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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at the Catalogue for Philanthropy

A minimum-wage worker in Arlington would have to work 154 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. But even if a particularly industrious individual could manage only sleeping 45 minutes every night while balancing their 3.85 full-time jobs, imagine that they also have 3 children to take care of. Well, to afford a two-bedroom apartment, they’ll need to up their weekly hours to 177.

A week only has 168 hours.

Unless scientists start making some real progress on time machines, this situation is currently unsustainable for low-income families. That’s what drives the work of Catalogue nonprofit partner Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). This organization develops and provides affordable, high-quality rental apartments for Arlingtonians making less than 60% of the average median income.

Living in an APAH apartment entails more than just a roof over your head. APAH staff provide holistic support by building invaluable connections between residents and resources. They partner with nonprofit and for-profit organizations around Arlington County to give residents access to services ranging from supplemental food assistance to coding classes for kids. These buildings aren’t just a collection of homes — they’re communities. All residents have access to APAH-led programs held in community gathering spaces.

One of these programs is APAH’s Story Hour program for children ages 0-7. During this hour-long program, children gain literacy and social skills through books, toys, and play. It is an opportunity as well for their parents to socialize with others and gain exposure to language skills alongside their children. When APAH staff invited me to volunteer for their Story Hour, I was thrilled.

That afternoon, I arrived at Columbia Hills, one of APAH’s 17 rental communities. Story Hour takes place in a multipurpose room every Wednesday. Throughout the month, various volunteer-groups make Story Time a possibility, including a local synagogue, church, and even a construction company. This Wednesday, I was joined by 3 regular volunteers who all share a genuine love of children and making silly faces while reading books.

We laid out big blue foam puzzle pieces on the floor (what a flood of nostalgia!) and soon welcomed our visitors. We ended up being joined by three mothers and eight children for Story Hour. We began song-time with a couple of the classics: head, shoulders, knees, and toes; wheels on the bus; and the itsy bitsy spider. Then it was time for story-time, when the volunteers took turns reading aloud to the children. I started off with Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. It involved a lot of wild-tiger ROARING.

APAH 1

During other volunteers’ stories, I sat on the puzzle mat, encouraging the kids to stay engaged with the book. One girl found it more interesting to try and braid my hair instead. We periodically broke up book reading with “wiggles” to get the energy out. (Million Dollar Idea: instituting regular wiggle breaks in workplace offices to stimulate productivity.)

APAH 2

Then, we spread out for solo reading time, when kids got to pick out their own books. While I read to her, the girl I had partnered with got distracted by my camera hanging around my neck. I allowed her to take a few photos. Predictably, the situation devolved when other kids inevitably noticed the shiny gadget and also wanted to take turns pushing the button. Whoops. An APAH staff member helped redirect attention since this was supposed to be literacy-improvement-time and not play-with-selfies-time.

Photo Credit: Children of Columbia Hills

Photo Credit: Children of Columbia Hills

For our final activity, we brought out the toy chest! Children spread out with educational toys and puzzles.

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When Story Hour was over, the children helped us put away the toys and puzzles, and we waved goodbye as the families went home. How convenient that home is just an elevator ride up! Reading and playing with charming, happy children sure does make an hour fly by. It hardly felt like “work” at all, especially when supported by APAH’s team and volunteers. What a joy to meet such genuine people!

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This program is a fantastic, completely free resource for residents — and it’s made possible through volunteers. APAH hopes that with a larger base of reliable volunteers, they will be able to expand Story Hour to additional times and locations. Because of space limitations, each Story Hour is capped at 12 children. But at Columbia Hills there are 499 residents, 99 of whom are children younger than 8 — that’s 20% of the entire building! Clearly the need is there. It’s just a matter of finding enough volunteers to sustain program growth.

So, if you love children and live in Arlington, then please consider volunteering with APAH. In addition to more Story Hour volunteers, they are also looking for volunteers to help kids work on their homework and read aloud to kids ages 5-12. Spanish speakers are especially needed! If interested, you can learn more and sign up on their volunteer page or shoot an email to their Volunteer Program Coordinator Julie Booth at jbooth@apah.org.

 

We’re Growing… More Space Means More Lives Touched

Written by LaToya Davis, Director of Communications at Greater DC Diaper Bank

Recently, I went to an event where I met a young woman who happened to notice my shirt with our logo on it. She smiled at me, came up to me and introduced herself. After I introduced myself, she started to tear up. Confused, I asked, “Is there something I said wrong? If so, I apologize.” She looked up and said, “No ma’am these are happy tears. I want to say thank you.” She shared with me that for months she had been bringing her young daughter to school only a few times a month. The staff and her social worker had asked several times how they could support her. But she had been too embarrassed to share so she didn’t.

“After several months, during visits with my social worker I started to receive diapers with that same logo on them. I didn’t know who you were but I recognized the logo. Because you’re now providing diapers for my baby, I can buy bus fare to get her to school.”

Needless to say, I hear countless stories like this day in and day out that tear at my heart strings but encourage me and let me know we’re making a difference in the lives of families. At the Greater DC Diaper Bank, we truly believe in empowering families and individuals in need throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia by providing an adequate and reliable source for basic baby needs and personal hygiene products. Through actions large and small, collective and individual, we create a community in which families have all they need to thrive.

We are excited to share that we have recently grown and expanded in several different ways, including adding more staff and expanding our warehouse space. This has allowed us more capacity to help families across this region access the everyday essentials they need to thrive. We’ve expanded our warehouse space by over 3,000 sq. ft.! Not only is it larger but also safer, more efficient and quite beautiful. With our new space, we can now serve thousands more families in our community. Additionally, our staff has nearly doubled in size, allowing our reach to go even further and our voice to be even louder.

Greater DC Diaper Bank 1

Before

Greater DC Diaper Bank 2

After!

For every call we get asking for help, we’re fortunate to get another eight offering help. That’s what makes this rewarding. We believe changing babies changes lives. We’re on a mission to empower families and individuals throughout D.C., MD, and VA by providing a reliable and adequate source of basic baby needs and personal hygiene products.

It’s the outpour of generosity and kindness that infects everyone around it. The work that we do is about reaching not only the family who is in need but also the family who has an overwhelming need to give back and help! Our work helps to make that connection between both families — it’s an honor to be able to do that.

We are excited and proud about all the work we’ve done over the past 10 years. Since 2010, we have distributed:

  • 9.5 million diapers
  • 225,000 8oz bottles of formula
  • 681,000 period products
  • 62,470 packs of wipes
  • 11,125 pounds of baby food
  • 103,000 incontinence supplies
  • and so much more to 10,000+ families all across the region.

The exciting part about this is we are JUST getting started. We look forward to continuing our cause for countless years to come!

You can learn more about Greater DC Diaper Bank and how to get involved at their website.

 

6 Things to Have in Mind Before You Begin a Social Media Campaign

Written by Matt Gayer, Co-Executive Director of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

A lot of times, posting on social media for our organization can feel like we are spinning our wheels, or that we are just doing it because everyone else is. If we are going to take the time to do a social media campaign and dedicate resources to it, we need to make sure we’re ready to advantage of the campaign. Here’s six things to decide and plan for before you begin posting your campaign.

#1: What’s your goal?

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Not all campaigns are created equally, and not all campaigns are about raising money (!). Campaigns can focus on getting folks to donate, take action (e.g., volunteer, recycle at home), advocate, or learn more. Decide what your goal is — what you want people to do. Then, decide when you need them to do that by this will help you to start thinking through the timing and urgency of the campaign.

#2: What else is going on?

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Your campaign doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Keep in mind if your campaign is part of a broader movement (e.g., GivingTuesday), a busy time of year (e.g., End of Year), or a thematic time (e.g., Mother’s Day, Women’s History Month). Either include these broader trends in your campaign, or purposefully avoid those busier times.

#3: Who’s my audience?

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It isn’t as simple as just counting your followers. You need to know something about who is following you on social media to be able to customize your campaign to them. Do some research and get a sense of who they are and what they might be interested in. You also can decide ahead of time to just target certain groups by their experience (e.g., past volunteers) or who they are (e.g., local donors).

#4: What content will I use?

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Once a campaign gets going, things move fast. Especially for visual content, which you have to have to be engaging, we need to make it ahead of time. Think through what images, Gifs, or videos you’ll need during the campaign, and create as many as possible before it starts. You might have 1-2 “live shots” during the campaign, but most of it can be pre-planned.

#5: Who can help spread the message?

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It isn’t enough to get attention to your campaign by pushing it out, you need others to share their influence as well. Make sure staff and board are engaged prior to sending as well. Try to get a group of 10-15 external supporters (volunteers, donors, etc) to agree to share a message about the campaign, all at the same time on the same day. It helps with visibility and makes it seem like a conversation is happening.

#6: What’s my plan?

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Finally, work out at least a rough plan with timing for posts and an outline of post content. As mentioned above, campaigns move fast so we need to be ready prior.

If you think through these six things before you make that first post or Tweet, you’ll be a lot more likely to see some real progress from your campaign. It takes some time to be ready for that authentic-feeling campaign.