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Rethinking the Traditional Approach to Human Services

Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services, Inc. PictureLaurel Advocacy & Referral Services, Inc. (LARS) opened its doors in 1987, serving as a solution to a growing problem in the Laurel community. Local congregations were receiving increasing numbers of requests for food and financial help. Church funds could only stretch so far, and they couldn’t be sure if the need was genuine or if other congregations had already helped. This prompted congregation leaders to come together to create a central point of contact for such requests. With a few dedicated volunteers, LARS set up shop in a church basement and began assessing cases.

After more than three decades, our programs and staff have grown but the need for emergency services continues. We have learned that (1) people still need the same kinds of help as they did back then, (2) more people need it than ever before, and (3) many need it more than once. This is not surprising, given that Fair Market Rent in Prince George’s County ($1,454 for a one-bedroom apartment) is more than double the affordable rent for those earning minimum wage ($598) 1. In the City of Laurel, 52% of households (10,175) are either living in poverty or are considered asset-limited and income-constrained, despite being employed 2. With so many people living on the brink of crisis without a back-up plan, something needs to change. Advocating for affordable housing and a living wage is crucial in the long-term, but changes also need to happen on the ground floor if we want to improve outcomes for people right here and now.

At LARS, we are responding differently by helping people build skills and resources for economic self-sufficiency. In 2016, we launched our Self-Sufficiency Program (SSP) to address the underlying issues that cause people to seek help with paying their rent for the third or fourth year in a row. Our SSP is an 18 to 24 month program whereby participants work with a dedicated case manager/mentor to set goals and concrete plans for reaching them. Our focus is on skill-building, individualized mentoring, and comprehensive resource linkage rather than standard short-term case management. Our approach is to rebuild the skills and habits that have been stripped away by living in a constant state of crisis. Our case managers are trained to ask the hard questions, to help people uncover what is holding them back, and to take action to change the things they can control.

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Our first six program participants have proven that this type of mentorship can change lives. Sarah, our first graduate, was accepted to the Air Force and starts basic training this month. Jerome, who was unemployed at program entry, now has a full-time job earning $18 an hour. Kathleen paid off all her debts and has started investing. Jennifer earned her second promotion within a year of starting a new job.

In the words of one Self-Sufficiency Program participant:

“Being in the Self-Sufficiency Program has allowed me to take a look at how I can become a better person in tackling many challenges. I have become more goal-oriented, financially adept to my current income, and better at creating solutions to problems. I have found this program and my case worker to be a great resource for change. I have and will continue to refer others to the program.”

Though we are a relatively small organization, we at LARS feel a responsibility to stay responsive and to innovate without fear. We are committed to implementing creative, evidence-based solutions to ensure that members of our community are thriving. We want to do more than what is expected of us because we believe that people deserve more than to have their basic needs met. People deserve to enjoy a life free from the confines of their past and free from constant financial worry.

Written by Laura Wellford, Development & Communications Manager

LARS’ Self-Sufficiency Program is based on the Mobility Mentoring framework developed by EMPath of Boston, MA. LARS is one of 120 organizations across 30 states and 5 countries that are using this brain-science-backed approach. Visit to learn more.

For more information on LARS and how to get involved, visit Also check out LARS’ recent feature on WUSA9:


1. National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach Report (2019)
2. United Way of the National Capital Area, ALICE Report (2018)

After-School All-Stars: Big City Builders

After-School All-Stars, Washington DC (ASAS DC) provides free after-school programs to over 600 DC middle schoolers. One of our most successful programs is the real estate development class we have been developing for the past 3 school years. “Big City Builders” (BCB) as it has come to be known, just completed its most comprehensive iteration to date. This program is a 9-week course that teaches participants the ins and outs of Commercial Real Estate, with students taking the perspective of a designer, creating their own mixed-used buildings and neighborhoods. The vision is for youth to not only grasp these concepts and gain an interest in this field of work, but to also tie it back to their local community in DC and create something that they would want to see develop in their own neighborhoods.

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The start of BCB is focused on learning the basics of real estate, with our all-stars using their own city and backyards as real-world examples. These introductory lessons range from understanding terms and concepts such as developers and square footage, to what elements come together to construct a building. To effectively convey these concepts ASAS DC instructor and AmeriCorps fellow Opiaah Jeffers used specific examples of buildings in DC (including Stuart-Hobson Middle School where this class was facilitated). This made it easier to comprehend difficult subject matter as adolescents could visualize and, in some instances, physically visit the structures they were studying.

As is the case with virtually all ASAS DC offerings, we delve deep into specific subject matter but also offer additional skills in the process. Youth were provided significant time and instruction on the art of “pitching,” consolidating an idea and presenting it to an audience in an interesting, informative and captivating manner. They focused on speaking clearly and concisely, maintaining eye contact, and utilizing confident body language. With all-stars being introduced to these techniques weeks before the culmination, their presentation skills had increased dramatically and it showed as they displayed their work to DC Real Estate professionals.

Once this foundation was laid ASAS DC participants began to design their structures in small groups of 2-3. They were given a significant degree of autonomy to create buildings or residences that they would want to see in their community. Given that instruction the participants took it upon themselves to take an extra step and include community solutions within their designs. Several groups built in conservation and sustainability attributes in the form of “green spaces,” and infrastructures utilizing renewable energy. Many of the youth from Stuart-Hobson Middle School felt strongly about issues they knew first hand, specifically around gentrification and affordable housing. A 6th grader from Stuart-Hobson named Kayle passionately presented the case in which her uncle was forced to leave the neighborhood where his family had been for generations. This was the result of gentrification and she had created an affordable housing structure specifically to address that. It was extremely important for her to create an inclusive environment and bring different elements of the community together.

Aside from the technical aspects and the process of developing real life skills, all-stars were also able to have a fun and engaging experience with this work. Once they had developed their designs, ASAS DC arranged field trips to Building Momentum, a local maker-space based in Alexandria, VA equipped with 3D printing. The staff there worked with our instructors to finalize the Tinkercad designs which made them eligible for the printing process. Students were able to view the printing first hand, and the virtual designs they had been working on for weeks were created as 3D plastic models that they could hold and build a neighborhood around!

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After the models were produced, students moved on to the final and most exciting stage of the process — creating a complete presentation for DC Real Estate professionals including a budget! They utilized the presentation skills developed earlier in the year to practice their remarks and put together a PowerPoint presentation depicting the entire class, including the 3D printing field trips and group work. They explained in detail each line item of their budget, and how it pertained to everything they wanted to include in their community. The group concluded by displaying their diorama and laying out the neighborhood design they had constructed. Professionals from Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, Insight Property Group and New World Developers followed up with praise and detailed questions on the presentation. In response our all-stars displayed genuine interest and quizzed the professionals with questions on their work, mostly around social issues related to real estate citing access to clean water and again focusing on the issue of affordable housing.

Upon completion of the presentation participants were taken to see another local Real Estate property, The Apollo on H Street NE. This was facilitated by Brendan Whitsitt, the ASAS DC Board Chair and a Partner within Insight Property Group who manages the Apollo property. This brought the class full circle as they were able to hear first hand from a developer what goes into maintaining and constructing a property, from the pre-work processes with the city government, to the details of minutia around building aesthetics and artwork.

Big City Builders will continue to grow in scope as well as the work of ASAS DC in general. In this instance students were able to master specific skills, engage in detailed work specific to real estate, receive exposure to sector professionals and actual real estate sites in their city. Within that process they also worked as a team and had fun in creating their own ideal neighborhoods. It is our sincere hope that our youth can enter this field one day and serve the city of Washington DC by developing spaces and structures that lift up their neighborhoods!


Rock Recovery Volunteer Spotlight: Carly’s Story – Finally Free


I felt trapped. In my own body. I would look in the mirror and see all of the things wrong with the girl standing there in front of me, no matter how thin I became. I would go to the grocery store and become dizzy and stressed from staring at all of the nutrition facts before I put a food item in my cart. I would go to bed hungry as long as it meant I could feel my rib cage − and to think this all started when I was just 9 years old…

When I think about my struggle with anorexia and disordered eating, I recognize that it has been a constant battle for half of my life. I am not completely sure why it started exactly; I think it was a combination of things, but I can honestly tell you that I never thought I would be able to overcome it. It was just part of who Carly was and always would be.

My senior year of high school was the hardest year for me because this is when I struggled the most. I remember when I lost a drastic amount of weight, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. “What can I do to help you Carly? Please tell me. I can’t stand seeing you this sick.” I never saw my dad look that sad or defeated in my entire life and it made my heart ache because he is my rock and my hero. However, I did not know what to tell him. I thought I looked fine; in fact, I thought I could lose more weight. How I looked still wasn’t good enough…

My teachers and friends at school became worried too, but it didn’t matter to me at the time. All I thought about was losing more and more weight until I was satisfied with my appearance, whenever that would be.

Then, college came around and I realized my college career and life could go down two very different roads. I could continue heading down the dangerous, destructive path I was already on and become even sicker (my doctor told me that if I continued I would cause my body permanent damage and wouldn’t be able to have children in the future, and as a result of my current eating behaviors, I had already become severely anemic and developed a thyroid disorder), or I could try and overcome this once and for all and let it go. Let myself be free…To everyone else’s surprise, and mine, I did just that.

I remember coming back home for the first time since I left for college, and my dad had tears in his eyes. But this time, it wasn’t because he was worried or scared–but because he was happy. I had overcome what had eaten away at me for so long and finally could eat something without feeling guilty or sick. I was finally free…

People frequently ask me how I overcame my eating disorder and there were several factors that led to my recovery. But the driving one was I decided on my own and for myself that this was not the way I wanted to live my life anymore — I didn’t want to go through life constantly worried about what I was eating and how many calories I was taking in each day. Even though I lived this way for so long, I always thought that there had to be a better, happier, freer life waiting for me and now that I am ED free, I realize that I was right.

Ultimately, my struggle with an eating disorder is why I now volunteer at Rock Recovery. I truly want to help other men and women who are struggling with disorder eating. More specifically, I want to let them know that they are not alone and that freedom and recovery are possible. Posting motivational messages, testimonials and creative recovery campaigns on Rock Recovery’s social media handles helps me achieve just that.

In closing, I once heard this quote when I was struggling with my eating disorder that I never thought I could achieve. It goes like this, “And I said to my body, softly ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’” Each and every day, I now try to live by this quote. Although it’s not always easy and I do still struggle at times, I now actively choose to love my body and be its friend. Thank you for letting me share my story with you.

Your friend in recovery,



This blog post was originally published on Rock Recovery’s website on February 22, 2017

Rock Recovery has been a partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy since 2018. They provide holistic eating disorder outpatient treatment services, outreach educational programs, and a community network for those in recovery.

Second Story Wins Award from FBI

Second Story was awarded the Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) from the FBI! “This special award, presented on behalf of the Director of the FBI, was formally created in 1990 as a way to honor individuals and organizations for their efforts in combating crime, terrorism, drugs, and violence in America,” says the FBI.

The award was presented to Second Story as a result of Second Story in the Community’s close relationship with the Washington D.C. FBI field office. Each of the FBI’s 56 field offices selected one recipient of the award because of “outstanding contributions to their local communities through service.” Nandred Navarro, Vice President of Community Based Services at Second Story, accepted the award at a ceremony earlier this year.

The FBI works to do outreach in communities where there are vulnerable populations and partners with Second Story in Culmore, Annandale, and Springfield. Specifically, Second Story worked with the FBI to educate young people and their parents on cyber security, how to report crimes, and the different types of programs available in this field for internships and employment. They also presented to some of our community partners and gave workshops to young people in Second Story’s programs.

FBI Director Christopher Wray presented the awards. Second Story is honored and thankful to receive this award, and especially proud of Nandred Navarro’s leadership and her team’s impactful work in our community-based programming.

Nandred Accepting Award

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Food for Others

1 warehouse + 2 hours + 20 middle schoolers + 7,700 pounds of food = my morning spent volunteering for Food for Others, a nonprofit partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy. The mission of Food for Others is to distribute food to their neighbors in Northern Virginia who struggle with food insecurity. They rely upon food donations — a lot of donations. In 2018 alone, they distributed 2.2 million pounds of food. My task was to help sort some of those donations.

Signing up online for a volunteer shift was easy and painless. Despite being a food-focused nonprofit, the real bread and butter of Food for Others is their volunteer force. Since they rely upon so much free labor (up to 1200 volunteers a month!), they ensure that their sign up process is as convenient as possible. At 9:30am, I arrived at their warehouse, which was already bustling with activity. After being welcomed by the receptionist (another volunteer), I signed into a computer (10 seconds tops) and I was ready to go.

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The atmosphere of the warehouse was informal, yet industrious. Everyone was friendly, but no one had much time to chit chat; they had mouths to feed, trucks to fill! My supervisor for the morning was Jenn. Prior to joining Food for Others, she used to work in an Amazon warehouse. In other words, she knew her stuff.

Jenn was accustomed to managing large and diverse batches of volunteers: individuals, retirees, corporate teams, school groups, etc. My team of co-volunteers consisted of eighth grade students from a local private school. Twice a year, these students participate in service activities at various nonprofits in the region.

In a succinct, 2-minute orientation Jenn explained our job. We would sort the massive bins of donated food into three categories: dry goods, cans, and breakables.

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A few of the donated items were already partially consumed, which meant that they had to be thrown out. Unfortunately, one such item was an open bottle of maple syrup, which soaked through and ruined other otherwise acceptable donations in a sticky disaster. Note to readers: if you donate items to food pantries, thank you, but please do not include open or expired items!

Although most of the food were standard staples that you would expect, there were also occasionally some surprises in the mix, such as Polish luxury jams, dog food, maraschino cherries, and even mail.

Working with a pack of middle schoolers was fun. They brought a positive and enthusiastic energy to the morning. What’s not to love about a teenage boy tossing a pack of ramen into a bin and yelling “KOBE!”?

The kids treated me like an authority figure. This amused me since I was hardly an expert, being just a fellow first-time volunteer like them.
Kid: Ma’am, should this be considered a “dry good”?
Me: Sure?
Kid: Should we start placing cans in this empty bin?
Me: Why not! Sounds like a plan.
Kid: This is a box of a can. Should it go in cans?
Me: Follow your heart!

Spurred on by the spirit of innovation and efficiency, the kids formed an assembly-line which involved throwing and catching food items. Although this seemed like fun, I was concerned about them potentially dropping and damaging donations. Even as this thought was going through my head, my own plastic bag of donations split open from the weight and my glass jar of tomato sauce smashed onto the ground. How embarrassing! Unlike my own clumsy self, the students never broke anything (although Jenn did ask them to please pass the food instead).

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Overall, my two hours at Food for Others was a great experience. It was convenient, enjoyable, stress-free, and rewarding. Despite the legions of new volunteers cycling through every day, the warehouse is a well-run machine in getting donations to the people that need it. The work can be whatever you want to get out of it; you can either get to know new people or just as easily zone out to a podcast.

The warehouse position is just one opportunity at Food for Others. For example, they also have gleaning events at farms (well-suited for families) and food distribution jobs (good for people who like directly interacting with clients). Volunteer relationships can be as involved as multiple hours a week or as noncommittal as once a year. You can learn more about individual and group opportunities on their website.

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at Catalogue for Philanthropy

Summer Outdoor Theatre by Traveling Players Ensemble

Traveling Players Ensemble trains actors like no other theatre in the DC metro region. Their programs are innovative, inclusive, and super fun! And transformative, too.

Their mission, to bring great theatre into the great outdoors, means high school actors perform ‘Shakespeare in the Park” in Shenandoah National Park while backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. These actors don’t just create a show, but have adventures they will remember for the rest of their lives.

You may not have heard of Traveling Players, but people who know about actor training do. The National Endowment for the Arts named Traveling Players one of the nation’s 25 Summer Schools in the Arts and recommends that others follow their comprehensive curriculum as a model. Most other summer programs are simply too short to make the same kind of deep impact, or too large to offer the same level of individualized attention and challenges.

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The Washington Post called them “a summer gem.” Artistic Director Jeanne Harrison has taught at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Folger Shakespeare Library, and various universities. By focusing on classical theatre (Shakespeare, Moliere, and Commedia dell’Arte), Traveling Players trains performers who are bold, resourceful, and skilled. It’s said that if you can act Shakespeare, you can act anything. If this is true, a summer at Traveling Players Ensemble trains you to act not just anything…but anywhere.

All the world is a stage, and this company travels with its oldest students. The tours perform all over Virginia and beyond, combining high-profile venues like Colonial Williamsburg and Lime Kiln Amphitheater with state parks, summer camps, retirement homes, and children’s hospitals, giving the actors unforgettable experiences – and community service hours!

Traveling Players specializes in the immersive experience, which is when transformations happen. Working in small ensembles of only 13 students, a trio of directors stage a classic, supported by a design team. Directors craft their rehearsals around their cast to ensure they build skills on stage — and off. The ensemble nature of the program allows students to practice life skills that will allow them to be successful no matter what career route they ultimately choose. This holistic approach is unique in theatre circles.DSC_2072 (smaller file size)

The camp offers a range of programs for grades 3 to 12. Their High School Ensemble is a four-week program that teaches students the ins and outs of Shakespeare. This year, they will produce Much Ado About Nothing, one of the bard’s most iconic comedies. Their Middle School Ensemble performs hilarious farces by the French playwright Moliere, filled with colorful characters, lightning wit, and slapstick physical humor.

Did we mention that Traveling Players is local to the DC metro area? Its day camp is in residence at The Madeira School in McLean, VA. They provide transportation -on purple buses! – which is included in tuition. Campers are picked up and dropped off behind Dulles Town Center, at 8am and 5pm respectively.

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Once a week the actors pitch tents, cook over an open fire, and sleep under the stars. Whether bonding over s’mores or bringing 400-year-old Shakespearean stories to life, friendships are kindled, confidence nurtured, and actors transformed.

For more information, visit, call 703-987-1712, or email

For Youth in Foster Care, Mentoring Makes a Meaningful Difference

Our very first mentee, Michael, was matched in our program in 2005. He entered into foster care at the hospital on the day he was born, and aged out of care on his 21st birthday. Throughout those 21 years, he was in and out of foster homes, lived off and on with different relatives, and experienced homelessness as a teenager. He constantly faced instability because of his time in the foster care system.

One day Michael, who had just recently aged out of care, called us at BEST Kids in a lot of pain. He had injured his shoulder at work, and after spending the entire day in urgent care, the doctors wouldn’t prescribe him any pain medication or offer him any relief. I went to meet Michael outside his apartment, and while he was calm and in stable condition, he was still in a lot of physical pain. I decided to ride in the ambulance with him to help him get his shoulder checked out at the hospital.

At the emergency room reception desk, they ran through all the routine questions with Michael: his name, insurance, address, etc. I’ll never forget what happened next: they asked him for his emergency contact information. His face dropped and he fell silent. Upon seeing the look on his face, my heart dropped as I saw him struggling to think of a family member or friend in his life that he could list. After about 10 seconds of visual and nearly palpable hopelessness, his face perked up a bit and he spurted out, “My mentor, Lyle.”

Those 10 seconds were an emotional roller coaster for me. To see Michael have to vocalize that he did not have someone to call on in emergencies broke my heart. It opened my eyes to just how difficult that realization is for our youth in so many everyday situations. But the fact that he had a mentor, and that he felt he could count on his mentor during an emergency, gave him hope and reaffirmed for me that the work we are doing is powerful and imperative.


We hear about the challenges youth in foster care, like Michael, face all over the country. These stories and statistics undoubtedly demonstrate the need for increased resources to help these youth succeed, and the various ways in which we as individuals and communities can support this particularly resilient, yet vulnerable population.

This is where BEST Kids one-on-one mentoring program comes in. Experiences for youth during their time in foster care are quite different. Some youth come into care at birth and spend the entirety of their young lives as wards of the state, while others spend just a few months in care while systems of support are put into place for families. Some youth come into care because of various forms of abuse, while others experience some form of neglect or a tragic occurrence. Youth in foster care experience so many adults and service providers constantly coming in and out of their lives, most of which are paid to do so. Besides voluntarily giving of their time, what makes mentors any different?

Mentors open up opportunities and provide assistance, but aren’t social workers. Mentors are listening ears that aren’t therapists. They inspire a love for learning, but aren’t teachers, and they motivate and encourage, but aren’t coaches. They guide and support, but aren’t parents. Above all else, mentors are there consistently and voluntarily, as they cater to the individual needs of the youth, including creating space for our youth to be kids and have lots of fun.

Lyle has supported Michael as a mentor for over 10 years now. Throughout the years, they participated in many activities like biking, canoeing, picnics and ballgames. Lyle also practiced interviewing skills and supported Michael when he got his first job. He helped Michael get his first apartment and taught him how to fix a few things around the house. Lyle most recently mentored Michael as a new father to a beautiful little girl.

Lyle didn’t swoop in and make Michael’s life perfect or heal all of his trauma; and as a mentor, he was never expected to do so. We train and individually support our mentors to simply spend time with their mentees consistently, to care for them, and help them to keep the hope they need to become successful adults, while overcoming obstacles youth face together.

I urge you to learn about the various ways you can support youth in foster care in your community. There is an ever present need for foster homes throughout the country. You can volunteer with or mentor with organizations that help youth in foster care to thrive, or you can advocate for systemic change to improve services impacting youth in care.

BEST Kids is a nonprofit organization that provides one-on-one mentoring for over 150 youth in foster care in the Washington DC Metro area. We match caring and consistent adult mentors with youth to provide them not only the guidance and support they need to grow up, but also to help them navigate challenges specific to growing up in foster care.

Written by Krislyn Mossman, Executive Director of BEST Kids