NOVEMBER 29, 2018 - Thirty years ago, Georgetown nursing alumna Maria S. Gomez (NHS’77), MPH, RN, founded Mary’s Center to provide needed prenatal care to women who had immigrated to the United States and were living in the District of Columbia.
Last night, dozens of colleagues, faculty, students, alumni, and friends gathered in Riggs Library at a special reception to thank Gomez and mark the center’s 30th anniversary.
Over that three-decade timespan, the center has grown from a basement-level clinic in the Adams Morgan neighborhood serving about 200 women to a multi-site organization serving about 50,000 women, men, and children each year.
The evening included remarks by Gomez, DC Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (Ward 1), MA; Patricia Cloonan, PhD, RN, dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS); Christopher Murphy, JD, Georgetown’s vice president of government relations and community engagement (GRACE); and Stuart Butler, PhD, who chairs the center’s board of directors. NHS and GRACE co-hosted the reception in collaboration with colleagues at Mary’s Center.
Career of Giving Back
Gomez, who is the president and CEO of Mary’s Center, discussed how her organization began to provide care to pregnant women, with a special focus on individuals who had experienced trauma.
She spotlighted how the center’s social change model, including education, health care, and social services, has been successful with a particular emphasis on the value of education – both her own and for the individuals who have engaged with Mary’s Center over time.
“Without the education, you really are not going to be able to have the good health care,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to have the appropriate housing or the employment that you need. And things will fall apart. So Georgetown gave me that initial professional head start . . . to be able to give back, rather than turn my back.”
She thanked her present and past team members for their hard work in transforming the center to what it is today; offered how Georgetown and the Jesuits provided core values – such as passion, persistence, integrity, and supporting the common good and social justice – that have helped guide her career; and underscored the critical role parents play in their children’s lives as their primary teachers.
“I thank you again for the special recognition, and I look forward to continuing to partner with my fellow Hoyas for many years to come,” Gomez added.
After Gomez’s remarks, Murphy introduced Nadeau, highlighting her leadership on the council. “Council member Nadeau also chairs the council’s Committee on Human Services, where she serves as a forceful advocate for vulnerable individuals and families throughout the District of Columbia and, in particular, the District’s immigrant families and communities,” he said.
During a very special moment in the evening, Nadeau spoke about her deep admiration for and friendship with Gomez and appreciation for what the center has brought to Ward 1 and the city.
“Mary’s Center is a place that people trust [and] that people come to receive care and to be connected to other services,” Nadeau said. “It fits seamlessly into what we’re trying to achieve as a government.” She noted Mary’s Center is a “trusted entity in our community that serves our most vulnerable populations.”
Additionally, she read parts of her recent council resolution, which is entitled the “Maria S. Gomez and Mary’s Center Recognition Resolution of 2018.” The document, which includes 13 “whereas” statements honoring Gomez and the center, begins with “Whereas, Maria S. Gomez was born in Colombia and immigrated to the United States with her mother at age 13.”
And it concludes with the celebratory line: “The Council of the District of Columbia recognizes Mary’s Center for its accomplishments over 30 years of transformative work and honors Maria S. Gomez for her important leadership in advancing the health and well-being of mothers and the District’s immigrant community.”
‘All the Thanks’
Cloonan, who served as the event’s emcee, welcomed all attendees, led a toast to thank Gomez, and expressed how happy she was that the Georgetown alumna would be, in addition to her ongoing leadership at the center, returning to the university as a visiting distinguished professor at the school beginning in the spring semester.
“[Maria] really deserves all the thanks in the world for the extraordinary 30 years of dedication,” said Cloonan, noting the school’s focus on improving health for all people with a particular focus on the underserved, the vulnerable, and the social determinants of health. “She is the actual embodiment of the commitment and the focus that our school, our faculty, and [our] students are intentionally engaged in.”
“She is a leader who saw a critical need in the community,” Cloonan added. “And she was really able to harness her passion and create and grow a community health center that’s changed . . . tens of thousands of lives through the social change model . . . . The fact that [the center] has flourished in such exceptional ways over its three decades . . . is really a testament to the vision of its leader.”