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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

Alternate ROOTS

Poets & Writers

Expanding Urban Debate For All

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

In 2015, a group of former debaters surveyed the educational landscape in D.C. and lamented the lack of high-quality debate programs available for public school students. Debate is a transformative educational experience, but it was only available to students at elite private institutions. They decided to do something about it and founded the Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL), a non-profit dedicated to improving student outcomes through participation in competitive policy debate.

WUDL 4

​Debate is a game-changer for students, improving their GPAs, test scores, graduation rates, attendance, and more. Debate improves college attendance and graduation rates, and is one of the best ways to get a non-athletic scholarship. It improves self-confidence and resilience, and even makes students 3 times more likely to vote! Unfortunately, it was only available for students who already had a leg up.

In our first year, we served more than 100 students from 6 schools. Since then, the WUDL has grown rapidly, and was named the Outstanding Urban Debate League by the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues in 2018. Since the 2017-18 school year, we have served more than 500 students at 39 schools each year in our After School Debate program, and several thousand through our curricular programs. As a one-man operation, however, we plateaued, unable to serve more students and more schools without more capacity.

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For the first four years of our operation, I was the only staff member of the organization. We have a fantastic pool of volunteers that has largely made this tremendous growth possible, but there are limits to what volunteers can do, and when they can be available. These first four years, I’ve had to do everything from direct instruction of students and teachers to fundraising, communications, and volunteer recruitment and management…all at the same time. As we grew, I tried to do more and more myself, but there are limits to what a single person can sustainably do.

Last year, however, we were named “one of the best” local non-profits by the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. The Catalogue offers training sessions to non-profit leaders through a program called the Learning Commons, instructing on everything from donor management to program evaluation. I’ve been to more than 10 workshops, and have learned so much more (shout out to Matt Gayer, who ran most of them!) about how to be a successful, intentional non-profit manager. I can work smarter instead of harder (something my fiancee appreciates).

 

Thanks to the training and financial resources provided by the Catalogue, and the growth of our donor base, the WUDL is growing again rapidly. We’ve hired a program coordinator, Dara Davis, who has taken more than 30 schools off my plate, and has been an immense help developing curriculum and building relationships with a new generation of our students. We’ve also hired a fundraising consulting firm to significantly expand our fundraising capacity to ensure we have the tools needed to make debate available for more students. We are back to work towards our dream of making a high quality debate program available to every single public school student in the region.

This fall, we’ve taken a big step in that direction in D.C. After serving 39 schools last year, we are adding 15 new schools, all across D.C.:

  • Basis DC(PCS, Ward 2)
  • Bard Early College (DCPS, Ward 7)
  • Browne EC (DCPS, Ward 5)
  • Center City Brightwood (PCS, Ward 4)
  • Cesar Chavez (PCS, Ward 7)
  • Friendship Armstrong (PCS, Ward 5
  • Friendship Collegiate (PCS, Ward 7)
  • Friendship Tech (PCS, Ward 8)
  • Ida B Wells (DCPS, Ward 4)
  • Kipp Somerset (PCS Ward 7)
  • Oyster Adams (DCPS, Ward 3)
  • Paul (PCS, Ward 4)
  • School Without Walls (DCPS, Ward 3)
  • Stuart Hobson (DCPS, Ward 6)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (DCPS Ward 5)

We expect more than 200 new debaters across these schools to participate in just their first year, laying the groundwork for hundreds more in years to come. We aren’t done growing yet, and won’t stop making great opportunities available for students in D.C.

If you have a student in a D.C. public school, sign them up for their school’s urban debate team, or come out to volunteer at one of our tournaments. You can learn more at www.urbandebatewashingtondc.org

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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Common Good City Farm

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

Picture this: It’s Wednesday morning. You’ve been answering emails for two hours straight. Your eyes ache from your screen. Your office has no windows and smells a little like stale coffee. For lunch, you eat something greasy and instant.

Now picture this: You’re breathing in fresh air and kneeling in a garden. You smell basil and freshly tilled soil. You hear a bee buzzing nearby. Your gloves are caked in dirt as you pull weeds. The sun warms your skin. You have gathered a basket of fresh produce, ready for today’s lunch.

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If the second scenario sounds a little more appealing to you than the first, then consider embracing your inner farmer by volunteering at Common Good City Farm. This is what I did recently, and I recommend it for anyone who would appreciate a break from their work to reconnect with nature and accomplish some good.

Common Good City Farm uses their plot of farmland to promote sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition in their local community. Their many programs include selling fresh produce to community members and businesses, employing high schoolers over the summer, teaching children about nutrition, and providing the community with a wide variety of workshops. You can learn more about their programs here.

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I signed up for their Community Volunteer Day, an event specifically designed for folks who only want to try their hand at farming for a one-time commitment. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when I arrived a little after 9. As I approached the main entrance, I was struck by the explosion of GREEN right in the middle of the city block. The lot was immediately adjacent to a playground and surrounded by apartment buildings. Inside the gate I saw an open shelter, with camping-esque kitchen ware and Christmas lights strung around the rafters. Since I had arrived early, I watched staff give an orientation to the City Farmers, the longer term volunteers who would be guiding the first-time volunteers for the morning.

CGCF A - Copy

My first task of the morning was to slice lemons for the water cooler for incoming volunteers. Hydration and sunblock would be important that day–it was hot! I also helped wiped down tables as fellow one-time volunteers flowed in.

CGCF A

At 9:30, all 34 volunteers received a tour of the farm (a typical Community Volunteer Day gets 30 people). There were four tasks for volunteers to choose between:

  1. Prepping spinach beds in the hoop house
  2. Widening beds for winter preparations
  3. Harvesting basil plants (to be sold at Bacio Pizzeria!)
  4. Tilling the soil along the outside fence

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I chose option 4. This involved pulling weeds and removing rocks. Quite a bit of rocks. An insane amount of rocks. A passerby slyly congratulated us on our fruitful rock harvest. It was highly satisfying work and surprisingly relaxing.
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In my opinion, gardening together is a more engaging environment to socialize with people than the typical DC happy hour; conversation felt less forced and more organic (no pun intended). I enjoyed getting to know other volunteers’ motivations for coming this morning. Some reasons I heard included:

  • They loved gardening and needed a contrast to their Monday-Friday DC professional careers.
  • He wanted to get to know his community better; he lived only a few blocks away but had only recently heard about Common Good City Farm.
  • He had been feeling discouraged about climate change and wanted to tangibly do something.
  • She wanted to make friends.

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One of Common Good’s missions is to “contribute to a sense of connectedness, vibrancy and sense of place.” In my short time volunteering there, I felt this connection to the neighborhood. Urban farming is a way to connect people to healthy food, nature, and each other when they might otherwise remain siloed apart in their separate apartments. Community members can come to the weekly farmer’s market for Common Good’s fresh produce (which participates with WIC, SNAP, Produce Plus, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program). At one point some local kids grabbed gloves and joined us in picking out rocks. Apparently this was a common way for local kids to come have fun and keep busy on a weekend.

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At noon we finished and surveyed the fruits of our labor. After hours of sweating and getting our fingernails dirty, we had managed to remove a good portion of the rocks from the land. It looked remarkably more garden-like. Go team!

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Then, all the volunteers were treated to a lunch made primarily from vegetables grown by Common Good. It was a vegan’s cornucopia: organic, fresh, plant-based, locally sourced. Food always tastes great after working up an appetite and people happily enjoyed the meal and each other’s company until there were hardly any leftovers. The group dynamic was satisfied, warm, and communal. After lunch, people peeled away while I and a few others stayed to clean dishes and wipe down tables.

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If this sounds like a refreshing and enjoyable experience, then consider volunteering with Common Good City Farm. If you only want to come farm for a one-time commitment like I did, then you can sign up for a Community Volunteer Day. In the past these occasions only took place twice a year, but beginning in 2020, Common Good will be meeting demand for volunteer opportunities by providing Community Volunteer Days every month!

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Or, if you’d like to get more deeply involved, you can sign up to become a City Farmer. This is a 12-week commitment to help out on the farm once a week alongside 5-10 fellow volunteers. Being a City Farmer provides a sense of ownership over the produce, builds skills and relationships, and lifts up Common Good by accomplishing more difficult tasks. This opportunity is especially useful for high school students who need to fill service requirements at a single location.

If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty and volunteering with Common Good City Farm, then check out their volunteer page. I loved my time there, and I am sure that you will too.

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October Is National Bullying Prevention Month

Written by Rhonda Lee Thomas, President, DTWT’s Board of Directors

Bullying is an issue very close to the heart of both Do The Write Thing (DTWT) cofounders, Loretta (LoLo) Smith, and myself, Rhonda Lee Thomas.

LoLo, a former teacher, saw firsthand the detrimental effects that being bullied had on child victims, including her own great nieces. They were bullied so badly that their mother withdrew them from a Missouri public school in January 2019 and sent them to DC so LoLo could homeschool them. Instead, LoLo enrolled them in a DC Public School where the principal had established a safe and warm environment for all students. The girls appear in one of DTWT’s kindness/antibullying books along with some of the friends they made in DC.

I faced bullying, racism, and other types of hatred and abuse early in life, growing up in the 1950s in South Dakota, where people of color were scarce. As a lifetime human rights activist, I always speak up against injustice on social media and through kindness/antibullying projects.

Unfortunately for humankind, in 2017, 20% of students age 12-18, reported being bullied at school according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of students ages 12-18, about 13 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 13 percent reported being made fun of, called names, or insulted; 5 percent reported being pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on; and 5 percent reported being excluded from activities on purpose. Parents, guardians, other teachers, and youth must help to develop strategies to handle bullying, which has serious consequences.

DTWT addresses the issue of bullying by teaching children to be kind to one another. We can change the world with one act of kindness at a time! We observed National Bullying Prevention Month in October by focusing our attention on solutions to the critical problem of bullying. As we do every year, DTWT kicked off our month‑long antibullying activities on the first Monday of October. For example, LoLo and I encourage our youth to perform ten acts of kindness during this month.

We also produce kindness/antibullying books, posters, and other materials with our students. Our personalized books feature DC Public School children dressed in superhero costumes; after all, we are superheroes who fight bullying with kindness! One six-year old girl loved her book so much that she slept with it under her pillow, ate with it at breakfast, and brought it to school every day! Our books are available for public consumption on Amazon, including the following titles:

DTWT Book Covers

This year, on October 5th, World Day of Bullying Prevention (also called Blue Shirt Day), DTWT students at Plummer Elementary School signed No-Bullying Pledges and posted them on their customized No‑Bullying Pledge Wall:

DTWT’s NO-BULLYING PLEDGE

  • I pledge to stop bullying my siblings at home.
  • I pledge to stop bullying my classmates at school.
  • I pledge to stop bullying my classmates on the playground.
  • I pledge to stop bullying on the Internet.
  • I pledge to tell an adult when I see someone being bullied.
  • I pledge to say no to bullying like a superhero.

DTWT Kids

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DTWT’s efforts to prevent bullying won’t stop tomorrow on October 31st when National Bullying Prevention Month ends. DTWT continues its bullying prevention efforts throughout the school year. DTWT has developed a unique Kindness Project that we implement year-round at elementary schools. The Kindness Project includes:

  • Personalization of a book about kindness
  • Independent readers recording the text of the book to create CDs
  • A kindness pledge
  • Friendship songs
  • Group writing stories about kindness
  • Reading books about friendship and kindness from a recommended list compiled by the DC Public Library, such as “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein
  • Creating posters with kindness slogans and transferring slogans onto tee shirts and other clothing. Advanced students have the opportunity to walk the runway in a fashion presentation that features girls and dolls in matching clothing with kindness slogans.

This year, Plummer Elementary School students will stage the anti-bullying musical, Corduroy: A Bear In Search of Acceptance and Friendship, during the December holiday season. The musical explores the issues of bullying and the importance of friendship.

DTWT is proud to continue promoting kindness among children during Bullying Prevention Month and year-round!

Visit DTWT’s page at the Catalogue For Philanthropy website.

 

A Typical Saturday

Written by Laura Beth Williams, OMM Program Manager at Josh Anderson Foundation

On a typical Saturday at 8:00 a.m., if I were to walk into a school building, it would likely be completely empty. On Saturday, October 5th, there were over 60 students who woke up early, organized transportation, and met at Fairfax High School just after sunrise. Why would they do such a thing? These students came together to work on common goals: practicing mindfulness, learning about protective and risk factors, performing coping skills exercises, and engaging in conversations to address the stigma around mental health at the third annual Our Minds Matter (OMM) Teen Summit hosted by the Josh Anderson Foundation.

When planning the annual summit, we wanted to reflect the values and goals OMM. Naturally, this meant the summit should be student-led. Five OMM student leaders facilitated our Mental Health 101 activity and coping skills stations. Seeing the students positively influencing their peers throughout the summit exemplified the importance of amplifying students’ voices and was a special thing to witness.

If you have ever worked with students you know that they can easily become disengaged or distracted. One of the most remarkable aspects of the day spent with these students was seeing how they stayed engaged throughout the entire four-hour summit.

We concluded the day with our guest speaker, Dr. Marc Brackett from the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence. When adults (especially doctors) speak to teens, they can oftentimes be perceived as a little boring, but not Dr. Brackett. In fact, the students reported that learning “name it to tame it” was one of their favorite parts of the summit. Plus, you always get brownie points for free swag. Especially when it’s a book that teaches you how to unlock the power of emotions to help kids, ourselves, and our society.

Why does any of this matter? Suicide has grown to become the second leading cause of youth deaths in the United States. Teens today are reporting the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than in recent decades. We at the Josh Anderson Foundation believe it is critical to reverse this trend by providing training and material support that empowers student leaders to effectively deliver OMM activities to their peers on topics such as Mental Health 101, Stigma Reduction, Resource Awareness, Healthy Habits and Healthy Mindset.

The OMM model is student-led and is the first of its kind to offer structure and support for the high school population. If it’s anything we are learning as we develop this program, it’s that our kids want to support each other. They care for one another, and sometimes all it takes is providing them with opportunity. We see it every day, and we want as many people to see it as possible.

If you would like to learn more about the OMM program, please visit www.ourmindsmatter.org. To learn more about the Josh Anderson Foundation, visit www.joshandersonfoundation.org.

“I had so much fun and especially loved the guest speaker. The summit left me super inspired and excited for the future of OMM” – Edison High School

“Thank you so much for coming I really needed to hear it” -Oakton High School

Executive Director of the Josh Anderson Foundation, Lauren Anderson, welcoming students.  Photo: Donnie Biggs/Fairfax County Public Schools

Executive Director of the Josh Anderson Foundation, Lauren Anderson, welcoming students.
Photo: Donnie Biggs/Fairfax County Public Schools

From Confused to Humble – A Capital Partners for Education College Student’s Reflection

Nate Green entered Capital Partners for Education (CPE)’s program in 2012. Now going into his senior of college at Morehouse College, he shares his journey getting to and through college as a low-income, first-generation student. CPE did this interview with Nate to understand how mentorship has played a role in helping through transitions, specifically looking at one’s mindset going into their first year of college versus their final year. We want to see the impact mentorship has on one’s growth mindset in getting to and through college.

What was it like growing up low-income in a first-generation to college family?

I grew up in Southeast, DC, where I saw a lot of violence and worrying about where the next meal would come from. Although my mom tried to hide the struggle from me, I still witnessed it and felt the impact. Sometimes I would be bullied for wearing the same shoes or clothes because my mom could not afford to continue to buy new clothes if my sisters and I wanted to eat. My mom never attended college and my sisters didn’t either because they were tasked with taking care of me. I couldn’t read or do math up until 5th grade. It wasn’t until I entered KIPP DC during my 8th grade year that I found out about CPE. It was important to tap into a resource that understood the connection between being first in your family to potentially go to college and actually getting there.

Having the opportunity to be a CPE student is like being part of a community. The experience has taught me valuable things I’ve been able to take back home and share with my family such as going over the FASFA application with my mom who didn’t know how to fill one out.

How would you describe the transition of going from your freshman year of college to now your senior year?

College life has taught me there are three types of students: those who stay the same, those who are upward trending, and those who trend downward. An experience I went through in my first semester of college made me realize I wanted to take ownership of the type of student I wanted to be.

What most people may or may not realize is that college is hard. You face challenges whether it’s academic, social, related to identity, or financial. In my first semester, I finished with a 1.9 GPA. Some family and friends suggested I take a semester off and hinted at the idea that college may not be for me. My CPE mentor helped me devise a plan that kept me in school and focused on making it to the finish line which I’m proud to say is coming up next year!

To sum up the first day of my freshman year of college in one word, I felt confused. Now going into the first day of my senior year, I feel humble. There is no other place in the world where there are over 2,000 black men who are all working toward a common goal together — to build minds of excellence and service.

Nate Green - CFP Blog

What has kept you encouraged throughout your college experience as what you consider an upward trending student?

It’s the CPE care packages, the check ins I still have with my mentor and my program coordinator, and reconnecting with people I went through the program with that has helped make the difference. When I reflect back on what has contributed to my success, I realize it’s been the little things that has helped get me through. I could have chosen to accept that I was a downward trending student but I believe your thoughts ultimately become your actions and so I had to change my mindset which has resulted in me attaining a 3.15 GPA which is higher than the 1.9 I had freshmen year.

When is graduation and what will you be doing afterward?

At 8am on May 17, 2020, I’ll walk across the stage of Morehouse College and accept my bachelor’s degree in political science. It’s a moment I am most looking forward to and one I can’t wait to share with friends and family. After graduation, I’ll be taking on a fellowship with KIPP DC to attain a Master’s in Teaching and then a Master’s in Education in the last two years of the program.

This blog posted was originally published on the Capital Partners for Education website on September 3, 2019.

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Art Enables

This post was written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy.

Are you an art lover? Do you want to support people with disabilities? Are you a fan of cheese and crackers? If you answered yes to all three to these questions, then you should consider volunteering with Art Enables, a Catalogue nonprofit partner. I did recently, and I highly recommend the experience.

Art Enables allows artists to make, market, and earn an income from original art pieces. These artists experience a broad range of developmental and cognitive disabilities as well as various mental health challenges. This local nonprofit gives artists opportunities to express themselves through visual art by providing a professional studio environment, art supplies, technical guidance, and exhibitions both on and offsite.

After Art Enables caught my eye on the Catalogue volunteer page, I reached out to their staff to set up a volunteer time that worked with my interests and schedule. To allow me to experience different sides of their work, we decided that I would volunteer at two consecutive events. My first position was as a Studio Volunteer for the 2nd Saturday Workshop, an ongoing community engagement event that Art Enables hosts — you guessed it — every 2nd Saturday of the month. Community members can walk in and create art for free in the style of that week’s theme. Past themes have included pop up art, sketch portraits, painted leaves, minimalist watercolors, and more. People get to learn about resident artists’ work and the services that their neighborhood nonprofit provides.

When I entered the studio that afternoon, the first three words that came to mind were bright, colorful, and open. Art pieces lined the walls. Large windows flooded the space with natural light. There didn’t appear to be any separation between staff desks and studio workspaces.

Art Enables 1b

 

A staff member welcomed me and introduced me to my fellow volunteers (women from the Junior League of Washington) and our guest facilitator for the day, Sonya Michel. She would be leading everybody in creating “assemblages,” converting “junk’ into 3d-collages.

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I grabbed an apron, got familiar with our art supplies table (plastic, cardboard, paint, paper, markers, magazines, etc) and began welcoming guests as they trickled in off the street. Throughout the day I refilled dirty paint water glasses, chatted with people and artists, and took plenty of cliche art photos from odd angles. You know, for the gram.

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A total of 65 people came that day (typical 2nd Saturdays range from 50-125 people). Community members mingled with resident artists, staff, and volunteers for an easygoing afternoon of making art. When life gets hectic, it’s nice to be able to take a minute and decompress by creating art in a communal space. During the lulls of the day, I even got the chance to make my own assemblage; it’s now proudly hanging on the corkboard above my desk at work.

 

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All the artists I spoke with were generous with their time and sharing their pieces with me. Robert showed me how his painting has been transformed into a mug (other Art Enables merchandise includes playing cards, leather bracelets, and coasters).

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Each resident artist has a drawer with their name on it filled with additional pieces of art (all for sale!). It was a pleasure to recognize the distinctive artistic styles of the resident artists. For example, Shawn is in the midst of a shoe period.

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The workshop came to an end and we moved onto the next event for the evening: the opening reception for the 13th Annual Outsider Art Inside the Beltway (OAIB) exhibit. As described by their website, OAIB “has been committed to highlighting and providing self-taught artists who often don’t have opportunities to exhibit their work the opportunity to do so. This includes new and emerging self-taught artists, artists with disabilities, and artists from traditionally underrepresented communities.” I was to be a Volunteer Gallery Attendant. In preparation, I cleaned up art supplies, wiped up spills, and set up refreshments. Armed with a butter knife, I did a spectacularly mediocre job cutting the cheese for the platter, but they tasted great regardless.

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Throughout the reception, I refreshed snacks, welcomed guests, and took photographs. The Art Enables basement exuded hipness, the perfect industrial-chic look for an art gallery reception. I love art galleries, so getting to hang out and chat about art with people while volunteering was a win-win situation for me.

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At the end of the evening, I helped put away leftovers, wipe down tables, and clean dishes. It had been a lovely volunteer experience with Art Enables; I met some amiable artists, enjoyed some art, and even got to participate in the art making process myself.

If this sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon, then you should consider volunteering with Art Enables. Their volunteer opportunities can easily accommodate individuals with busy schedules who can only come once in a while or on a one-time basis. Possible positions include staffing special events and at the studio (like I did), helping out administratively, and even providing professional services, such as marketing or education. Check out their volunteer page to learn more and work with their helpful staff to find an opportunity that appeals to you. Your support can make a real different for artists with disabilities in the DC region.

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New Intern at the Catalogue!

The Catalogue has a new team member! We’re very happy to welcome Julie von Foerster as our brand new Nonprofit Management Intern! She will be helping out our team with all aspects of our operations, including programming, development, and marketing. Please allow her to introduce herself:

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Tell us about yourself!

I’m a newcomer to D.C., having just moved to the city a month ago to start graduate school. I’m originally from Michigan, where I attended Michigan State University to study International Relations. Prior to my move, I was living in Detroit for 2 years and am proud to call it home. Living in a big city like D.C. is a new experience for me — getting used to taking the metro, learning to ride my bike through traffic, and meeting new people in a city where I knew only 2 people. So far, I’m loving it and I feel lucky to live in such a fun neighborhood on 14th street. I’m a full-time graduate student at George Washington University, studying International Development. My hope is to one day work at a nonprofit abroad.

What made you interested in joining the Catalogue?

When I came across the Catalogue in my search for internships, I knew right away it was what I was looking for. The mission of the Catalogue and the nonprofits it supports resonated with me. I have a passion for working within the nonprofit sector, so gaining experience in nonprofit management was the perfect fit. This passion comes from my desire to help those in need and give back to the communities that I live in. The internship listing stressed the importance of gaining real-life skills and professional development, not just filing paperwork or fetching coffee, which really stood out to me.

What experience have you had with nonprofits?

My experience with nonprofits started during my undergraduate career. I had my first internship at a nonprofit focused on education and improving literacy rates within Michigan, which was such a rewarding experience. The experience that made me realize that the nonprofit sector was my calling was my internship at a refugee center in Cape Town, South Africa. Meeting refugees from all over Africa opened my eyes to the vulnerable populations all over the world. From there, my interests have mostly been focused on working with refugee populations. Prior to this role, I worked as a case manager and volunteer coordinator at a refugee resettlement agency in Michigan. I also love to volunteer and am always looking for more nonprofit experience! My past volunteer experiences have been working with the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Red Cross of Michigan, and with a Detroit city council member.

What are you looking forward to in this internship?

I’m looking forward to collaborating with the entire team at the Catalogue on different projects. I can already tell that they are a great team that works closely together and are passionate about the work they do. My projects will include providing support for our upcoming Community Changemakers event, working on our Learning Commons program, and helping our team promote this year’s GivingTuesday campaign. I’m excited for this immersive experience into the nonprofit world of Greater Washington. I’m also very much looking forward to getting to know the nonprofits that we work with and learning more about their missions. I hope to be able to visit at least a few during my time here.

Tell us one fun fact about you!

If I could spend every day traveling, I would! I have been to 52 countries and am always looking to visit more. I have lived in Germany, South Africa, and Thailand — all different but rewarding experiences! The photo below was taken last year on a trip to Morocco, where I stayed overnight in the Sahara Desert.

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For Working Families, Sitar’s Aftercare Program Fills a Critical Need

Written by LeAnne DeFrancesco, WWPR Pro Bono Committee

Aftercare. A simple term but an often complex system to navigate for parents whose jobs don’t allow them to pick up their kids when the school day ends. Beyond getting kids from school to an aftercare facility, cost can be a factor, making even convenient or desirable programs out of reach for working families.

That’s where once again, Sitar Arts Center bridges a gap.

Sitar piloted its aftercare program in Spring 2015 to provide a place for children to thrive via a range of arts activities. It started with just six students tucked into a corner of the Center, but when Sitar expanded its facility by 2,500 square feet in 2017 following a two-year capital campaign and renovation project, it was able to open the doors to nearly 50 additional students in grades K through 8.

According to Sitar’s Aftercare Coordinator Jordan Smith, “Aftercare programs are important because they offer working families the flexibility to work and provide for their children, while their children enjoy a fun, nurturing environment that provides enrichment in academics and the arts.”

Sitar’s aftercare program is multifaceted, encompassing:

1) Educational support through a partnership with For Love of Children (FLOC), an organization that provides educational services beyond the classroom.

2) Emotional support via Restorative Justice Circles, which are designed to resolve conflict and solve problems through collaboration.

3) One-on-one teacher support; and

4) Opportunities to grow and learn in daily arts activities like Capoeira, a dance that evolved from Brazilian martial arts.

Two program tracks are designed to serve the different age ranges: K-3rd grade and 4th-8th grade. In this way, Sitar ensures the classes and projects are developmentally appropriate.

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For families, aftercare at Sitar is appealing because there is a dedicated staff focused on providing the strongest possible programming for the students. The variety of exciting arts classes like Capoeira, photography, acting and oration are all available at affordable prices.

“More than anything else, it is the connections we make with our families that keep them here,” says Smith. “Sitar is a community. We support the whole child and the whole family, and as a result, many of our families have stayed with us for years.”

Another element that makes this program special is that it runs year-round, providing a basic developmental need: stability. Students can rely on a consistent safe space outside of school to grow and be themselves.

Families also benefit from the peace of mind of knowing where their children are and what they are doing with their time.

“Our families know that everyday there is a safe place for their students to go where they will receive a healthy snack, get help with their homework, participate in fun activities and classes and be with people who genuinely care about them,” says Smith.

The biggest challenge in operating this program is balancing the needs all those involved. Getting to know each and every student and their families is essential so that Sitar can support each student’s needs. According to Smith, this is the most rewarding and most difficult to balance aspect of the job.

However, there is no doubt that the program has made an impact on the community.

Sitar evaluates its programming by surveying parents, teachers and Sitar staff on the impact and outcomes they observe in students. In the last three years, they have seen huge improvements in students’ creativity, confidence and communication.

One Sitar parent described the changes in her daughter as being more creative and focused at school and with projects at home.

“Sitar is a place that our families and students view as a home away from home,” Smith says. “When you take classes at Sitar, you are not just signing up for a class, you are signing up to become part of the Sitar family.”

Currently there are 45 students enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year with room for more. To find out more about aftercare enrollment at Sitar Arts Center, go to www.sitarartscenter.org or call (202) 797-2145.