Taking the Long View - Ms. Josephine Looks Back
Voices of the Village E-Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 6
Josephine DeWitt, affectionately known as 'Miss Jo,' radiates the hope and love that are the heart and soul of Eva’s mission.
“She’s the glue. She holds the place together,” explained Seven—a kitchen guest who drops in regularly to chat because he wants “to stay connected to people who are staying sober at Eva’s Village.”
“I try to give clients encouragement, support and respect. I realize this person could have been me, or that person could have been my child.” Miss Jo rejoices with them when they succeed and “it breaks my heart when someone doesn’t make it.”
Miss Jo greets every caller with a cheerful, ”Good morning! Eva’s Village, where hope begins!” Every person who walks through the front door of Eva’s main office receives the same smile and warm welcome, whether they are staff members or volunteers, dropping off a food donation for the Community Kitchen or a client seeking treatment.
Josephine DeWitt, affectionately known as 'Miss Jo,' radiates the hope and love that are the heart and soul of Eva’s mission. She is now in her 20th year working for Eva’s, and knows just about every one of the 170+ staff members by name, as well as most clients. For many, she stands in for the grandmother who loves you unconditionally, for the mother whose love you wish you had, for the aunt or sister who believes you can become your best self. She is a font of knowledge about Eva’s programs and has watched the organization grow from a simple soup kitchen to include sheltering and recovery programs, medical services and the Culinary School.
Though her official title is Receptionist, Miss Jo does far more than answer the phone and greet visitors. She is Eva’s 'first responder' to clients, job applicants, people looking for shelter or food, church and community volunteer groups, prospective Culinary School students, and family members inquiring about recovery programs for a loved one. Alumni from the Culinary School and recovery programs often come back to share their stories and visit with her.
Miss Jo grew up in Paterson during the depression. The middle child of seven, she was born the year before Hinchcliffe Stadium opened (home of the Negro National League). Miss Jo worked locally for nearly seven decades, including a job manufacturing rubber boots in a factory that also produced dolls and weather balloons for the military. When the factory shut its doors in 1997, she went to the Urban League seeking employment and was referred to Eva's Village.
She remembers when Paterson was a major commercial center for northern NJ: “You could buy anything you needed on Washington Street, from farm feed, to bikes and fresh produce.” She also remembers when “Paterson used to be a community where streets were safe and you never heard anything about drugs,” but that has changed. Now, she can see the community’s need all around her. “So many are in a sad situation, so many are sleeping in the streets,” she says.
Miss Jo treats the clients who come to Eva’s recovery and halfway house programs with dignity and sensitivity. Her empathy is informed by personal experience: “We all make mistakes. I don’t judge them. I understand how it can happen. It happened in my own family - my own baby brother got involved in drugs - he has recovered and is doing well.” Despite her cheerful and upbeat manner, Miss Jo has had her share of trouble and sorrow. She has outlived her two children, her husband and a grandchild. She took in a foster child when he was just 12 days old, to help his 15-year old mother, and raised him because “his mother never got back on her feet,” When asked how she manages to maintain a positive outlook, she responded, “You need to have faith. If you don’t have faith, you’ll succumb to anything that happens. You need to have determination to move ahead.”
While she has continued to work for a good two decades past the average retirement age, Miss Jo has no plans to retire. She believes the secret to a long life is to stay involved and to stay connected to people. For all of us who know and love Miss Jo, we could not be happier that she brings her cheer, determination and generous spirit to Eva’s Village every day!
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