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Catalogue Blog

Students striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

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For the past 4 years, After-School All-Stars (ASAS) has convened a leadership training event at the 4-H National Conference Center outside of the Nation’s Capital: All-Stars Leadership University (ASLU). ASAS is a national non-profit, providing free and comprehensive after-school programs to Title 1 middle school students, and the Washington DC chapter is the local office serving over 600 students at 7 schools within the district. 19 of our chapter cities are invited to send student and staff representation at ASLU. Each Chapter sends two youth, a Rising Youth Advisory Board Mentor (YABs) and a Returning YAB Mentor, as well as an Adult Mentor to come to DC and learn about self-leadership, serving others, and how to serve and advocate in their communities. YABs are selected for these positions based on their commitment to the program, as well as their academic performance and leadership abilities. The 4-day retreat includes leadership training, team building exercises, opportunities to create service projects for their local communities and thoughtful reflections on each student’s respective communities and the issues they all face.

ASAS DC was extremely proud to have 2 YAB students representing our chapter. Ajani Atkins from Somerset Prep DC and De’Quan Atchinson from Charles Hart Middle School (now a rising Freshman at Eastern High School) both attended earlier this summer. Ajani assumed the role of Rising YAB while De’Quann had the opportunity to be a returning YAB mentor.

De’Quan is a great example of an ideal YAB and ASAS DC student. He has been with the program since 6th grade and is now a proud graduate of both Hart MS and the ASAS DC program. He has grown immensely in that time, learning to be a better public speaker, convener, and leader amongst his peer group. We had the chance to speak with him about ASLU and his broader experience in the program.

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De’Quan, along with many of the other YAB participants, was particularly struck by one of the special presenters at ASLU. Thanks to our partnership with Essentia Water, Joe La Puma attended the event as a guest speaker. Joe is the Vice President of Content Strategy at Complex Magazine, and host of the magazine’s “Sneaker Shopping,” a program that takes you inside the sneaker shopping process for such celebrities as Wiz Khalifa, Kevin Hart, Antonio Brown, and A$AP Rocky. De’Quan has a myriad of interests ranging from athletics to community service, but he is also extremely passionate about fashion. It was invaluable for him to be exposed to someone like Joe, who has worked hard to make a name for himself in a progressive sector of work that resonates with our students. Across the country, we are intentional about exposing ASAS students to unique and accessible career paths. Joe’s journey was one that had a profound resonance with the YABS. De’Quan admitted that hearing Joe speak inspired and excited him. It was a narrative that he could genuinely connect with and aspire towards, whereas those sources of inspiration were previously hard to come by.

De’Quan looks back at his journey from 6th grade and acknowledges how much he has matured within the ASAS DC program. Initially, he didn’t dedicate enough time to his classes and homework, opting to spend evenings with his mother. Due to her intensive work schedule, they could only spend the late evenings together, and that wasn’t conducive to completing all his work and developing an interest in school. An attitude change was as simple as providing him with a safe space and a positive environment. ASAS DC dedicated academic time allowed him to progress more in his school work, and that culminated this past year when he made the honor roll for the first time in his academic career. He recalled his mother’s reaction, and that she was quite literally “in tears of joy,” overwhelmed by her son’s success.

The exciting thing about De’Quan as well as the ASAS DC chapter, is that this is just the beginning. In speaking with De’Quan it was as if his experience in the program gave him a new lease on life. Not only is he excited for high school, but he already has plans to join the track team and as many clubs as he can get his hands on. De’Quan’s 3.5 GPA is something he is proud of, but at Eastern, he wants to build off of that and achieve even higher marks in his first year. He has a strong desire to seriously pursue his interests at the next level in the fields of leadership, athletics, academics, and fashion.

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As De’Quan reflected back on his experience it was no surprise that above all else, personal connections were the most meaningful to him. He credits ASAS DC staff for “getting him out of his shell” and inspiring him to be a leader. On more than one occasion he referred to the ASAS DC Program Manager Tierra Stewart as “Superwoman,” a sentiment that many of her colleague’s share. He knows that in 6th grade he wasn’t the type “to open up to just anybody,” but with the help of mentors like Tierra he began to make that transition to a more outgoing and charismatic person. He made that change because he along with his fellow ASAS students understood that our instructors genuinely cared about their well-being and future. As is the case with many of our 600+ students in the district, our staff have close relationships with De’Qunn and his family, and that level of understanding and communication is inextricably connected to his growth and success.

The DC chapter is proud to showcase De’Quan’s story. It is a unique and compelling narrative, and at the same time, we know that there are tens of thousands of ASAS students across the country having a similar experience. He didn’t have time to complete his homework, ASAS DC provided him that time and space, he was shy and unmotivated, he is now going off to high school as a leader with aspirations to be the captain of every team and club he joins, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, ASAS DC showed him what it looks like to succeed in school and have an attractive career. As he reflected back on his own journey at the 4-H center, eyes welling with tears, his heart was full: for his family, his ASAS mentors, and mostly for his fellow students that are striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

The Grassroot Project: Using Sports to Promote Sexual Health and Positive Youth Development in DC

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Almost ten years ago, 40 student-athletes gathered in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment near Georgetown University. Their goal: fight alarmingly high, increasing rates of HIV transmission in our nation’s capital the best way that they knew how –through sports. Drawing inspiration from his volunteer experience with Grassroot Soccer in South Africa, the group’s leader, Tyler Spencer, wanted to use sports to educate people about HIV and AIDS prevention in a language that they could understand. At the time, 1 in 20 adults in DC were living with HIV, and the rate among teenagers was on the rise.

“There was only one other organization doing school-based HIV prevention work with kids,” said Spencer. “So, there was a huge need in DC, and I felt really excited about taking the Grassroot Soccer model and adapting it to make a difference at home.”

To call this group of Georgetown soccer players, football players, basketball players, field hockey players, rowers, swimmers and golfers a “grassroots” organization would be an understatement. Despite their lack of funding and uncertainty in starting and running a non-profit organization, the 18 to 21-year-olds persisted. Much of the initial program cost fell on Spencer. He took a temp job working with the Association of Schools of Public Health, and with the support of the athletic community, they facilitated their first sexual health program in The School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens in the Spring of 2009.

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Today, The Grassroot Project’s?innovative model continues to employ non-traditional health educators — NCAA student-athletes — to create a fun, friendly and safe environment in which participants learn how to live healthier lifestyles. The peer to peer education method creates an open environment for participants to share their beliefs on sensitive topics such as HIV/AIDS testing and prevention, sexual consent, dating violence, and healthy relationships. The use of sports as a vehicle for social change, and the ability of the student-athlete leaders to connect with the youth and their families are what make this an effective way of learning.

“Being part of the Catalogue has not only helped us to build relationships with philanthropists in DC who care about youth development and health education, but it has also helped us to grow as an organization,” said Spencer. “The first time we applied, we were only reaching 4 schools in DC, and we struggled to manage our programs and partnerships because we had no full-time staff. Since being named part of the?Catalogue…we have operated our programs in more than 60 schools and community centers across the city, and we have reached more than 5,000 DC teenagers with free health education and health services.”

TGP’s?corps of volunteer student-athlete program facilitators has expanded from Georgetown University to now also include student-athletes from The George Washington University, American University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

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Most recent additions to the organization include Grassroots Connect — an end-of-program graduation celebration and linkage to local health care event — as well as Grassroots Fam — an after-school parent/caregiver program that provides similar interactive learning opportunities including sexual health basics, as well as building a parental support system by practicing proper parent-child communication.

“One of the first things our students learn in each program is how important it is to ‘take action in your community,’ and I think that that phrase sums up the mission of Grassroots perfectly,” said Isabel Rose, senior Leader Team member. “This year, TGP took several huge steps that allowed us to take even more action in our community, and that meant that I could help make a much bigger difference than I had initially thought possible.”

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During the summer of 2018, the organization introduced its first Master Trainer program — a team of exemplary student-athletes who’ve undergone an intensive training on social issues in DC, sexual and reproductive health basics, and behavior management skills in middle schools. The Master Trainers traveled to South Africa this summer to learn from partner organization, Grassroot Soccer, about best practices for training new student-athlete facilitators.

“As a student, as an athlete, as a new resident in DC, it is my ​job​ ​to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me,” said Callie Fauntleroy, a sophomore volleyball player at The George Washington University. “I have learned more here in my 8 months with TGP than I have in any other experience.”

What started as a true grassroots organization has morphed into a robust network of students, athletes, and alumnae who are educated about living healthier lifestyles in their communities.

“The Catalogue has been and will continue to be helpful in preparing us for to make an even greater impact on our city,” said Spencer.

The Child & Family Network Centers Holds Annual School Supply Drive

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The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) is holding its annual School Supply Drive during the summer months before the start of the new school year on September 5, 2018. CFNC is collecting hundreds of school supplies to stock our 8 pre-kindergarten classrooms across the city of Alexandria. These supplies will give 138 disadvantaged children what they need to be successful in school, starting on day one.

Community members can donate new school supplies and classroom materials by dropping them at CFNC’s headquarters — 3700 Wheeler Ave, Alexandria, VA 22304. CFNC is also happy to arrange pick up of supplies. The wish list includes basic school supplies such as paper, glue, and folders, as well as other items that are consumed frequently, such as tissues and paper towels.

“This drive allows many less fortunate children in our community to have the supplies they need to start the school year on the right foot,” said CFNC Executive Director Lisa Carter. “Unfortunately many of the families we serve cannot afford or prioritize purchasing school supplies, despite their understanding that they are sorely needed. The school supply drive supports not only the child, but their families and their teachers as well.”

CFNC’s school supply list can be found on their website. All donations of school supplies are tax-deductible.

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About CFNC
The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) provides free preschool education for 138 children and families living at or below 250% of the poverty line, who earn too much to qualify for Head Start but not enough to afford their children with a private preschool education. Providing a unique blend of preschool education and family support services including free health services, in-home visits and counseling, CFNC currently operates 8 classrooms in apartment complexes, recreational centers and other locations throughout Alexandria where these families live. Learn more.

A Lifelong Friendship in the Arts and Humanities

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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 info@dccollaborative.org – we’d love to follow up with them.

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

Casa Chirilagua: ‘Yo Hablo Ingles’ English Language Learning Program

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“I’ve never been to the National Mall before,” said Juan, as he sat on the Metro heading towards the Smithsonian.

“Now that I know how to ride the Metro, this will be easier to come by myself,” his friend Pedro declared. Soon they would both be experiencing the National Mall for the first time in their lives.

They were among the sixteen students from Casa Chirilagua‘s Yo Hablo Ingles English Language Learning program to take a field trip to DC in late April. Soon they would be seeing the sites and practicing their English through a scavenger hunt. Volunteers from Restoration City Church accompanied their peers to support each student with their English skills.?Students arrived on the National Mall in wonderment, marveling at the beauty of the famous horizon. Some began taking photos of the Washington Monument while others pointed out, “Look at the water! Look at the ducks!”

Their first stop was the National Museum of Natural History. When students entered, they were immediately greeted by Henry, the museum’s elephant. They were impressed by the rotunda and began to explore this area and take photos. For many of the students this was their first time to the museum.

“It was really awesome!” exclaimed Marilu, “I need to come back with my daughter.”

During their trip students practiced English by finding exhibits in a scavenger hunt and earning points for each discovery. Various animals were among the exhibits as well as the famous Hope diamond. More photos ensued!

Afterwards, the students enjoyed a sunny picnic in front of the National Monument. Reflecting on this visit, Maria noted that, “It was great to come on my own without my kids to explore and really enjoy the sites.”

This was particularly true for students who work in the city but have never had the opportunity to enjoy the museums and National Mall. A team of volunteers provided childcare back at Casa’s community center so that parents could enjoy this trip with their classmates.

Students took advantage of many opportunities to practice English conversation with the volunteers. They were very patient and helpful as students eagerly conversed with them. Later Mario commented, “It was beautiful to share with you…I tried to take away my fear. Thank you because even if you don’t understand me you try to talk with me. You are cool.”

Their final stop was the Jefferson Memorial. As they walked the Tidal Basin students were amazed by the surrounding trees and enjoyed the refreshing walk along the waterfront.

“It’s beautiful!” said Adriana as she saw the impressive marble monument in the distance.

“I love the tour!” Jose agreed. He was very excited as the group walked to the monument before the group returned to the Metro.

It was a joyful day as students deepened relationships with volunteers and each other while building stronger English language skills. As students bring their newfound language skills into the world they will have the confidence, support and knowledge to flourish. We are grateful for your support and to the amazing group of volunteers who make this possible. As Jorge says, “Thank you for your time that you are providing us for the trip. It was very nice! We learned a lot in the museum. God bless you.”

The Delaplaine: Because Everyone Deserves Art

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Building a Community within STEM: An unexpected result from our Latina SciGirls program

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In 2016, the Children’s Science Center?was selected as one of sixteen science centers from across the U.S. to receive a grant from Twin Cities Public Television and the National Science Foundation to implement a program for young Latinas over the course of three years in conjunction with PBS SciGirls. We were confident that we could provide the girls in the program a fun, unique educational experience, but the unintended outcome of creating a supportive and caring community for these young girls, and the overall positive impact on staff and volunteers exceeded our expectations.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics 2012 report, Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study, only 3.5% of bachelor’s degrees in STEM were earned by Hispanic females in 2010. This systemic underachievement in STEM can be attributed to several issues including: limited awareness, opportunities, and resources; existing perceptions about STEM; and lack of family involvement. Our Latina SciGirls program to begin tackling this important issue.

Latina SciGirls is a free program for Hispanic girls in grades 3-5 and their families that takes place twice annually over the course of several weeks at the Children’s Science Center Lab in partnership with local Title I elementary schools in Northern Virginia. Latina SciGirls is a culturally responsive program designed to address barriers that prevent Hispanic girls and their families from engaging in STEM and to promote a positive STEM identity. Critical elements of the program provide young Latinas with opportunities to engage with Latina STEM professionals to foster mentoring relationships and a parent education component to support their daughters’ interest and achievement in STEM.

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Latina SciGirls program begins with an open house event held at the elementary school. Students, parents, and families meet program staff and the Latina STEM mentors while participating in hands-on STEM activities. Each subsequent weekly session covers a different STEM topic: physical sciences, environmental science, engineering, forensics, biology, and chemistry. The Fiesta de la Familia event celebrates the end of the session with families, girls, program staff and the Latina STEM mentors for a night of hands-on STEM activities. The goals of the program are to increase access for Latinas and their families to positive STEM programming, and promote positive STEM identity development. To ensure regular attendance of the Latina SciGirls program, the Center provides complimentary dinner and transportation each week for the duration of the program.

Over the course of each session, the Center’s staff watch as the girls’ confidence in STEM grow. Our staff take pride in their ability to create a warm and safe environment where the girls feel empowered to take risks and share their thinking while exploring STEM. The girls are introduced to female role models that they would not otherwise encounter. Having access to professional Latina mentors who share their own stories of success and failure has proven beneficial to the program. Although the program focuses on STEM, the girls practice working collaboratively, and building relationships among peers and adults — important life skills for every child’s future. We hope the girls take this initial spark and continue their investigations into the world around them, especially as they enter the crucial middle-school years when STEM interest statistically plummets. We believe each girl leaves the program open to new experiences, ideas, and people, with increased confidence and a stronger sense of self. Many of the program’s alumna seek out additional STEM experiences to grow their newfound interest.

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What started out as a program opportunity has evolved into a passion project. The Children’s Science Center has served over 100 young Latinas since 2016 and is grateful to Twin Cities Public Television, General Motors, and Leidos for their sponsorship. Latinos comprise 17% of Northern Virginia’s population. With this population steadily increasing, the Latina SciGirls program will continue to be in high demand. As the Center moves forward with the capital campaign to build a full-scale science center that will more adequately serve the region’s families, we also look forward to expanding the reach of significant programs like Latina SciGirls.

At the core of the Children’s Science Center‘s educational mission is a dedication to meeting the needs of all children, in particular reaching underserved and economically disadvantaged children who traditionally do not have access to private enrichment opportunities. The Center impacts over 70,000 annually with its community programs and the Children’s Science Center Lab. The vision of the Center is to build the region’s first world-class children’s science museum on donated land in Dulles, VA.

The Center is grateful for the enthusiastic participation of a community of volunteer mentors, who have come in to lead and facilitate our STEM activities and tell their own stories of success and failure. STEM mentors have included women from NASA, USDA, PBS, FBI, and the Virginia House of Delegates. There are many opportunities through the Center to volunteer and make an impact on our local community. Information can be found here.

After-School All-Stars DC: Helping students become more active, healthy and empowered

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Ward 8 is consistently burdened with the highest crime rates and lowest median incomes out of all wards within Washington DC, and while these instances are somewhat commonplace, the impact continues to be devastating. No group has been impacted more than the youth of the surrounding neighborhoods. Recent violence included a fatal shooting of a high school freshman, and a large fight immediately outside a DC public school called Somerset Prep DC. Somerset is one of seven school sites that After-School All-Stars Washington DC (ASAS DC) serves. While these events were occurring in Mid-May, our students at Somerset Prep DC, Leckie Education Campus, Charles Hart Middle School and John Hayden Johnson Middle School were provided a safe environment within their schools, and an opportunity to enrich themselves through education. After-School All-Stars provides comprehensive after-school programming to middle school students in neglected regions of the country. The DC chapter provides opportunities for students to participate in dynamic courses at no cost to them, and that were not previously available at their schools (e.g. drone engineering, robotics, healthy cooking, yoga, and music production to name a few). It also provides a safe space for our students during the most dangerous time of day, between 3-6 PM when young people within the community are most vulnerable to nefarious activities.

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But despite our in-school programming, tangible divides and bitter rivalries continue to permeate between the four schools we serve in Ward 8. This Spring our staff took it upon themselves to create events outside of our traditional programming, with an express focus on bridging the divide between the students at these schools. ASAS DC held a “carnival” Ward 8 field day event in response to the growing tension, where over 100 students and 25 parents were in attendance. Students participated in games, enjoyed performances from their peers, and were provided a chance to foster meaningful friendships with each other. Beyond spending time together, we also tie in our own values and purpose into events/initiatives. Two weeks after the field day event, students from the four Ward 8 schools gathered at Oxon Run Park, in the heart of South East DC. They participated in a clean-up project to pick up trash and improve the appearance of the park itself. ASAS DC students also completed several community-building activities that required collaboration, and expelling negative preconceptions about their peers from other schools. Most importantly, each student was given an opportunity to share their thoughts with the larger group on how they would solve these issues facing their neighborhood. Profound and meaningful sentiments were shared, with the consistent theme being that they should work together and embrace one another in the face of division and violence.

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ASAS DC is proud to serve the students of this diverse and vibrant community, and as we grow and build relationships throughout DC our hope is to bring these opportunities to every middle school student within the District.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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My career in science peaked in 4th grade.

My first entry in the school science fair involved a fish bowl, a miniature landfill, a gallon of water, and a love of the environment and the art of improv. I created an elaborate 2-minute demonstration to show judges the effect of pollution on our groundwater supply. As I poured the “rainwater” into the landfill, I accidentally tipped over the water-soaked landfill into the lap of a judge, causing my demonstration to come to an abrupt end. The moral of the story? Pollution — whether in a landfill, or in your lap — affects us all. Nevertheless, my passion for the project and research behind it led me to win the Grand Prize.

Although I’m unlikely to win any future “grand prizes” for my contributions to science (my passions and talents are aligned with the communications field), I do still love to learn about new discoveries, and am grateful that I can indulge in this even more now that I have children of my own. I want many things for my children, and among those things, I want them to be able to pursue their interests and feel encouraged as they explore them. I can’t help but feel proud when I see my children intently reading a book about space, building an intricate object with magnets, or even asking curious questions about the weather (like,why is it so quiet after a snowfall?). Who knows…one day my daughter may be the next great environmental champion, and when she is…I’ll be there supporting her every step of the way.

Today, on the inaugural International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the Catalogue invites you to discover some local charities in our network that provide STEM education for all children. We’re also sharing some charities that focus on instilling confidence in young girls and encouraging them to pursue their passion:

  • ReSET: Places volunteer scientists in PreK-6 schools to teach hands-on science.
  • Passion for Learning: Strives to close academic achievement gap through literacy and technology programs.
  • Washington School for Girls: Transforms lives of girls through tuition-free private education.
  • Girls on the Run (DC) (MoCo) (NoVa): Helps girls build confidence through physical activity.

The following charities have STEM-related wishlist items:

And of course, when you choose to support a Catalogue for Philanthropy charity, you can do so with confidence: each organization in our network has been vetted for excellence.

7 Questions with 826DC Executive Director Joe Callahan

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What brought me to 826DC was the opportunity to help thousands of students in the District find their voices, to tell their stories, and to develop of love for writing and words”

In honor of National Poetry Month we welcome Joe Callahan, Executive Director of 826DC. 826DC is dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. They provide drop-in tutoring, field trips, after-school workshops, in-schools tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. Joe Callahanjoined 826DC in June of 2010. Prior to this, he worked as a writing professor at both American University and the George Washington University. In addition to teaching, he has worked and consulted for a wide range of non-profit organizations, including public policy institutions, museums, and a renowned literary magazine.

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

Before joining 826DC, I was an adjunct professor teaching writing at two local universities. I loved being in front of a classroom, but I witnessed students at the college level struggle significantly with writing, organizing their thoughts, and crafting arguments. I thought about my experience learning to write having a couple great teachers who took the extra time to encourage me to explore, discover, and create arguments. I thought about my experience as a young student having teachers who encouraged me to dream up imaginative stories, and reinforced a love and power of words. Finally, I thought about those who might not have those opportunities or those teachers. It drew me to 826DC, then in its infancy. I started as a volunteer and eventually joined the staff, and soon thereafter became the Executive Director. What brought me to 826DC was the opportunity to help thousands of students in the District find their voices, to tell their stories, and to develop of love for writing and words.

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

At 826DC we have a small staff and we can only do what we do because of an amazing army of supremely dedicated volunteers. Locally, we have about 1,200 volunteers in our database, and each of them bring a unique blend of skills (and availability) to our work. I am excited about finding creative ways for engaging, recruiting, managing, and appreciating our volunteers one that leverages technology but doesn’t eliminate the important personal side of community building. Nonprofits need to re-think how they engage volunteers and how they provide opportunities for volunteers to contribute whether it be micro volunteering, skills-based, or direct service. By creating an environment that supports and encourages volunteering, we can better deliver our services to our students.

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

This is a tough one. There are so many people out there that I respect who are doing such great work. I really look up to the disrupters that are trying to change philanthropy for the better – I am thinking about people like Clarence Wardell III and Karan Jain of tinyGive, who are using technology to create systems to make donating easy and seamless. By eliminating barriers to philanthropy and making it accessible, we can motivate more and more people to participate in philanthropy. As for my hero, I’d say Kurt Vonnegut. Not only my favorite author, he was a fearless storyteller. He ignored genres and conventions and wrote as only he knew how, telling his stories the way he wanted to tell them.

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

This spring, 826 National released a STEM and creative writing book called STEM to Story. It is a series of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) experiments that connect with creative writing, like writing the zombie apocalypse, that are structured to help enliven STEM programming while also inspiring students to take on scientific exploration. Locally, we are working with the Points of Light Foundation to recruit a VISTA to help us launch the curriculum. I’m looking forward to working with writing teachers to bring science to their classrooms, and reaching science teachers who may not be familiar with our work.

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

Strategic Capacity Building. The need for our services is clear. Over the last five years, we have grown from serving a few hundred students to now more than 4,000. In the upcoming school year we hope to serve 5,000 DC public and public charter school students. This growth needs to be thoughtful. It needs to make sense for us as an organization. This growth requires more staff, more volunteers, a larger and more comprehensive infrastructure, and yes, of course, more money. By having a strong strategic plan, and a commitment to our vision, we are able to find the right partners to help us grow steadily but strategically. Our board and staff are passionate about this plan and this growth, and their involvement and investment is imperative. But, this growth takes constant vigilance in order to be successful.

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

I have two major pieces of advice first, being an executive director can be lonely. Build a network of people who understand what you are going through, and what you have to do. They will be huge resources, and don’t undervalue that type of contribution. Second, find something you love that has absolutely nothing to do with work and do it. You need to make time for it. It’s unsustainable if you don’t. For me, my creative passion is writing. I need to do it. I need to create worlds and characters and stories that have nothing to do with my job. I love to play golf and go to baseball games. When I do these things, I can forget about work for a little while and I get to create some distance. And when I get back to the office I am refreshed.

  1. What’s next/coming up for you?

April, National Poetry Month, is a really exciting month. We are partnering with the Academy of American Poets on a project, Read This Poem, which features local poets and their work. It is a great way for us to connect professional poets to our students and to shine a light on the creative community here in D.C.

To read more about Catalogue nonprofits that help grow the writing and poetry community in our DC-Metro Region, click here!