Residents of D.C. domestic violence shelter get ‘peaceful sanctuary’

Dedicating Joanie’s Place are, from left, Arlene Kushner, Alan Margolius,
Phil Margolius and Francine Levinson.. Photo by Michael Bennett Kress Photography

For Philip Margolius, it is the women of his life who inspire his philanthropy. “There were four major women in my life,” he said. “My wife, my mother, my daughter and my sister, and I want to honor all of them.”

Earlier this month, surrounded by family and friends, Margolius and his brother, Alan, cut the ribbon on their most recent gift — a room in My Sister’s Place domestic violence shelter, dedicated to the memory of their sister, Joan Margolius Cherner. The room, now known as “Joanie’s Place,” was created through the Joan Margolius Cherner Fund the brothers established at Jewish Women International (JWI) in 2017 following their sister’s passing.

“We wanted to honor our sister’s memory and looked around to find the appropriate organization,” explained Margolius, a member of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County. “We knew Joanie always loved going to JWI’s Women to Watch celebration, but she would never have been a Woman to Watch — she was never someone who put herself in front, but she was always behind the scenes doing the work.”

Erika Chaudhuri and Jamie Ritchie, of Erika Jayne Build + Design, designed the room as a peaceful sanctuary where the women living in the shelter can relax in moments of mindful mediation; to read; to use laptops and gather to heal and grow together. Residents will also be able to participate in weekly trauma-informed yoga classes.

Said Mercedes Lemp, executive director of the District-based shelter, “We are so grateful to now also have beautiful spaces for our clients and their children to relax.”

“Joanie’s Place” will receive ongoing support from members of JWI’s Women’s Impact Network and Young Women’s Impact Network, many of whom helped to clean the space and build the furniture. The networks will create events and celebrations for the women and children of My Sister’s Place.

“Joanie would have chaired this project,” said Alan Margolius of the way the initiative creates a way for women to support the survivors. “She would have pitched in and helped furnish it and nurtured it.”

“I’m grateful to JWI and the Margolius family for investing in resources for District women who are finding refuge at My Sister’s Space,” said D.C. Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau. “Supporting survivors, and ensuring they have a safe space to escape violence is critical to our mission of ending homelessness in the District. Partnerships with organizations like JWI help make that possible.”

“At first ‘Joanie’s Fund’ enhanced JWI’s annual Flower Project that sends flowers and financial education materials to women living in 250 shelters across the U.S. every Mother’s Day,” said Meredith Jacobs, JWI’s CEO. “But when My Sister’s Place asked us to turn their multipurpose room into a special space for the women, similar to the children’s libraries we create, we knew this was a project that truly reflected Joanie’s spirit.”

JWI will train the staff in its new “Life$avings” financial education workshops for survivors of domestic violence. “Joanie’s Fund” will also fund the creation of a workshop to help the mothers in the shelter teach their children about money, a workshop inspired by Phil’s daughter, Jennifer Margolius Fisher.

The Margolius brothers hope that Joanie’s Place will be replicated in domestic violence shelters across the country.

“Alan and I want to see our sister get the recognition she never sought in life,” said Phil Margolius. “For more people to learn who Joanie was. But, even if there will only be one, it is a great source of relief for us.”

To learn more and to support the work of the Joan Margolius Cherner Fund, go to

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