Marie Muscella met Community Lodgings completely by chance. Her lawyer and Community Lodgings board member George Tuttle invited her to a board meeting one evening. It was 2009 and Marie was re-evaluating her life. What was important? What mattered? Volunteering was always a part of her family’s life growing up, and somehow she had drifted away from it. It was time to add volunteering back into her life, she decided, and to help those who needed support.
Marie attended the Community Lodgings board meeting and was voted in as a board member the following week. Two years later she was elected as the board chair, and has served in that capacity ever since.
Community Lodgings’ mission of lifting families from homelessness and instability to independence and self-sufficiency resonated with her, especial its holistic approach of fighting poverty from many angles – affordable and transitional housing, education, outreach, community services, mentoring and other services.
“I don’t know anyone else that does that,” Marie stated. “We are so ingrained in the community.” And, the community helps Community Lodgings too, as Marie shared a story of how the local residents built a fence for the nonprofit when a downed tree damaged the existing one. “It’s not just us helping the community,” she explained. “We are there with them.”
Leading Community Lodgings’ 20 board members is not all Marie does for Community Lodgings. A MITRE Corporation Business Strategy Practice Lead, Marie is also a certified yoga instructor, and she taught an hour-long yoga to 12 women in the transitional housing program each week for eight months. It was, Marie recalled, the only time the women could relax and focus on themselves. And it was OK with Marie if the women, exhausted, fell asleep in her class.
Marie also organized a summer long wellness program for those women, featuring a guest speaker each week who spoke on topics such as nutrition, decluttering, wellness, and spirituality. She collected 70 suits and shoes for women who were going to job interviews, personally steamed each of them and organized them by size and color.
Marie’s eyes sparkled as she talked about those programs she led a few years ago. “It’s where I get the most excited,” she admitted. “It was fun.”
The fun part, she said, was getting to know the women in the program and developing relationships with them. One woman saw Marie in town and asked her to join her for an outdoor yoga event. Another woman faithfully attended her yoga class yet never smiled. As Marie got to know this woman, she learned that the woman had lost both her husband and their salon business, and was losing one of her four children to drugs and gangs. Now she was working with autistic children and pursuing a teaching certificate – something she never believed she could achieve. The woman admitted that she never smiled because was ashamed of her missing front teeth.
“There are things we take for granted,” Marie said after sharing that story. “Their stories touch me. I feel very grateful and humbled.”
Marie’s confidence in Community Lodgings’ work and mission, as well as in the executive director, Lynn Thomas, and the staff is what keeps her motivated to lead the board. As the board chair, she navigates the “tricky balance between understanding what the organization needs long term versus what they have to get done to keep the lights on and deliver our services.”
She is optimistic for Community Lodgings’ future. Its model of integrating programs, along with its stellar staff, will allow Community Lodgings to thrive another 30 years and beyond. “I would love to see our after school program in every school in Alexandria,” she announced. “Our model works.”