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We’re Growing… More Space Means More Lives Touched

Written by LaToya Davis, Director of Communications at Greater DC Diaper Bank

Recently, I went to an event where I met a young woman who happened to notice my shirt with our logo on it. She smiled at me, came up to me and introduced herself. After I introduced myself, she started to tear up. Confused, I asked, “Is there something I said wrong? If so, I apologize.” She looked up and said, “No ma’am these are happy tears. I want to say thank you.” She shared with me that for months she had been bringing her young daughter to school only a few times a month. The staff and her social worker had asked several times how they could support her. But she had been too embarrassed to share so she didn’t.

“After several months, during visits with my social worker I started to receive diapers with that same logo on them. I didn’t know who you were but I recognized the logo. Because you’re now providing diapers for my baby, I can buy bus fare to get her to school.”

Needless to say, I hear countless stories like this day in and day out that tear at my heart strings but encourage me and let me know we’re making a difference in the lives of families. At the Greater DC Diaper Bank, we truly believe in empowering families and individuals in need throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia by providing an adequate and reliable source for basic baby needs and personal hygiene products. Through actions large and small, collective and individual, we create a community in which families have all they need to thrive.

We are excited to share that we have recently grown and expanded in several different ways, including adding more staff and expanding our warehouse space. This has allowed us more capacity to help families across this region access the everyday essentials they need to thrive. We’ve expanded our warehouse space by over 3,000 sq. ft.! Not only is it larger but also safer, more efficient and quite beautiful. With our new space, we can now serve thousands more families in our community. Additionally, our staff has nearly doubled in size, allowing our reach to go even further and our voice to be even louder.

Greater DC Diaper Bank 1

Before

Greater DC Diaper Bank 2

After!

For every call we get asking for help, we’re fortunate to get another eight offering help. That’s what makes this rewarding. We believe changing babies changes lives. We’re on a mission to empower families and individuals throughout D.C., MD, and VA by providing a reliable and adequate source of basic baby needs and personal hygiene products.

It’s the outpour of generosity and kindness that infects everyone around it. The work that we do is about reaching not only the family who is in need but also the family who has an overwhelming need to give back and help! Our work helps to make that connection between both families — it’s an honor to be able to do that.

We are excited and proud about all the work we’ve done over the past 10 years. Since 2010, we have distributed:

  • 9.5 million diapers
  • 225,000 8oz bottles of formula
  • 681,000 period products
  • 62,470 packs of wipes
  • 11,125 pounds of baby food
  • 103,000 incontinence supplies
  • and so much more to 10,000+ families all across the region.

The exciting part about this is we are JUST getting started. We look forward to continuing our cause for countless years to come!

You can learn more about Greater DC Diaper Bank and how to get involved at their website.

 

6 Things to Have in Mind Before You Begin a Social Media Campaign

Written by Matt Gayer, Co-Executive Director of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

A lot of times, posting on social media for our organization can feel like we are spinning our wheels, or that we are just doing it because everyone else is. If we are going to take the time to do a social media campaign and dedicate resources to it, we need to make sure we’re ready to advantage of the campaign. Here’s six things to decide and plan for before you begin posting your campaign.

#1: What’s your goal?

SM 1

Not all campaigns are created equally, and not all campaigns are about raising money (!). Campaigns can focus on getting folks to donate, take action (e.g., volunteer, recycle at home), advocate, or learn more. Decide what your goal is — what you want people to do. Then, decide when you need them to do that by this will help you to start thinking through the timing and urgency of the campaign.

#2: What else is going on?

SM 2

Your campaign doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Keep in mind if your campaign is part of a broader movement (e.g., GivingTuesday), a busy time of year (e.g., End of Year), or a thematic time (e.g., Mother’s Day, Women’s History Month). Either include these broader trends in your campaign, or purposefully avoid those busier times.

#3: Who’s my audience?

SM 3

It isn’t as simple as just counting your followers. You need to know something about who is following you on social media to be able to customize your campaign to them. Do some research and get a sense of who they are and what they might be interested in. You also can decide ahead of time to just target certain groups by their experience (e.g., past volunteers) or who they are (e.g., local donors).

#4: What content will I use?

SM 4
Once a campaign gets going, things move fast. Especially for visual content, which you have to have to be engaging, we need to make it ahead of time. Think through what images, Gifs, or videos you’ll need during the campaign, and create as many as possible before it starts. You might have 1-2 “live shots” during the campaign, but most of it can be pre-planned.

#5: Who can help spread the message?

SM 5

It isn’t enough to get attention to your campaign by pushing it out, you need others to share their influence as well. Make sure staff and board are engaged prior to sending as well. Try to get a group of 10-15 external supporters (volunteers, donors, etc) to agree to share a message about the campaign, all at the same time on the same day. It helps with visibility and makes it seem like a conversation is happening.

#6: What’s my plan?

SM 6
Finally, work out at least a rough plan with timing for posts and an outline of post content. As mentioned above, campaigns move fast so we need to be ready prior.

If you think through these six things before you make that first post or Tweet, you’ll be a lot more likely to see some real progress from your campaign. It takes some time to be ready for that authentic-feeling campaign.

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Manna Food Center

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Fact: Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country.

Fact: Montgomery County is the 18th wealthiest county in the country, out of over 3,100 counties.

Fact: Over 63,000 people in Montgomery County don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

No one should have to struggle with food insecurity, yet too many do right here in our local communities. That’s why Manna Food Center is committed to not only ending hunger, but also combating the structures that allowed it in the first place. As Montgomery County’s largest food rescue program, this nonprofit provides supplemental food assistance, education, and advocacy to more than 6,000 families every month. Recently, I got to know this organization a little better by volunteering for their annual MLK Weekend Food Drive.

Since 1994, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been recognized as a day of service, when Americans are encouraged to give back to their community through volunteering. And what better way to celebrate the message of Dr. King than to help our neighbors in need? That’s why on Saturday and Sunday, January 18-19th, Manna Food Center hosted food drives at 19 Giant Food stores across Montgomery County.

Signing up for a volunteer slot online was quick and easy. In the spirit of one of the Catalogue’s frequently-used phrases “think local, act local, give local,” I chose the Leisure World location, which is only 10 minutes from my house. I recruited one of my roommates to join me for the Saturday 12-3pm shift. When we arrived, we found signs for Manna Food Center hanging from shopping carts already filled with food.

MFC 1

We greeted the 9am-12pm shift volunteers, a mother-father-daughter team. They provided a quick breakdown of our task: inviting grocery store customers to purchase additional items while shopping to then donate to Manna Food Center on their way out. We were to hand shoppers helpful slips of paper with a list of the most needed non-perishable items. (It had the Catalogue’s seal on the back!)

MFC 2

 

I found this to be a cleverly designed setup. First of all, some individuals feel more comfortable donating tangible things than money. And second of all, this was a convenient and fun way to give back; you’re already shopping anyway, so why not pick up a few extra cans of soup?

Our fellow volunteers included a high schooler earning service hours for National Honor Society. His father accompanied him for the first half of the afternoon and switched places with the mother in the second half. Then, a surprise – we were joined by Maryland Delegate Vaughn Stewart! He helped us collect donations (and shake constituents’ hands) for a while before heading on to another Manna location also in his district.

MFC 3

The weather that day was an unwelcome mixture of freezing rain and snow. Even though we were inside the building (not always a guarantee for food drives!), we kept our coats on because every time the automatic door opened, we got assailed by the chill. Regardless, the mood was upbeat among the volunteers. I especially enjoyed interrogating Delegate Stewart about local politics. He was very pleasant and interesting to talk to!

This particular volunteer role required a certain degree of salesmanship when approaching strangers and persuading them to buy us food. Some individuals gave us a brusque NOTHANKYOU, only to come back later with donations anyway. One man wearing a University of Washington sweatshirt told us that he couldn’t. I replied, “Go Dawgs! I’m an alumnus of ‘U-Dub’ too!” He later sheepishly returned with a bag of baby food jars.

MFC 4

 

Although we never solicited money-donations, some people didn’t want to bother with picking out an item, so they just put cash in our hands instead. Throughout our three hours of volunteering, we consolidated this money into a coat pocket (referred to as “The Bank”) for safekeeping. At the end of our shift, we used this money to buy a cart full of cans for Manna Food Center.

MFC 5

Three o’clock came and our shift was over. The shoppers of Leisure World had been generous – we had filled up multiple carts’ worth of donations! We rolled our final packed cart of donations over to Giant staff and folded up our signs for the next day’s volunteers. Volunteering had been an invigorating experience! I’m glad to have made a memory of getting to know a local politician, meeting two families celebrating the MLK weekend through public service, and helping to make a difference for people struggling with food insecurity in my county.

That weekend, I was just one of over 200 volunteers and 24 elected officials to participate in Manna Food Center’s food drive. These officials included city councilmembers, county councilmembers, state delegates, a state senator, and even U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin! Together, we collected over 27,000 pounds of food that will be donated to Montgomery County residents in need. Out of 19 locations, Leisure World volunteers were the 4th most productive – we collected 2,244 pounds of food!

If soliciting strangers in a grocery store sounds intimidating to you, then don’t worry! Manna Food Center has a wealth of volunteer opportunities for introverts too. For example, volunteers can help out with:

  • Packing boxes of non-perishable food items
  • Transporting food from donors to recipient organizations
  • Sorting warehouse donations

 

On the other hand, if you enjoy more community-facing work like my experience during the MLK weekend drive, you could volunteer for such tasks as:

  • Receiving and processing referrals through phone and email in Manna’s call center
  • Assisting with educational workshops on nutrition, health, and cooking
  • Representing Manna Food Center at community events
  • Distributing food directly to Manna clients

Some of these positions require additional training. Some are well suited for individuals and others are excellent fits for families and groups to volunteer together. You can learn more about volunteering with Manna Food Center on their volunteer page.

Volunteering is a way of getting involved in your community and seeing an immediate, tangible difference in your labor. Despite its prevalence, food insecurity is not always obvious; volunteering with Manna Food Center can open our eyes to the size of the need. When you help out with food assistance, you could be helping out your neighbor or classmate and not even know it.

 

 

 

Dear Neighbor: Why I fight for the Potomac River

How getting face-to-face with dirty water turned this Old Town resident into an advocate.

What turns someone from a simply living near the Potomac River, to being a true neighbor of the river?

Like the other 5 million people in the DC metro region, Susan Ginsburg lives near the water – in fact, she lives just a few strides away from its edge in Alexandria, Virginia. However, she hasn’t always had a deep connection with the Potomac. Once curious and unsure of the waterway around which her city is built, she now plays an active role in restoring its health. Hear from Susan how her relationship with the river has changed through years of walks, runs, paddles, and adventures with her dog:

Susan Ginsburg – Potomac Conservancy supporter and volunteer

“Dear neighbors of the Potomac River,

My journey with the Potomac River started when I moved to Old Town Alexandria from Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle over 27 years ago. Even though I moved to just a few blocks away from the Potomac, it took me a while to really notice the river.

When I did, I decided to start running in the mornings to take advantage of the national trail, the views up and down river, the sounds of the water lapping, the turtle-laden logs, the fresh-air breezes on my face. I began to appreciate the beauty of what we have with the Potomac River.

Then, wanting to be just a bit more adventurous and take advantage of what the Potomac has to offer, I decided to get into kayaking. At the time, Atlantic Kayak was headquartered in Old Town near the coal plant. I needed to get a safety certificate so I could rent their kayaks.

During one of the safety certificate training sessions one day, I found myself hanging upside down in the river, head under water, zipped into the kayak. The idea of the training was to extricate oneself, flip the kayak, and climb back in. Which I did. But in that long moment of hanging, suspended in the water, I asked myself, Do I really want to be hanging in this water? It seems kind of brown and murky.

Now feeling more curious about the river than ever before, I began to notice more things about this river that I loved and depended on for daily fun and exercise outside. I began to notice trash that dotted the shorelines after storms. I began to read about Old Town’s sewer system, and how its need for significant modernization was not being met. I was aware, and now upset to learn that raw sewage sometimes flowed from Alexandria into the Potomac River in heavy rainstorms.

I started to think about how our community lives along the Potomac, sometimes unaware of its challenges and changes.

Flooding in Old Town 2016. Photos courtesy of John Sonderman via Flickr.

Flooding in Old Town 2016. Photos courtesy of John Sonderman via Flickr.

I discovered that Lee Street in Alexandria was originally called Water Street; in other words, the street that was now two blocks away from the water’s edge used to be the shoreline. The floods at the base of King Street are notorious, and one year I actually saw kayakers paddling along Union Street making their way to Starbucks. As entertaining a scene as that was, I began to wonder about the implications of the climate breakdown for Old Town Alexandria, as well as for Georgetown where I grew up, and downtown Washington, DC.

My questions led to more learning, and then to Potomac Conservancy.

One day I decided it was time to do something about my feelings for and concerns about the river. I opened my computer, looked for relevant organizations, and found Potomac Conservancy and became a member. Now that I’ve gotten involved, I do think differently about the river.

I’m now aware that there are 31,000 friends and supporters of Potomac Conservancy doing everything from volunteering their time, to picking up trash along the river’s banks, to writing their county commissioners about the need to tighten water pollution policy. I read the River Update email newsletter and see upcoming tree planting events and learn about local fish populations and other wildlife benefiting from cleaner waters and healthier habitat.

Most of all, I’m energized to know that I’ve joined a community that cares about our local environment – and takes actions every day to help our local environment heal and thrive.

 

Potomac Conservancy volunteers cleaning up trash along the river at Jones Point Park

Potomac Conservancy volunteers cleaning up trash along the river at Jones Point Park

We all have our paths of discovery. We drive around this region, frequently along the Potomac River. We run, bike, walk our dogs, sometimes we kayak, row, or boat on the river. Many of us have had a riverside snack at a restaurant that enjoys a Potomac River view. We all use the water – and that water comes from the Potomac River.

Potomac Conservancy makes it easy to get involved. Do you want to volunteer? Speak out to encourage river-friendly laws? Learn more about our water, our wildlife, and how we can help our local environment be as healthy and clean as we know it should be?

There is a way to get involved that’s going to be right for you. I hope to see you on the river.

Sincerely,

Susan Ginsburg”

 

This blog post was originally published at potomac.org on January 3rd, 2020.

Becoming Visible

Written by Tyler French

My work with Story Tapestries began in the summer 2018. I joined the team as a teaching assistant, supporting a visual artist to lead Neelsville Middle School students in Germantown, Maryland to design and create two murals for their school. One student in particular, “John,” stands out when I reflect on that summer program. John was incredibly quiet, didn’t engage with many of the other students, and never raised his hand when the group was asked a question. When we brought out the paints to start realizing our design, he worked silently on his corner. Cleaning spilled paint out of my hair (one of the tubes had exploded), I saw John working on his corner of the mural, intensely focused. I stopped and watched while he carefully applied the paint, blending from lavender to a deep purple that pulled me into the piece.

Story Tapestries Mural 1

I flashed back to my middle school self as I watched John paint. I recognized his shyness in myself. I recognized his inability to easily engage with his peers, his hesitancy to raise his hand even though he knew the answer to our questions. At the moment, another student was walking behind John, stopped, and asked, “How’d you do that?!” pointing to the gradient purples. From that moment, John became a consultant to other students’ mural sections. He helped others blend their paint, get a clean edge, and troubleshoot issues. I witnessed John become visible to himself, to matter.

Story Tapestries Mural 2

Story Tapestries is continuing to serve Neelsville Middle School students as the Lead Partner on a Trawick Foundation TeamUp Grant. Trawick started the TeamUp grants to promote collaboration among nonprofit partners, decrease duplication, and expand resources. Story Tapestries has the pleasure of collaborating with Aspire Counseling, Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, and NAMI MC (all of whom are also Catalogue for Philanthropy partners). Our various programs at the school blend trauma-informed counseling and training, conflict resolution skill building, and arts integration programs for academic supports and social emotional growth. Story Tapestries sees the power artmaking has to open up youth to others and help them express their thoughts and feelings. Working alongside these other nonprofits, we are able to provide additional supports for youth who may have these experiences in our arts-based sessions, and may also benefit from other services including therapy and coaching.

Every time I visit Neelsville Middle School and pass that mural, I see another section of John’s handiwork that I hadn’t noticed before. I always pause and take a moment to remind myself what incredible power arts experiences have for students (and had for me, when I was John’s age). Working in tandem with these partners, I am excited to learn what impact our various programs and services will have for John and other students. As we move toward collecting data for a midyear report, we look forward to the opportunity to reflect with John and other students to start to evaluate not only the individual but also the collective impact of our programs.

If you would like to know more about Story Tapestries’ collaborative framework and the Neelsville mural, or connect about the Trawick Foundation supported collaboration at Neelsville Middle School, please don’t hesitate to email Development Director, Lorienne Beals, at lorienne@storytapestries.org.

Give Local: GivingTuesday 2019

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

At the Catalogue for Philanthropy, we shine a light on the best small, local nonprofits all year-round. But we do a little extra on one especially important day of the year: GivingTuesday. This global day of philanthropy follows Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday — once people have finished all of their holiday shopping, they’re encouraged to then give back! GivingTuesday is a pretty big deal here at the Catalogue, to say the least.

Since grassroots nonprofits focus most of their limited resources on their direct programming, they may not have much left over for self-promotion. That’s where the Catalogue comes in. In addition to providing educational support to our nonprofit partners, we also promote and showcase their work to wider audiences. GivingTuesday is the perfect opportunity to share the incredible difference they’re accomplishing and we took full advantage of this global movement to amplify local giving.

We began to lay the groundwork for our GivingTuesday campaign months aheadoftime. We knew that one of our strategies would be to coordinate “in-person activation,” a way to energize online-giving through on-the-ground events. We reached out to businesses throughout the DC metropolitan area, encouraging them to get involved through hosting an event, donating funds, or promoting giving through their networks. We even created a helpful one-pager to hand out.

GT19 One-Pager

 

In addition to multiple businesses agreeing to post GivingTuesday flyers, Pacers Navy Yard donated a generous runner’s dream gift bag and CorePower donated a month of unlimited yoga for our GivingTuesday happy hour door prizes! One of the most exciting collaborations was with Craft Beer Cellar. They initiated the idea of a Give a Can – Get a Can food drive; for every can of food that a person donated to their shop, they would receive in exchange a can of beer! The cans of food were donated to three Catalogue nonprofits: Common Threads in DC, Nourish Now in Maryland, and Spend Yourself Food Pantry in Virginia. Beer cans were donated by local breweries DC Brau Brewing, Manor Hill Brewing in Maryland, and Old Ox Brewery in Virginia. As the official GivingTuesday partner for the Greater Washington region, we knew that we needed to work hard to stand out among all of the campaigns taking place across the country and internationally. This meant marketing designed to emphasize our motto: #GiveLocal. We put together a sleek online platform for donations at the aptly-named givelikealocal.org, created and distributed online and print flyers, an infographic timeline, and even created in-house an animated video.

GT19 Print Flyers_Full Page

 

Because our nonprofit partners are smaller organizations, we knew that many of them have limited materials, time, and staff. To give them a leg up for the big day, we created a variety of resources for them. These included sample thank you letters, a stewardship plan, social media templates and graphics, sample supporter emails, a sample donor pyramid, and tutorials on setting up?personal GivingTuesday fundraising pages. Our staff set aside blocks of time (that got booked very quickly!) to meet with nonprofit partners one-on-one to give personalized feedback and guidance on their GivingTuesday campaigns. We also hosted two webinars, a lunch and learn, and a workshop on how to make GivingTuesday a success. And this doesn’t even begin to cover the dozens of daily emails and phone calls we received from excited partners getting prepped!

Social Media #GivingTuesday_Instagram

 

The big day finally arrived! At givelikealocal.org, over 200 of our nonprofit partners hosted their own campaign pages, with goals ranging from $250-$50,000. It was exhilarating (and fun) every time we hit refresh on our website and watched the overall thermometer go up. Because research shows that people are more likely to give when they have a time pressure, and because we wanted to encourage widespread engagement over and above dollars raised, we incorporated the use of “Power Hours.” These were one-hour periods during which the nonprofit with the most unique donors won an extra $1,000. The four winners ended up being our partners 1st Stage (9-10am), DC Scores (12-2pm), City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties (3-4pm), and The Josh Anderson Foundation (8-9pm). Throughout the day (and weeks leading up as well) we were continuously active on social media. We were honored to have Instagram influencer Austin Graff on board that day. Via his Instagram stories, he promoted his ten favorite nonprofits participating in our campaign. Another thrilling development: we got to take over the We the People DC handle for the day! This was exciting news for us and our nonprofits because We the People DC has over 50,000 followers on Instagram. What a fantastic opportunity to promote charitable giving on GivingTuesday! Some of our posts that day included visiting our partners Free Minds Book Club, LearnServe International, Sixth & I, and Suited for Change. GT19 We the People DC As the evening came to a close, we held a celebratory happy hour with partners at Wunder Garten. We had reason to celebrate: our initial overall goal of $400,000 had been surpassed! With the help of 5,270 donors, we raised $637,828 for small, local nonprofits! Our months of preparation, collaborations, and hard work had paid off. We feel incredibly inspired by the level of generosity and community engagement we witnessed on GivingTuesday. It is moments like these that we remember why the work of the Catalogue is so vital in lifting up the work of local nonprofits. We feel honored and proud that as the official GivingTuesday partner for the DC region, we were able to host this platform for local philanthropy. As we start a new year, we’re excited to continue our work here at the Catalogue. After all, it’s never too early to begin planning for GivingTuesday 2020!

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Iona Senior Services

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Loneliness has become an epidemic. It’s increasingly common and can have seriously negative effects on our physical and cognitive health — research has even suggested that it’s as equally dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. What’s more, our society’s elderly are particularly vulnerable.

One organization working to combat social isolation among older people is Iona Senior Services. This nonprofit provides comprehensive support to those who are “aging in place.” They run errands, prepare meals, manage money, and provide anything else older adults need to live and thrive in their own homes. Iona also implements community programs to encourage social engagement, where participants can talk with their friends, meet new people, go on field trips around DC, share meals, and enjoy classes about various topics. Iona’s Active Wellness Program at St. Albans not only uplifts seniors’ spirits, but also their health. Iona’s work is made possible by their committed staff and team of volunteers. Recently I had the privilege of being one of those volunteers!

It was a rainy Wednesday morning when I arrived at St. Albans Parish on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. Inside Satterlee Hall, I entered a large room with a vaulted ceiling where I was greeted by staff and fellow volunteers. People sometimes joke that their cubicle feels like a closet — at this particular location, Iona Senior Services literally does operate out of a closet! Every possible inch of space was strategically packed like a game of Tetris.

Iona 2

In preparation for incoming participants, we set up tables for lunch and chairs for the exercise class. Some friendly, enthusiastic ladies started arriving for the day’s programming. Over cups of coffee we got into a lively discussion about how the Kennedy Center is too expensive. Although there were other tasks to be done as well, I would come to learn that much of volunteering for Iona Senior Services is just socializing with nice people.

Iona 3

At 10:15, it was time for that day’s field trip: The Smithsonian Postal Museum! Courtney, the St. Albans Program Manager, asked me to join her and a small group of women to come along for the ride. We piled into a van and set off. It felt rather like a private bus tour of DC since Courtney has an incredible encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s history. So many fun factoids!

We arrived at the museum; I had taken the day off work to volunteer, yet now I was coincidentally back across the street from the Catalogue office. The visit was a charming diversion. We leisurely wandered through the history of the American postal system, learning about the various innovations and services the post office has provided us over the years. The women chuckled when I asked what a money order was.

Our last stop was the stamps room. It is far more interesting than some might give it credit for; one could easily spend hours examining designs and rare mistakes. Our group dedicated our short time to the international section. It included stamps for some nations which don’t even exist anymore! A few of the ladies were delighted to look at stamps from their countries of origin.

Iona 4-5

We returned to Satterlee Hall, where tables were filled with people halfway through lunch. The meal had been served by other volunteers, including some young women from American University. Because this was their final day after having volunteered for multiple weeks, they gave a public thank you and goodbye speech to the participants. After a round of applause, a man complimented one of the students, saying that she looked just like Amy Carter. She asked, “Who?”

After lunch, I helped clean up dishes, tablecloths, and decorations. It was very important to place items back into the correct spots in the closet so that everything fit! At 12:35, Courtney began a class for participants on “The Art of Writing,” a discussion on language structure and history. People seemed engaged and enthusiastic about the topic. My shift for the day was done, so I said my goodbyes and headed on my way.

Iona 6

We all need more community and connection in our lives. Iona is making that local community possible; many of the people I spoke with that day lived within a few blocks of St. Albans, or as we like to say at the Catalogue “hyperlocal.” These programs are an opportunity for them to make new friends and spend time with old ones. I felt honored to participate and meet some altruistic and caring individuals. All in all, the volunteer experience felt rather like spending the day with a beloved grandmother: relaxed, pleasant, and rewarding.

If you can make a commitment to come consistently and make connections, then please consider finding a volunteer opportunity with Iona Senior Services:

  • The Active Wellness Program at St Albans. This is what I did. Come on weekdays to greet people, serve lunch, set up classes and meals, and go on field trips around DC!
  • Weekend Meal Packing and Delivery Time. On Saturday mornings, Iona needs volunteers on a recurring basis to prepare and deliver meals to older adults in their homes. Like all volunteer positions, this is an opportunity to form personal relationships and provide social connection to people living alone.
  • Wellness & Arts Center. Volunteers here help out during the week with adults with less mobility by sharing specific skills as possible, helping out with lunchtime, and general support for recreational activities.
  • Friendly Visitors Program. Make friends with older people by visiting them in their homes, help with reading, and run general errands.
  • Administration. Iona can usually use volunteers to help with tasks involving office and computer work.

ASAS DC Engages STEM Professionals to Enhance Afterschool Programs

Written by Patrick Giblin, Development & Marketing Manager of After-School All-Stars, Washington DC

After-School All-Stars, Washington DC (ASAS DC) is a local charity focused on providing free after-school programs to low-income DC middle schools. A unique element of ASAS DC’s programming is our heavy emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, more affectionately referred to as STEM in the education sector. Across three DC wards and six schools, hundreds of students experience our free STEM offerings in the afterschool space every weeknight. Those offerings include classes such as digital photography, drone engineering, video game design, coding, real estate development and environmental science.

In addition to those classes this year, we have two dedicated “STEM Clubs” at Stuart-Hobson and John Hayden Johnson Middle Schools, where students can engage in purely STEM-related activities. Based on our participants’ interests, “STEM kits” and related curricula were acquired from the National Energy Education Development (NEED). NEED provides ample resources and training for our instructors to create quality STEM classes, and ASAS DC is uniquely positioned to implement the classes, providing it to students who need it the most. All-star’s students have consistently expressed an interest in environmental/conservation topics related to STEM, and as a result several of the NEED STEM kits are focused on alternative energy and environmental science.

ASAS DC sought to provide appropriate complements to these offerings, which is why we engaged with two leading organizations in the field. This past October and November, our chapter hosted two STEM-themed employee volunteer events with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Bechtel, respectively.

Specifically, scientists and education specialists from NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, Education and Community Involvement Branch visited Stuart-Hobson MS in October. They spent an afternoon with our students, sharing information on their work and completing three hands-on activities designed to educate youth on DNA and science more broadly. Students scraped their cheek cells and examined them under NIH microscopes, they extracted DNA from strawberries using a technique demonstrated by the science professionals, and completed a watercolor activity revolving around the shape and code within a DNA double helix. Fifteen ASAS DC students were exposed to high-level and engaging science subjects; they expressed interest in the scientists’ jobs and showed a desire to work with the microscopes every day!

ASAS-DC NIH

A consistent aspect of our program has always been career exposure. Regardless of professional sector, it is important that our students are connected to reputable professionals who can not only describe their current work, but also their journey and obstacles they’ve had to overcome in order to be where they are now. Many of our students had not considered the possibility that they could do something like this for a living prior to this NIH engagement, which is why this exposure is invaluable.

Less than a month later, ASAS DC was contacted by the global engineering company Bechtel. Keith Hennessey, president of Bechtel Enterprises, serves on the board of ASAS DC. He also serves as an Executive Sponsor of Women@Bechtel, a business resource group within the company meant to promote the development of women’s careers. Members of this group expressed an interest in skills-based volunteering with underserved youth. What resulted was another successful collaboration in the same style as the NIH event that preceded it — this time dedicated to the engineering portion of STEM.

Four Bechtel engineers presented in front of a group of 15 Stuart-Hobson students in early November. Bechtel Fellow Kit Ng shared a presentation on Bechtel’s water treatment work. The presentation had tremendous resonance with our students who are extremely passionate about climate change issues, and they asked several questions about water filtration systems in the developing world as a result.

To bring this material to life, Bechtel provided a hands-on experiment very similar to NIH. Students split into teams and tested several water filtration techniques using materials brought in by the engineers. Students compared each solution, (grass, pebbles, coffee filters, cloth, etc.) and based on the information presented to them earlier, were able to discern which materials filtered the clearest water. These realizations were related to the earlier presentation of Bechtel doing the same work on a larger scale. With that connection, students had a newfound respect for this work. Not only increasing the quality of life for underserved communities but doing it an efficient and environmentally-friendly manner was of great interest to our youth. Bechtel staff were pleased to see this interest, and several of the students even asked about internships with the organization!

ASAS-DC Bechtel

STEM is a complex and nuanced subject matter that lends itself to hands-on work. Any letter in that acronym is associated with high-level and detailed academic information. ASAS DC prides itself on effectively teaching these subjects to adolescent students in an engaging way and age-appropriate way. We cannot do that without the support of our partners and external organizations such as NIH and Bechtel. Not only do they possess the resources and expertise, but their respective staff genuinely care about underserved youth and are happy to volunteer their time in order to convey some of their experience to our students. Most importantly, our students are shown a clear path to success in these fields by having direct access to professionals who are eager to support them. We are humbled to be a part of that collective effort and will continue to use all resources at our disposal to provide the most impactful and highest quality experience to adolescents in the District of Columbia.

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Rock Creek Conservancy

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Over the course of 33 miles, Rock Creek meanders from a spring in Montgomery County, through 9 miles of Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, and alongside residential and industrial areas until it finally disperses into the Potomac River. In the DC section alone, over 2 million people visit this local treasure every year. Rock Creek Conservancy is the only nonprofit solely dedicated to its preservation through their people-powered efforts. Every year, over 5,000 volunteers join in to restore Rock Creek, and on National Public Lands Day (NPLD), I was honored to be one of them.

Led by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), this national restoration event takes place every year on the last Saturday of September. On this day, volunteers across the country come out to celebrate our public lands through public service. Earlier this year, Rock Creek Conservancy’s event in Rock Creek Park was honored as the 2019 signature site!

It was an exemplary autumn morning in Rock Creek Park — clear and crisp. As I approached the welcome tents, I was impressed by the scale of the event. There were not only sign-in sheets for volunteers, but also members of the media! Tables were lined with free t-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, pastries, and coffee! There was even a mascot walking around! …of what appeared to be a bison dressed as a doctor? (It was later explained to me that he was promoting doctors prescribing nature to patients, an intriguing and promising idea.)

RCC A

After listening to some enthusiastic speeches from the event sponsors, we split into color groups to begin our tasks for the day.

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Volunteers had been given 5 choices of work projects, each associated with a different color:

  • Red: Invasive Plant Removal at the Trail 9 Mini-Oasis
  • Orange: Horse Stables & Maintenance Yard
  • Yellow: Weed Warrior Walk
  • Green: Trash Trek
  • Blue: Nature Center Rail Repair and Restoration

I had chosen blue. My group of fellow blue wrist-band-wearers convened. While other groups left the area to do work around the park, Team Blue stayed put to provide service for the Nature Center and Planetarium. We could choose to do one of three tasks: railings, bee hotels, or invasive plant removal. I joined the railing crew. The Nature Center is wheelchair-accessible, but the railings around the back were in disrepair and peeling. We used sand paper and bristles to scrape off the flaking paint chips — but not before laying down plastic tarp of course, since losing paint chips into the woods would have obviously undermined the spirit of protecting our public lands.

After making the railing acceptably smooth, we then spray-painted the railings with a new shiny glossy coat. We held up pieces of cardboard while spraying to make sure that we didn’t paint passersby or plants. Although the pre-event informational email had clearly instructed us to wear long sleeves, I had rolled up my sleeves, thus defeating the purpose. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized that I had accidentally spray-painted my arms in black paint speckle. Whoops.

RCC C

After finishing the railing, I joined the bee hotel group. What’s a “bee hotel,” you may ask? It’s a collection of bamboo shoots just the right size for a bee to get cozy in, specifically for the bee species which are more solitary than the type we usually think of. These hotels are part of the park’s effort to combat bee extinction, a troubling recent phenomenon which can potentially have devastating effects on our planet’s ecosystem.

My task was to brush out the bamboo’s inner dust with a combination of shaking and using a smaller bamboo stick. *Cough cough*. Fortunately, I didn’t disturb any creepy crawlies that might have been hiding inside.

RCC D

Then, I passed on the cleared-out shoots to the volunteer team doing a deep clean with vinegar and then gluing them down in the house frames. Earlier we had learned the importance of securing the bamboo, since even a slight tilt would send them rolling everywhere with a delightfully hollow cacophony of clinks.

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After a couple of hours, we had constructed two bee hotels and finished refurbishing all of the railings! Our Rock Creek Conservancy team leader Scott thanked us for our hard work in contributing to NPLD and we dispersed. As we returned to the front side of the center, we were rewarded by free catered lunches, a live DJ, and a voucher for free entry into any national park. As mentioned before, this was not a typical volunteer experience!

Over 175 volunteers showed up to support Rock Creek Park that day. Nationwide, over 150,000 volunteers participated at 1,000 sites! It was exciting to be a small part of a much larger communal effort, which was highlighted in this video.

You don’t have to wait until next year’s National Public Lands Day to volunteer with Rock Creek Conservancy! Most volunteer experiences with them don’t include free swag, but they do include making friends and making a difference:

  • Throughout the week you can find volunteer events to sign up for. These don’t require any training or long-term commitment. Just register and show up ready to help out!
  • If you’d like to make a recurring commitment, you can become a Stream Team leader, by “adopting” a segment of Rock Creek that you maintain together with friends, family, and neighbors.
  • Weed Warriors are recurring volunteers that help stem the growth (pun intended) of invasive, non-native plants. The next training takes place on November 23rd.
  • If your company would like to host a team-building exercise that gives back to your local community, then reach out to Rock Creek Conservancy staff about creating a custom group volunteer opportunity.
  • In the spring, they host the Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup, picking up trash along Rock Creek at over 70 locations. Mark your calendars now!

In a time of dwindling park financing, Rock Creek Conservancy staff work hard to create volunteer opportunities so that everyone in the DC region can enjoy local nature. These are especially well-suited for those with intellectually intense jobs whose impact feels removed and abstract. Volunteering with Rock Creek Conservancy is rewarding, invigorating work where you can immediately witness the difference you’ve accomplished. Volunteering to protect the Rock Creek watershed and urban wilderness feels good and does good.

Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in Montgomery County

Written by Tyler French, Innovation and Partnerships Director of Story Tapestries

On October 5, 2019, a group of family, friends, new acquaintances, and strangers gathered at the Strathmore Mansion. We were there to share in poetry, storytelling, and conversations about race, difference, and connection. Holding together this constellation is the Amplify US! Initiative, a collaboration between Story Tapestries, Arts on the Block and Impact Silver Spring to unite the voices of the past with those of our future in a dynamic series of workshops, performances and community dialogue. Amplify US! is committed to furthering racial equity in Montgomery County by amplifying underrepresented voices, creating platforms for advocacy and connection, and bringing together community members for necessary conversations.

Amplify US! is a community-led initiative and, as such, is difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t attended. It’s difficult to capture in words the feeling of the room. The conversations were not necessarily easy or without discomfort, but all were warm and caring. They felt urgent and necessary. Every person who showed up was meant to be there. People lingered longer than usual, already late for a Saturday evening. The performances and conversation created a kind of gravitational force and held us there.

Regie Cabico, Story Tapestries Master Teaching Artist, spoken word poet and performer, MCed the evening. He shared the stage with two professional performers, Jenny Lares and Dwyane B. and Story Tapestries youth and community members, Charles Stokes, Glory Egedigwe, Karina Gorham, and Mimi Hassanein. Each read poems or shared stories ranging in topics from immigration to our education system, the legacy of slavery in the United States, and spaces for finding joy and resilience. It was particularly striking to witness Glory’s excitement when she realized Jenny had performed for her when she was younger. Michelle Faulkner-Forson shared an excerpt from an in-process film project about Amplify US!, documenting the impact of these spaces for storytelling and listening.

ST 1

The second half of an Amplify US! event flips the script, asking audience members to join in by having facilitated conversations with each other. Carolyn Lowery of Impact Silver Spring facilitated the conversations, asking audience members to share with each other answers to questions about racial identity, moments of discomfort or disconnect, and moments of connection. Primed by the performances, audience members leapt into conversation with each other, discussing aspects of their lives rarely shared with strangers. The conversations engaged intergenerational connections across race and nationality and the event spilled over its end time as audience members were reluctant to end their conversations.

ST 2

Why this urgent need for dialogue?

In 2017, Montgomery County’s Police reported an 26% increase in bias incidents compared to the prior year. Of the incidents reported, roughly half were motivated by bias toward religion and half were motivated by bias toward a race or ethnicity. Story Tapestries took this report as a call to action and collaborated with other local organizations, including the Strathmore and Impact Silver Spring, to call upon our wide networks of concerned individuals to begin meeting and form a Task Force. These community meetings led to the design of what we now call the Amplify US! Initiative.

The statistics highlighted in the Montgomery County Police Department report not only guide the Amplify US! initiative but also filter into our programming across the county. We choose artists in whom youth can see themselves – so we’ve increased the number of male artists involved in these programs to serve as role models and mentors. We’ve also collaborated with organizations that serve the demographics most frequently involved in bias incidents – for example partnering with Latin American Youth Center and their GED program and with the Correctional Facility. Our artistic and administrative staff have been trained to lead dialogue circles and use conflict resolution techniques to support their ability to infuse this aspect into every program we lead and into how we operate and collaborate.

The October 5 performance kicked-off this year’s Amplify US! season. Starting in January, Amplify US! will offer free workshops in communities across Montgomery County. Participants in those workshops will work with artists in multiple art forms and a facilitator to cultivate and share their stories. Similar to the community members described above, those who wish to will have an opportunity to perform in free public performances alongside professional artists after this season’s workshops conclude in Spring 2020.

We want the texture of your voice and your experience to enrich our next conversations. To find out more about upcoming events for Amplify US! and Story Tapestries, please visit our website storytapestries.org – or reach out directly to me at tyler@storytapestries.org.

The October 5 workshop and performance event were made possible by funding from:

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