before, because the lack of participation in the church and in the various schools, and the neighborhoods. After I came out of semi-retirement, at a very young age, I could not sit home and do nothing. I saw what was happening in our neighborhoods all over the City. So I invited some of the children from my neighborhood to come and talk with me. Consequently, I invited them into my home, and Mrs. Mosley – my neighbor – did the same thing. She started a bible-study group in the community. She allowed me to get her a place, other than her living room setting – because she had outgrown that – where she would meet with the children once or twice a week. My living room had become too small to accommodate the many children who were coming there, so the City allowed me to meet in a two-bedroom apartment at Sheridan Terrace, which – as only a very few people knew at the time that I went in – was notorious.
Destiny - Pride: When you say “notorious,” notorious for what?
Mrs. Hawkins: Notorious for crime.
Destiny - Pride: Okay.
Mrs. Hawkins: A lot of people, all they would mention was “Barry Farm,” but Sheridan Terrace was across the avenue on the other side of Barry Farm.
Destiny - Pride: Okay, so that our visitors will understand, Barry Farm is what?
Mrs. Hawkins: Barry Farm is a public housing project and it was initially built to accommodate military staff – soldiers that had come home from wars or that were stationed at different parts of the country. Later on through the years, it started accommodating low-income residents and, unfortunately, after many had uplifted themselves in life to go elsewhere, a lot of them remained in Barry Farm, and crime – sooner than later – started occurring during that time. It became very, very troublesome to live there.
|Another view of food preparation|
Destiny - Pride: Was that around the 1980’s?
Mrs. Hawkins: Yes, the 1980’s. The Sheridan Terrace was built to accommodate people who wanted to live in apartments. Consequently, an overflow of people that could not be accommodated in Barry Farm moved to Sheridan Terrace. That’s when crime really started occurring. You had low-income people in various statuses of life with a bunch of children, and nobody was addressing the issues. The social workers did not follow up on a lot of serious cases. There were children that were school age that had never, never, never, never, never registered for school. They were talking about closing some of the DC public schools for lack of attendance, when there were children right there in front of the schools that had not registered!
Destiny - Pride: What is the age range of the youth who come to the Children of Mine Center?
Mrs. Hawkins: The age range of the youth that come to the Center. A lot of the parents would like to bring them here at three years of age, but I refuse to. They’re from four years old through 18 years. As long as they are in school, I try to accommodate them. Even when they attend college, I try to be a facilitator of services by sending care packages every month. When they get in need of money for various books or class fees, we try to lobby and send money for that.
Destiny - Pride: Give us a description of the various conditions that many of these youths come from. I think you kind of touched on it earlier, i.e., individuals that have not been registered for schools, who might not have had vaccinations. What are some of the other challenges that you see regarding the different family issues that come from the various communities?
Mrs. Hawkins: It’s like a third-world country within a country. The children would not want the choices that have been thrown on them or to them, but it has become a way of life. You have two and three generations of welfare recipients from the same family. It’s learned behavior. Many of the children come from families where there have never been working people – whether it’s parents or grandparents or uncles or aunties or cousins. They never have seen working people. So many of them think, or assume, that this is the way of life. It’s not only a choice, but it becomes a way of life. It’s so fascinating – for a lack of words – for me to witness, because children – even the little children – take on the attitudes and mannerisms of their parents. We have children that come to the Center that are four-years old that act exactly like their parents. You don’t even need to meet the parents because if you should have the privilege – and it is a privilege, because I never see the parents – of meeting the parents, you will know that she is emulating what she sees, or he sees everyday. There is not only despair, but it’s a lot of “total” neglect.
Many of them – the children, that is – know nothing of nutritional values; they know nothing concerning nutritional eating, or shopping, or anything. After some of the young girls become parents, they take on the trends of shopping and raising their children just like their grandmothers did, and their mothers have done, which is not in compliance [not in compliance with the WIC (Women, Infant and Children) food voucher requirements. They often do not redeem them in a timely manner and will wait until the end of the month to cash them in. What is required to be purchased with those vouchers are items such as milk, eggs, cheese and other nutritional, nourishing items for meals]. So many end up in the same circumstances – in the projects. That’s two and three different generations.
|A wall painting depicting "Hannah's House"|
Destiny - Pride: How is your Center a safe haven for them?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well it’s a safe haven because I accommodate children that are registered in school. What I mean by that is that we service children from four through 18. If you’re not registered in private school, DC public school, charter school, home school, or in somebody’s way of educating you, you cannot come here. The way I check is periodically I go to the schools or I’ll call there. This is to keep the children safe and attuned to higher learning. A lot of the children go astray because they have no one to check on them. There’s no follow up! From the mothers or the fathers. No one goes to PTA’s; no one calls the schools to find out if their children are coming to school on time. What about the report card? They never see report cards. The report cards, if they are mailed to the parents, never get to the parents. So it’s total neglect.
Destiny - Pride: What programs and activities do you provide at the Center for them?
Mrs. Hawkins: We provide many programs here at Children of Mine. There are too many to remember. First of all, when they come into the door, they have to be prepared to do homework. If they have no written homework for that day, we try to apply some. They must read. After homework, they receive a nutritional meal, which is called “dinner.” Many of these children eat breakfast at school, lunch at school and dinner here. The parents are not responsible for any meals all week long, so the children, in that manner, at least will have been accommodated some nourishment.
We also have bible study. We have arts and crafts. We have dancing. We have a garden where they learn about different vegetables and how to cook them – what the vegetables are and what they do. We have mentors that come in and talk to them – girl talk; boy talk. We have sewing classes now; embroidery classes. We’re teaching the children about nature. There are many, many things that we apply.
Destiny - Pride: What are the responses that you receive from the children who come to you? You mentioned that some of them have gone off to college and have come back. What have been some of the responses to your successes and maybe what you might feel were not necessarily your failures, but kids that might have, for example, gotten caught up in crime, drugs, or even – God forbid – may have been killed?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, we try to keep the children here until at least 18 years of age, and they want to be here. Unfortunately, after they move to another area of the City, or to another state, there are very few centers like Children of Mine. This is considered a “one-stop social service.” Many move on and go on to another institution of higher learning, and if they do, we try to keep in contact and, as I said earlier, to follow up in accommodating them with fees for their books and other things that are needed in college. But then there are many that fall short, of course. I have a prison ministry; a lot of people didn’t know that, but I have a prison ministry, and I’m finding that there are many, many more women – unfortunately – that have been incarcerated for many things, such as drugs, that bring on a lot of other social ills. This, indeed, has affected a lot of our children. They have been passed off to many foster homes.
|Mrs. Hawkins converses with First Lady Michelle Obama during a visit to the Capital Area Food Bank, a major food supplier to the Children of Mine Youth Center|
It’s hard to keep up with them because once they go into the system, even though you’ve serviced them for years before they got there, they will not be accommodating by letting me know how they are doing. A lot of the children have been lost that way. A lot of children have died that way. We have so many more success stories, that I know it had to be God that fulfilled my vision and theirs as well. We have a lot of them who have become engineers, lawyers, some who work for the fire department. I was with a young man just yesterday [10/19], and he works for the fire department. He’s also a case worker. So there are many, many many success stories. There are nurses, Some have become doctors. There are many.
Destiny - Pride: What are the responses you receive from the surrounding communities?
Mrs. Hawkins: The surrounding communities here in the District have been very, very discouraging, to me. They want you to create miracles, but they want you to do it underground. They have not come to help serve the children. They don’t come to volunteer. They don’t even come to bring a crust of bread. Whenever I see them in the streets, they are always asking me, “Are you still there?” as if they’re wishing me away; knowing the success of the Center has been very, very great, or accommodating for this City. But they know, through their lack of encouragement at all, that they just don’t want it to be publicized that they are doing nothing – which they are not. The churches don’t participate. The schools don’t participate. Even the social services have been lacking as well.
Destiny - Pride: Having heard that, I know this next question is going to send you ballistic. What types of assistance do you receive from the community, the City or from others?
Mrs. Hawkins: I receive nothing from the City. Nothing from this City – which is Washington, DC – and I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. I receive nothing from the churches. The churches are a joke! This is why I often ask a lot of my comrades, “Is that the only highway to heaven?” They’ll say, “Well, what do you mean?” I’ll tell them, “Well apparently you think that just working in the church is the only way that you’ll get to heaven, because we never see any of you.” They will spend hours in a church building, talking and socializing with one another, but they do nothing for the servicing of these children. I’ve asked them, “Why don’t you go to school and check on the children in some of the classes? Be a Big Sister or a Big Brother or a surrogate mother.” That never happens. So I’m very disgusted with the whole social outlay.
Destiny - Pride: You do get assistance from churches “outside” of the City.
Mrs. Hawkins: Most of the assistance that I receive comes from outside of the City, such as Virginia, Maryland, California, and many other states – North Carolina, South Carolina. Never, never, never, anything from this City!
Destiny - Pride: And how does that make you feel?
|This is a sample of the food that the Children of Mine Youth Center receives from the Capital Area Food Bank and Kids Cafe|
Mrs. Hawkins: It’s very discouraging, but I must move on. In the beginning, when I started my journey, I was very, very, very angry. But I have outgrown that because I know what their reasonings are: They want me to disappear. But they don’t understand, this is the work of the Lord.
Destiny - Pride: One of the major stakeholders that has been with you almost since Day One is the Capital Area Food Bank. Do you want to talk about that?
Mrs. Hawkins: Oh, yes! I need to talk about the Capital Area Food Bank and Lynne Brantley. If it weren’t for them – through the grace of God – on my side, where would I be? Where would these children eat? What would the elderly have to accommodate them when they are unable to buy food. The Capital Area Food Bank has been a guardian angel for these children. I go there once a week to pick up veggies, meats, breads, fruits – anything! And then the Kids Cafe will come, and they are accommodating with a lot of the small children.
Destiny - Pride: Now, I know what Kids Cafe is, but for our visitors, what is Kids Cafe?
Mrs. Hawkins: Kids Cafe is a federal subsidy that the Capital Area Food Bank gets to accommodate Centers that service children just like I do. A lot of the food that the Food Bank may not have, I receive from the Kids Cafe to feed the little children from ages one through 18. But you can only service children within the grounds of the Center. The other food that I get is strictly from the Capital Area Food Bank. That enables me to go out and service people in their homes and various other schools.
Destiny - Pride: So that’s the great distinction between the two programs: One has to be in-house . . .
Mrs. Hawkins: Yes, it has to be in-house.
Destiny - Pride: And the other one, you can go out.
Mrs. Hawkins: I can go outside.
Destiny - Pride: What has motivated you to hang in there so long without much structural help, for example, people whom you can depend upon to assist you by giving you a break from your routine?
Mrs. Hawkins: It’s seeing the many cases of despair, every day. Someone asked me recently whether I felt that things were getting better, and I asked what did they mean. They said, “Do you see less hungry children? Do you see less despair these days than you did when you started?” I tried to measure, or equalize, the different decades. I think it’s worse now.
|Destiny - Pride, in partnership with Captain Will Bailey (Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department) and Operation Operation Warm, donates winter coats to Mrs. Hawkins at the Children of Mine Youth Center. Above are Mrs. Hawkins and Rufus Mayfield, President of Destiny - Pride, Inc.|
Destiny - Pride: You have been recognized by a number of organizations and by the media for the work you are doing in the community. Tell us about some of those recognitions. I know that you have been on CBS, Fox News, ABC News and just lately a bunch of international media individuals came here to look at what you’re doing so that they maybe can replicate it across the world, not just the country. Tell us about that.
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, I’ve always said that any good product needs no advertisement. What I do, I do it, and it’s only done through the will of God. I serve and I don’t want to “be” served. You’re correct. I’ve been recognized internationally, nationally and locally. It doesn’t have an effect on me either way because whether you recognize me or not, I’m going to still continue for as long as I have strength to do what I’m doing. A lot of people get annoyed: “Oh, you ain’t retired yet?” And they fail to realize that God tells us not to retire. What does He tell us? He says to “re-fire,” but we have become so complacent. If you’re going to retire, then you need to go on and die. [Laughter] You’re still here! [More laughter]
Destiny - Pride: What has been the impact of the influx of media you have recently been receiving, and the pressure that may be created by it?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, the media can do more than what we can do as individuals because they can broadcast the needs of people all over the world. They can access what you’re doing, and highlight what you’re doing to bring more coverage so you can get what is necessary – and that is food and donations. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get it! If I relied on the folks here in this community – in this City – I wouldn’t get it. When I have said that most of my donations, if any, and even though they’re very small, come from afar. We had missionaries to come from Timbuktu, Massachusetts, California. When here you can’t even get people who call themselves missionaries to walk across the street!
Destiny - Pride: That leads us into the next question. What faith are you and how has that impacted your life’s journey?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, as a child, I was a Baptist. As an adult, I converted over at a crucial time of my life – and what I mean by “crucial,” is when my husband was murdered. I don’t know why I did it, but I converted over to Catholicism, and that’s my faith. I’m Roman Catholic as of this date.
Destiny - Pride: Would you share the circumstances of your husband’s murder?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, he was beaten and robbed. At first I couldn’t talk about it. For years I couldn’t talk about it. I share it now. It’s not that it’s less painful, but maybe in my sharing it, if it helps somebody, then so be it. I was a very young woman – I was only 27 years old. He went to work one day, and he didn’t come back. He was beaten, and he suffered. He died from brain hemorrhaging. I was very young; 27 years old with five children. A lot of people don’t know that I have children. They say, “Mrs. Hawkins, you got children?” Uh huh. They’re as old as I am. [Laughter] I had them young. In fact, today is my oldest son’s birthday, and I’m not going to tell you how old he is, because then you’ll say, “Oh, then Mrs. Hawkins had to be that old” as to when I had him. [Laughter]
|"Now if we were ever to consider human cloning, we will need at least several dozen of Mrs. Hawkins. What a remarkable woman she is! Her program, "Children of Mine" has probably had as great an impact on the lives of District children than anything else. That she had managed to touch these children without federal assistance is a testament to her love and commitment to them." (Senator Orrin Hatch, June 16, 1996)|
Destiny - Pride: I’m going to let it go [Laughter].
Mrs. Hawkins: You let it go! [Laughter]
Destiny - Pride: What would you consider to be among your greatest accomplishments?
Mrs. Hawkins: One of my greatest accomplishments I would consider is being able to serve people. I love giving stuff! My children say, “Aw, ma. You’re always giving something away!” But I love giving it. If you hold on to a gift, nothing will ever come your way – because you held on to that! So I love “giving” things. I love talking to people, and a lot of people get annoyed. But if I can save your life by talking to you; if I can keep you from making the mistakes that I did, then so be it.
Destiny - Pride: What about your major disappointments in life?
Mrs. Hawkins: My major disappointment in life is, and God tells us this: Trust not in the wisdom of man – and I try not to do that – but only in His wisdom. Because man will forsake you each and every time. But it’s a person that can do something, and doesn’t do it. And that’s called the sin of omission. You see despair. You see hunger. And what do you do? You walk by it. That’s a disappointment for me.
Destiny - Pride: What are your dreams and aspirations as you take the Children of Mine Youth Center to its next level?
Mrs. Hawkins: I would like to have a bigger building built on the land that was donated to the Center by the District. I would love to have a big, nice building that the architect – Mr. Pierce, who is a professor at UDC – has designed. I would like for that to take its place right here so that I can accommodate more children, I can provide more services. The children, if they come here dirty, I can allow them to take a shower. That if they wanted to come here and just rest for a few hours, they would be able to do that – in a special place.
Destiny - Pride: How can our visitors assist you in those dreams and aspirations?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, they could assist me by giving us – the Children of Mine – donations. That’s my highest priority now. We need money!
Destiny - Pride: Would you tell them how they can do that? If they wanted to send a check, where would they send it?
|An architectual drawing of Mrs. Hawkins' dream of a future Children of Mine Youth Center|
Mrs. Hawkins: They would send checks to Children of Mine Youth Center. Our mailing address is 1450 Howard Road, SE, and that’s Washington, DC 20020. Now if you want to bring gifts or food, we’re located at 2263 Mt. View Place, SE. That’s Washington, DC 20020. Phone number: 202-610-1055.
Destiny - Pride: Have you any last thoughts or insights that you would like to leave with our visitors?
Mrs. Hawkins: Well, I like to keep it simple. I think man complicates things, and this is why it goes right over the heads of youth and many of the senior citizens. But my main philosophy is, and has always been, never look down on a man unless you’re picking him up. You may not like what he’s doing, you might not like what he says, you may not like the way he looks, but if there’s a need that you can fix through the grace of the Master, then do it! Do it! These churches need to get on the ball and stop talking about helping the pastor: “I’m giving this to the pastor for his anniversary.” Well, what happened to the anniversary of “mankind?” Take care of somebody on your block. You don’t need to go around the corner. Go right there on your street! And the pastors need to take more time to reflect on the youth. And these churches. Yes, biblical stories are great, but God did not stay in the church or seminary. He walked among the “peeps.” This is how he was discovered!
Destiny - Pride: And the “peeps” are the “people,” right?
Mrs. Hawkins: The peeps are the people. [Laughter] He walked among them. And he didn’t stay and try to glorify Himself. You were the ones that were glorified because He healed and He cured. So I would like to see us, as people, take time out. Some of us have so many things! And not just materialistic things, but skills, talents. God does not want us to retire and do nothing. He wants us to re-fire! And that should be your holy obligation.
Destiny - Pride: Mrs. Hawkins, Destiny – Pride is grateful that you have allowed us to learn about you and the Children of Mine Youth Center. We wish you much success and fulfillment as you continue to provide the much needed services and activities to the hundreds of youths who come through your Center’s doors to partake of the love and support that you so willingly and unselfishly give to them. We also hope that you get the building of your dreams built so that you will be able to expand and give them more! Again, we say many thanks.