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Second Story Wins Award from FBI

Second Story was awarded the Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) from the FBI! “This special award, presented on behalf of the Director of the FBI, was formally created in 1990 as a way to honor individuals and organizations for their efforts in combating crime, terrorism, drugs, and violence in America,” says the FBI.

The award was presented to Second Story as a result of Second Story in the Community’s close relationship with the Washington D.C. FBI field office. Each of the FBI’s 56 field offices selected one recipient of the award because of “outstanding contributions to their local communities through service.” Nandred Navarro, Vice President of Community Based Services at Second Story, accepted the award at a ceremony earlier this year.

The FBI works to do outreach in communities where there are vulnerable populations and partners with Second Story in Culmore, Annandale, and Springfield. Specifically, Second Story worked with the FBI to educate young people and their parents on cyber security, how to report crimes, and the different types of programs available in this field for internships and employment. They also presented to some of our community partners and gave workshops to young people in Second Story’s programs.

FBI Director Christopher Wray presented the awards. Second Story is honored and thankful to receive this award, and especially proud of Nandred Navarro’s leadership and her team’s impactful work in our community-based programming.

Nandred Accepting Award

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Food for Others

1 warehouse + 2 hours + 20 middle schoolers + 7,700 pounds of food = my morning spent volunteering for Food for Others, a nonprofit partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy. The mission of Food for Others is to distribute food to their neighbors in Northern Virginia who struggle with food insecurity. They rely upon food donations — a lot of donations. In 2018 alone, they distributed 2.2 million pounds of food. My task was to help sort some of those donations.

Signing up online for a volunteer shift was easy and painless. Despite being a food-focused nonprofit, the real bread and butter of Food for Others is their volunteer force. Since they rely upon so much free labor (up to 1200 volunteers a month!), they ensure that their sign up process is as convenient as possible. At 9:30am, I arrived at their warehouse, which was already bustling with activity. After being welcomed by the receptionist (another volunteer), I signed into a computer (10 seconds tops) and I was ready to go.

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The atmosphere of the warehouse was informal, yet industrious. Everyone was friendly, but no one had much time to chit chat; they had mouths to feed, trucks to fill! My supervisor for the morning was Jenn. Prior to joining Food for Others, she used to work in an Amazon warehouse. In other words, she knew her stuff.

Jenn was accustomed to managing large and diverse batches of volunteers: individuals, retirees, corporate teams, school groups, etc. My team of co-volunteers consisted of eighth grade students from a local private school. Twice a year, these students participate in service activities at various nonprofits in the region.

In a succinct, 2-minute orientation Jenn explained our job. We would sort the massive bins of donated food into three categories: dry goods, cans, and breakables.

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A few of the donated items were already partially consumed, which meant that they had to be thrown out. Unfortunately, one such item was an open bottle of maple syrup, which soaked through and ruined other otherwise acceptable donations in a sticky disaster. Note to readers: if you donate items to food pantries, thank you, but please do not include open or expired items!

Although most of the food were standard staples that you would expect, there were also occasionally some surprises in the mix, such as Polish luxury jams, dog food, maraschino cherries, and even mail.

Working with a pack of middle schoolers was fun. They brought a positive and enthusiastic energy to the morning. What’s not to love about a teenage boy tossing a pack of ramen into a bin and yelling “KOBE!”?

The kids treated me like an authority figure. This amused me since I was hardly an expert, being just a fellow first-time volunteer like them.
Kid: Ma’am, should this be considered a “dry good”?
Me: Sure?
Kid: Should we start placing cans in this empty bin?
Me: Why not! Sounds like a plan.
Kid: This is a box of a can. Should it go in cans?
Me: Follow your heart!

Spurred on by the spirit of innovation and efficiency, the kids formed an assembly-line which involved throwing and catching food items. Although this seemed like fun, I was concerned about them potentially dropping and damaging donations. Even as this thought was going through my head, my own plastic bag of donations split open from the weight and my glass jar of tomato sauce smashed onto the ground. How embarrassing! Unlike my own clumsy self, the students never broke anything (although Jenn did ask them to please pass the food instead).

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Overall, my two hours at Food for Others was a great experience. It was convenient, enjoyable, stress-free, and rewarding. Despite the legions of new volunteers cycling through every day, the warehouse is a well-run machine in getting donations to the people that need it. The work can be whatever you want to get out of it; you can either get to know new people or just as easily zone out to a podcast.

The warehouse position is just one opportunity at Food for Others. For example, they also have gleaning events at farms (well-suited for families) and food distribution jobs (good for people who like directly interacting with clients). Volunteer relationships can be as involved as multiple hours a week or as noncommittal as once a year. You can learn more about individual and group opportunities on their website.

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at Catalogue for Philanthropy

Summer Outdoor Theatre by Traveling Players Ensemble

Traveling Players Ensemble trains actors like no other theatre in the DC metro region. Their programs are innovative, inclusive, and super fun! And transformative, too.

Their mission, to bring great theatre into the great outdoors, means high school actors perform ‘Shakespeare in the Park” in Shenandoah National Park while backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. These actors don’t just create a show, but have adventures they will remember for the rest of their lives.

You may not have heard of Traveling Players, but people who know about actor training do. The National Endowment for the Arts named Traveling Players one of the nation’s 25 Summer Schools in the Arts and recommends that others follow their comprehensive curriculum as a model. Most other summer programs are simply too short to make the same kind of deep impact, or too large to offer the same level of individualized attention and challenges.

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The Washington Post called them “a summer gem.” Artistic Director Jeanne Harrison has taught at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Folger Shakespeare Library, and various universities. By focusing on classical theatre (Shakespeare, Moliere, and Commedia dell’Arte), Traveling Players trains performers who are bold, resourceful, and skilled. It’s said that if you can act Shakespeare, you can act anything. If this is true, a summer at Traveling Players Ensemble trains you to act not just anything…but anywhere.

All the world is a stage, and this company travels with its oldest students. The tours perform all over Virginia and beyond, combining high-profile venues like Colonial Williamsburg and Lime Kiln Amphitheater with state parks, summer camps, retirement homes, and children’s hospitals, giving the actors unforgettable experiences – and community service hours!

Traveling Players specializes in the immersive experience, which is when transformations happen. Working in small ensembles of only 13 students, a trio of directors stage a classic, supported by a design team. Directors craft their rehearsals around their cast to ensure they build skills on stage — and off. The ensemble nature of the program allows students to practice life skills that will allow them to be successful no matter what career route they ultimately choose. This holistic approach is unique in theatre circles.DSC_2072 (smaller file size)

The camp offers a range of programs for grades 3 to 12. Their High School Ensemble is a four-week program that teaches students the ins and outs of Shakespeare. This year, they will produce Much Ado About Nothing, one of the bard’s most iconic comedies. Their Middle School Ensemble performs hilarious farces by the French playwright Moliere, filled with colorful characters, lightning wit, and slapstick physical humor.

Did we mention that Traveling Players is local to the DC metro area? Its day camp is in residence at The Madeira School in McLean, VA. They provide transportation -on purple buses! – which is included in tuition. Campers are picked up and dropped off behind Dulles Town Center, at 8am and 5pm respectively.

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Once a week the actors pitch tents, cook over an open fire, and sleep under the stars. Whether bonding over s’mores or bringing 400-year-old Shakespearean stories to life, friendships are kindled, confidence nurtured, and actors transformed.

For more information, visit www.travelingplayers.org, call 703-987-1712, or email info@travelingplayers.org.

For Youth in Foster Care, Mentoring Makes a Meaningful Difference

Our very first mentee, Michael, was matched in our program in 2005. He entered into foster care at the hospital on the day he was born, and aged out of care on his 21st birthday. Throughout those 21 years, he was in and out of foster homes, lived off and on with different relatives, and experienced homelessness as a teenager. He constantly faced instability because of his time in the foster care system.

One day Michael, who had just recently aged out of care, called us at BEST Kids in a lot of pain. He had injured his shoulder at work, and after spending the entire day in urgent care, the doctors wouldn’t prescribe him any pain medication or offer him any relief. I went to meet Michael outside his apartment, and while he was calm and in stable condition, he was still in a lot of physical pain. I decided to ride in the ambulance with him to help him get his shoulder checked out at the hospital.

At the emergency room reception desk, they ran through all the routine questions with Michael: his name, insurance, address, etc. I’ll never forget what happened next: they asked him for his emergency contact information. His face dropped and he fell silent. Upon seeing the look on his face, my heart dropped as I saw him struggling to think of a family member or friend in his life that he could list. After about 10 seconds of visual and nearly palpable hopelessness, his face perked up a bit and he spurted out, “My mentor, Lyle.”

Those 10 seconds were an emotional roller coaster for me. To see Michael have to vocalize that he did not have someone to call on in emergencies broke my heart. It opened my eyes to just how difficult that realization is for our youth in so many everyday situations. But the fact that he had a mentor, and that he felt he could count on his mentor during an emergency, gave him hope and reaffirmed for me that the work we are doing is powerful and imperative.

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We hear about the challenges youth in foster care, like Michael, face all over the country. These stories and statistics undoubtedly demonstrate the need for increased resources to help these youth succeed, and the various ways in which we as individuals and communities can support this particularly resilient, yet vulnerable population.

This is where BEST Kids one-on-one mentoring program comes in. Experiences for youth during their time in foster care are quite different. Some youth come into care at birth and spend the entirety of their young lives as wards of the state, while others spend just a few months in care while systems of support are put into place for families. Some youth come into care because of various forms of abuse, while others experience some form of neglect or a tragic occurrence. Youth in foster care experience so many adults and service providers constantly coming in and out of their lives, most of which are paid to do so. Besides voluntarily giving of their time, what makes mentors any different?

Mentors open up opportunities and provide assistance, but aren’t social workers. Mentors are listening ears that aren’t therapists. They inspire a love for learning, but aren’t teachers, and they motivate and encourage, but aren’t coaches. They guide and support, but aren’t parents. Above all else, mentors are there consistently and voluntarily, as they cater to the individual needs of the youth, including creating space for our youth to be kids and have lots of fun.

Lyle has supported Michael as a mentor for over 10 years now. Throughout the years, they participated in many activities like biking, canoeing, picnics and ballgames. Lyle also practiced interviewing skills and supported Michael when he got his first job. He helped Michael get his first apartment and taught him how to fix a few things around the house. Lyle most recently mentored Michael as a new father to a beautiful little girl.

Lyle didn’t swoop in and make Michael’s life perfect or heal all of his trauma; and as a mentor, he was never expected to do so. We train and individually support our mentors to simply spend time with their mentees consistently, to care for them, and help them to keep the hope they need to become successful adults, while overcoming obstacles youth face together.

I urge you to learn about the various ways you can support youth in foster care in your community. There is an ever present need for foster homes throughout the country. You can volunteer with or mentor with organizations that help youth in foster care to thrive, or you can advocate for systemic change to improve services impacting youth in care.

BEST Kids is a nonprofit organization that provides one-on-one mentoring for over 150 youth in foster care in the Washington DC Metro area. We match caring and consistent adult mentors with youth to provide them not only the guidance and support they need to grow up, but also to help them navigate challenges specific to growing up in foster care.

Written by Krislyn Mossman, Executive Director of BEST Kids

Meet the 2019-20 Catalogue Class!

It’s the most wonderful time of year! Well, for the Catalogue team at least. We love each May when we get the chance to unveil to you our brand new 2019 class of nonprofit partners. We hate keeping them secret, so always are looking forward to shouting their names from the mountaintop, exclaiming to all these “best of the best” local nonprofits working to make positive change in our communities.

2019-20 Catalogue for Philanthropy Stamp

All 112 partners in this year’s class went through a rigorous vetting process. We are proud to be able to tell you, with confidence, that your support of these organizations will be well used and leveraged to make a difference in the places we live, work, and play. All organizations went through a three-step process that involved 150+ volunteer reviewers, a financial review, and an in-person site visit. They’re legit, and you can donate, volunteer, or advocate for them with confidence.

Our nonprofit partners cover a range of issues. From preserving the rich history of jazz in DC, to providing a safe and nurturing out-of-school time for young girls, this class is working in a variety of ways to move our community closer to the community we want, need, and deserve. Stepping in to fill gaps in the safety net, working on systemic issues, and enriching our cultural opportunities. Holding hands, making meals, and advocating for change. Regardless of the mission or the specific work, all of our partners have in common their passion, expertise, and focus on using their efforts to strengthen our community.

Now, this announcement isn’t just about our brand-new, awesome, community-changing partners. It’s about you. And us. All of us. We don’t announce this class just because we love announcing things we share and lift up these changemakers so you can find an organization that you can become passionate about. Whether it’s sharing your time, or wealth, or influence, our partners need your support.

We’d love to give you a challenge today, to do just two things. This might be your first time “meeting” many of these organizations, so we aren’t asking you donate or volunteer just yet (but if you do that’d be great!). All our team asks is that you:

  • Pick one (or more) organization to shout out on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter and say thank you for the great work they’re doing in the community. Do it today if you can!
  • Choose one friend/partner/colleague/chatty person next to you to tell about this organization, or to share this announcement with today.

That’s it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities over their four-year partnership to get to know these organizations, support them, and become passionate about their dedication, knowledge, and impact. For now, just help us celebrate and spread the word about these local nonprofits, working with small teams and limited resources to make a real difference, close to home.

Sincerely,
The Catalogue Team

Changing the Conversation on Teen Pregnancy in DC

I was honored last week to accept the Changing the Conversation Award from DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. DC Campaign has been very successful at reducing the rate which, just in the last six years, has decreased dramatically in teens ages 15-19 from 54.5 to 28.2 per 1000. Or to look at it another way, in hard numbers over a longer period, we?re talking about 999 births in 2006 and 458 in 2016 — the most recent year for which we have stats. That’s more than a 50% decrease and this is a very good thing, and well worth applauding. But as the DC Campaign will tell you, it isn’t yet good enough. And this is true for a number of reasons: first, though the rate is lower here than in demographically comparable cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, it is still higher than the national average, and second, because the numbers in some wards of the city are still just unacceptably high.In Wards 7 and 8 in 2015, there were 278 births while in Ward 3… one. Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, AU Park, Cathedral Heights, Friendship Heights. One. And lest we think this is strictly a matter of race, the difference between the rates for black teens outside Ward 8 and inside Ward 8 is significant. The combination of poverty, unemployment, high female-headed households, crime, and low rates of school completion — what Child Trends calls “community disadvantage” — is at the heart of the problem.

Barbara Harman giving her speech at DC Campaign's 20th Anniversary Change the Conversation Luncheon

Barbara Harman giving her speech at DC Campaign’s 20th Anniversary Change the Conversation Luncheon

And what is striking, if less apparent, about the numbers, is the overall impact that they have on the well-being of multiple generations. Teen moms and their children — without other kinds of interventions — generally do not fare well: pregnancy often means dropping out of high school, or not attending college, or both, and this is linked to a similar pattern in the next generation. Of course there are interventions — at the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, which I founded in 2003 and where DC Campaign has been featured since 2004 as one of the best community-based nonprofits in the Washington region, we see a wide range of efforts that help prevent teen pregnancy both before and after it has occurred: in programs that keep teens off the streets and deeply engaged in after-school arts, or sports, or educational enrichment; in programs like Generation Hope, which works with teens who DO parent — to complete their education, and to focus on the child as well for a two-generation approach to ending poverty; or in schools like Columbia Heights Education Campus whose MCIP program helps fund an on-site day care center and program for teen parents that is very successful at keeping parenting teens in school and thus short-circuiting the intergenerational repetition of the problem.

But at least in these latter two examples, it’s a case of closing the barn door after the horse is stolen. Until we solve the problem of “community disadvantage” and bring the teen pregnancy rate to zero we need these programs, but to address the problem now we need the DC Campaign to help parents talk to their kids about sexual issues, to invest in the after school programs that are effective at engaging them productively, to talk to boys as well as girls, and to their parents about sexual health, to advocate on behalf of teens, and to make contraception widely available. DC Campaign’s simple assertion “there are only two ways to prevent teen pregnancy: don’t have sex or, if you do, use contraception” — may sound simple, but simple it is not. We need to keep at it, to work with teens (and their communities and families) on delaying sex, preventing pregnancy, and ensuring more promising lives for them and for the children they will bear in their 20s and 30s when they have finished school, have decent jobs, and are ready for the demands of parenthood and of life.

Barbara and Amira El-Gawly, one of Catalogue for Philanthropy board members, at DC Campaign's May 2nd Change the Conversation Luncheon

Barbara and Amira El-Gawly, one of the Catalogue for Philanthropy’s board members, at DC Campaign’s May 2nd Change the Conversation Luncheon

Because one thing I think we can all agree on is that we want a better life for all of the children who live here — not just for our own. I have a very young granddaughter who lives with her parents in Ward 3. One of my many wishes for her is that she will do what her mother did and have a child intentionally in her late 20s when she is fully and happily ready to be a parent — economically secure, parenting with a spouse (or partner – because parenthood is a joy, but at the same time it is not easy to do alone), diplomas in hand, ready and eager to take on the world and to take on …another life. I think we all want to see community disadvantage become community advantage — but that is a long haul and, in the meantime, this right here, this work — this is something we can do now. We are already doing it, and we must continue the work. Our lives — and the lives of all of our” children — depend on it.

 

Written by Barbara Harman, Founder of Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Anacostia Watershed Society

An innovative, environmentally-friendly workout idea: cleaning up a garbage-bag-worth of cigarette butts. A single butt only weighs about 1 gram, but once you pick up hundreds of them, they start to add up to some serious bicep strengthening. That’s how I celebrated Earth Day 2019 with the Anacostia Watershed Society on April 13th.

As a fellow with Catalogue for Philanthropy, I have the honor of working with and learning about over 400 locally-based nonprofits in the Greater Washington Region. So when my school’s community service committee asked me to arrange a volunteer opportunity for myself and other American University students for Earth Day, I knew where to look. Time to join the #Trashtag Challenge!

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Anacostia Watershed Society’s annual event engages nearly 2000 volunteers for 44 sites around the Anacostia River. My site’s neighborhood in Anacostia was not directly next to the river but in the river’s wider watershed area; whenever it rains, all of the trash in the residential area flows into the river, hurting wildlife and the ecosystem.

Fellow volunteers and I met at We Act Radio Station, a hip local institution and de facto community center. I sat among piles of books from their ongoing book drive. We were welcomed by Stacy and Aroni, two friendly and enthusiastic Anacostia Watershed Society staff members and our team leaders for the day. They gave us gloves to protect our hands, picker-uppers to prevent back strain, and matching t-shirts to look cool and groovy.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning to go for a stroll and pick up garbage. We made a circle around several blocks, carrying a blue bag for recyclables and a white bag for general trash. About 70% of what I picked up were cigarette butts. In public discourse, we acknowledge how cigarettes choke our bodies, but not enough about how they choke the environment too. What made me saddest were butts littered on the ground not 3 feet away from public trash cans.
It was rewarding work. Quite a few residents stopped to thank us and a few even added some trash to my bag. I was pleased too by how social it was; the steady and relaxing pace of our walk through the neighborhood easily facilitated conversations with new and interesting people. Our crew even had a beauty queen! If you want to meet new people, explore a new neighborhood, and make a difference in the environment, I strongly recommend signing up for clean up events. There’s no better way to celebrate the new springtime weather with friends than going and picking up a bag of butts.

 

Written by Nancy Erickson, Nonprofit Programs Fellow at the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Independent Movie Theatres are the Stuff Community is Made Of

I’ve always loved movies. I come by it almost genetically. My father taught film production at various universities during my childhood, and I grew up on a steady diet of indie, niche, and foreign films: The Last Unicorn and The Point probably being the two most memorable and most watched in our household.

But it was in Argentina, on an academic research grant, that I fell in love with film. Not “movies,” but film itself as a medium.

I went to Argentina with a single, albeit complex question: how does a society heal from trauma on a massive scale? Argentina suffered a brutal military dictatorship from 1976 until 1983, during which time over 30,000 “leftist rebels” were “disappeared” by the regime. In 2007, when I was doing my research, the nation was still grappling with the fallout. For a while after my arrival, I posed that single question to everyone I met, and at first the answer surprised me, until I’d gotten the answer so many times it couldn’t be coincidence. Most Argentines I spoke to directed me to a single film: La historia oficial (The Official Story).

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La historia oficial tells the story of Alicia, a high school history teacher who is leading a comfortable life with her husband, Roberto, a businessman with ties to the military, and their adopted daughter. When Alicia begins to wonder about the identity of her daughter’s birth parents, she finds herself suspecting that she may be the child of people abducted or killed by the government. She is faced with an impossible choice: live knowing her child is missed by her real family or give up the thing she loves most in the world.

The film came out as Argentines were first learning that, during the dictatorship, children had been abducted from rebel parents and given as rewards to those loyal to the regime. As a country, they were struggling to cope politically and legally with the issue. But the film gave the country a glimpse into the individual, personal heartbreak obscured by the headlines: that real mothers, both biological and adoptive, were being faced with a no-win scenario. And in making the political personal, the film kick-started a national healing process.

What made me fall in love with film was understanding that it is so much more than entertainment or even education. Film is, to my mind, the most visceral way to tell stories, and humans need to tell stories. It’s how we understand ourselves, our families, our communities, and ultimately, our entire society. Stories define our nation, our religious traditions, and even our most intimate unit: the family. Those stories tell us who we are.

While I have been, from my youth, a great believer in the power of film, after my time in Argentina, I see it as a vital necessity to any community.

But film in the U.S. today has a problem. Our media is evermore mediated, and the stories that need to be told aren’t getting out there. Six companies own almost all media: and that’s not just film, that’s news, television, online portals, and more. The barometer they use on funding film projects is what will make the most money, not what stories need to be told. So they put their faith in what they know: the same old directors and regurgitated plotlines. And since the studios hold all the cards, they can charge gigantic licensing fees, ask for 90 or 100% of a theater’s ticket sales, and even take a cut of concessions sales. The only way to survive in that context is to be a giant corporation with pull of your own, and even then to survive, the multiplexes charge prices so high that film is becoming increasingly out of reach for the average American (whose income is decreasing).

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That’s why, in 2015, when I met Dr. Caitlin McGrath, I was immediately hooked on her vision to turn the Old Greenbelt Theatre into a nonprofit, arthouse cinema. Revitalize this a historic gem of a theater by: showing films that make people think; creating a space where the community can come together to digest, unpack, and process these films; and do everything possible to make these films accessible to everyone?regardless of age, income, or ability. It’s what every community needs, and we are beyond lucky to have this resource in Prince George’s County.

The Old Greenbelt Theatre is run as a nonprofit because we are mission-driven, not profit-driven. As a nonprofit, we can solicit the support of our community so that when we lose money showing a film (which we regularly do since studios can demand such a deep cut of our profits) we can still exist to screen more films that our community wants or needs to see. If we were worried about a wide profit margin, we wouldn’t have brought you Transit, If Beale Street Could Talk, Boy Erased or even First Man.

Independent movie theaters are closing down all across the country. They can’t compete in a corporate world that is cannibalizing the very locales that show their films. But there are important movies being made that need to be seen and not on a smartphone (as much as I applaud Netflix and Amazon for picking up the mantle of independent filmmaking). Film is at its most powerful when witnessed in community.

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That’s what we’re doing here at the Old Greenbelt Theatre. As a nonprofit, we bring you films from screenwriters and directors outside the mainstream. We provide a place to experience these films in community, and I truly do mean experience, because we follow up so many of our screenings with guest speakers and Q&A sessions. It doesn’t pay to do guest speakers. It’s something we do because it’s important.

We’re a nonprofit because we serve a vital role in our community. We aren’t providing bread or shelter, that’s very true. But in many ways, we are creating a safe haven. A place where people of all walks of life can come, see themselves on the big screen, and have their experience understood by the community. We’re helping tell the stories our community needs to hear, and stories are the very stuff of which community is made.

By Kelly McLaughlin, Director of Marketing & Development, Friends of Greenbelt Theatre

What I’ve Learned from 7 Months of Serving Homeless and Housing-Insecure Women in DC

AVODAHGRAs I finished my senior year at Wesleyan University, one of the things I was most afraid of for my post-grad life was losing the environment in which everyone is eager to share the learning process with their friends and peers. The desire to preserve that, and the importance of my Jewish communities and experiences to me, is what led me to Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.

Avodah is based on studying the issues and approaches of our own service work as a way to navigate the centuries-old question central to Jewish life that is: how do Jews meet our obligation to serve? To do this, my fellow 23 Avodah Corps Members in DC and I are placed at leading anti-poverty organizations across the District – where we gain hands-on work experience and learn about the root causes and effects of poverty in this country. We work with individuals facing challenges related to healthcare access, food insecurity, housing insecurity, our immigration and refugee systems, and much more, as we also consider how to best organize the Jewish community toward a more just and equitable future.

For the past seven months, I’ve been serving as a program associate at N Street Village. N Street Village empowers homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. to claim their highest quality of life by offering a broad spectrum of services, housing, and advocacy in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

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Before I started Avodah, I was worried that my position and responsibilities would be too far removed from the macro-level social justice that I had spent most of college thinking about and cultivating my skills toward; I was nervous that I would not only miss reading, writing, and critically thinking about social justice in these ways, but that I wouldn’t be qualified for the direct service work that our clients needed me to do. Within the first few months I definitely faced a steep learning curve, but have also since found that I continue to learn more than I could have ever imagined about the lived experiences at the heart of the issues that I care about. This has been due in part to all of the training and learning opportunities that my placement provides its staff – especially its Avodah Corps Members and social work interns.

One of the areas of learning that has profoundly impacted me this year is trauma-informed care. Trauma informed care is a holistic approach to providing services, based in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. What fascinates me about this framework is that trauma-informed care is more about changing systems than providing brief interventions to navigate traumatic experiences: it’s more about how a person who has experienced homelessness feels in a space that is intended to provide care, rather than about agencies checking off boxes of predetermined treatment requirements.

Learning and exploring the principles of trauma-informed care has helped me imagine concrete ways in which the choices that I make at work can be empowering for clients, even when challenges within the systems can be endlessly disempowering for them. Having an understanding of this holistic approach to care, I’m able to better recognize symptoms of mental health instability as related to the traumatic experiences of homelessness and being deprived of basic human needs. Most importantly, this framework helps me as a staff person to focus on the sheer resilience at the core of human responses to stress and crisis, reduce the shame and stigma associated by homelessness and/or other crises, and ideally, help survivors feel respected, connected, and hopeful about their recovery.

Though I describe trauma-informed care as systemic, and at its core it is all about a widespread change to social work and the standards behind providing services, where it really manifests are the personal experiences I have with clients and my coworkers. In the fall, our N Street Village CEO wrote a letter to the organization’s staff in the wake of multiple acts of white supremacist violence – from the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to the murders of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones in Louisville, Kentucky. She wrote that in our work at N Street Village, “every day we have multiple invitations to challenge our implicit biases and to seek interpersonal justice. We are invited to acknowledge our well-worn habits of mind which automatically see an ‘other’ — and instead to exercise new habits of heart which see our commonality and which instinctively reach for connection.”

Having experienced this work for the past seven months, and getting to see its impact, I’m so grateful to my workplace and to Avodah as a whole for bringing the interpersonal connections to the foreground in my understanding of justice. I can only hope that through the rest of the year and beyond, my fellow Corps members and I never stop finding ways to fold that interpersonal justice into greater action and movements for progress.

 

About the Author:

Sammi Aibinder is an Avodah Jewish Service Corps Member. She currently works as a program associate at N Street Village, which empowers homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. Ms. Aibinder is a graduate of Wesleyan University.

 

Young Artists of America: Local Student Performers Go Beyond the Stage with New Grant

One of Catalogue for Philanthropy’s 2018-19 Best Nonprofits, Young Artists of America(YAA), has launched a new initiative thanks to a grant from Greater Washington Community Foundation’s Donors InVesting in the Arts (DIVAS) Fund. This initiative will run in tandem with YAA’s preparation for their spring production of Les Miserable–which will feature over 300 students and a full orchestra–on March 16th at the Music Center at Strathmore.

First combined rehearsal for Les Miserables at Youth Artists of America

Les Mis 1

Titled after one of the most rousing songs in the score, YAA’s “Hear the People Sing!” project will examine the themes in Les Miserables to inspire students to make connections between the social challenges in Victor Hugo’s time and those in today’s world. Whereas young people during the French Revolution saw injustice between populations and classes and decided to take action through insurgencies, this project will empower YAA students to use non-violent means to identify the injustices seen both in Les Miserables‘ and in modern time, including immigration, class inequity, gender-based oppression, and imperfect justice. Peaceful methods of engagement and dialogue will be modeled by teachers and encouraged throughout the musical theatre rehearsal process, as well as throughout the social media component of the project.

Specifically, YAA artistic staff will lead student group reflection and social media journaling, primarily via Instagram posts. YAA staff will also create and post a “students voices” video of final lessons learned that will be made available on their YouTube channel, and an edited version displayed on screen before the performance to enable audience members to participate with as well. Community members can follow along with the project by searching #HearthePeopleSingYAA and #WhoAmIYAA on social media platforms.

“It is YAA’s hope that this project will deepen students’ understanding of the material we are performing, as well as spark additional dialogue among their peers about contemporary issues,” says YAA’s Artistic Director, Rolando Sanz. “We are incredibly grateful to The Community Foundation’s DIVAS.”

The final production on March 16th will take place at 3pm and tickets are on sale now. What will make this performance artistically unique will be the scope of this student collaboration, including a full 60-piece youth symphonic orchestra, Seneca Valley High School Chorus of 150, and 80 singers/dancers/actors from YAACompany and YAAjunior. www.yaa.org/spring-production.