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Young Artists of America: Local Student Performers Go Beyond the Stage with New Grant

One of Catalogue for Philanthropy’s 2018-19 Best Nonprofits, Young Artists of America(YAA), has launched a new initiative thanks to a grant from Greater Washington Community Foundation’s Donors InVesting in the Arts (DIVAS) Fund. This initiative will run in tandem with YAA’s preparation for their spring production of Les Miserable–which will feature over 300 students and a full orchestra–on March 16th at the Music Center at Strathmore.

First combined rehearsal for Les Miserables at Youth Artists of America

Les Mis 1

Titled after one of the most rousing songs in the score, YAA’s “Hear the People Sing!” project will examine the themes in Les Miserables to inspire students to make connections between the social challenges in Victor Hugo’s time and those in today’s world. Whereas young people during the French Revolution saw injustice between populations and classes and decided to take action through insurgencies, this project will empower YAA students to use non-violent means to identify the injustices seen both in Les Miserables‘ and in modern time, including immigration, class inequity, gender-based oppression, and imperfect justice. Peaceful methods of engagement and dialogue will be modeled by teachers and encouraged throughout the musical theatre rehearsal process, as well as throughout the social media component of the project.

Specifically, YAA artistic staff will lead student group reflection and social media journaling, primarily via Instagram posts. YAA staff will also create and post a “students voices” video of final lessons learned that will be made available on their YouTube channel, and an edited version displayed on screen before the performance to enable audience members to participate with as well. Community members can follow along with the project by searching #HearthePeopleSingYAA and #WhoAmIYAA on social media platforms.

“It is YAA’s hope that this project will deepen students’ understanding of the material we are performing, as well as spark additional dialogue among their peers about contemporary issues,” says YAA’s Artistic Director, Rolando Sanz. “We are incredibly grateful to The Community Foundation’s DIVAS.”

The final production on March 16th will take place at 3pm and tickets are on sale now. What will make this performance artistically unique will be the scope of this student collaboration, including a full 60-piece youth symphonic orchestra, Seneca Valley High School Chorus of 150, and 80 singers/dancers/actors from YAACompany and YAAjunior.


All About Community: Encore’s Healthy Play Initiative

Encore Stage and Studio

In the spirit of community, sharing, and giving, we want you to hear from four of our teaching artists that work with “the Healthy Play Initiative” (HPI), a program created in 2016 to partner with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to provide enriching creative play for the children of families experiencing food insecurity in Arlington. Read on to find out– from those closest to the program — just what makes HPI so special.


Mara Stewart, Teaching Artist:“HPI is one of my favorite classes to teach. I feel like I always leave with a smile and a new experience. It has taught me so much about communication. Even when we can’t speak the same language, we are able to create a positive experience and learn from one and another. For most of the kids, this is their first time in a classroom setting. Healthy play focuses on engaging and dynamic activities. We sing, we dance, we color, we play outside, and we learn about healthy food choices. We focus on transitioning from one activity to the next, sharing and expressing ourselves. This program helps us meet kids in the community that we otherwise might not ever get to know. It is an amazing experience to see these children week after week and watch them grow. The first day we meet a child, they often don’t participate or speak- and after a few weeks they blossom. They are engaged, singing, and are excited to come to HPI, and to me–that is the best part.”


Caolan Eder, Arts Apprentice:“To me, HPI is all about community. The children who participate get a chance to play together in a safe setting and make new friends, learning to cooperate in a group as they prepare for the structured environment of school. The program also helps with communication skills. Many of the children live in non-English-speaking homes and struggle to connect with people outside of their families, so finding new ways of interacting really expands their worlds. I remember well how one child’s whole face lit up when she and I discovered that we spoke a common language and could explain ourselves to each other. The parents and caregivers build community through HPI, as well. In addition to giving them a breather from the responsibilities that come with raising a family, the program allows adults to form a network of people with shared experiences.”

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Madaline Langston, Education Programs Manager:“HPI has made me more patient. Most of the children that I have had the pleasure of serving are learning English and are trying to do their very best. In the classroom, we focus on listening, focus, and engaging students’ motor skills. HPI is a way to provide social interaction with peers. They learn how to make friends. When I first meet most of our HPI participants, I’ve noticed that they usually only interact with their families or friends. I recall one young boy who had just arrived from Peru and did not speak English. I used my cell phone to translate Spanish to him and he smiled and then slowly pronounced Spanish words to me and I spoke to him in English. So cute and funny at the same time. From that point on, he came to the classes with a smile on his face.”


Alana Gibson, Arts Apprentice:“ I’ve become more attentive to the children as people and not just children who are unaware of their surroundings and circumstances. HPI is such a meaningful program because, for the most part, this is the only exposure to English speakers that the children get if they don’t go to classes. It’s also meaningful to Encore because it makes us more culturally aware and understanding, which helps us standout in the region and theater community. A few weeks ago, at the Arlington Mill location, we had a pair of siblings that came in because they didn’t have school. Mara, the lead teacher, told me that just a year ago, these siblings spoke almost no English. I was completely shocked because if she hadn’t told me that, I would have never known. So I’m sure that them coming to the program in combination with their language class helped with this amazing feat! In the classroom, I try to focus on being caring, but also keeping some structure. Most of the children are in the house all week with a parent so I want them to have a chance to run around, but I also want to start to help them get the understanding of how a classroom would work at a real preschool. I’m hopeful that HPI plays a real role in preparing these kids for school as they grow older.”

It’s through the generous support of our donors that we are able to bring programs like “the Healthy Play Initiative” to our community here in Arlington. We believe that this type of outreach and engagement is essential for our mission of bringing “Theatre by kids, for kids” to all types of children and families. The empathy, problem solving, and creativity born in the classroom extends far beyond remaining active in the arts–the skills gained through theatre education can last a lifetime.

Threads of Change: Connecting Our Stories


Story Tapestries invites you to join us on Thursday,?September 27th from 5:30pm – 7:00pm?for an evening of storytelling that will include a film screening featuring Montgomery County community members, a live demo of our digital classroom that contains resources for educators and parents, and some surprises…!

Come be part of a dialogue of stories of hope and interact with artists, educators, business owners, caretakers, and other community members. We hope to see you at the Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union,?12820 Wisteria Drive, Germantown, MD 20874.

To register please go to?


A Lifelong Friendship in the Arts and Humanities

DC Arts Collaborative

Every year, DC Collaborative serves thousands of students in the hope that we can encourage them to embrace and pursue the arts and humanities. We were delighted to discover the story of Cameron Gray and Erin Fenzel, two students who have demonstrated exactly that!

At the age of 4, they started school together at Peabody Elementary School. They had attended one of our AHFES field trips, where a picture of them painting together (above) eventually made it onto the cover of the 2007-2008 issue from Catalogue for Philanthropy. Fast forward 14 years later. After going through middle school and high school together, they recently graduated this year from School Without Walls, which is ranked the #1 Top Performing High School in the District and #51 in the country. Their pursuit of education doesn’t end there. This fall, Cameron is headed to Syracuse University in New York to study Film, while Erin will go to Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania to study International Relations.

The DC Collaborative team is so proud of where these two students are going and we wish them the best for their futures. We’d like to give a special thanks to their parents and Catalogue for Philanthropy for sharing this wonderful friendship to us! If you know of any students have participated in our program and where they are now, please reach out to us at – we’d love to follow up with them.

{Blog post has been reposted with permission from the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative blog.}

The Delaplaine: Because Everyone Deserves Art


Back in the early 1980s, a dedicated visual arts center in the center of downtown Frederick, Maryland, was just a dream — that was, until a grassroots effort by artists and art-enthusiasts set out to make that dream into a reality. Today, The Delaplaine Arts Center is a popular attraction along Carroll Creek Park, as well as community gathering place and anchor for Frederick’s East Street Corridor.

The Delaplaine welcomes more than 85,000 visitors annually to its seven galleries, featuring artworks by local, regional, and national artists and groups. More than 55 exhibition are held on-site and at satellite galleries in public libraries around the region. The Delaplaine also offers more than 250 classes and workshops in a variety of media for all skill levels and ages each year, as well as monthly public programs and special events. The art center is open daily, and admission is always free.


The art center also is passionate about bringing the arts to all corners of the community, reflected by its vision that ‘everyone deserves art.’

“We truly believe that vision,” states Catherine Moreland, Delaplaine CEO. “That’s why we are all about tearing down barriers between the community we serve and the visual arts. It’s why we offer all the classes and programs that we do; it’s why we offer diverse exhibits; it’s why our admission is free; it’s why we partner with other nonprofits.”

The Delaplaine’s Community Outreach Initiative partners the organization with a range of other nonprofits such as Alzheimer’s Association, Arc, Head Start, Housing Authority of Frederick, Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, Frederick County Department of Aging, and others, as well as local public libraries and schools, to bring free customized art experiences to the at-risk and underserved in the region. There are also other component programs, like the Art Kit Project, which provides quality art supplies free to youth experiencing crises or homelessness. The programs are impacting thousands each year, bringing encouragement and creativity, and improving the quality of life for individuals, families, and all in the community.


The Delaplaine’s outreach has grown over the past decade and there is no slow-down anticipated in the goal to reach everyone in the region.

“The opportunities for outreach are endless,” explains Caitlin Gill, Community Outreach Program Manager. “The Delaplaine encourages innovation and growth, and we are forging new partnerships, improving existing ones, and growing programs to allow us to reach all in the community.”

“From improving school readiness in preschoolers, to providing help with cognitive and memory issues in adults and seniors, art is impacting lives,” says Moreland. “Our members, donors, and friends broaden and deepen that impact.”

Authentic Storytelling and the Nonprofit Sector

A_Banner_HomepageSince 2003, the Catalogue has relied on the art of storytelling to raise awareness about the work of our 350+ nonprofits. Whether through our print Catalogue, website, or events, we use storytelling to bring to life each charity’s programs, and impact. Spreading the word about our charities work is central to our mission, and we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to do this.

In a recent blog post, our friends at Meridian Hill Pictures tackled the topic of authenticity in storytelling, and how this topic was reflected in their feature film, CITY OF TREES. The film follows the stories of trainees and staff at Washington Parks and People (’14-’15) as they navigate the “inspiring but messy world of job training, and the roadblocks change makers face in urban communities everyday.” In conjunction with the film, Meridian Hill Pictures is launching a regular dialogue series titled Authentic Storytelling Moves People, in which they hope to bring together nonprofit leaders, independent filmmakers, and community members to talk openly about how they can all embrace more authentic storytelling to strengthen our community. Below is an excerpt from their blog:

“Whether in narrative or documentary, moving or still pictures, newspapers or tweets, we’re interested in exploring ways that society can elevate and reward authenticity, so that honest conversations are not withheld from the public sphere out of fear of losing funding, donations, support, or trust. We do not see authenticity as a sign of weakness rather, it requires courage. What if funders asked their grantees to demonstrate authenticity alongside impact? What if the public demanded authenticity as a form of accountability from public and private institutions? What if we all had the courage to create and tell more authentic stories?

In our first feature film, CITY OF TREES, we’ve attempted to embrace these values through an honest, character-driven story that challenges audiences to think deeply about the triumphs and struggles in making a long-term social impact within a non-profit organization… CITY OF TREES thrusts viewers into the inspiring but messy world of job training and the roadblocks changemakers face in urban communities everyday. Telling this kind of story required all parties — filmmakers, participants, funders, audiences — to embrace a certain unpredictability, lack of control, and reality that the ‘message’ would never be as perfectly conveyed through a people-centered story as through a tightly-crafted grant report, speech, tweet or fundraising video. Our hope has been that this kind of people-centered, reflective storytelling helps everyone to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues, a meaningful connection to the stakeholders as individual people and not statistics, and a more-informed investment in the potential of possible solutions.”

Read the full blog post here.

Interested in checking out City of Trees? Join Meridian Hill Pictures at the DC Environmental Film Festival for the premiere of CITY OF TREES (or check the CITY OF TREES website for other festival screenings).


In anticipation of the screening, we caught up with Lance Kramer, Executive Director at Meridian Hill Pictures, to learn more about how the film came to fruition, and the potential it has to impact the nonprofit sector.

What conversation started Meridian Hill Picture’s involvement with Washington Parks and People?

Lance: In building a relationship, particularly one between a filmmaker and a subject, there are so many conversations that play a role…. more that I can count. The evolution of our relationship started when we first moved into the Josephine Butler Parks Center, continued through visiting the Corps members’ work site at the North Columbia Heights Green, a participatory video training we facilitated with the Corps members, then the bulk of the filming with all of the participants to follow the story of the grant. We realized that there was something really interesting and complex going on in both the spaces where the Corps was working, in the lives on the people and the organization.

What role do you see the film playing in the nonprofit space?

Lance: I think there’s a lot of interest, concern and confusion about embracing storytelling in the nonprofit community. What is storytelling and what does it mean for a nonprofit? There isn’t just one right answer. I hope that one outcome of the people in the film placing their trust in us and allowing themselves to be vulnerable, is to help others understand how hard change can be and allow others in the field to take a deep breath and feel ok with sharing the struggles that we all face. I hope others see that storytelling can be a powerful place to have a meaningful dialogue around successes and challenges, and that honesty can have a positive impact on the organizations serving our community. I hope the film shows that the march towards truth requires people to have trust in each other, the storytellers, and in the potential of honest stories to move people.

cityoftrees2If you could have one group of people see the film and talk about it, who would that be?

Lance: Only one group? I think nonprofit funders are an important audience for this film because they have the power to change the mechanics of how programs can impact our communities. We hope this film can help people build stronger relationships and understanding between people at the top, the staffs who design and implement programs, and the community members who are most closely impacted by programs. We can only benefit by strengthening communication and empathy for the struggles and needs all of these stakeholders face.

If every person who sees the film can walk away asking themselves one question, what should that question be?

Lance: Where do I fit in? This film isn’t about “other” people- it deals with issues that affect all of us. I hope people watching the film take a moment to look inward, to see that we are all connected and part of a system. Through the film and this kind of storytelling, maybe, it can help people think about where they fit into that system, and what each one of us can be doing or thinking differently in order to increase positive outcomes in our communities.

Check out the CITY OF TREES this week at the DC Environmental Film Festival (or visit the CITY OF TREES website for other festival screenings)!

7 Questions: Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman

We welcome Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman of Tracy’s Kids to our 7 Questions Blog. Tracy’s Kids helps young cancer patients and their families cope with the emotional stress and trauma of cancer and its treatment and is brand new to the Catalogue as part of the 2015-16 class. Under Matt Gerson’s leadership, Tracy’s Kids has grown from one therapist at Georgetown University Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Center to the much larger organization it is today.


  1. What motivated you to begin working with your organization?

I was diagnosed with cancer when I was ten years old– 47 years ago. I remember that battling the disease was lonely and scary and emotionally grueling. Tracy’s Kids uses Art Therapy to enable the children we serve to engage with Masters-trained professionals who help them express their fears and better understand this impossibly difficult chapter of their lives.

  1. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?

My heroes are our eight dedicated Art Therapists (“ATs”) who bring compassion and professionalism to their work every day. They see a lot of sadness but generate smiles, comfort and confidence. For years parents have told me that their kids look forward to going to the clinic which I find inconceivable. But it’s because our ATs enable them to feel like themselves: not like sick kids, just kids.

  1. What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?

Our program director, Tracy Councill, is always encouraging our team of Art Therapists to try new ways to make the clinic more fun and inviting. The past couple of years they’ve made music videos including one to Pharrell’s song, Happy, that had the whole clinic — nurses, docs, kids and parents — lip syncing and dancing. But my favorite was to Andy Grammers, Keep Your Head Up. The lyrics could not be more appropriate and became something of an anthem — You got to keep your head up. This is just a journey, drop your worries, you are gonna turn out fine.

  1. What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?

We make a special effort to work with the siblings of the children that we serve. A cancer diagnosis traumatizes the entire family, and we appreciate that the healthy sibling is scared for her brother, confused by the treatment regime and wrestles with emotions that should be shared with a trained professional. We even established a focused summer program at Children’s Hospital called Scribbling Siblings.

  1. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?

Sadness. Today, over 70% of the children diagnosed with cancer will beat the disease. But parents still lose children, and brothers lose sisters. This Fall a remarkable 16 year old lost her battle with osteosarcoma. Abby used Art Therapy to cope with her prognosis and create a legacy of artwork for her family and friends. Her mother told me that Tracy’s Kids was invaluable to her daughter and that the family wants to work with us so they can positively impact the lives of others. This kind of feedback enables us to deal with the heartache because it validates our efforts to help children and their families cope with the psychological toll imposed by the disease and its treatment.

  1. What advice do you have for other people in your position?

Just Do It. There are innumerable good causes. Find one that excites you and give it your best shot. Don’t be afraid to ask for financial support, and don’t talk it personally when you get turned down or someone doesn’t deliver.

  1. What’s next/coming up for you?

Tracy’s Kids is in three clinics in the DC area and one in San Antonio, Texas. We joined New York Presbyterian Hospital in October and are exploring a partnership with a hospital in Baltimore. Other clinics have asked us to bring our program to their facility and if we have the resources we can go anywhere to make a real difference in the lives of children in a harrowing position.

7 Questions: Thembi Duncan, Artistic Director of African Continuum Theatre Company

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Right now theaters are integrating and experimenting with technology and social media in their artistic work, as well as in their outreach efforts.”

In honor of Black History Month we welcome Thembi Duncan, Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company. The African Continuum Theatre Company presents high-quality productions, workshops, and programs that illuminate African-American experiences, examine multiple facets of identity, and explore the connections of African-Americans to the African Diaspora. A native of the Washington D.C. area, Thembi has performed as an actor, playwright, director, and teaching artist in the region for almost 15 years. Many of her most treasured and formative onstage experiences were in African Continuum productions, so she is honored to serve as the leader of this renowned artistic?organization.

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7 Questions with Rebecca Read Medrano, Executive Director of GALA Theatre

Rebecca_1 (1)In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we welcome Rebecca Read Medrano to 7 Questions. Rebecca has served as chief finance and administration officer for GALA Hispanic Theatre since 1976. Medrano has also served as the principal development and marketing staff member, managing GALA’s $4.2M capital campaign and developing its strategic marketing plan. GALA (Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos) Hispanic Theatre is a National Center for Latino Performing Arts in the nation’s capital. Since 1976,GALA has been promoting and sharing the Latino arts and cultures with a diverse audience, creating work that speaks to communities today, and preserving the rich Hispanic heritage for generations that follow.
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7 Questions with Adam Levner, Executive Director of Critical Exposure

AdamAs we wrap up blogs for Artist Awareness Month, we welcome Adam Levner, Executive Director of Critical Exposure to 7 Questions. Critical Exposure trains youth to use photography and advocacy to make real change in their schools and communities. Previously, Adam worked as a fifth grade teacher and then as a community organizer with Stand for Children, where he led successful reform efforts that resulted in over $20 million annually in additional revenue for Prince George’s County, MD school district.

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