Kristen L. Byrd, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Almost 90 years ago, Letitia Cauthorn, a member of Seventh Street Christian Church (SSCC) in Richmond, died. She left her church $4,000 when she passed, hoping it would be used for “the creation of an old ladies’ retirement home.” She was concerned that the elderly in her community were not being well cared for and wanted to help.

The money was invested wisely, and — surviving the Great Depression and several recessions — has grown to over $400,000. SSCC decided to put Cauthorn’s money to good use, but knew that while $400,000 was a lot of money, it was not enough to build a retirement home.

SSCC sought instead to use the money in the spirit for which Cauthorn intended by donating $200,000 to five local organizations, all of which support care of the elderly. The remaining $200,000 will go to fund SSCC building upgrades to assist elderly and disabled in their church. This was the culmination of a three-year process involving congregants, committees, lawyers and the Virginia attorney general, who approved SSCC’s plan last year.

Rev. Hollie Woodruff has been SSCC’s senior minister for a little over a year and a half, but she is passionate about honoring Cauthorn’s legacy.

“Letitia decided to invest in the church, both ‘big C’ and ‘little c’,” she said, “‘Little c’ as far as Seventh Street Christian Church. ‘Big C’ because with this kind of gift, we invest in and really impact our faith communities.”

St. Francis Home in Richmond, which serves low-to-no-income elderly and persons with disabilities at a price that meets their financial needs without reducing their level of care, received $40,000 from SSCC.

Pam Embrey, St. Francis Home development director, said, “We all enter St. Francis Home as strangers, but we soon become integral parts of this small community. We share in each other’s happiness and challenges. We are often the only family (the residents) have, but we are a family nonetheless.”

Embrey said the SSCC donation “has a tremendous impact and will instantly lift 120 lives.” The $40,000 will be used for “gap funding,” which Embrey said was the home’s biggest need.

“This gift will help bridge the gap between what our residents receiving a subsidy pay and the care and services they receive,” she said. 

More than half of the residents receive an auxiliary grant from the state to help with the financial cost, and 31 percent pay a reduced rate. The home offers three daily meals and snacks, housekeeping, medication management and an array of activities. Gap funding will help cover all of these expenses.

“Clearly, St. Francis Home meets the ideal and spirit of Letitia Cauthorn as specifically housing people who would potentially be without a home otherwise and making sure they could live out the remainder of their days safe spiritually, physically and psychologically,” Rev. Woodruff said.

While this was a one-time gift, Rev. Woodruff said her congregation sees this as an opportunity to form a lasting relationship with St. Francis Home through volunteering and ministry.