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Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area Recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy

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Thinking back to when I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I suppose my reaction was much like it is for the tens of thousands of other Americans who contract this disease annually. Disbelief, concern, melancholy (even a few tears); but once the shock had subsided, it was time to take this thing seriously.

My approach was first to learn as much as I could about Parkinson’s. What is it? A disease caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain. What causes it? No one really knows though genetics and certain environmental exposures are thought to contribute. What are its symptoms? Although everyone is affected differently, most of us with Parkinson’s have some of the following — slowness of motion, tremor, rigidity, problems with balance. And, because dopamine is also a mood enhancer, people with PD may suffer from anxiety and depression.

I learned that the most effective ways to combat Parkinson’s, and improve my quality of life, are 1) to work with a neurologist specializing in movement disorders to determine the most effective medication regimen, 2) to maintain a positive attitude, and 3) to stay active.

To stay active. Recent research studies have concluded that physical activity, of virtually any type, not only slows the rate of deterioration in PD patients, it can literally improve strength, flexibility, and balance. And it has secondary effects — PD sufferers who exercise regularly are less likely to be anxious or depressed.

But where to do these exercises? We all know about the grandest intentions — just show me what to do and I can do them at home; but, honestly, will you do them?

Enter the Parkinson’s Foundation of the National Capitol Area (PFNCA), whose mission is to “improve the quality of life of those impacted by Parkinson’s disease by offering exercise…programs to strengthen their physical and emotional health.”

Operating with a small, enthusiastic group of dedicated individuals, PFNCA utilizes donations received throughout the year, but especially at the annual Walk Off Parkinson’s fundraiser at National’s Park each September, to provide more than 250 exercise, communication and education program sessions at 29 locations in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

More than 2,000 people impacted by Parkinson’s are served by PFNCA each year. The variety of exercise venues and the geographic scope of providers allow each person with Parkinson’s to select the type of activity, the trainer and the location they prefer for everything from yoga to rock climbing.

I participate in three exercise activities sponsored by PFNCA?– a fitness class focused on balance, strength, and flexibility; boxing, a relatively new Parkinson’s exercise that provides great physical and cognitive benefits; and a Parkinson’s-specific activity called “Big and Loud” therapy. I also play tennis and work in the yard — everything counts.

I firmly believe exercise has helped me cope with Parkinson’s, and that the programs offered by PFNCA have been instrumental in slowing its progress.

Recently, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington named PFNCA one of the best small non-profits in the Washington D.C. area. The award recognizes PFNCA’s success in fostering a sense of community for people with Parkinson’s, and that it is the only organization in the D.C. area that provides holistic programs year-round.

Because the Catalogue for Philanthropy thoroughly vets each organization, donors can be assured the dollars they donate are being well spent.

Being named one of the best small non-profits by the Catalogue is a huge honor for PFNCA and should help ensure that more dollars are donated to “The Cause.”

After all, isn’t that what it’s all about — additional venues, more and more types of exercise, a more diverse compendium of locations and instructors. And, ultimately, a higher quality of life for people with Parkinson’s

Rick Vaughan — Oak Hill, VA — August 2018

Threads of Change: Connecting Our Stories

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Story Tapestries invites you to join us on Thursday,?September 27th from 5:30pm – 7:00pm?for an evening of storytelling that will include a film screening featuring Montgomery County community members, a live demo of our digital classroom that contains resources for educators and parents, and some surprises…!

Come be part of a dialogue of stories of hope and interact with artists, educators, business owners, caretakers, and other community members. We hope to see you at the Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union,?12820 Wisteria Drive, Germantown, MD 20874.

To register please go to?https://www.eventbrite.com/e/threads-of-change-connecting-our-stories-tickets-50219746614

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Students striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

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For the past 4 years, After-School All-Stars (ASAS) has convened a leadership training event at the 4-H National Conference Center outside of the Nation’s Capital: All-Stars Leadership University (ASLU). ASAS is a national non-profit, providing free and comprehensive after-school programs to Title 1 middle school students, and the Washington DC chapter is the local office serving over 600 students at 7 schools within the district. 19 of our chapter cities are invited to send student and staff representation at ASLU. Each Chapter sends two youth, a Rising Youth Advisory Board Mentor (YABs) and a Returning YAB Mentor, as well as an Adult Mentor to come to DC and learn about self-leadership, serving others, and how to serve and advocate in their communities. YABs are selected for these positions based on their commitment to the program, as well as their academic performance and leadership abilities. The 4-day retreat includes leadership training, team building exercises, opportunities to create service projects for their local communities and thoughtful reflections on each student’s respective communities and the issues they all face.

ASAS DC was extremely proud to have 2 YAB students representing our chapter. Ajani Atkins from Somerset Prep DC and De’Quan Atchinson from Charles Hart Middle School (now a rising Freshman at Eastern High School) both attended earlier this summer. Ajani assumed the role of Rising YAB while De’Quann had the opportunity to be a returning YAB mentor.

De’Quan is a great example of an ideal YAB and ASAS DC student. He has been with the program since 6th grade and is now a proud graduate of both Hart MS and the ASAS DC program. He has grown immensely in that time, learning to be a better public speaker, convener, and leader amongst his peer group. We had the chance to speak with him about ASLU and his broader experience in the program.

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De’Quan, along with many of the other YAB participants, was particularly struck by one of the special presenters at ASLU. Thanks to our partnership with Essentia Water, Joe La Puma attended the event as a guest speaker. Joe is the Vice President of Content Strategy at Complex Magazine, and host of the magazine’s “Sneaker Shopping,” a program that takes you inside the sneaker shopping process for such celebrities as Wiz Khalifa, Kevin Hart, Antonio Brown, and A$AP Rocky. De’Quan has a myriad of interests ranging from athletics to community service, but he is also extremely passionate about fashion. It was invaluable for him to be exposed to someone like Joe, who has worked hard to make a name for himself in a progressive sector of work that resonates with our students. Across the country, we are intentional about exposing ASAS students to unique and accessible career paths. Joe’s journey was one that had a profound resonance with the YABS. De’Quan admitted that hearing Joe speak inspired and excited him. It was a narrative that he could genuinely connect with and aspire towards, whereas those sources of inspiration were previously hard to come by.

De’Quan looks back at his journey from 6th grade and acknowledges how much he has matured within the ASAS DC program. Initially, he didn’t dedicate enough time to his classes and homework, opting to spend evenings with his mother. Due to her intensive work schedule, they could only spend the late evenings together, and that wasn’t conducive to completing all his work and developing an interest in school. An attitude change was as simple as providing him with a safe space and a positive environment. ASAS DC dedicated academic time allowed him to progress more in his school work, and that culminated this past year when he made the honor roll for the first time in his academic career. He recalled his mother’s reaction, and that she was quite literally “in tears of joy,” overwhelmed by her son’s success.

The exciting thing about De’Quan as well as the ASAS DC chapter, is that this is just the beginning. In speaking with De’Quan it was as if his experience in the program gave him a new lease on life. Not only is he excited for high school, but he already has plans to join the track team and as many clubs as he can get his hands on. De’Quan’s 3.5 GPA is something he is proud of, but at Eastern, he wants to build off of that and achieve even higher marks in his first year. He has a strong desire to seriously pursue his interests at the next level in the fields of leadership, athletics, academics, and fashion.

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As De’Quan reflected back on his experience it was no surprise that above all else, personal connections were the most meaningful to him. He credits ASAS DC staff for “getting him out of his shell” and inspiring him to be a leader. On more than one occasion he referred to the ASAS DC Program Manager Tierra Stewart as “Superwoman,” a sentiment that many of her colleague’s share. He knows that in 6th grade he wasn’t the type “to open up to just anybody,” but with the help of mentors like Tierra he began to make that transition to a more outgoing and charismatic person. He made that change because he along with his fellow ASAS students understood that our instructors genuinely cared about their well-being and future. As is the case with many of our 600+ students in the district, our staff have close relationships with De’Qunn and his family, and that level of understanding and communication is inextricably connected to his growth and success.

The DC chapter is proud to showcase De’Quan’s story. It is a unique and compelling narrative, and at the same time, we know that there are tens of thousands of ASAS students across the country having a similar experience. He didn’t have time to complete his homework, ASAS DC provided him that time and space, he was shy and unmotivated, he is now going off to high school as a leader with aspirations to be the captain of every team and club he joins, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, ASAS DC showed him what it looks like to succeed in school and have an attractive career. As he reflected back on his own journey at the 4-H center, eyes welling with tears, his heart was full: for his family, his ASAS mentors, and mostly for his fellow students that are striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

The Grassroot Project: Using Sports to Promote Sexual Health and Positive Youth Development in DC

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Almost ten years ago, 40 student-athletes gathered in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment near Georgetown University. Their goal: fight alarmingly high, increasing rates of HIV transmission in our nation’s capital the best way that they knew how –through sports. Drawing inspiration from his volunteer experience with Grassroot Soccer in South Africa, the group’s leader, Tyler Spencer, wanted to use sports to educate people about HIV and AIDS prevention in a language that they could understand. At the time, 1 in 20 adults in DC were living with HIV, and the rate among teenagers was on the rise.

“There was only one other organization doing school-based HIV prevention work with kids,” said Spencer. “So, there was a huge need in DC, and I felt really excited about taking the Grassroot Soccer model and adapting it to make a difference at home.”

To call this group of Georgetown soccer players, football players, basketball players, field hockey players, rowers, swimmers and golfers a “grassroots” organization would be an understatement. Despite their lack of funding and uncertainty in starting and running a non-profit organization, the 18 to 21-year-olds persisted. Much of the initial program cost fell on Spencer. He took a temp job working with the Association of Schools of Public Health, and with the support of the athletic community, they facilitated their first sexual health program in The School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens in the Spring of 2009.

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Today, The Grassroot Project’s?innovative model continues to employ non-traditional health educators — NCAA student-athletes — to create a fun, friendly and safe environment in which participants learn how to live healthier lifestyles. The peer to peer education method creates an open environment for participants to share their beliefs on sensitive topics such as HIV/AIDS testing and prevention, sexual consent, dating violence, and healthy relationships. The use of sports as a vehicle for social change, and the ability of the student-athlete leaders to connect with the youth and their families are what make this an effective way of learning.

“Being part of the Catalogue has not only helped us to build relationships with philanthropists in DC who care about youth development and health education, but it has also helped us to grow as an organization,” said Spencer. “The first time we applied, we were only reaching 4 schools in DC, and we struggled to manage our programs and partnerships because we had no full-time staff. Since being named part of the?Catalogue…we have operated our programs in more than 60 schools and community centers across the city, and we have reached more than 5,000 DC teenagers with free health education and health services.”

TGP’s?corps of volunteer student-athlete program facilitators has expanded from Georgetown University to now also include student-athletes from The George Washington University, American University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

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Most recent additions to the organization include Grassroots Connect — an end-of-program graduation celebration and linkage to local health care event — as well as Grassroots Fam — an after-school parent/caregiver program that provides similar interactive learning opportunities including sexual health basics, as well as building a parental support system by practicing proper parent-child communication.

“One of the first things our students learn in each program is how important it is to ‘take action in your community,’ and I think that that phrase sums up the mission of Grassroots perfectly,” said Isabel Rose, senior Leader Team member. “This year, TGP took several huge steps that allowed us to take even more action in our community, and that meant that I could help make a much bigger difference than I had initially thought possible.”

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During the summer of 2018, the organization introduced its first Master Trainer program — a team of exemplary student-athletes who’ve undergone an intensive training on social issues in DC, sexual and reproductive health basics, and behavior management skills in middle schools. The Master Trainers traveled to South Africa this summer to learn from partner organization, Grassroot Soccer, about best practices for training new student-athlete facilitators.

“As a student, as an athlete, as a new resident in DC, it is my ​job​ ​to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me,” said Callie Fauntleroy, a sophomore volleyball player at The George Washington University. “I have learned more here in my 8 months with TGP than I have in any other experience.”

What started as a true grassroots organization has morphed into a robust network of students, athletes, and alumnae who are educated about living healthier lifestyles in their communities.

“The Catalogue has been and will continue to be helpful in preparing us for to make an even greater impact on our city,” said Spencer.