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Washington Urban Debate League Brings Home (Virtual) National Debate Championship

Written by David Trigaux, Program Director of the Washington Urban Debate League

The COVID 19 pandemic derailed the school year mid-semester. Teachers were given a single weekend’s notice in some instances that they were going online on Monday, schools scrambled to address the digital divide, and many students were lost in the shuffle or just gave up on the semester amid the chaos. Dire warnings about learning loss and exacerbating opportunity gaps fly fast and frequent, with few structural solutions in sight as the school year ends and we start looking towards the fall. This chaos has been magnified by the disproportionate impact of the virus on the black and brown members of the greater Washington community and the ongoing protests (and the government response) against racial injustice and police brutality, especially here in D.C.

It’s been a tough few months for the D.C. community, but I’m here today to share a bit of good news: a pair of intrepid young middle schoolers, representing a tiny D.C. charter school, overcame the steep odds and the pivot online amidst the pandemic and won a national debate championship.

Eighth graders David Sipos and Samantha Perkins of Inspired Teaching Demonstration School were among the 6 partnerships (from Capital City [x2], EL Haynes, Washington Latin, and Benjamin Tasker) that qualified to represent the Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL)* at the Urban Debate Middle School National Tournament in May 2020. Originally scheduled to be hosted in Tulsa, Oklahoma this season, the national tournament was one of the first in the country (and one of the few national competitions of any kind) to pivot online and actually happen this spring, giving at least a few young people the culminative experience they’d worked so hard to achieve all year.

Samantha Perkins and David Sipos at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute Summer 2019. They won first place in the JV Division despite only being in middle school

Samantha Perkins and David Sipos at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute Summer 2019. They won first place in the JV Division despite only being in middle school

The WUDL qualifiers hardly missed a beat, shifting to online preparation sessions with their coaches and our Program Coordinator, Dara Davis, several times a week on top of their schoolwork and all the turmoil that was April. This year’s topic was global arms sales, with students considering questions of national security such as the wars (and human rights situations) in Yemen, Ukraine, and beyond. While a different WUDL program (Kenmoor Middle School) took home the top prize at least year’s Middle School National Tournament, the number of competitors more than doubled this year, and we did not have realistic aspirations of repeating the title. We asked each qualifying pair what their goals were, and most simply said that they wanted to win more rounds than they lost, or at least not embarrass themselves.

The tournament was the first event of its kind that any of the participants had attended before. Normally, students (in this case, from around the nation) would gather at a school or university, toting laptops and tubs of evidence to debate a timely question of public policy. Tournaments are highly social events, with students laughing and joking in the hallways and having serious discussions about some of the biggest questions (often with more sophistication than some political leaders). The normally lively and exciting atmosphere was replaced by a student’s home and the quiet of spending most of a weekend online, debating and chatting with friends and competitors alike via Zoom.

David and Samantha at a local WUDL tournament at DC International in Fall 2019, winning trophies, as usual.

David and Samantha at a local WUDL tournament at DC International in Fall 2019, winning trophies, as usual.

Through the early rounds, Samantha and David did well, defeating teams from Kansas City and Brooklyn before lunch on Saturday, but they hadn’t faced powerhouse teams from Harlem or Boston yet. Helping administer the competition, I didn’t get a chance to check in with them again until the awards ceremony that evening, where they expressed cautious optimism. As awards were announced, David and Samantha were undefeated through preliminary rounds. David was named the nation’s 7th best individual speaker, (out of 72 national qualifiers, and thousands more who didn’t qualify) and they advanced to elimination rounds, along with 5/6 of the WUDL qualifiers. We were extremely proud and pleased.

On Sunday, they entered their second straight long day online — after 11 hours of screen time the previous day! Round after round, they presented their arguments before panels of experienced judges from around the nation and defeated highly lauded teams from Tulsa and New York before coming face to face with close friends Joey Villaflor and Jener Balk from Capital City (also a WUDL school). Joey and Jener had defeated teams from Tulsa, Kansas City, and Boston in route to the final round, a familiar re-match that had occurred many times at local competitions here in D.C. On a split decision, presenting before a panel with more than 50 years of combined debate expertise from around the nation, Samantha and David prevailed, bringing home the national championship to their school and the WUDL once again!

Jener Balk and Joey Villaflor of Capital City, the national runner ups at Middle School Nationals this past year, seen at a tournament in December 2019

Jener Balk and Joey Villaflor of Capital City, the national runner ups at Middle School Nationals this past year, seen at a tournament in December 2019

The WUDL partnered with Inspired Teaching to start a debate program three years ago, but the program took a huge step forward this year. Founding members David and Samantha partnered with new coach Maggie Meiman (George Washington, Class of 2020) to dramatically expand the size of the team and decided to get serious about achieving some competitive success this season. The pair were the top middle school team at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute** last summer, and didn’t let up all season, eventually leading their squad to win a series of regional awards, including Best Middle School Team, Best Middle School Debaters, and more.

National titles are exciting, but the trophies are a big shiny signal about the learning and personal growth occurring along the way. Peer reviewed research tells us that participation in Urban Debate significantly improves the traditional academic measures of success that we look at such as grades, test scores, graduation rates and admission to selective high school magnet programs and elite universities. (This year’s class includes freshmen at Georgetown, GW, Howard, Duke, and a number of other elite universities.) Beyond the numbers, I’ve seen these young people learn to harness their thoughts and learn to express incredibly complex ideas with the dexterity of advocates many years their senior. The intellectual confidence, poise, and leadership I’ve seen them develop are portable skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. The growth these two phenomenal young people have shown over the past year is exactly what makes me excited to go to work every day.

About half of the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School (ITDS) Debate Team, including Samantha and David, between rounds earlier this spring.

About half of the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School (ITDS) Debate Team, including Samantha and David, between rounds earlier this spring.

Online debate was highly successful, beyond our hopes, and the lively atmosphere is largely replicable online. More than 40 WUDL debaters and a strong cadre of family members and teachers joined to cheer on their league-mates, and new friends were made across the nation. The medium presented some unique benefits, such as Inspired Teaching Principal Seth Biderman being able to hop on and watch his student’s success as they advanced through elimination rounds on Sunday.

We are excited about the upcoming Ornstein Summer Debate Institute, and this coming year’s very timely topic, Criminal Justice Reform. Many of our students are passionate about what’s going on in the world around them (Samantha and David skipped a major competition last year to attend the Climate protests with Greta last fall, and I’ve seen many in the streets protesting the last few weeks), and this topic will help them hone their advocacy skills further.

The story of this tournament wouldn’t be complete without a huge THANK YOU to all of the members of the WUDL community that helped out and assisted with the tournament, either helping prepare students to compete by watching practices, or as judges during the tournament: Darrian Carroll, Eric Clarke, Michael Fuentes, Arielle Giordano, Ny Glover, Wil Hawk, Selah Lee-Bey, Alex Pappas, Raffi Piliero, Renee Reneau, Andrew Samuelson, and Zoe Spielvogel. I’d also like to give a huge shout out to our Program Coordinator, Dara Davis, for leading our prep sessions for the competition.

*The Washington Urban Debate League is a local non-profit (and Catalogue for Philanthropy Partner) that supports debate programs at public schools in the D.C. area. Only 5 years old, the WUDL has grown quickly to work with more than 40 local schools and thousands of local students each year. All our programming is 100% free for students and schools.

**The institute is hosted by the Washington Urban Debate League and the Matthew Ornstein Memorial Foundation every summer and is free for any D.C. area public school student in middle or high school. Registration is open now for this year’s summer institute, hosted July 20th- August 1st, 2020, online.

About the Author: David has been teaching debate and/or working in politics for 15 years. He’d love to tell you more about the WUDL and how you can get involved. David.Trigaux@UrbanDebate.org

Meet the Catalogue’s New Intern!

The Catalogue is excited to welcome our new Nonprofit Management Intern, Zariah Tolman! Please allow her to introduce herself in this interview:

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  1. Tell us about yourself!

I am from a tiny town in Wyoming of only 50 people! I would drive twenty miles to my K-12 school each day. Attending Montana State University in the “big city” of Bozeman, Montana started out as a large challenge. The struggles I had growing up in rural Wyoming and trying to transition to college have greatly inspired my career interests: to address disparities that rural youth/teens experience!

I was a pre-med student at Montana State, double-majoring in Neuroscience and Biochemistry and double-minoring in Biomedical Engineering and Global Health! Over the course of college, I went from wanting to pursue medicine, to pursuing MD/PhD programs, to pursuing only grad school. I will be applying to Master’s and PhD programs this fall to study Social/Behavioral Intervention, Community Health, or Global Health!

  1. What made you interested in joining the Catalogue?

One of the experiences that has helped me realize I did not want to pursue medicine has been my journey in founding a nonprofit for rural youth/teens to help them be more connected to themselves and their communities. It started out as a side-project and has become the primary focus of my gap year! This experience has been influential in interesting me in the nonprofit sector as a whole.

Another life-changing experience I had was being awarded the Truman scholarship which, in addition to supporting graduate education, has a program called Summer Institute. The Trumans chose internships of choice from a massive list and luckily the Catalogue was number four on the list. After I read about the work that the Catalogue does, I knew I wanted to be a part of the team.

  1. What experience have you had with nonprofits?

I have volunteered with several nonprofits, and then I am starting my own. There is Health Equity Circle which addresses health disparities across Montana using community organizing principles, we also work closely with the Area Health Education Center to take those principles and interprofessional education principles to rural Montana. Thrive in Bozeman coordinated a mentorship between myself and a high schooler. The Atlas Culture Foundation, founded by a Bozeman-ite, took me to Morocco to teach French to village children. I conducted research in Uganda through Love Volunteers, and currently coordinate donors to support Ugandan education through It Takes a Village. I am consistently amazed at how many people are working to improve the lives of others, and I think all of these experiences have encouraged me to pursue a career that can increase collaborations and networking between organizations to further create impact.

  1. What are you looking forward to in this internship?

I am looking forward to so much! I am excited to learn more about how nonprofits work and how to create resources for nonprofits. This is also the first time I have been part of a professional team (vs a student-led campus organization), and I am looking forward to see how the team works together to accomplish their goals. I am also very grateful to learn more about effective story-telling. I learned over 3 years of molecular research and research in Uganda that even if you have compelling statistics, the way to truly reach people, garner support, and create empathy is through story-telling. The story-telling will also help me get to know the incredible work partners are doing, which will help me to be inspired!

  1. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to adventure, which manifests itself in motorcycling (always wearing a helmet, of course, as I whip around on my R6), snowboarding, pole-vaulting (I’ve gotten to coach high schoolers the last two years which was amazing), cliff jumping, camping (I was in Yosemite National Park for spring break with my boyfriend when California began to shut down from the pandemic), trail-running, travelling, you name it!

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Change Across Time

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

It’s always a privilege, and just a lot of fun, to talk with someone living out their passion — doing work they care about. It’s even more fun when you are talking to two people doing so, and those two people are lifelong DMVers who love this city, making change, and laughing.

The following is a December 2019 interview I was proud to be a part of with Emma Strother, Development Manager at LearnServe International, and Yasmine Arrington, Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS. LearnServe is a DC-based nonprofit that equips middle and high school students from diverse backgrounds with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad. ScholarCHIPS is also based in DC and focuses on providing college scholarships, mentoring and a peer support network to children of incarcerated parents, inspiring them to complete their college education.

Emma Strother and Yasmine Arrington

Emma Strother and Yasmine Arrington

What made this interview especially exciting is that ScholarCHIPS is a “second-generation” Catalogue for Philanthropy member. Yasmine founded ScholarCHIPS in 2010 when she and Emma were both participants in LearnServe’s Fellows and Abroad Programs. Both LearnServe and ScholarCHIPS were recently selected as two of the best local nonprofits in the region. Any nonprofit in the Catalogue passes a rigorous vetting process, and it is a special honor to have both in this year’s class.

Without further ado, the interview and the enlightening conversation with these two changemakers is below:


Matt: A big part of participating in LearnServe as a student is creating a social venture project. Thinking back, what do you remember from the projects you worked on as part of LearnServe in high school?

Emma: The biggest thing I learned from my project was how to take responsibility and to feel empowered to make a difference. I signed up for LearnServe because I was that traditionally over-achieving student and thought this would add to my resume, but it became something more very quickly. I had an opportunity to combine my passion for music with community building, and it was really empowering to really think about how to use what I cared about to make a difference. More so than my specific project, I just remember LearnServe driving home for me that youth are often told they are the problem or are too young to solve the problem. Scott and others on the team told us that actually we can make a difference right now, and we actually have an obligation to take action when we realize things are unfair or messed up in our community.

Yasmine: I agree entirely with Emma. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but the exposure to so many different leaders, styles, and professional experiences was invaluable. As part of LearnServe, we regularly had speakers come to talk with us. Those guest speakers, sharing their experiences, successes, and failures, helped me to become more of a problem solver and to think more strategically. I’ll never forget when LearnServe staff started the project off, they asked me what pisses me off. For me personally, after some reflection, the issue that hit home for me, and really pissed me off, was mass incarceration and the larger prison industrial complex. I knew though that if I wanted to affect change I needed to make a plan and do my research. The LearnServe process helped me hone in on focusing on how to support the children of those currently incarcerated, because there wasn’t much support out there. My father had been in prison, and LearnServe gave me the chance to use my lived experience to solve a larger social structural problem. I felt empowered because LearnServe showed me I had the power to create change, even as a teenager.

Emma and Yasmine in Zambia as LearnServe Fellows in 2010

Emma and Yasmine in Zambia as LearnServe Fellows in 2010

Matt: Thank you both so much for sharing. So let’s fast forward a bit – both organizations have come a long way. ScholarCHIPS has awarded over $200,000 to 60+ scholars in the past decade, and 18 graduates to date. You have college, and even law school, alumni and two of your former students serve on your board. LearnServe has expanded its programming and has served 3,000+ students since 2003. Given all that both of you are working on now, how do your original LearnServe experiences back in high school impact your work today?

Yasmine: The problem-solving skills I developed and belief that I can make a positive difference are two things I carry with me every day. Just practically, I still have a lot of those connections from our program, like Emma, who I speak with on a regular basis about nonprofit best practices. So the community was and still is a huge benefit. The tools we learned and put in our toolbox impact my life every day – through ScholarCHIPS, but I even use those same problem solving skills in other aspects of my personal and professional life. I am intentional about incorporating the element of social justice into everything I do, and that ability to call people to action on issues of justice I first honed as a LearnServe fellow. These lessons have made my life feel much more rich and meaningful, and turned my world upside down for the better.

Emma: I definitely agree with all of that. It also started a journey for me of challenging myself and taking action. Like Yasmine, I still use that network of peers and mentors to talk through my work – to brainstorm problems and opportunities I’m facing. Two things come to mind about how those high school experiences impact me today. The first is that one of LearnServe’s values is joy. To make this justice-fighting work sustainable, it has to be fun, relational, community-focused, and it has to bring us joy. These issues are serious and need to be taken seriously, but it is also vital we have a joyful community to reengage, imagine, and partner with. The final thing is that LearnServe taught me to take nothing for granted – an important mindset these days.

Matt: Alright you’re both busy so just two more questions. First, what is one thing you all are excited about for 2020?

Emma: I’m really excited that as an organization, LearnServe is going to focus on local impact and the ripple effect of that work. So better capturing the impact of a story like Yasmine’s, where someone not only stayed local and made a difference, but how that difference has impacted so many others. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons we love the Catalogue for Philanthropy so much. The Catalogue has been a longtime partner of LearnServe’s helping to build awareness of our work and capacity for our staff. This enables us to better serve, and serve more, students just like myself and Yasmine. Now that Yasmine is running her own nonprofit and they are also in the Catalogue – the ripples just keep going out.

Yasmine: I love that idea of ripples of impact. For me, this year, I’m really excited about focusing on initiatives and partnerships that will help provide a structure of sustainability and longevity for my organization. Additionally, I’ll be participating in capacity building activities with Fair Chance and also the Catalogue for Philanthropy. We are focused on increasing our partnerships in the community this year, and on beginning to build an endowment for the future generations of ScholarCHIPS scholars. I also recently published a journal for all my fellow social entrepreneurs out there called “Daily Reflections for Social Entrepreneurs.” Check it out here.

Yasmine with ScholarCHIPS Scholars

Yasmine with ScholarCHIPS Scholars

Matt: Alright, I’m going to take a page from LearnServe’s book for this last question. What is pissing you all off these days?

Yasmine: Honestly, the same thing pisses me off today that did back then. I’m angry about the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and the downstream impact this has on youth. I’m mad that our prison system is punitive, and that there is still such a strong school-to-prison pipeline. I am pissed that a college education is still just as, if not more so, inaccessible and unaffordable for low-income families and first and second generation college students, as it was before. Grant and scholarships help, but we still have a long way to go to a more equitable world. Something has to change and I’m tired of seeing the same issues exist – so I’m going to keep fighting to make a difference.

Emma: I’m pissed off that people in power and/or with privilege so often stay silent on issues of justice. When I think of the people that inspire me, they are all people with a fire lit inside for what they care about. You can feel their passion. And while I’ve definitely learned self-care is important, challenging yourself is important too. We can’t afford to have apathy or indifference. So while it is important to find joy while fighting the fight, we all need to be doing something if we can. And we need to hold those in power who aren’t doing something accountable.

Matt: Thank you both so much for taking the time to chat with me today and for sharing your stories. You can find out more about LearnServe and how to get involved here. To support ScholarCHIPS, you can go here. And to learn more about charities in the Catalogue network or to learn more about our work, you can go here.

LCNV’s Distance Learning Platforms are Providing “Joyous Times”

Written by Shuyang Wang, Communications Coordinator of Literacy Council of Northern Virginia

The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV), complying with social distancing policies during this evolving situation created by COVID-19, has replaced in-person classes with Distance Learning programs to continue providing basic English education to students, minimizing the disruption to their learning process. The classes have been reported to be “joyous times” that give both the instructors and students an opportunity to socialize and concentrate on something positive.

LCNV serves 1,500 adult learners annually throughout all of Northern Virginia with its mission to teach the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English so they can access employment and educational opportunities and more fully and equitably participate in the community. LCNV is one of only a few non-profit organizations in Northern Virginia that complies with federal education standards as it serves the most beginning-level adult learner, those that understand English at a 6th grade level or lower. Since April, LCNV has provided instruction tailored to students’ technological and time restrictions. Instruction is provided via various platforms:for students with internet and computer access, LCNV is offering virtual instruction in the form of live classrooms with teacher-led instruction, interaction, and whiteboard capabilities;for those with only cell phone and data access, LCNV offers distance learning instruction through Cell-Ed and USA Learns, two online learning apps approved by the Virginia Department of Education; for those that only have voice capabilities on their phone, instructors are scheduling sessions with students for one-to-one conversations to practice English. So far, a total of 21 classes are running for LCNV’s Beginning English, Family Learning and Destination Workforce programs. Over 75% of LCNV’s students that enrolled in January are benefiting from instruction, with the number increasing each day.

 
LCNC Zoom Screenshot

These outcomes could not have been achieved without LCNV’s dedicated force of 500 volunteers and devoted instructors, who called and helped the learner community to understand and set up online learning technologies one-on-one. “The LCNV team has been heartened to see incredible enthusiasm for our efforts to turn to distance learning by instructors, volunteers, and students,” says Roopal Saran, LCNV’s Executive Director, “Their desire to work hard to make sure instruction and learning is uninterrupted affirms that there is great value in continuing to offer English instruction at this unprecedented time.”

Based on the current situation, LCNV is also exploring future distance learning possibilities and optimizing various platforms. To support the expansion of class offerings, LCNV holds Professional Learning Communities (PLC) virtual sessions each week for teachers to discuss their classes, pain points, and successes. To support the learner community, LCNV also created a resource page on its website for those in need to navigate free learning resources, as well as community information on food banks, financial aid, healthcare and more.

Much is unknown at this time, but one thing we do know is that however hard the current situation is on community residents, it will be even harder on those with limited resources. Many of LCNV students are low income workers who are less likely to have sick leave, have options to telework, and to keep their social distance. They are the essential service workers preparing and delivering your meals, stocking the supermarket shelves, providing patient care, and cleaning up hospitals along with many more who will be out of work because their businesses have had to close. We cannot fully comprehend all the challenges that we will be facing in the coming year, but LCNV understands that the lives and well-being of learners are vastly impacted by their ability to read, write, speak and understand English, especially during this unconventional time.

The current semester has been extended from April 23 to June 30th at no additional cost to students. While the current sessions are for enrolled students, LCNV is working diligently to open registrations to the public starting in the Summer. For more information about upcoming sessions, please call LCNV at 703-237-0866.

Restoring Rock Creek as it Restores Us

Written by Jeanne Braha, Executive Director of Rock Creek Conservancy

There is something magical about running down the middle of a road in the middle of the day, hearing a creek burbling nearby, without having to worry about passing traffic.

As the last several weeks have provided any number of new things to worry about, having a little magic in our days has been a balm to the soul. There is ample data to support the notion that green spaces improve physical and mental health; Dr. Stacy Stryer, a physician with Park Rx America, shared many of these studies at an online virtual discussion hosted by Rock Creek Conservancy last month. She highlighted the ways in which living near a green space is linked to decreased levels of anxiety and depression, and increased resilience, well-being, and rejuvenation.

Photo by Frank Gallagher

Photo by Frank Gallagher

It’s a little harder to quantify that magic – the thrill of hearing the first wood thrush in spring, the delight of seeing your favorite wildflower on a walk, or the joy of sharing all of those things with a child experiencing them for the first time. And, of course, the feeling of being on the sections of Beach Drive closed to vehicles all week long.

Rock Creek Conservancy, through a philanthropic and stewardship partnership with the National Park Service at Rock Creek Park, protects that magic. By restoring the park and the watershed that surrounds it, the Conservancy is ensuring not just that Rock Creek can serve as the lungs for our region, but that the park will be resilient and be able to share its magic for decades to come.

The Conservancy’s model of people-powered restoration engages nearly 5,000 people each year in group events that clear invasive plants or litter from the park. These volunteers leave the park with the motivation and knowledge to serve as stewards of their portion of the watershed – protecting the park from the outside in.

Trout lilies (a spring wildflower)

Trout lilies (a spring wildflower)

Even though the Conservancy can’t host group events right now, park neighbors and friends can still enjoy and protect the park. Socially-distant stewardship is restorative to us as individuals and continues the Conservancy’s important work of removing invasive plants and litter to help restore the streams and parklands of the Rock Creek watershed.

Here are some actions individuals, families, or other household members can take at home, at work, and in our neighborhoods.

Host an individual cleanup. It’s just what it sounds like: you, a pair of gloves, a trash bag, and whatever patch of the Rock Creek watershed means the most to you. Litter many blocks from the park can get swept up by stormwater or wind and find itself floating down Rock Creek. Picking up litter in our own neighborhoods is one way to work stewardship and exercise into our daily routine.

A volunteer cleaning up in Rock Creek Park DC

A volunteer cleaning up in Rock Creek Park DC

Many of us are gardening with our time at home. Whether we’re doing this in a large yard or in planter boxes on a deck or window boxes, our choices impact Rock Creek. Non-native, invasive plant species can spread from our homes or building properties into the natural areas along Rock Creek. There are dozens of plant species that do not grow here naturally, but were brought to the area by people as ornamental plantings or for food.

For example, English ivy is a major threat to the health of the trees around Rock Creek in Montgomery County and the District. Though a common part of many of our landscapes, it spreads rapidly, can damage property, and can harm trees. The Conservancy works to remove English ivy from trees on park lands, but we need help to remove ivy throughout the watershed.

You can free a treetake the Conservancy’s English ivy pledge and trim the ivy from the trees in your yard or your building’s grounds (get permission from the property owner if that’s not you!). Watch this short video to learn the best way to #freeatree.

Removing non-native, invasive plants from your home garden, deck, or common area is the first step to prevent them from spreading into the city’s natural spaces. If you live in an apartment building you can take action by contacting your landlord, management company, or condominium board and asking them to remove invasive plants. Learn about five of Rock Creek Park’s most common invasive plants in this blog.

Planting native species is a great way to beautify your home and provide benefit to the surrounding ecosystem. Native plants often require less maintenance and can provide a habitat for native wildlife. Even greening your balcony with native potted plants can provide food and habitat to pollinators.

Take a moment to read our blog, “Choose This, Not That,“for some inspiration on what to plant in your green space. Or work with your apartment building to encourage choosing native species for plantings.

Remember, every step each of us takes will enable us all to keep enjoying the wonderful resource of Rock Creek, so central to our health and the health of our community.

A family doing a cleanup in Montgomery County.

Community Spotlight: Stream Team Leader Scott Lynch. Stream Team Leaders play a key role inspiring park friends and neighbors to help steward the watershed. One such community leader is Scott Lynch, a father who has been active with the Kensington-Parkwood Green Team. Scott was inspired to get involved when he heard local kids name a large debris dam “Trash Island.” Normally he organizes cleanups along the stretch of Rock Creek upstream of Cedar Lane (near current weekend closures for socially distant recreation!). The area, which is threatened by the proposed Beltway expansion, has a popular stretch of trail, sensitive wetlands, and plenty of stormwater drainage. Thanks to Scott’s socially-distant stewardship, his neighbors reported individual cleanups totaling 62 volunteer hours, with 18 bags of trash removed.

To learn more about the work of Rock Creek Conservancy and its mission to restore Rock Creek and its parklands as a natural oasis for all people to appreciate and protect, you can visit rockcreekconservancy.org and sign up here for regular updates on ways to get involved.

Girls on the Run – DC Goes Beyond the Classroom! #GOTRDCGoesBeyond

Written by Carly Abarbanel and Katie Von Schaumburg of Girls on the Run – DC

During this pandemic, so many aspects of all of our lives have been turned upside down. At Girls on the Run – DC (GOTR-DC), our in-person season was truncated just two weeks into programming, putting our program to the ultimate test: Can GOTR-DC go beyond the classrooms, persist beyond the parks, and empower over distance? The answer: Yes, we can! GOTR-DC developed virtual programming to persevere in our mission to empower girls to be joyful, confident, and healthy.

GOTR at Home has been our solution to get girls (and their families!) up and moving, thinking, and creating while inspiring them with the core values of Girls on the Run.

Girls who registered for the spring season receive two GOTR at Home lessons per week through the end of our regular season. All lessons include instructions for exercise activities and for creative activities, all tying back to the big idea of the lesson; and each lesson has an accompanying video, making it easy for girls to do these activities independently or together with a guardian or sibling.

All of the GOTR at Home lessons focus on Girls on the Run Core Values such as celebrating our commonalities and our differences, standing up for ourselves and others, and tips for identifying our emotions and managing stress. All of the activities are designed to help our girls check in with her brain and body and practice strategies to find calm and be present.

GOTRDC 1
One of our favorite lessons is “Practice Positivity!” This lesson is focused on recognizing positive and negative thoughts and practicing positivity through words, thoughts, and actions. The exercise, or “Get Moving!”, component of this lesson encourages girls to take a lap outside, hold downward dog pose while slowly breathing in and out, spend five minutes doing something they love (e.g. drawing, listening to music, spending time with your pet, dancing, etc.), play their favorite song and have a dance party, or set a timer for one minute and list everything they are thankful for. All of these activities are focused on empowering our girls, physically and mentally.

GOTR-DC recognizes the importance of social interaction, even from a distance, and we therefore brought our girls and coaches together through GOTR Connect. These are optional, 30-minute sessions held once a week by a GOTR coach. Similar to what an in-person lesson would entail, GOTR Connect offers debrief questions for set teams of girls that align with the messages of GOTR at Home. Questions are designed to reach all girls and vary from serious to silly, helping girls continue to find commonality and appreciate difference, even while physically distant. GOTR Connect has been a great way for girls to maintain rapport with their peers and interact with their coaches who continue to act as positive and influential role models.
GOTRDC 3
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Beyond the lessons and the virtual check-ins, GOTR-DC values goal-oriented seasons and celebrating the conclusion of our girls’ intellectual, emotional, and physical effort. Therefore, we’re hosting a Spring 5K Virtual Challenge, giving girls, community participants, coaches, and families the opportunity to set goals and feel part of the bigger GOTR-DC movement. Interested in joining our Virtual Challenge from your home or safe outdoor space? Read more and register at gotrdc.org/5k!

While we’re thankful for our team of staff and coaches who have helped make our new virtual programming possible, our work continues to serve more girls with quality, virtual programming; and we look forward to the day when we can safely gather together to empower our girls in school buildings, parks, and recreation centers. While we’re physically apart for the safety of ourselves and our communities, we remain virtually together for our girls.

Caring for Kids in the Time of COVID-19

Written by Laurie Strongin, CEO of Hope for Henry Foundation

Hope for Henry Child Life Specialist Liz crouched in the hallway outside the room of a six-year-old, unaccompanied boy who she has worked with many times in the past and explained over the hospital room intercom that the young boy would have a test to make sure doctors could take the best care of him. He was going to get a nasal swab to test for COVID-19.

No one will tell you that the long swab inserted into a patient’s nose all the way back into their throat, rotated to collect any viral specimens, and pulled out is remotely comfortable. One TikTok user described it as “like being stabbed in the brain.” But Liz explained to the child that she and her friends at the hospital were doing everything they could to keep him safe, that there is a virus traveling around the world, and that he needed a quick test to be sure he was healthy. If he could sit and talk to her while the nurse put something in his nose quickly, the test would be over faster. Then, on the other side of the glass wall of this little boy’s hospital room, he watched through the open blinds as Liz demonstrated the test on her own little patient, a stuffed bear.

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The proliferation of COVID-19 has disrupted tens of millions of children’s lives. Instead of attending school, participating on sports teams, meeting friends for dinner, or playing in the park, kids across the country are housebound. Aside from the monotony of living in the same limited space for long periods of time, being quarantined can cause feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and fear in both kids and parents.

These feelings are not unfamiliar to chronically ill children whose treatment often necessitates years in and out of hospitals, but COVID-19 has made life far harsher for really sick kids. While otherwise healthy children tend to have milder symptoms than adults who contract COVID-19, the same isn’t true for a particularly high-risk group of pediatric patients — those with compromised immune systems who have had bone-marrow or solid-organ transplants or are being treated for cancer or a blood disorder.

Keeping these vulnerable children safe during this challenging time requires hospitals to make adjustments that exacerbate their isolation from everything they are fighting so hard for — normalcy and connection. To limit exposure, nearly every child is isolated in his or her hospital room. Playrooms and shared spaces are closed. Art and music therapists are no longer in hospitals working directly with kids. Volunteers who previously rocked sick babies or played games with hospitalized kids have been forced to cease their quality-of-life saving work. These kids are left with one caregiver, at best, or none if they have a single parent with other children at home who need supervision. And they are still enduring the difficult, painful medical treatment necessary to save their lives.

When a hospitalized child shows symptoms of COVID-19, frontline staff have to “rule out” the diagnosis. To protect the staff and other patients in their care, the caregivers have to assume that the child is positive for COVID-19 until proven otherwise. Therefore, all medical staff who enter the child’s room must wear PPEs, including a gown, gloves, mask, and face shield. These precautions can be intimidating and frightening — even, and perhaps especially, for kids who have spent months in the hospital for whom this new gear is unfamiliar and an obvious sign that something has changed, and not for the better.

Thankfully, Hope for Henry’s child life specialists like Liz are still in the hospital and have figured out how to support patients during COVID-19 testing while respecting hospital rules that prevent them from entering the patient rooms to limit exposure and use of scarce PPE. The preparation, coping strategies, distraction, and verbal support before, during, and after the test, along with a selection of toys and games that reward patients for coping so well and successfully completing the procedure, make something difficult a little bit easier. It helps build resilience and arms patients for their continued fight to recover. It enables medical staff to provide care faster so they can move on to the next patient. Because during times like these, there is always a next patient.

JCADA’s Doors are Still Open for Victims of Power-Based Violence – How You Can Support their Efforts from Your Home

Written by Shana Brouder

Over the past month, most Americans have been put under some kind of “stay at home” order to keep them ‘safe’ from COVID-19 — better known as the coronavirus. But what does safe mean? For most of us, safe means simply staying inside our homes with adequate amounts of food and toilet paper, only leaving for essential goods. And maybe for the occasional walk around the block.

But, for the 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 9 men who experience severe physical abuse at the hands of a partner, home is the least safe place they can be — and yet, that’s exactly where they’re stuck. As a recent New York Times article described, helplines across the globe are lighting up frantically with calls from women in danger. NBC News’ investigation gave some more concrete facts and figures: of the law enforcement agencies who answered their call, Houston police received a roughly 20 percent increase in calls in March from February; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police saw an 18 percent jump this March in comparison with March of 2019; while Phoenix police saw a nearly 6 percent in domestic violence related calls.

And that’s just the calls police are getting.

There is more to power-based violence than the severe physical violence. There is the emotional, financial, technological, sexual, and physical violence that goes unreported. And it is this relentless, yet unreported violence that eats away at a person, until they feel they are truly worth nothing. The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence (JCADA) is dedicated to stopping this cycle of violence, even in these unprecedented times. JCADA remains open for business, fielding calls from their helpline, 1-877-88-JCADA(52232), during business hours throughout the closures. JCADA is counseling clients through HIPPA compliant remote telehealth and their attorneys and victim advocates can still help with Protection Orders and access to public health benefits through these hard times.

JCADA has also chosen to move its annual event, the JCADA 5K & Wellness Day, online. In a recent email to past participants, JCADA expressed how unfortunate it is that the event must be moved online, as social connection is in short supply these days. In an attempt to stay connected with their community, JCADA has come up with the following 5 ways you, or anyone you know located anywhere in the country, can support the JCADA 5K & Wellness Day.

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

1. Register for the JCADA 5K & Wellness Day ($50) to show your financial support for JCADA’s life-saving work.
2. Follow JCADA’s Empowerment Playlists on Spotify (for free)! Use either the JCADA Empowerment Playlist or the JCADA Empowerment Playlist — Podcasts* to listen to as you walk, run, clean, or simply take a break from your responsibilities from now until May 2, 2020.
3. Pick a physical activity to do in your home or in your neighborhood (Walk/Run a 5K, Run around the block 5 times, do 5 jumping jacks, high five your kids, etc.) and fundraise for JCADA in honor of your efforts!
4. Record all your activity here so JCADA can give you a shout out during our May 3rd Facebook Live event!
5. Join us at 10 am on May 3 on Facebook Live to hear who JCADA’s biggest fundraiser was, and hear the top 5 activities you all participated in.

It is hard to be stuck inside. Please consider joining JCADA in this new challenge to remember and empower those whose homes aren’t a safe place during this global pandemic. If you’d like more information on JCADA, please email their Executive Director, Amanda Katz, at amanda@jcada.org. Follow JCADA on Facebook and Instagram. And, most of all, join them virtually this year on May 3rd and show victims and survivors of power-based violence in this community — you are seen; you are heard.

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

*Trigger Warning: While the JCADA Empowerment Playlist — Podcasts has lots of motivational podcasts and guided meditations, it also has some episodes detailing sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence that may not be suitable to all listeners. Please listen to these podcasts at your discretion

Network for Victim Recovery DC Continues to Battle for Crime Victims’ Rights Amid COVID-19

Written by Diane Dauplaise, Network for Victim Recovery of DC Bilingual Staff Attorney

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One of the things they don’t teach you in law school is that practicing law at a nonprofit is an exercise in creativity. But nothing in my previous five years of practice prepared me for the effect of COVID-19 on a caseload filled with some DC’s most vulnerable populations. As DC Superior Court began curtailing operations down to the most essential court functions, our organization worked overtime assessing the impact these changes would have on crime victims’ rights. As an organization we also anticipated that COVID-19 would affect correctional facilities’ ability to safely house inmates thus requiring the release of some inmates. The challenge would be to find a way to give victims a voice, balanced with the very real threat facing incarcerated men and women from this disease.

People who have experienced crime often struggle with a sense of powerlessness. Many people don’t realize the burden crime victims’ shoulders in the weeks, months and even years after their victimization. Consequences such as medical bills, hours missed from work, moving expenses can pile up on someone who is still trying to process the trauma of what has been done to them. This impact can be felt even more so when you are the victim of crime at the hands of a loved one. Suddenly child custody, housing, and public benefits are all called into question. Being a victim of any crime is a process full of uncertainties – and that was before COVID-19 changed the entire landscape of crime victims’ rights.

Cases in Washington, DC are covered by both the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. 3771, and the DC Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, DC Code Section 23-1901. These two pieces of legislation essentially guarantee crime victims’ rights such as being treated with “fairness and respect,” being notified of court proceedings, and receiving information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, detention, and release of the offender. While these rights do not allow a victim to “direct a prosecution,” they do ensure that victims are given reasonable notice about crucial decisions, such as charging, plea offers, or a defendant’s decision to elect a trial. These rights not only keep victims informed; they are also crucial in keeping victims safe. For instance, if a prosecutor alerts a victim that the defense will be seeking pre-trial release for a defendant that victim can then safety plan with an advocate and take additional precautions to keep themselves safe if the offender is eventually released. Courts and prosecutors work to strike a delicate balance between these rights and the rights of defendants facing a criminal prosecution.

This delicate balance became all the more challenging in light of COVID-19. Many defense attorneys expressed rightful concern that their clients who are elderly, immunocompromised, or had a variety of underlying health issues would not fare well in a correctional facility where many inmates live in close quarters. In response to these concerns the criminal division of the DC Superior Court issued an order creating a “Motion for Release from Detention Based on the COVID-19 Pandemic.” This pleading would allow defense attorneys to argue why an inmate’s condition made them vulnerable to the pandemic allowing the court to weigh that against the charges facing the defendant and the amount of time served. The motion further directed that defense attorneys shall notify the government when filing such a motion.

The team at Network for Victim Recovery DC (NVRDC) advocated to have this order amended to require that “the Government shall certify that is has made efforts consistent with its obligations pursuant to DC Code 23-1902 Notice to crime victims and 18 U.S.C. 3771,” essentially ensuring that prosecutors had to make efforts to alert crime victims if a defendant is even seeking release via a COVID-19 motion. NVRDC made similar arguments in a letter to DC leaders. Notice is crucial for crime victims especially in a time where quarantines have limited the safe places a victim can go and stay. Many victims rely on the homes of elderly relatives as a safer alternative of where to stay if they know their abusers are at liberty; however, in light of risks to older populations this isn’t a viable option for many of our clients. Advocates have been helping connect our clients to Crime Victims Compensation for housing alternatives when victims have expressed a concern for their safety. In additional to all of these reasons, the notice is important because it is a step in returning power to a victim who may have been left feeling powerless after an assault.

In addition to the DC Superior Court’s order the DC Department of Corrections also expanded the “good time credit” for inmates, which is a calculation that allows inmates to earn time off of their sentences for completing months of “good behavior,” i.e. no disciplinary violations. This change in calculations led to several of our attorneys finding out that defendants were to be released within a day. This presents an extra challenge because, unlike a COVID-19 Release Motion, good time credit is decided wholly within the Department of Corrections and many times prosecutors are not alerted when a defendant is released, meaning our crime victims’ rights attorneys are not formally alerted either. Our attorneys have been signing themselves up for automatic notifications available through Department of Corrections to at least be notified when a release occurs. This allows us to give our clients the most up to date information and take any precautions necessary.

As the avenues for a defendant’s release were expanding the DC Public Defender Service filed an emergency motion seeking the release of all inmates serving misdemeanor sentences. NVRDC responded with an amicus brief, not opposing the motion, but asking that the court treat cases of domestic and sexual violence. as well as stalking. on a case-by-case basis affording the victims notice and an opportunity to be heard. NVRDC specifically noted that domestic offenders who reoffend are most likely to do so quickly after their release. Giving victims the opportunity to be heard on these cases allows for case specific requests, such as GPS monitoring or stay away orders, which could directly impact the victim’s safety when there is an articulable basis for concern.

Throughout all of these challenges, NVRDC has recognized the potential safety risk to incarcerated defendants and has never sought to oppose the wide release of incarcerated defendants. The recurrent theme through our motions and briefings has been to give victims a voice in a confusing and uncertain time. It really all goes back to the powerlessness of being a crime victim. NVRDC truly feels that every time we can at least give victims notice, information, and an opportunity to be heard we are helping to replace the loss of power felt by victims of crime. By restoring power, dignity, and self esteem crime victims can thrive and provide thoughtful insight to help the criminal justice system function better, and help judges and prosecutors make the best decisions possible about defendants’ fate. I am proud to work for an organization using creativity, ingenuity, and teamwork to empower crime victims even through an uncertain and confusing time.

This blog post was originally published on April 14, 2020 on the NVRDC website.

Building Community through Virtual Peace Circles

Written by by MJ Park, Executive Director at Little Friends For Peace

Little Friends for Peace (LFFP) has been Circling Up with people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and stages for years. Despite the pandemic impacting the entire world, we made the shift to virtual circles in order to continue on with our “check-ins.” We feel now more than ever LFFP needs to help bring people together in order to connect and find tools to help navigate peacefully throughout this new journey.

Since the world has been put to a STOP, this has put added stress on our wellness wheels – impacting our mind, body, and feelings. From the teachings of Pema Chodron, I have learned and believe that when things fall apart we have choices to either fall apart or embrace the experience as an opportunity and time to reset, renew, and rewire ourselves.

During these past three weeks of adjustment to our new normal, LFFP has been doing virtual peace circles for different age groups. It has been amazing and full of connection, inspiration, and practices to help us. Not only to get through these times, but also to see this period as an opportunity to make changes in the way we live and care for ourselves and others.

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LFFP Virtual Peace Circle in Session

As said by one of our virtual peace circle participants: “I think that when the dust settles, we will realize how little we need, how very much we actually have, and the true value of human connection.”

People have been coming to the circle with anxiety, fear, concern, loss of center, feeling less grounded, and loss of connections within the community.

However, after the circles people are leaving the circle feeling more calm, grounded, hopeful, joyful, creative, energized, connected, and motivated to embrace the now. People are given time to reflect on the silver lining and enjoy what they can do and not what they can’t do.

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A Peace Circle Participant at The Father McKenna Center

With compassion and respect as the key ingredients in the virtual peace circles, the Zoom sessions turn into safe and welcoming spaces where everyone can share from the heart when talking about what they are thinking and feeling. To finish off our time together, LFFP leaves the attendees with a peaceful tool with ideas on how to use it in daily life. If put into practice, these tools will help bring yourself as well as others to a more peaceful state.

As another virtual peace circle attendee states: “What I take from this beautiful peace circle is the peace circle per se, like how necessary it is to have more peace circles in the world, and how that can bring more peace culture & education to my country. I learned how necessary it is to do inner work. We need to seize this crisis as an opportunity to redefine what is really important for us and take more joy in the moments we live, in our own realities.”

LFFP will be Circling Up Monday through Friday at 3:00 PM EST with different groups. Check our website for more details and information to sign up. Hope to see you in the circle!