Maureen Johnston is a Byrd Barr Place donor and volunteer.
“When Johnson was president, we had a war on poverty. Now we have a war on the poor.”
“Over the years I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, and they’ve become like old friends.”
Maureen Johnston doesn’t mince words. Byrd Barr Place is important, she says, “because of what’s going on now. Especially now.” Back when the organization was founded, things were different: “When Johnson was president, we had a war on poverty. Now we have a war on the poor.”
Maureen began volunteering in 2012, registering clients to vote—encouraging them to exercise their civil rights. But mostly, she says, “I just try to listen to them and see how they’re doing. And over the years I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, and they’ve become like old friends.”
She knows what it’s like to be in their shoes: When she was a young single mother in the 1970s, she was struggling, with no support from her ex-husband or parents. She felt stigmatized; when she applied for welfare, “it was humiliating,” she says.
Maureen’s hope is that we get back to caring about other people and address the issues of poverty and homelessness in our communities. “We can’t just keep sweeping it under the rug,” she says.
What we need is more compassion, she says. That—and dedication—are what she admires most in staff and the other volunteers. Byrd Barr “is a place where you just don’t come for food,” she says. “You can come for counseling, rental assistance, energy assistance and … you can just talk to people.”
Caring for others is what sets Byrd Barr Place apart: “That’s what every organization should be like,” she says. “This place is the star.”