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“It’s surprising what I can do when I can understand the language.”

What makes you feel like an integral part of a community?

It is not only the ability to work, live, and support yourself through daily routines, but more importantly, it is being connected with the environment around you, and being able to easily access the lifestyle you want. These basic needs — which come so naturally that they often go unnoticed for many of us – can be a huge barrier for someone for whom English is not their first language.

During back-to-school season, we would like to share Diana’s story with you. As Diana first settled down in the United States, she felt “isolated” from the community and was not able to do anything without her fiance. However, after she started to learn English and improve her language skills, she could once again access what she enjoys in life. At the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV), we are delighted to see that as Diana improves her English and is able to access more resources, she is gradually more connected to the community she lives in, and can finally call where she lives “home.” Here is Diana’s story in her own words:

“Hi, my name is Diana. I’m from Colombia. I arrived here one year ago. I live in Springfield, VA, with my fiance. I’m going to get married soon. I’m so excited to be able to say my vows in English. My native tongue is Spanish. By learning English I can do many things that I couldn’t do in my community, school, work and my daily life.

“Since taking English classes, I can buy groceries, toiletries, shoes, clothes, and different things in many places. If my fiance can’t take me to work, I can take the bus or train and can ask how to get back home. Also, I like it when I go to restaurants and can get my favorite food the way I like it.

“Sincerely, by knowing English, I feel more confident talking with different people about the weather, news and hobbies. I like that I now understand movies or series from Netflix, TV, and theaters. I love to read so I can expand my knowledge with new vocabulary each day.

“In my job, I can be involved with the customers, friends, new people, and my boss, of course. My favorite part is that now I can hang out with friends and go out with them. It’s surprising what I can do when I can understand the language.

“English has transformed my life. If I keep learning it, I know that I’m going to college to validate my career to be able to get a better life to help my family, friends and society.”

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LCNV believes that by providing adults the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English, they can access employment and educational opportunities and more fully and equitably participate in the community. If you know someone who wants to improve their English skills to more fully participate in the community, visit our website and become a learner with LCNV this fall. View our Fall Schedule here and attend one of our many registrations, running now through Thursday, September 12.


The Meaning of “Back to School” – Horton’s Kids Operation Backpacks

It’s your first day of fourth grade. You wake up after a night of tossing and turning with excitement to meet your new classmates and put on your first day of school outfit. You’re heading out the door to hop on the bus and reach for your brand new backpack — but it isn’t there. When your new teacher asks you to pull out the three-ring binder listed as “mandatory” on your school supplies list, your desk is empty. Your classmates start to laugh. You feel defeated, and you’ve only been at school for half an hour.

Everyone is familiar with some version of the back-to-school dream. In one way or another, you’re unprepared for class, and your back-to-school dream becomes a back-to-school nightmare.

Horton’s Kids, a non-profit that works in one of the most under-resourced communities in Washington, DC, recognizes that a backpack and school supplies are an important first step in a child’s academic confidence and success. For some kids, back to school shopping is the most exciting time of the year. For others, it can feel overwhelming and impossible. The children we serve live in Wellington Park, a neighborhood without easy access to stores and public transportation. The average income in the neighborhood is $10,000 per year, and 80% of adults lack a high school diploma. As classroom supply lists get longer and longer, this can mean difficult decisions for the families we serve, between purchasing back-to-school supplies, and providing essential items the family needs.

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To help set the kids of Wellington Park up for success in school, Horton’s Kids hosts Operation Backpacks, a school supply drive that collects durable backpacks and other fundamental school supplies. With the help of donors across the DC area, 110 children in grades K-5 and 95 children in grades 6-12 can pick a backpack of their choice filled with all of the notebooks, pencils, and other necessities for the school year.

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A solid foundation is critical for children to succeed academically- and a backpack and school supplies are an important piece of that foundation. Supplies prepare kids physically and mentally for class; they walk into a new school year assured that they have the tools they need to learn. For kids without the binder or backpack on the first day, school can become more of an obstacle than a catalyst of growth.

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But what use is a backpack filled with paper and pencils and books if it doesn’t get opened after the final bell rings? As an organization, Horton’s Kids understands that there is so much more to back to school than supplies. This is why we provide year-round after-school tutoring with the support of more than 500 dedicated volunteers who tutor and mentor Horton’s Kids participants. Supplies are foundational to learning, but highlighters don’t help kids with reading comprehension or college applications by themselves. Development for Horton’s Kids participants outside of school relies on a lot people, including family members, staff, volunteer tutors and mentors, and hard-working participants. If you want to help support a child through tutoring, homework help, or mentorship, we want to hear from you! We are still in need of volunteers for the 2019-2020 school year. If you’re interested, fill out an application on our website or email

Operation Backpacks helps fill the backpack with supplies, and the volunteers, staff, and participants at the heart of Horton’s Kids fill it with confidence and success both in and beyond the classroom. By the end of the year, even though their backpacks might be empty of supplies, Horton’s Kids participants are full of knowledge — This year, 100% of Horton’s Kids kindergarteners can read on grade level, and for the past two years, 100% of Horton’s Kids seniors have graduated from high school.

Imagine you’re back in math class. A backpack full of supplies doesn’t equal success alone, but a backpack full of supplies + dedication + support + a willingness and excitement to learn definitely does. Operation Backpacks is an integral part of that equation for Horton’s Kids participants, and we are so excited to see where it takes each of them this year.

Horton’s Kids empowers children living in one of Washington DC’s most under-resourced communities so that they can graduate high school ready for success in college, career, and life. The children we serve live in a community with one of the highest rates of violent crime in DC, where the average family income is less than $10,000 per year. Children in Horton’s Kids are twice as likely to graduate from high school.

After-School All-Stars Partners with DC Central Kitchen

Written by Patrick Giblin, Development & Marketing Manager of After-School All-Stars, Washington DC

One of the pillars of After-School All-Stars, Washington DC’s (ASAS DC) free after-school programming is community service. We will always strive to keep our students safe, healthy and provide them with opportunities to succeed at the high-school level and beyond. Just as important but sometimes lost in today’s world is the emphasis we place on students giving back to their communities. We could think of no better partner to fulfill this goal than DC Central Kitchen (DCCK).

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Aside from what is mentioned above, DC Central Kitchen is an ideal partner for ASAS DC because we both favor a comprehensive approach. The organization goes beyond simply producing meals for people experiencing hunger by also providing those same people a means to sustain themselves through its Culinary Job Training program. DC Central Kitchen has an established record of training and hiring some of the individuals that have previously received their services, supplying the foundation for a viable career path.

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With an established name and seamless volunteer system, it was easy to get in touch with DCCK through their website and schedule a date for ASAS DC students from Leckie Education Campus (Ward 8) to visit and donate their time and efforts. The majority of Leckie students in our program already have healthy cooking and food handling experience from the cooking classes we provide. This was another reason why this collaboration was so well received, as it combined our emphasis on service with our established healthy cooking classes. At the same time this was their first time in a real “restaurant style” kitchen environment. With that in mind they were provided a full orientation and overview of the kitchen, complete with proper safety/sanitation gear as well as guidance that they were familiar with around safe food handling and best practices. Similar to the success that our staff has had, the DC Central Kitchen volunteer leaders were extremely skilled at customizing their orientation to suit an adolescent audience.

The interest of the students combined with the passion and dedication of the kitchen staff is what made this such a successful collaboration. The students have already established interests and legitimate skills around healthy cooking, but they wanted to literally get their hands dirty in the act of service. As ASAS DC acts as a food site at some of our schools, and frequently providing snacks and supper for our students in need daily, the fact that DC Central Kitchen does the same thing with over a dozen DC schools had a tremendous resonance with the students from Leckie. The students jumped right into the messy work, arranging large quantities of chicken breasts with sauce, and preparing snacks.

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The first trip was so well received by the students that Leckie returned two more times before the end of this past school year, all within the 2nd semester. They completed orientations and food preparation at the main kitchen site as well as the location on Evarts Street NE. The return trips speak to the quality of the volunteer experience provided by the DC Central Kitchen dedicated staff, as well as the genuine interest of our students to want to give back and learn more about reputable community organizations. We are extremely grateful for this partnership, and in the coming school year we will look to connect hundreds of students to this volunteer experience from all 6 of our current schools located throughout the city!


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What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Have to Stay in Vegas: CFP Charity Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA) Honored by CVENT

Written by Jared Cohen, President & CEO of the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area

Last month, I attended a global conference in Las Vegas for CVENT, a McLean, VA-based company that specializes in meetings, events, and hospitality management technology.

The Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA) uses CVENT’s software platform to manage its wellness and educational programs. We started using the platform four years ago, about 18 months after I arrived as President & CEO. When I was hired in this role, I was tasked with reversing years of operating losses and righting this special “ship” that helps people slow the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. In short order my team and I executed a turnaround and began planning for growth.

We were challenged in the areas of data management, program evaluation, marketing and more. Our migration to CVENT was a building block for our turnaround and subsequent growth. Since CVENT is such a big part of how we manage our service to the community, I decided to apply for one of the awards they present annually. To my happy surprise, we were named a finalist in our category, which was called The Achiever.

Other finalists in this category included:

  • Wolters Kluwer N.V., a Netherlands-based global information services company serving legal, business, tax, accounting, finance, audit, risk, compliance, and healthcare markets with operations in 180 countries, 18,000+ employees and revenue of $4.7B USD in 2018.
  • Morningstar, Inc., a global financial services firm headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, United States with 4,000+ employees. It provides an array of investment-research and investment-management services. In 2018, Morningstar had $1B in revenue.

At the time we applied for the award, PFNCA had a staff of 4 full-time employees and revenue of about $1M.

PFNCA provides more than 240 exercise and vocal cord strengthen programs each month at no cost for people fighting Parkinson’s. Programs are provided at 24 locations in 33 cities/towns in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

PFNCA also uses CVENT for its PFNCA’s Parkinson’s Pointers Lecture Series and our annual educational conference. Parkinson’s Pointers is a lecture series where people gather in various locations for a presentation and question and answer session by a physician or other person that specializes in Parkinson’s. Powerful practical information is shared in a positive setting. Lectures are live streamed to the locations and refreshments are served.

At an awards dinner on July 9, the lights dimmed, an announcer shared our award category and the finalists while a video was projected on large screens. I was so honored just to be a finalist. The Emcee opened an envelope and read “…and the winner is…” He continued, “Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area!”

Here is a video of the big moment.

PFNCA President & CEO Jared Cohen (center) accepts award from CVENT CEO & Founder Reggie Arggarwal (left). They are joined by PFNCA Medical Advisory Board Member Dr. Zoltan Mari

PFNCA President & CEO Jared Cohen (center) accepts award from CVENT CEO & Founder Reggie Arggarwal (left). They are joined by PFNCA Medical Advisory Board Member Dr. Zoltan Mari

I was overwhelmed with happiness. It had been a long journey for PFNCA. From board conversations questioning long term organizational viability to receiving an award while competing against global corporations with revenues in the billions. Our turnaround wasn’t only because of CVENT, but sometimes you have to take a chance on a new way of doing business and see how it goes. The CVENT platform, designed for event professionals, now manages all aspects our non-profit direct service work.

PFNCA?s CVENT Award displayed at its Silver Spring, Maryland office next to the 2018 Honorable Mention Award it received for the Center for Non-Profit Advancement?s AIM Award for Excellence in Non-Profit Management.

PFNCA’s CVENT Award displayed at its Silver Spring, Maryland office next to the 2018 Honorable Mention Award it received for the Center for Non-Profit Advancement’s AIM Award for Excellence in Non-Profit Management.

Do you know someone with Parkinson’s? PFNCA’s next Parkinson’s Pointers lecture will take place on September 12, 2019 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The speaker will be Dr. Fernando Pagan of Georgetown University. His topic will be Advances in Treatments for Parkinson’s. This program will be live streamed to about 30 locations. There is no cost to attend but registration is required because many sites fill to capacity.

PFNCA is a local independent organization that is not affiliated with any of the several national organizations that focus on Parkinson’s. The organization’s annual awareness and fundraising program is called Walk Off Parkinson’s and will take place September 22, 2019 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The program includes lectures by physicians, exercise demonstrations and an inspiration walk that culminates with a lap on the field at Nationals Park. To learn more about Walk Off Parkinson’s visit

To learn more about PFNCA, please visit

Meet the Catalogue for Philanthropy’s New Staff (But Familiar Faces)

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator, and Laura Rosenbaum, Nonprofit Programs Coordinator, at Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington

The Catalogue for Philanthropy team has grown! Last month, two of the Catalogue’s interns were promoted to full-time staff members. Laura Rosenbaum first joined the Catalogue as a Learning Commons Intern in June 2018 before becoming the Nonprofit Programs Coordinator. Nancy Erickson began as a Nonprofit Programs Intern in October 2018 and is now joining the team as the Communications Coordinator. The following is an interview with the two newest team members of the Catalogue to help you get to know them a bit better, and why they chose to stay at the Catalogue.

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Tell us about how you first joined Catalogue for Philanthropy.

Laura: My sister had a friend from college who knew someone who knew Matt. At some point during my internship search Matt reached out to me and from there it’s been history. I wasn’t initially searching in the nonprofit space, but after coming across the Catalogue I was immediately intrigued. I’m so happy I took a leap of faith and trusted my gut!

Nancy: I had just moved to the DC area to start my MPA program at American University. While searching for internships, I noticed something called “Catalogue for Philanthropy” on an online job board. At the time I had mostly been interested in going after international development work but decided to apply to the Catalogue too out of curiosity. After interviewing me for the role, Matt gave me a copy of my very own print Catalogue. On the metro home, I remember being impressed by how professional and beautiful it was as I flipped through its pages. Imagine my delight to be offered the position!


What was your internship experience like?

Laura: I mostly did secondary research about the nonprofit space and best practices to help inform our professional development efforts. After compiling this research, I would work directly with Matt to make new workshops to use with our nonprofit network. Throughout the summer Matt and I completed five workshops. I also did other “odd jobs” like tracking attendance or doing evaluation analysis. The last big project I worked on over the summer involved helping Matt launch our Learning Commons portal. One of the big pieces featured on the portal is the short three to four-minute “how-to” videos. I did a lot of scriptwriting for the videos and Matt and I spent a week in the studio filming. After the summer, I went back to finish my senior year of college and I interned remotely during the year.

Nancy: Initially the focus of my internship was like Laura’s — research and writing for Learning Commons workshops and other various projects. However, my position slowly expanded both in scope and time as I committed more of myself to the Catalogue mission. The focus of my role first began shifting the day I was asked to make a social media graphic. The team was so impressed with what I came up with that I started getting more requests for visual design, including the task of editing the videos which Laura had filmed the previous summer. The videos have been a ton of fun — a real creative challenge. As I grew in my abilities and confidence, I knew that the Catalogue valued my professional development and took pride in their internship program.

What did working at the Catalogue teach you?

Laura: Wow, honestly so much. I didn’t know a lot about the nonprofit space before interning at the Catalogue so doing secondary research inundated me with knowledge from the get-go. I learned a lot from Matt specifically–like best practices for branding and teaching, scriptwriting, and the ins and outs of “how to be scrappy.” The Catalogue also taught me what it’s like to work from the heart. I know it sounds super cheesy, but it’s true. Everyone at the Catalogue works hard because we all care. I would say the Catalogue taught me how to love what I do.

Nancy: First and foremost, the nonprofit sector! Like Laura, I hadn’t known very much about it prior to joining the team; I still remember innocently asking Matt early on in my internship “What’s a board of directors?” But since then I have learned so much, in big part thanks to the Learning Commons workshops. As an intern, I was responsible for attending and staffing these workshops, which meant that I essentially got to learn about nonprofit management best practices while on the job! Additionally, the Catalogue has invested significant time and resources in my technical abilities, such as photo editing, graphic design, illustration tools, and video software.

Why did you want to expand your role at the Catalogue?

Laura: I had a great experience as an intern and felt like I instantly clicked with the team. I mostly worked with Matt last summer and he trained me on basically everything I did. I knew once Matt and Aaron were promoted to Co-Executive Directors, the Catalogue was only going to grow in terms of our impact and the strength of our team. I’m not only excited about the work itself, but I really enjoy who I get to work with which I think is important to be effective at a job. I genuinely enjoyed coming into work every day last summer because I felt like I had a real impact and I loved learning more about the nonprofit space. I found that the Catalogue had such a unique mission and I’m thrilled to be able to work full-time now!

Nancy: The Catalogue has a warm and open work culture that has made coming to work a real pleasure. I never felt like “just an intern” –I felt like a valued and respected member of the team. My ideas and contributions were taken seriously and utilized. As I felt the end of my internship date coming closer, I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave just yet. I had become emotionally invested in my ongoing projects and the future of the Catalogue. Having developed a role which provided creative freedom and challenges, I knew that I still had more ideas to contribute to the Catalogue.

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What are you looking forward to in your new role?

Laura: As an intern, I did a lot of behind the scenes work. I’m really looking forward to getting to know our nonprofits better and interacting more face-to-face with everyone. I’m also excited to be the point-person for Giving Tuesday. I know it’s a big project, but I think it has a lot of potential to expand and I’m excited to work with Nancy on it too. I also know there are a plethora of projects and data to look into at the Catalogue and I’m ready to get “knee-deep” in everything!

Nancy: I’m also looking forward to working with Laura! It’s funny that we overlapped as Catalogue interns for 9 months without ever actually meeting (because she was tele-interning at the time from Missouri.) I’m also looking forward to finding more opportunities to visit our nonprofit partners in person. My goal is to cultivate new ways to showcase them by volunteering, attending events, and visiting their work in action so that I can then share via blogging and photography. I’m so excited for the road ahead!

Tell us one fun fact about you!

Laura: I really enjoy camping and hiking. I’m a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) alum and I spent a month packrafting and hiking in Alaska a few summers ago!

Laura Camping

Nancy: Once, I went rappelling off the side of a cliff in South Africa. I screamed my head off, then I paused to smile for the camera, and then I continued screaming all the way down. It was terrifying fun!

Nancy Rappelling

The Catalogue has run out of interns…because they have all been promoted! That is why the Catalogue is now hiring a new Nonprofit Management Intern to join our team to support our programming, communications, and fundraising. You can read more about this position here. We hope that our next intern has as rewarding an experience as Laura and Nancy did!

Helping Hands and Happy Hearts

Written by Sara Sepanski, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Architectural Designer at HKS

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, D.C. (RMHCDC) has a mission that never fails to touch hearts. RMHCDC exists to keep families together while a child receives specialized medical treatment at a hospital that’s far away from home. The ability of an organization to step up when families –parents, babies, siblings– are at their most vulnerable serves a need that can only be fully met through the effort of a group with the warmth and determination of this charity.

My first exposure to RMHCDC came from my proximity to the DC House while attending architectural graduate school and later living in the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast DC, where the House is located. I’ve enjoyed volunteering as a Guest Chef with friends, housemates and most recently colleagues, making dinner for the families staying at the House. Now, I’m excited to share the details of a new and recent opportunity–using my professional skill to give back to local Ronald McDonald Houses.

Above: HKS employees, including Sepanski (top left), volunteer as Guest Chefs during the HKS annual Month of Service

Above: HKS employees, including Sepanski (top left), volunteer as Guest Chefs during the HKS annual Month of Service

Keeping families in our community near the care they need

RMHCDC asks for a donation of $15 a night, but families are never turned away for financial reasons. Wanting a family to be able to simply focus on the care their child’s needs, RMHCDC removes the other primary burdens of lodging, food, and logistics during a stressful time.

It’s a need that is continually growing for RMHCDC, as hospitals in the DC area increase their cutting-edge treatment options and the number of specialized medical staff, drawing more and more families to the area from around the country. Since opening its doors 39 years ago, RMHCDC has shared more than 208,738 nights with over 20,000 families.

Growing Need to Help More Families


The Ronald McDonald House of Northern Virginia currently offers eight guestrooms for families, but RMHC Global has projected a need for 25 guestrooms through the end of 2023.Families who stay here are most often first-time parents whose baby is receiving extended care at INOVA Fairfax Hospital’s and Georgetown University Hospital’s NICU (newborn intensive care unit) and PICU (pediatric intensive care unit).

Over the two-year time period between 2017-2018, this House was unable to help 52 families in need due to lack of available space.

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While the Ronald McDonald House of Washington, D.C. is larger, with 25 guestrooms, growing demand necessitates 38 rooms and plans to expand to 42 rooms to accommodate future need. Families at this House usually have a child undergoing chemotherapy or receiving an organ transplant at Sibley Hospital or Children’s National Medical Center.

In 2018, the DC House was forced to turn away 21 families due to a room shortage.

To say there is an immediate need for more guestrooms would be an understatement.

Driving change through design

Working for architecture firm HKS and helping design resorts, office buildings, hospitals and sports training facilities, I could not have imagined that I would have an opportunity to put my skills to work on a project that has a profound impact on both my community and RMHCDC families.

Within HKS, there is a small but robust and well-organized committee that steers Citizen HKS (CHKS), a studio of sorts that designs for the underserved or organizations that bring a significant positive impact to underserved communities. Citizen HKS is now in its fifth year of service, and when it came along five years into my tenure with HKS, its mission immediately resonated with me. I’d been looking for a way to productively express my gratitude for the character, relationships, and purpose that I continue to develop at HKS and to do something professionally to help bridge the wealth gap in society.

It was both professionally rewarding and personally meaningful when all these things aligned to help RMHCDC through the first phase of an expansion effort to increase their capacity to serve families with sick children.

It wasn’t hard to find professional partners to help Citizen HKS in this effort. Davis Construction and Interface Engineering very quickly accepted the challenge. Roger Frechette, principal at Interface and member of the project team, remembered when his own first-born child required care for a full year after birth at INOVA Fairfax Hospital. Frechette and his wife fortunately lived in the area, but Frechette understands the value that the Houses provide to families who aren’t local and find themselves in a similar situation.

Above: Members of the RMHCDC Expansion Project Team, including Frechette (back row, third from right), RMHCDC CEO Karen Torres (back row, second from right), and Sepanski (front, next to Ronald McDonald)

Above: Members of the RMHCDC Expansion Project Team, including Frechette (back row, third from right), RMHCDC CEO Karen Torres (back row, second from right), and Sepanski (front, next to Ronald McDonald)

Thanks to an unprecedented donation from WeWork of donated office space for the administrative staff, otherwise officed at the DC and NoVa Houses, the project team has much more square footage to work with to add more guestrooms to the current Houses.

Lifting families in need

The expanded capacity allows us to add 8 more guestrooms within the current footprint of the DC House and 16 more guestrooms to the NoVa House, tripling its capacity, enabled in part by a second-floor addition to the current guest wing. Layout adjustments to primary spaces at both Houses improve operational efficiency.

The initial expansion at both Houses will help increase service by 27%-36%.

The mechanical engineers’ design will increase the level of thermal comfort and performance of the DC House as well. The current renovation scope has a total estimated cost of over $4 million and will involve the generosity of numerous other organizations and manufacturers to make it a reality.

Estimated completion of this first expansion phase is in the spring and late summer of 2020 for the DC and Northern Virginia Houses, respectively. Interior renderings are under development this summer, and final image will be shared before construction begins this fall.


A Day in the Volunteer Life: Friendship Place

Volunteering can happen anywhere, from multiple blocks of an Anacostia neighborhood to an expansive Virginia warehouse. Or, a single closet. Specifically, the Clothes Closet of Friendship Place, where I recently volunteered.

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Friendship Place has been a nonprofit partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy since 2005. They provide holistic support to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in the greater DC region. After signing up to volunteer on their website, I was contacted by their friendly Community Engagement Manager to find a position best suited for my interests.

She connected me with their AimHire Job Placement program. In 2018, AimHire helped 77 people gain employment with an average hourly wage of $14.26 Most of the volunteers for AimHire are professionals who provide pro bono services such as finding job placements, reviewing resumes, mentoring, and performing mock interviews. Since I was looking for a one-time experience, she recommended that I help out in the Clothes Closet.

The Clothes Closet provides professional and high quality clothes and accessories, either for interview purposes or just everyday wear. Although during my shift I heard Friendship Place staff and volunteers use the terms “customers” and “sell,” the Closet is actually a completely free resource for those in need with no strings attached. All of the items are donated, many of which are dry-cleaned by their donors beforehand. How considerate!

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After arriving, I met my two fellow volunteers, Sylvia and Janice. They are both retirees and resident experts of the Clothes Closet. Once a week they come to sort through donations, organize the layout, and even occasionally provide advice to customers on which tie matches which shirt. Prior to them joining the Friendship Place team, the closet’s upkeep had been “haphazard” because there had not been a consistent volunteer assigned to it. But now it is methodically and consistently run by reliable volunteers with a keen eye for fashion and orderliness.

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For the next two hours, the three of us got to know each other while working elbow to elbow in the closet. Clearly, I was the resident amateur. Sylvia and Janice are experts in identifying designer labels; I couldn’t tell you Dolce from Gabbana. Sylvia and Janice have mastered the art of folding and hanging to avoid wrinkles; I don’t own an iron.

One of my tasks was to sort the sizes of the women’s shirts and pants. In the true spirit of nonprofit ingenuity, we MacGyvered scissors, a sharpie, and a used manila folder to create makeshift signs to make it easier for customers to find the right fit. Sidenote: it turns out that a Chico’s pants size 2.5 is really a US size 14? Confusing.

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People in the DMV are so well-dressed that donations to the closet were incredibly high quality. (One of the participating donors of the closet is a local law firm.) How wonderful that people who need a leg up in finding a job can find such a great local resource that provides them with dignity and style.

I thought it was lovely how two veteran volunteers take the time out of their week to create a thoughtful, tasteful, and welcoming atmosphere to the Closet. Sylvia even made the delightful sign on the outside door to give it a “boutique” feel. Volunteering for Friendship Place has given them a creative outlet, an opportunity to give back to their neighborhood (they both live close by), and a chance to socialize with each other and with customers. It was wonderful to meet them and learn more about a trusted local nonprofit’s programming.

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If you’re interested in volunteering for Friendship Place, they have a wide variety of programs and opportunities. By signing up online and telling them your skillset and schedule, you too can help them end homelessness in DC.

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy

Carpenter’s Shelter: Expanding Opportunities with Innovative Partnerships

In the nonprofit world, you get used to making do. The holiday party is a no-frills potluck in the conference room. The office computers are long past their prime. The 21-year-old college intern is the technology consultant you’ve been waiting for.

As a group, we’re comfortable with these compromises. With limited funding sources and seemingly endless needs, this is the price of prioritizing our mission above all else. Funding goes to those we serve.

But what happens when resources feel so scarce that our organizations struggle to grow? When we’re only able to do the bare minimum for those who need so much more?

With over thirty years of experience, Carpenter’s Shelter has learned that we can provide shelter day in and day out but without affordable housing, we’ll never have long-term solutions to homelessness. We needed to create more opportunities for our clients to succeed. But how?

For us, the way forward was partnership. After more than a decade of thoughtful planning, Carpenter’s Shelter partnered with the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC) to redevelop our property, owned outright, on the north end of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Together, we drafted blueprints for a modern, multistory building with a 60-bed, purpose-built homeless shelter, 87 affordable apartments, and 10 permanent supportive housing units. When we complete construction in 2020, AHDC will own and operate the affordable apartments while we own and manage the shelter, run our programs, and provide wraparound services to the permanent supportive housing tenants living upstairs.

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In order to make this dream a reality, we needed to vacate our longtime location and make way for demolition. As the providers of critical services, we also needed to find a temporary facility that could sustain our residents, programs, staff, and volunteers during construction. Simply closing our doors for 18 to 24 months wasn’t an option. We had to think outside of the box and spend minimally to preserve funds for our brand new building. Where could we go?

Once again, the answer was partnership. After more than a year of what felt like wheel spinning, pieces of a plan began to come together. Our attempts to contact The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) finally landed, generating innovative conversations. As we talked, merging their business acumen with our nonprofit mission, ideas became action. Soon, we leased space in one of their properties, the largely vacant Landmark Mall, and retrofitted it to meet our needs. HHC was so enthusiastic about supporting their community that they waived base rent, leaving us to cover only our utilities and a portion of security, a shared building amenity.

Now, a year and half after connecting with HHC, emergency shelter residents eat their breakfast, do homework with their children, and plan for their futures in the Ladies’ Activewear section of a former Macy’s. Meanwhile, only six miles away, AHDC is beginning to lay the foundation of a building that will serve us and our community for decades to come.

This experience has taught us to think big and ignore the nagging voice inside that says, “That’s impossible!” Instead, we’ve learned to see every connection, every potential partnership, as a doorway to the possible. Carpenter’s Shelter may have had the initial vision and the land but we needed AHDC’s expertise and HHC’s openness to create something truly incredible. Now, we’re only a year away from returning to our forever home.

Nonprofit organizations are always called upon to do more with less. But sometimes, when belt tightening and compromising just isn’t enough, we have to do more…with others.


Written by Shannon Steene, Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter

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Shannon Steene became the Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter in 2015. With over twenty years in the nonprofit industry, Mr. Steene leads overall operations at Carpenter’s Shelter and serves as the primary spokesperson in the broader community. Prior to leading Carpenter’s Shelter, Mr. Steene served on the staff team at Lutheran Services in America, leading the national nonprofit’s member engagement efforts with more than 300 health and human service organizations. Before that, he spent 13 years at Good Shepherd Housing & Family Services, an award winning homelessness prevention nonprofit in southeastern Fairfax County; he served as the Executive Director for nine years of his tenure.

Carpenter’s Shelter’s mission is to support the homeless to achieve sustainable independence through shelter, guidance, education, and advocacy. To learn more about their programs and the New Heights Redevelopment Project, please visit