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On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, do we give kids the wrong message about service? By Amy Neugebauer

On this Day of Service, many of us are looking for ways to engage kids in activities to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Our well-intentioned efforts to serve tend to focus on once and done projects. We can enhance meaning by connecting our strategies to what Dr. King called all of us (including kids) to do: always be concerned about the collective and to fight for equality.

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Dr. King challenged us to think beyond ourselves and contribute to society. In his 1956 Birth of a New Age address he asserts that “an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” He wanted kids and adults alike to take responsibility for the needs of others as a daily way of being, not as isolated actions. He also emphasized action with impact, not action for action’s sake.

Typical ways of engaging kids on this Day of Service involve volunteering at non-profits or attending events that facilitate many service projects in one venue. Kids can sort food, make art, clean up parks, pack hygiene bags, and make bracelets. According to University of Kent Researcher Alison Body, “most children positively engage in charitable giving through home, school and their community; however less than 20% are aware of the cause area they are being asked to support.” Without connecting activities to a bigger sense of meaning and impact, kids could become apathetic towards service, the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

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So let’s think differently about today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Rather than seeking one activity for the day, let’s use it as the starting point for a long-term practice of community service. Let’s do it in a way that builds on kids? natural curiosity, empathy, fluid thinking and concern about equality. Let’s ensure that our efforts generate both meaning and impact. Here are some ideas for how:

  • Spend time as a family reflecting on issues that matter the most to you – either individually or collectively. Trigger those conversations with prompts such as: What challenges has our family (including generations before us) struggled with? What needs do we see around us? What do all children deserve but not necessarily have? What are the issues that make us the most upset/angry/passionate? When brainstorming, always start with the youngest child so that they don’t get intimidated by the ideas of adults or older siblings. Really listen to their ideas and go with the flow rather seeding ideas for what they should care about.
  • Have every family member learn more about the issues and inequities they care about. Start by finding first person narratives that will help kids (and adults!) develop an emotional connection to the issue. Help kids find books, testimonials, videos, or movies that relate to the themes they care about. Next, dig into facts. Along the way, adults can role model your own explorations of issues you care about.
  • Identify local non-profits that address the issues of concern through resources like the Catalogue for Philanthropy, local community foundations, or word of mouth. Show interest in your children’s explorations and give support as needed.
  • Explore ways to support the non-profit’s important mission. Put kids in charge of exploring websites and social media content. Reach out to non-profits and find out what is most helpful to them. While some non-profits may be hesitant to engage children in formal service, there are many ways that kids can contribute: writing letters expressing support, creating videos promoting the organization, creating art for staff or clients, crowdsourcing supplies or money for the organization. The possibilities are endless but may require some creativity from both kids and parents.
  • Once you have identified issues of concern, built an emotional and intellectual connection to the issue, and identified non-profits that could use your support, your next step is to build long-term relationships with your chosen non-profits. Show up by spreading the word, donating, volunteering throughout the year, attending their public events, reading and contributing to their newsletters. Be their champion rather than a one time volunteer.

As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” In this spirit, let’s make today the day that sets us (adults and children) on a path towards regular and meaningful service.

Amy Neugebauer is the Founder and Executive Director of The Giving Square, an organization featured in the 2021-2022 Catalogue of Philanthropy. The organization amplifies the power of children as philanthropists by testing engagement strategies, developing curriculum, and distilling insights from children. In 2021, 8-10 year olds from over 20 schools successfully and joyfully allocated $30,000 to local, kid-serving nonprofits.

Main Street Connect: Building Inclusivity in our Communities

Main Street Connect is the first community-oriented, affordable, accessible housing solution to redefine the concept of inclusion in a large, vibrant community space within the apartment complex itself. Just steps away from the Metro and Rockville Town Center, our thoughtful and purposeful member-based programming breaks down barriers to improve quality of life and community-building for everyone, no matter their age, location, ability, or background. This inclusive mindset and culture of hope and opportunity seeks to flourish beyond Main Street’s walls and inspire a new generation – without barriers, without judgment, and with genuine inclusion for all.

Building this culture of inclusivity must begin somewhere. During the first week of November, Main Street hosted a landmark gathering of thought-leaders from across the country that kick-started a national discussion co-led by people with and without disabilities. Alongside The Kelsey, Main Street heard from Patuxent Commons, Our Stomping Ground, Our Home Inclusive Community Collaborative, The Faison Center, and other keynote speakers with this same goal of Building Inclusivity in communities across the country.

Our conference began on Tuesday, November 2nd with a big Main Street welcome to the 50 attendees from 10 different states and a discussion on Main Street’s vision, mission, and values as a nonprofit. After a good night’s rest, the bulk of the conference commenced on Wednesday, November 3rd where attendees learned about other organizations’ models and projects, as well as larger topics of financing inclusive housing and disability-forward advocacy, all led by experts from several different organizations.

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The first session was led by Scott Copeland of RST Development and Main Street, who shared all Main Street had learned about financing and building inclusive, affordable housing for attendees to use in their own development processes. Micaela Connery from The Kelsey followed this discussion with a deep dive into their organization and how they have been successful in building inclusivity, ending the day with a virtual panel that covered the many ways to create opportunities for leaders with disabilities. Accessibility does not end with a sticker, as Consumer Rights Advocate, Liz Grisby, said during this panel, “Just being able to get through the door does not mean you’re accessible.”

The final day of the conference focused on advancing advocacy and disability-forward policy strategies, with discussions led by The Kelsey’s Fatimah Aure and Allie Cannington. Alison Barkoff, the Principal Deputy Administrator for the Administration for Community Living also spoke about the federal side of housing and disability rights and the impact the Administration makes, “Each year, over 10 million older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers through [a] nationwide disability and aging network.”

Over the course of these three days, this conference ultimately taught us that we need to…

  • be active in local communities with local legislators;
  • form coalitions that are co-led by people with and without disabilities;
  • remember that disability-forward advocacy takes curiosity, courage, and creativity; and
  • celebrate the small wins – inclusive, affordable housing projects take time!

We all deserve to belong in a community where we feel valued and included; affordable, accessible housing projects across the country are working hard to do just that! Together, we can move disability housing forward with goals of ensuring different versions of the Main Street model can exist in any community and that people of ALL abilities have a seat at the table. In doing so, we are setting the standard for redefining inclusion for all.

Main Street is offering a video link for presentations from this conference that includes specific details for HOW to build affordable, inclusive, and community-minded projects. If you’d like to learn more about Main Street, feel free to contact Sharon Cichy at sharonc@mainstreetconnect.org.

Supporting Survivors of Sexual Assault Through Advocacy of Trauma-Informed Medical Care, by Grace Deleon, Impact Intern for Network for Victim Recovery of DC

Impact of Sexual Assault

Physicians treating patients with a physical wound consult a patient’s health history to tailor their treatments to work for a patient’s individual health needs. From prescribing the right medication to finding the best rehabilitation method, a practitioner creates a unique treatment plan for each patient based on their past experiences and current situation. So, ideally, when working with survivors of sexual violence, health care should look the same, right?

It doesn’t.

In the United States, there are over 433,648 victims of rape and sexual assault each year and the resulting trauma is something survivors can carry with them for the rest of their lives. At some point in time, members of this remarkably large population are going to need to access medical care, regardless of whether it is related to the sexual assault. Yet, many survivors of sexual assault will avoid routine medical help. Female survivors, specifically, will avoid gynecological care as a means of avoiding uncomfortable, triggering situations. In this setting, medical providers can inadvertently trigger the re-traumatization of previous sexual abuse, through commonplace medical practices like a pelvic or breast exam.

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The CDC suggests that “examinations of survivors of sexual assault should be conducted by an experienced clinician in a way that minimizes further trauma to the survivor.” However, in a 2008 study, researchers asked female adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse about their gynecological care experiences and found that 82% of the survivors in the sample were not asked about a history of sexual abuse or assault by their provider prior to the pelvic exam – despite feeling that such information would be relevant to their care. Although an understandable defense mechanism to protect themselves from reliving their trauma, a lack of obstetrics and gynecological care can have significant implications on a survivor’s physical health. That being said, in order to best provide care and engage their clients, medical providers must be aware of the far reaching implications of these traumatic events and learn how to best provide services to patients who have experienced trauma.

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma is holistic and should be treated as such. The field of human services is embarking on a new approach of helping and there is growing understanding about how a person’s trauma alters the way they understand, perceive, and experience the world. Trauma-informed care, according to SAMHSA, “acknowledges the need to understand a patient’s life experiences in order to deliver effective care and has the potential to improve patient engagement, treatment adherence, health outcomes, and provider and staff wellness.” This perspective incorporates the assessment of trauma and trauma-systems into a routine practice and ensures that patients have access to high-quality survivor-specific interventions that acknowledge their unique experiences.

Trauma-Informed Care and Sexual Assault

Simply put, survivors of sexual assault are not being cared for in the holistic fashion that they deserve. Many institutions like doctor’s offices or medical clinics are not yet trauma-informed and many of their practices, although kindly intentioned, may place survivors at a higher risk of re-traumatization and reinforce damaging messages to both staff and clients. While there is growing attention to the traumatic impact of treatment on survivors of sexual assault, the phenomenon is largely invisible to healthcare providers.

For survivors of sexual assault, this appointment may be the first time where they are given the opportunity to address their victimization. Practitioners are uniquely suited to provide support and direct survivors towards helpful resources. Here, practitioners can share information regarding STD and HIV prevention medication, survivor support groups, and other resources (e.g. mental health care, legal services, on-campus support). However, if practitioners are not aware of the patient’s trauma from the beginning, they are limited in their capacity to provide sensitive and appropriate care and could be causing unintended harm to a survivor.

What Can Be Done?

Trauma-informed care and the holistic understanding of trauma are now being used to inform changes in policy and practices to ensure that service providers are better equipped to support survivor recovery and do not inadvertently cause re-traumatization or pain. Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) is working to be a part of that change.

In Washington, DC, there is currently no standard training requirement or on-going education requirements for OBGYN doctors, nurses, or medical staff regarding trauma-informed care for survivors of sexual assault. To address this gap in care, NVRDC is building a trauma-informed care training project called iEmpower for OBGYNs and other related medical practices in the DMV to bolster providers’ abilities to provide and incorporate trauma-informed care into specific policies and procedures. Care is now being looked at from the ground up, analyzing everything from the minute they pick up the phone and schedule an appointment to the moment they walk out the door. Medical practices must now consider the entirety of the medical appointment and how that may impact a survivor. They may ask themselves questions like:

  • “Is the waiting room set up in a warm, inviting, and open way?”
  • “Did the intake documents ask about a history of sexual violence?”
  • “How did it feel when the nurse asked you to change out of your clothes and into the medical exam gown?”
  • “Did the doctor talk to you about what the purpose of the appointment was and did they walk you through the procedure?”

These questions pinpoint elements that are crucial for medical clinics to pay attention to when creating a trauma-informed environment that survivors of sexual assault perceive as safe, comfortable, and supported.

NVRDC has developed two surveys to better understand the current landscape of trauma-informed care among the medical field. The first survey is meant for survivors of sexual assault and provides opportunities for them to share their experiences when seeking out OBGYN care. The second is tailored to practitioners and medical providers, and evaluates the level of training they have received regarding trauma-informed care. Both surveys are currently seeking participants.

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In general, as we embrace our roles as philanthropists and aspire to be positive disruptors in this world, our work will not be meaningful if our path perpetuates harm. NVRDC is one of many organizations trying to create awareness, create change, and survey survivors and practitioners to better understand the landscape and fill the gaps in current practices. Change is not easy, but it also cannot wait.

If you or someone you know is a survivor or a medical practitioner and would like to participate in our surveys, they can access the links to our surveys below.

If you’re a survivor in DC and would like to access a medical forensic exam following a sexual assault, please contact the DC Victim Hotline at 844-4-HELP-DC (844-443-5732). The hotline is open 24/7.

HER Resiliency Center: A Personal Story by M. Hicks-Pope

I will never become homeless because I am too smart to be homeless.

That’s what a young, early teenage version of myself repeatedly told themselves. But why would a child have to say that?

Being raised in the DC area by a mom and dad you knew was not yours only because you attended your real father’s funeral at 5 years of age. Watching your stuff on the sidewalk but mostly watching your daddy’s PlayStation, hoping no strangers came and took it as mommy and daddy figure out where we will stay next. Having someone knock on your door and take you and your little brother away from the only parents you knew. Moving from foster home to foster home, being beaten, molested, treated like a b****** who needed rescuing. These are my childhood memories. These are the reasons the teenage version of me had to convince themselves that homelessness could and would never be an option. Put out of the house by my adopted mom at age 16 to emancipation from CFSA* at age 21 to homelessness, living in different homes up to age 25. From age 16 up to today I’ve lived in over 40 different places.

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How did a child manage school, mental health, and other needs through all of this? Well of course drugs and alcohol helped me through 12 years of that trauma. But also that child continued to tell me “You’re too smart to be stuck on the streets. You’re too smart to not succeed.” This child version of me kept me alive for many years.

The trauma the child version of me saw and experienced. How could they be so strong? Why would they want to keep pushing on? This couldn’t have been all that was out there for me. It couldn’t just be struggle after struggle with no gold sitting under a tree.

Today I am the Executive Assistant to the Founder & President of HER Resiliency Center, Natasha Guynes.

It’s not a coincidence that I ended up here. For the past 6 years HER has been here for me. When I wanted to kill myself and was admitted to the hospital, HER was there. When I couldn’t pay bills and just wasn’t stable, HER was there. Natasha answered my every call and not once did she leave me stranded. The day I decided that I couldn’t drink any longer, HER was there. And when I just couldn’t push any further, Natasha found the best rehab she could find and helped get me a scholarship and I went there.

I wouldn’t be 5 months sober today if HER had given up on me like many programs have in the past. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if HER’s founder hadn’t gone through her own traumas and built the resilience she has today. If Natasha would’ve believed that no one deserved a chance to fight another day I would not be here. For that I am forever grateful. For that I am able to share my story with the next woman just hoping that they too will see that there is purpose, that they have purpose, and that they are here on purpose.

Resilient: The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. I’m now able to see that I’ve always been resilient in many different ways but I had to learn how to cope and be resilient in a healthier way. HER is a part of the reason I have the resilience that I have today.

*CFSA – DC Child Family Services Administration

PEN/Faulkner Celebrates the Power of Literature this National Arts in Education Week

For more than three decades, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation has connected authors with students in classrooms across the District to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. This year, we join Americans for the Arts in celebrating National Arts in Education Week to recognize the transformative power of the arts in education. Since 2010, this national celebration has brought attention to the arts as an essential part of a complete education, with students of all ages benefiting from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity.

PEN/Faulkner believes that our society only thrives when we all have access to stories from a diverse variety of perspectives. Through our education programs, we empower young people to be confident and empathic global citizens by equipping them with the skills and tools they need to tell their own stories. Our experience of the pandemic this past year has shown us that the arts play a critical role in healing and unifying our communities. However, according to a 2012 report from the National Center of Education Statistics, high-poverty schools are significantly less likely to provide students with access to arts education. We strongly support access to the arts for all learners and, alongside peer literary and arts organizations serving the District, are working to address these inequities.

In response to the decline of students’ reading habits and comprehension across the country, reading specialist Elena Forzani states that “we’re teaching kids to read in a content and motivational vacuum.” Our methodology intends to achieve the exact opposite: we want to center students’ lived experiences to demonstrate how storytelling can be valuable for them.

Last school year, we served a total of 4,007 students in grades 3-12 across 41 public and public charter schools, of which 95.1% were Title I schools where at least 40% of students qualify for free and reduced meals. We donated 3,709 books to these students, including texts like Stamped by Jason Reynolds, This is My America by Kim Johnson, and Into the Beautiful North by Luis Urrea. Aside from giving students free books that they can add to their home libraries, which have been shown to positively impact individuals into adulthood, our team partners closely with educators to select the contemporary texts and authors that would best reflect and represent their students.

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According to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who has contributed groundbreaking research within the fields of education and American children’s literature, “literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.” In a publishing industry that is predominantly white, with less than 30% of the 3,299 books reviewed by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2020 written by BIPOC authors, it is important that we start to shift the narrative around who is “allowed” to tell stories and who can be in them.

Our education programs create supportive and inclusive learning communities where students can write poems about fear in a writing workshop led by author Derrick Weston Brown; where students can work with a professional writer in a year-long residency to self-publish an anthology of their own writing; and where students from different schools can come together to write a collaborative poem inspired by author Aida Salazar’s use of sensory language.

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As Dr. Yusef Salaam, member of the Exonerated Five and co-author of Punching the Air, said to students in one of our Writers in Schools visits, “Historically, when you don’t see yourself being talked about or being dignified in what you’re reading, you disengage. We’re storytellers. We get to tell those stories.” While our team continues to address pandemic-related challenges this school year, we remain more committed than ever to provide students across DC, especially students from low-income families and students of color, with equitable access to the arts in their classrooms.

To learn more about the multicultural literary opportunities PEN/Faulkner offers to students across DC, you can visit our website, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Christ House: COVID-19 Vaccine Access

While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country has begun, Christ House leadership has been diligently preparing and coordinating access to vaccines for patients, Kairos permanent housing members, and staff. Christ House’s Quality Improvement Committee decided to focus efforts on access to vaccines in January and has made great strides.

As of February, many staff had received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, or are scheduled to receive their second dose shortly. Christ House clinical staff have been identifying patients who want to learn about the vaccine, setting up appointments, and monitoring symptoms after patients receive their doses. They have been meeting with patients 1-on-1 to review how the vaccine works and most importantly, to answer any questions a patient might have about the vaccine. “This way,” says Mary Jordan, Executive and Clinical Director, as well as Nurse Practitioner, “patients are prepared either way once the vaccine is available to them.” The fact sheet distributed during these meetings includes information on how the vaccines work, risks of COVID-19, benefits of the vaccine, and information for those who have a weakened immune system.

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Connecting patients with vaccines has required a high degree of patience and coordination among shelters, Unity Health Care workers, and the DC Government. The adaptability of the staff has already opened the door for many patients and Kairos members to receive their vaccines. Part of this adaptability includes extending patients’ stays when needed so that they are able to receive the second dose of the vaccine without complications. Nurse Practitioner Mari Lowe discusses another challenge to connecting patients with the vaccine, “There are misconceptions that vaccines make you sick. There is a history of systemic racism where communities of color have been mistreated in medical settings. What we’ve done to make patients comfortable is to promote autonomy in decision-making and provide access to information.” Using these strategies, Mari is happy to share that most patients, staff, and Kairos members have received at least their first dose of the vaccine at this point. She says “There is a consensus among patients, staff, and Kairos members that we are a community and vaccines are another way to protect and foster our community.”

When asked about receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, one patient shared, “I didn’t feel a thing. No bad reaction. I’m glad I took it. I recommend everybody take it.” For Mary Jordan, the most important aspect of receiving the vaccine is our ability to continue to treat patients: “We’re fortunate – it gives us a degree of protection to keep working with patients coming through our doors.” In looking ahead into 2021, she shares, “I’m hopeful because we?ve contained any outbreak, we’re effectively working to get staff and patients immunized, we’re doing daily surveillance and weekly testing of patients and Kairos members. We, as healthcare workers, all feel more hopeful now that there’s a vaccine available.”

People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 when living in congregate settings such as shelters. Practicing hygiene and accessing PPE also present challenges to this population, increasing the risk of transmission. Ensuring the homeless population has access to vaccines quickly can help reduce the spread of the virus.

Celebrating 10 Years of Empowering Young Readers in DC: By Ryan Turse, Reading Partners AmeriCorps Literacy Lead

Reading Partners is a national children’s literacy organization that empowers young students from under-resourced communities to build their reading skills and unlock their full potential. This year, Reading Partners DC is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and it’s been a year unlike any other. Through our online tutoring platform, Reading Partners Connects, trained community volunteers work with students from kindergarten through fourth grade, providing individualized reading support using a structured, evidence-based curriculum that is tailored to each student’s needs. Our program works in partnership with 19 Title I elementary schools across the District, and is virtually managed by over 30 AmeriCorps members who, in addition to tutoring, provide coaching to volunteer tutors and assess students’ progress. I am one of them.

My name is Ryan and I joined the team in August 2020 as a literacy lead. When I learned about Reading Partners, applying to become an AmeriCorps member was an easy decision to make. I really appreciated the core values of the organization: reading matters, big challenges are our thing, volunteers get results, together we are better, data drive decisions, laughter keeps us going, and educational equity for all. I was excited for an opportunity not only to gain more specific experience in education, but to also develop myself professionally and personally. I also really appreciated the emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) topics such as mindfulness and self-confidence. SEL topics are critical because they teach students how to effectively apply the various skills and attitudes to both understand and manage emotions, set achievable and positive goals, maintain positive relationships, and learn to feel and show empathy for others.

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While I was in primary school, I was enrolled in a reading program very similar to Reading Partners and it had a tremendous effect on me. As a child, I didn’t like to read because it wasn’t something I excelled in. But thanks to the extra support, I gained the confidence and skills needed to enjoy reading (and become good at it). Reading is a fundamental life skill, as we need to be able to read written language every single day of our lives. At Reading Partners, I have the opportunity to build important skills that are useful not only in education, but can easily be transferred to any other career field.

My favorite aspect of this role by far is having the privilege to work with our students on a daily basis. I really enjoy logging into a tutoring session and having conversations with a kindergartener and their stuffed animals before we dive into an interesting children’s book and our curriculum. It is the healthy dose of laughter I need to get through my day. Working with Reading Partners, I feel like I am doing important work, while also genuinely having fun every day.

Education during the pandemic has certainly been challenging and has required tremendous innovation and creativity. Throughout the year, all of the AmeriCorps members supported each other and our tutors by having tech training sessions. Since most students are logging in from home, we now work with families more closely than ever, acutely aware that everyone’s life has been affected one way or another by the pandemic. We want to do as much as we possibly can to meet families where they are in the moment, which means flexibility as to when and where sessions take place.

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At Reading Partners, we are deeply committed to advancing educational equity for students in DC. We recognize that the ability to read can alter outcomes for young students and entire communities. To move towards educational equity, we need to make high-quality literacy intervention accessible to students everywhere to make sure they have the support they need to be successful in school and beyond. This requires first examining and understanding the unique challenges and barriers that students face and working to dismantle them.

I believe that building an educational environment that is equitable starts with student empowerment. How can we expect students to be successful without giving them the tools they need to succeed? Some of the ways in which Reading Partners strives to build a more equitable educational environment is providing cultural competency training for all staff as well as community volunteers, improving volunteer recruitment strategies with a deeper focus on diversity, enhancing the Core Read Aloud Library to better reflect our student population, and hiring staff with competencies to push forward these initiatives.

Deciding to do a year of service with Reading Partners was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. Reading Partners is an organization that not only examines the greater systemic issues that students are facing, but does the on-the-ground work to close the opportunity gap. Throughout my service year, I felt supported by both the staff and fellow AmeriCorps members. The training and experience I have received from Reading Partners gave me the opportunity to grow as a person, while fostering and nurturing skills that I will take with me as I continue my career journey.

Community Forklift: Keeping Our Community Cool

Did you know that heat-related illness, while preventable, kills on average 702 people in the United States annually? Every year, Community Forklift’s Home Essentials Program (HELP) provides dozens of free air conditioners to neighbors who need one but can’t afford it. Many seniors and people with medical conditions risk serious health problems as the temperatures rise. For an elderly neighbor, someone suffering from heart or lung problems, or a child with asthma growing up in a neighborhood with heavily-polluted air, an air conditioner can make a world of difference.

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This year we already have 18 households waiting for A/C units, and summer hasn’t even begun!

Community Forklift’s HELP program provides home repair supplies and household essentials free of cost to families and individuals who qualify for need-based assistance. The program has a very simple application process, and staff are constantly screening new applicants. The program has provided thousands of air conditioners, appliances, doors, windows, and other necessary home improvement items for those in need in the Port Towns area of Prince George’s County, DC, and the surrounding area. We also partner with dozens of other organizations and agencies to facilitate greater access to our services. Since 2011, over 4,300 individuals have been served through the HELP program, receiving over $320,000 worth of materials.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, we began providing free delivery for customers to minimize the risk of COVID exposure and to ensure that those who are unable to come in person to the Reuse Center are still able to receive their home essentials.

In June 2020, we received a call from Ms. B, a 59-year-old woman who is homebound and suffers from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Her apartment would get very hot in the summer and she needed her home to be well ventilated. Ms. B was able to receive two window A/C units through the HELP program, which Community Forklift delivered directly to her home. Ms. B said, “Thank you so much! I didn’t know how I was going to make it this summer. I really appreciated it and I appreciate you.”

Rock Recovery: A Mission to Help Our Community Overcome Disordered Eating

My journey to Rock Recovery began twenty years ago, when I went on a seemingly harmless diet that fueled almost a decade of disordered eating. Many of my loved ones and peers praised my weight loss. The health magazines that I scoured further affirmed my bias that the thinner you are, the healthier your body must be. For so long, I put my body through a rigorous cycle of disordered eating and over-exercise. It took me years to realize my “small diet” had grown into a major problem, let alone for me to seek treatment.

When thinness is the goal, health will not be the result. Health was never truly my goal; thinness was. While my eating disorder may have started as a simple desire to lose weight, that wasn’t where it ended, and it isn’t where it ends for millions of Americans who struggle.

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What many people don’t know is that eating disorders are complex illnesses, and a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to their development. According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, an estimated 28.8 million Americans will battle an eating disorder (such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder) in their lifetime, while millions more will struggle with disordered eating, dieting, and an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. Yet, as stigma and misunderstanding remain high, treatment coverage and affordable options for care remain low.

Until recently, eating disorders were the number one cause of death from mental illness (now surpassed by opioid use), yet too many people consider eating disorders to be a phase, a fad, a choice, or, worse yet, a vanity.

Now more than a decade into recovery, I have the joy and privilege of serving as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a D.C.-based nonprofit that provides affordable and accessible clinical treatment, community support, and educational programs to bridge gaps that keep people from getting the help they need to recover.

Countless clients we serve at Rock Recovery come to us feeling like they are failing, ashamed that they can’t seem to get better on their own. At Rock, we provide the clinical treatment and community support they need to heal and break free from their eating disorder. Since finances are one of the biggest barriers to treatment, we provide our recovery services to clients without regard to their ability to pay as we never want cost to be a barrier to anyone receiving treatment.

As our society continues to demonize fat, idolize thinness and belittle the severity of eating disorders even though they are life-threatening illnesses, our team at Rock is working hard to change the conversation. May is Mental Health Month and our hope throughout this month (and all year long!) is to educate people about this important mental health issue and begin to eradicate the stigma surrounding weight, size, health and disordered eating. Our hope is that community members will discover a new mindset around health and the relationship with food, while those who need support will learn how to get connected to the life-saving treatment they need.

As a community organization, the best part about working for Rock is hearing the powerful testimonies from our clients. People often come to us broken, lost and afraid, clinging to that last sliver of hope for recovery. There is no greater joy than watching them leave the program with a renewed sense of hope and an excitement for the life that is possible in freedom from an eating disorder.

Rock Recovery Group

Daniela, one of our program graduates, said, “Rock Recovery set a safe space for us to follow one of the most basic human needs, eat free of judgment, and especially from our own judgment. Moreover, at group, I felt for the first time in my life that my life mattered.. When I look back at my darkest moments, I remember that there were people who thought I was worthy of feeling good in my body, that encouraged me to trust myself, and believed in me, the Rock team. I still have moments of doubt and hesitation, but I can seek comfort in healthier habits and not in rules and restrictions.”

Another program graduate, Tim, reflected, “I was never supposed to have an eating disorder. I’m male, I had self-control, and I had friends….The group met on Sundays, but during the week I’d think of the people there. They weren’t supposed to have eating disorders either. But they did, and now they were looking at my life for proof that recovery was possible – that we didn’t have to be this way forever – and I was looking at them. What I saw saved me.”

I love hearing these testimonies, or stories of healing as we call them at Rock Recovery. My personal journey to Rock Recovery began twenty years ago, when my life was changed by an eating disorder. Fifteen years into recovery, I get to use my journey to show people that freedom from an eating disorder is truly possible – for them, their loved ones, their friends and so many more. It’s incredibly meaningful work and I cannot wait to see how the journey continues.

Christie Dondero Bettwy serves as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a local nonprofit that helps people overcome disordered eating by combining clinical and community care. Having gone through recovery herself, she understands the depth of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual support needed to recover. She is passionate about spreading the message that complete freedom from disordered eating is possible. She is an active speaker and shares her story with organizations and media outlets across the country. You can learn more about Rock Recovery’s work at www.rockrecoveryed.org

The Joy of Accompaniment: Reflecting on 15 years of serving moms and babies in Washington, DC

This year I mark my 15th anniversary working at The Northwest Center (NWC). As I reflect on these years, I am reminded of the foundational value of a good volunteer experience and how it can influence future career paths.

As a freshman at Georgetown University, I chose to receive a fourth credit for my Introduction to Psychology course by taking on weekly volunteer work. I value volunteering and also supporting pregnant women, so my search led me to NWC and its Pregnancy Center Program. I volunteered for a semester and subsequently chose to volunteer on my own my sophomore year. I remember helping sort donations and sitting with women and listening to their personal stories. It left a lasting impression.

To this experience, I later added a post-college year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working with teen mothers and felt called to pursue a career in social work. Fast forward 10 years and, after several years of working in child welfare for Montgomery County, I was thinking it was time for a job change. A friend who had been volunteering at NWC told me there was an opening for Director of the Maternity Home, a second program offered at NWC. Before I knew it, I was working at the agency where I had gained my very first work experience related to my eventual social work profession. Subsequently, I also became Executive Director, overseeing both NWC programs.

Susan

During these ensuing 15 years at NWC, I have grown in so many ways. When I left Montgomery County for the maternity home position, my supervisor gave me a small novelty hammer and screwdriver. To my great surprise, those farewell gifts turned out to foretell how much I would need to learn about maintenance issues for the upkeep of the 100-year-old DC townhouse that houses NWC’s programs.

But the main growth has been in understanding the need in the community and how best to meet that need. I have learned the importance of creating a safe space for women to share their hopes, dreams, and struggles and to respond by listening, not judging, and providing encouragement.

My experience at NWC often brings to mind the words of Father Greg Boyle in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Father Boyle talks about “standin awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

I am truly awed by the resilience of the women we serve in the face of what they have to carry: from domestic violence to poverty and lack of resources (housing, food, adequate medical care), to the racism they face. In spite of this, each and every mother makes countless sacrifices for her baby and her family. My lens of viewing the world has widened as I have seen the daily struggles and joys of so many different families who have allowed me a glimpse into their lives.

“Accompaniment” is my greatest joy in being a social worker and working at NWC. Walking alongside women – providing support, encouragement, guidance – has allowed me to watch the moms grow in every area of their lives as they become new parents and build long-term stability for their families. Being a part of a child’s life – from before they are born, and watching them grow, achieve developmental milestones, and become a member of the village which supports their family – is truly a gift.

The story of one determined mom is an example of the difficult path women have walked as they progress through NWC programs. This mother was pregnant with her second child and did not have stable, safe housing nor health insurance. She was eager in working towards her goals: deliver a healthy baby, find daycare for her children, obtain U.S. citizenship, and find a better paying job to support her family. She obtained health insurance, gave birth to a full-term baby, and found a good daycare. The mother and I deciphered our way through the citizenship application. I drove her to the immigration office for her interview, reviewed study questions for the test with her, and eventually attended her naturalization ceremony. She obtained a better paying job, now lives in affordable housing, and I continue to provide resources and support to her family.

And then there is the joy of reading to a young infant and watching that become a part of his daily routine. I was reading a board book to a 4-month-old who blurted out gleeful sounds every time he saw the hippo in the book. His mom was impressed that a baby that young enjoyed reading and began reading to him daily. Some of the babies liked the animal noises so much that every time they wanted to read a book, they walked around making animal noises and handed their mothers a book.

Many we serve become extended family, keeping in touch after they have moved to independence, and often visiting NWC to support new women entering the programs. This is a real way that I see The Northwest Center living out its mission to support all women through pregnancy as well as beyond to long-term well-being for themselves and their families.

I have been blessed with dedicated, supportive, and creative coworkers who truly define what it means to be a team. I am grateful for the wide range of volunteers who pick up and sort donations, meet with families, and offer their expertise, energy and passion. It is these volunteers that keep me going when the work is challenging. I am amazed at the generous community donations that help provide resources in support of the needs and hopes of new mothers and their infants.

My 15-year tenure also has been enriched by the generosity of our donors, by the strong commitment of the board, staff and volunteers, and by the embrace of our local community. I am humbled to work at an agency that exists and thrives because of these caring efforts in support of pregnant women and families.

This reflection was written by Susan Gallucci, LICSW, the current Executive Director of The Northwest Center (Photo by Renata Grzan Wieczorek/FortheLoveofBeauty.com).