Celebrating with CHN: The Human Needs Hero Reception 


July 14, 2023

The Coalition on Human Needs Thursday night hosted its annual Human Needs Hero Reception and honored Sr. Richelle Friedman, who spent 30 years fighting for social change in D.C., including 16 years serving as CHN’s Director of Public Policy. Friedman “ended her D.C. ministry” this past December and returned to her home state of Iowa, where she continues to pursue progressive advocacy. 

The event marked the first time since 2019 that CHN was able to hold its Human Needs Hero Reception in person. Ellen Teller, Chairwoman of CHN’s Board of Directors and event emcee, noted the passing of the pandemic era, telling the audience, “You all look so great coming out of those little Zoom squares!” 

Laura Peralta-Schulte, Senior Director for Public Policy and Government Relations for NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, offered three lessons Friedman imparted upon others during her long tenure in the nation’s capital. 

The first lesson: We do the work together. 

“Richelle believes deeply in the power of community. She often played the role of chief convener,” Peralta-Schulte recalled. “She learned this lesson at a young age – pitching in at the farm by driving the family tractor at age seven. Pulling together a girls’ softball team and convincing a male friend ‘to be the coach’ so they could play. As the Director of Public Policy of the Coalition on Human Needs, she brought so many people together in Washington and across the country for justice. That was a great gift.” 

Friedman’s second lesson? People come first. 

“I have never had a conversation with Richelle that didn’t begin with, ‘How are you?’ I’d watch her as easily strike up a conversation with staff at the front desk of a Senate office as speaking with a Member of Congress,” Peralte-Schulte said. 

And the third lesson: Be not afraid. 

“Richelle is kind and cunning; fearless and engaging; strategic and sassy,” Peralte-Schulte said. “I will never forget the look on Senator Chuck Grassley’s face one day in the Russell Office Building. The Senate was about to vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a group of us were going office to office, urging Members to support the ACA. Richelle spotted Senator Grassley down the hallway and off she went. Not only did she tell him exactly what she thought about repeal, but they engaged in conversation for some time. He may not have agreed with her, but he understood he needed to listen.” 

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3rd CD), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, inserted heartfelt praise for Richelle in the Congressional Record, which was delivered to the event, framed, and presented by Rep. DeLauro’s staffer, Caitlin Peruccio. 

CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein said before Friedman’s arrival at CHN, the group would have to rely on others with lots of lobbying experience to get a meeting with key Congressional staff. 

“Richelle changed that – she got meetings on her own, to which she invited a diverse set of human needs advocates. She opened doors for many less-experienced advocates to be heard,” Weinstein said. “What was the secret of her success? Her certainty that those offices ought to be willing to hear from us, that those staff were obligated to hear from us. That conviction burns brightly in Richelle, and fueled her unflagging, repeated calls into those offices, until they did meet with her.” 

Sometimes, Weinstein noted, an advocate can “admit a certain amount of doubt, such as, ‘Oh, they’re never going to want to meet with us.’ Such an advocate might dutifully make a call to set up an appointment, get no response, and conclude, ‘Oh, they were never going to meet with us.’ And stop calling. That’s not Richelle….[H]er conviction that officials are obligated to hear us, and we are obligated to make the most effective case possible, got advocates into meeting after meeting.” 

As part of the celebration, Weinstein and Teller presented Friedman with a series of gifts that included a plaque with four pictures of her in different advocacy moments, including photos of her with the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Senator Grassley. The plaque’s inscription read: 

“Richelle Friedman 
2023 Human Needs Hero 
With passion, determination, and an effectiveness, you have demanded justice in meeting human needs and have made a difference in millions of lives. 
Your friends and colleagues could not be more grateful for your leadership.” 

There were some gag gifts relating to Friedman’s return to Iowa (including items that read “Iowa:  75% vowels; 100% awesome”); and a remote-control toy bus decorated to look like a Nuns on the Bus tour vehicle, commemorating Richelle’s participation in these trips.

When Friedman took the microphone, she reminded the audience, “We are all in this work together.” 

“When I taught a class on Catholic Social Justice Teachings to high school students before coming to D.C., I’d say to them, ‘If your gut tells you that something isn’t right about a situation, follow that feeling to its origin and you will likely discover an injustice,” Friedman recalled. “Part of the impetus for my coming to D.C. was witnessing things that led me to say to myself, ‘This isn’t right…that on Saturday mornings people stood sometimes in the cold and rain, waiting to receive a few loaves of bread, or to hear the young woman at the shelter lament that she would like to apply for a job she saw in the newspaper but didn’t have a decent outfit to wear or the money for the bus ride to get to the application site – no outfit, not even 35 cents!” 

Thursday’s sendoff was emotional, but the festivities were not without their moments of levity. Leo Nguyen works during the day as CHN’s Digital Communications Associate; at night he is emerging as a talented, up-and-coming stand-up comic in D.C. and around the country. 

Nguyen recalled coming to D.C. — and to CHN as an intern – and feeling overwhelmed by the jargon his newfound colleagues used when discussing budget and appropriations – and how Friedman helped walk him through it. 

“When I was a new intern and later an associate at the Coalition, I had a hard time following policy or strategy discussions with all the acronyms and strategies and nuances that take years to understand and master,” Nguyen said. “In the first six months in D.C., I felt like the worst-prepared candidate at a spelling bee. CROMNIBUS? What’s the word origin? 302(B)? Can you use that in a sentence?” 

Turning serious and looking toward Friedman, Nguyen concluded, “I am so blessed to have had the chance to work with you. We are all so blessed to call you our colleague, but most of all, I am so proud to call you my friend. We will always miss your humor, your guidance, your office banter, your love for college basketball, and your insistence for our office to get ice cream on a hot summer afternoon…Thank you, Richelle, thank you, everyone, and go Iowa Hawkeyes!”