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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 www.travelingplayers.org, call 703-987-1712, or email info@travelingplayers.org.

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.

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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