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Is Democracy a Verb?

School is back in session and students are learning about nouns & verbs, new mathematical equations, and the periodic table.

And democracy!

At Mikva Challenge DC, we believe that the best way for young people to learn about democracy is to “do democracy!” So even though democracy might not technically be a verb, our back-to-school season will be full of young people engaging in democratic action!

This year, we will be recruiting 25 high school students from across DC to be part of our “Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team.” Through hands-on voter registration, campaign work, and interactions with candidates and elected officials, our Elections in Action Fellowship empowers young people to become informed about and engaged in elections — even before they are old enough to vote.

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In a recent report, The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE,) recommends that we move from a “paradigm focused on merely mobilizing voters, to one centered on Growing Voters.” As the CIRCLE report states, “We don’t automatically become engaged, informed, and empowered to participate in our democracy when we turn 18.”

The report further states, “school clubs, youth organizations, and other extracurricular activities can be important ‘incubators’ of civic behaviors, but depending on their race and ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, young people may have very inequitable access to those opportunities.”

We agree! And that is why Mikva Challenge DC provides opportunities for DC youth – from across every race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and ward – to actively participate in our electoral process even before they reach voting age.

This year, Mikva DC’s Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team will:

  • learn about the history of voting rights and how those rights affect them and their communities,
  • survey their peers about the issues they care about in this Presidential Election,
  • create a Youth Guide to the 2020 candidates, and
  • travel to Iowa to volunteer on a variety of presidential campaigns before the Iowa Caucus.

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Last fall, we launched our Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team with 26 young people to create opportunities for more DC youth to directly participate in the electoral arena of local politics. For example, for a week in October, EIA students canvassed neighborhoods around high schools in NW, NE, and SE Washington, DC knocking door-to-door to register community members to vote. In this process two students discovered that they were old enough to register to vote and did so for the first time. The fall programming culminated with EIA students serving as election poll workers in precincts around the city. Students greeted voters, learned the mechanics of ballot machines, verified voters’ personal information, and instructed voters on how to cast ballots on their full day of work, and in the process saw the electoral process first-hand and up-close. From last year’s Elections in Action Youth Leadership Team, 100% of students felt more knowledgeable about the political process after being part of Mikva DC programs, and 90% want to participate in elections in the future.

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Nationally, 88% of Mikva alumni are registered to vote compared to 53% of their peers, and 77% of Mikva alumni believe they have a responsibility to be involved in solving community issues, compared to 36% before the program.

Want to get involved in this project to make “democracy a verb” for DC youth? Here’s how you can help…

  • If you know of a high school student in DC who would be interested in this unique leadership program, please reach out to Voncia Monchais at voncia@mikvachallenge.org.
  • We are always looking for guest speakers from the political world to come meet with our students. If you, or someone you know, has a job in politics, and would be willing to talk with our students about your work, contact Voncia at voncia@mikvachallenge.org.
  • Have other ideas about ways to support Mikva DC’s Elections in Action Youth Fellows? Reach our Mikva DC’s Executive Director, Robyn Lingo, at robyn@mikvachallenge.org to share your thoughts.

Help us “grow” a new generation of informed, empowered & active civic leaders!

This post was written by Mikva Challenge DC, a Catalogue nonprofit partner

Back to School Means Healthy Relationships For Children… and Adults

With triggering stories of abuse in the news each day, and movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp still gaining momentum, children and adults alike are feeling the need to share their stories, talk about traumas they have suffered, and get help from trusted sources such as Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA)’s Helpline. In fact, the number of calls to JCADA increases daily with clients seeking culturally and faith sensitive counseling and legal services.

Ideally, we would like to catch unhealthy relationships before they even begin, so our counseling and legal services aren’t in such high demand! JCADA’s Prevention, Education and Training team provides workshops on a variety of topics with the goal of preventing abuse and harassment before it starts. Our AWARE programs, Education and Training workshops and Building Better Allies (BBA) initiative utilize the latest research and best practice to create an impactful, age appropriate experiences in multiple doses, with a comprehensive approach.

AWARE is a comprehensive abuse and harassment prevention initiative that engages over 3,000 people each year throughout the Washington DC Metropolitan area with interactive workshops for youth and young adults in grades 6-12, a campus training experience for college students and education and training for area congregations, public and private schools, youth groups, camps, and community organizations. AWARE is dedicated to empowering young people with the skills and knowledge they need to build healthy relationships, become active bystanders, understand consent and create culture change in their schools and communities.One student described her experience: “I learned that it is important to be aware of and understand the fact that not everyone has the same support options.”

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Along with AWARE, we are pleased to share our newest initiative, Building Better Allies (BBA). BBA is a certification program that helps organizations, agencies, and faith communities better understand, prevent, and respond to incidents of power-based violence. Through a series of interactive workshops, individualized consultations, and a review of internal policies and practices, BBA provides a training and education experience uniquely suited for each participating organization.

Together, we can help everyone in our community get empowered to advocate for their needs and feel safe!

Written by Laura Kovach, Prevention, Education & Training Director at JCADA

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Lucky Dog Animal Rescue

Are you in love with dogs, but your apartment lease doesn’t allow animals? Do you wish you could have a pet, but your work schedule is too inconsistent? Do you want to help save a rescue dog from being put down? Then you should consider volunteering with the Catalogue’s nonprofit partner Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. That’s what I did recently, and it was a fantastic experience that I highly recommend.

The weekend was approaching and I considered two possible choices: watch Netflix or contribute to society. As much as I enjoy re-binging The Office, I decided to make the nonprofit-positive choice and began researching last-minute volunteer opportunities. I found a Lucky Dog adoption event just 7 minutes from my house. The signup process was really quick. How convenient!

Although Lucky Dog is based out of Arlington, they frequently host weekend adoption events all around the DC region. They rescue dogs from high-kill shelters, treat their medical needs, and place them with temporary foster homes while they search for forever families to match them with. Lucky Dog prides themselves on their matchmaking skills, placing their dogs with carefully vetted adoptive families that are perfect for them.

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At 11 am on Sunday morning, I arrived at the Rockville Petco, signed in, and received a brisk orientation from a more experienced volunteer, an Event Coordinator. My job for the day was a Volunteer Handler; I would learn my rescue dog’s bio, handle the leash, answer potential adopter questions, and keep the dog happy for the next several hours throughout the adoption event. If people had questions about fostering or adoption, I would send them to the informational tables outside. Some people had already gone through the pre-approval process, and others were stopping through on a whim.

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I was paired with Baloo, a 1-2 year old shepherd mix. He was a real cutie. My informational paper explained a little about his medical history and some behavioral comments from his temporary foster family. They said that Baloo is gentle, sweet, and loves belly rubs. Spot-on observations! During my entire service experience, I never once heard him bark. And he loved snuggles.

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The day in question was hot. Outside were generous amounts of water bowls and baths for the dogs to stay cool in. Volunteers and their doggies huddled under canopy tents or hugged the side of the building. Like many others, I spent the majority of my time inside the air-conditioned Petco; I told myself that it was purely motivated by concern for Baloo’s comfort, but really I also appreciated a break from the oppressive sun.

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Adoption events are bustling, crowded fun! Everywhere you went were dogs being pet, playing, and getting their leashes tangled up together. It was one of the easiest volunteer experiences I have had; I leisurely spent my time walking around, hanging with Baloo on the floor, chatting with other volunteers, promoting Baloo to prospective families, and even sneaking a peak at the puppies section.

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Baloo had been randomly assigned to me, but I became pretty emotionally attached very quickly. Although there were so many diverse types of dogs at this event, I became convinced that my doggie was the best one there. But although he was clearly a favorite of a few families that day, he didn’t make the final cut for any of them. I felt indignant on his behalf; couldn’t people see how amazing he was? A few fellow volunteers coyly mentioned that I could foster or adopt Baloo, but my housing doesn’t allow animals.

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At 3:30pm, I said goodbye to Baloo and he returned to his foster placement, still without a permanent home. I was sad to see him go. I enjoyed my experience volunteering with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. I got to meet both wonderful people and some wonderful dogs. It was rewarding yet stress-free “work,” and it gave me a chance to meet a new community of animal lovers. As much as I love The Office, this had been the superior choice for a weekend activity!

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There were 68 dogs up for adoption this day, which is actually on the low end for Lucky Dog adoption events. Apparently some of their events have had up to 120 dogs! That means a big need for volunteers. There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities at Lucky Dog that can accommodate just about any schedule or level of commitment.

In the week of the event that I volunteered, 27 Lucky Dogs (and 2 Lucky Cats) ended up getting adopted. A few weeks later I was delighted to learn that Baloo ended up getting adopted as well! I hope that he is giving his new family the same friendly cuddles that I got to enjoy during my brief time with him. If you are interested in adopting a dog in need of a home, you can also get started on their website.

 

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at Catalogue for Philanthropy

The Most Critical Tool for Back To School? A Village of Support.

Every year during Back to School season, parents and caretakers dutifully stock up on school supplies to help their children thrive in the coming year, but there is another incredibly valuable, yet intangible, tool that many parents give their children as they head off to school: a network of support. This network can include parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends. These are the people the student will be able to rely on for homework help, a healthy snack after school, perhaps access to a specialist for a learning disability, or even a professional introduction when they’re looking for their first internship.

(Left to Right) Generation Hope Scholar Karen, Generation Hope Scholar Christina, and Generation Hope coach Sophie -

(Left to Right) Generation Hope Scholar Karen, Generation Hope Scholar Christina, and Generation Hope coach Sophie -

You may have heard of the expression “It takes a village to raise a child,” and this network — this social capital — is the secret sauce. But not every student heads into school with access to this kind of support.

At Generation Hope, we surround motivated teen parents and their children with the mentors, emotional support, and financial resources that they need to thrive in college and kindergarten, thereby driving a two-generation solution to poverty. I founded the organization on the belief — informed by my own experience as a teen mom — that young parents deserve to have their potential supported, and on a conviction that educational attainment can be transformative across multiple generations of a family.

The stories of hope and progress that I have witnessed at Generation Hope have confirmed what I know to be true from my own experience: when a parent walks across the graduation stage, the outcomes for their child and their family immediately skyrocket, opening doors that seemed impossible.

Just as parents try to ensure their children head off to school with a support network along with pencils, binders, and notebooks, Generation Hope connects our students and their young children who may not have access to that intangible but crucial network of support with “Resource Families” – volunteers who provide that critical social capital, which has such an impact on Scholars’ success. This is on top of the intensive parenting support for Scholars and early childhood interventions for their children through our new program, Next Generation Academy, and it’s one of the most impactful ways in which Generation Hope helps prepare families and children for the jump into kindergarten.

Karyn and her son at Alicia's graduation in May

Karyn and her son at Alicia’s graduation in May

Resource Families are a group of individuals, related or not, that act as a resource for a Scholar and their child. They make connections (perhaps recommending a reading specialist or introducing a Scholar to a professional in their chosen career field), provide tangible resources (Resource Families contribute $1,200 a year to our Education Fund, which allows Scholars to afford high-quality childcare for their children), and offer social support for their Scholar’s family — whether that is helping a Scholar learn how to prep healthy meals, or planning a visit to a museum with the Scholar and their children.

Resource Families build relationships with Scholars and their children through “family dinners” six times per year, where Generation Hope brings Scholar families and Resource Families together to learn from one another’s life experiences.

Resource Family Alex (left) and Karyn (right) with Generation Hope Scholar Alicia (middle)

Resource Family Alex (left) and Karyn (right) with Generation Hope Scholar Alicia (middle)

Sid Nazareth, who serves as a Resource Family with his wife and young sons, sees their role as providing unconditional support to their Scholar, and sharing their own lessons learned. “We forget how hard it was to be in college just by itself, and go through that change of learning. Knowing that we have resources that other folks may not have access to allows us to say, ‘Yeah, we went through that, and this is information we can share to help you out in any way we can.’”

Resource Families are key to our Scholars’ success. By sharing such a meaningful and authentic bond with not just a Scholar, but their family, Resource Families have the opportunity to truly make a substantial difference for two generations.

Can you be a connector for our Scholars and their children as they head back to school this fall? For more information on becoming a Resource Family or volunteering with Generation Hope, please contact Volunteer and Outreach Associate, Michelle Avelino, at michelle@supportgenerationhope.org, or visit our website at supportgenerationhope.org.

The needs of the world can feel overwhelming at times, but the difference that each of us can make is powerful. Generation Hope was built on this premise — that each of us has the ability to change the world one person and one family at a time. We’d love to have you join us!

Written by Nicole Lynn Lewis, Generation Hope’s Founder & Chief Executive Officer. Generation Hope surrounds motivated teen parents and their children with the mentors, emotional support, and financial resources that they need to thrive in college and kindergarten, thereby driving a two-generation solution to poverty. Visit supportgenerationhope.org to learn more.

Back to School with Reading Partners

What would your life look like if you didn’t know how to read? How would it impact your ability to get around in this world? Your education, career, and social life? How would it impact your confidence?

Literacy is an essential life skill and the foundation of all future learning. The ability to read is the one factor that can so dramatically shape one’s life trajectory and future success. Nationwide, 80% of students from low-income homes are not reading proficiently by the fourth grade. Once students start to fall behind in reading, they tend to fall faster and further behind their peers every year. Alarmingly, students who are not reading proficiently by the end of fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

To help combat the literacy crisis in our country, Reading Partners works with schools and communities to provide individualized tutoring to students who struggle with reading. We use an evidence-based curriculum, delivered by trained volunteers, that has been found to have a positive and statistically significant impact not only on students’ reading proficiency but also on their social-emotional learning skills.

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Our work stems from the belief that every child has the right to learn how to read, regardless of where they live, their parents’ income, or any perceived biases regarding their abilities. We understand the tremendous impact the ability to read has on a person’s quality of life, and we are committed to providing young students with the opportunity to gain the critical reading skills that will put them on a path to success.

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This upcoming school year, Reading Partners will serve 925 students at 19 elementary schools across the District. However, we recognize that the lack of high-quality literacy intervention disproportionately affects students residing in Wards 7 and 8, which is why 11 of our 19 partner schools are located east of the river. Being deeply committed to educational equity in our city, it’s crucial we make literacy support accessible to students who need it most.

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Adam,* a first-grader from Nalle Elementary School in Ward 7, was enrolled in Reading Partners because he was reading far below his grade level. He struggled with fluency and comprehension, and, not surprisingly, lacked the confidence to speak in front of others. He was so quiet and timid in a classroom that he never got the opportunity to show what he was capable of.

The one-on-one attention Adam got from his reading partner was overwhelming for him at first. Yet he responded well to games and told his tutor he really liked aquatic animals, especially sharks. Playing games to reinforce his lessons, and having more control over them by being able to pick the games himself, turned out to really boost his confidence. Soon, he was engaged during the entire lesson, stopped guessing, started sounding out words he was unfamiliar with, and became really good at blending sounds. He even invented his own game which included (you guessed it) a shark and a fish.

At the end of the year, Adam was assessed by a Reading Partners site coordinator who told him that he was now on grade level. She was so excited that she told him, “Adam, you should tell your teacher!” Adam responded, “No, I don’t want to.” So she replied, “Well, I’m going to tell her myself.” And with the biggest smile she had ever seen on his face, he simply said, “OK.”

Adam’s story proves that when students are given the attention, support, and opportunities they deserve, they are ready and eager to unlock their own potential. As students’ confidence grows and they start to develop a love of reading, every week, they are getting closer to mastering the literacy skills they need to succeed in school and in life.

Reading Partners DC mobilizes over 1,100 community volunteers each year. We’re currently recruiting volunteers for the 2019-20 school year. If you want to make a difference in the life of a struggling reader, sign up to become a reading partner today! No previous tutoring experience is necessary (training will be provided). Please email volunteerdc@readingpartners.org or call 202-701-9110 to get started.

*Name has been changed to protect the student’s identity.
Written by Daniela Jungova, Development & Communications Manager at Reading Partners