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Restoring the Potomac with Potomac Conservancy

By Potomac Conservancy

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The 9.6 million acres of the Potomac watershed are home to vast forests and diverse wildlife, wild and scenic rivers, extensive recreation opportunities, places of national historic significance, vital rural farming communities, and vibrant cities.

Encompassing 14,670 square miles over four states and our Nation’s Capital, the Potomac Basin is home to 6.1 million people. The Potomac’s waters sustain wildlife, agriculture, and industry. Most importantly for our community’s health and sustainability, the Potomac River is the source of drinking water for nearly 5 million residents. Our personal health, our communities and our economy all rely on clean water.

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Of all the major sources of pollution in the river, pollution flowing from factories and sewage treatment plants is now largely under control. The only major source of pollution that is increasing is polluted storm water runoff from streets, over-fertilized lawns and parking lots. Each time it rains (or snows), that water rushes over the land, picking up dirt, oil, trash, pet waste, and toxic chemicals.

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In an unaltered landscape, this water is re-absorbed into the ground and filtered by trees and plants. But when rainwater falls on roofs, driveways, or other hard surfaces, it isn’t absorbed. It flows into the nearest creek or storm drain, carrying pollution with it.

The majority of polluted runoff goes directly into our local streams. As development around the region increases (throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, we lose 100 acres of forests per day), there are fewer trees to absorb pollution and more paved surfaces that prevent polluted water from filtering naturally through the ground.
The excess nutrients that flow into our waters can cause algae blooms, which deplete oxygen levels in the water, damaging the river’s vegetation and wildlife.

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The underwater vegetation serves to filter pollutants out of our water and provides food and habitat for wildlife and once gone is difficult to bring back. Trash, especially plastics, has a very negative impact on water quality. Plastic releases toxic chemicals into the water that have been linked to inter-sexed fish (fish that have both male and female characteristics), which can lead to population decline. Additionally, plastic does not disappear, rather it breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, plastic and microplastic make up the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our oceans. Because the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay and then into our oceans, what we do to protect the river and improve water quality will have a global impact.

29316219083_a8dca2d659_oThe good news is that things are moving in the right direction. Pollution levels in the Potomac River are the lowest they have been in decades. But, the challenges of storm water-bourne pollution continues to grow. We have a long way to go before children can safely swim in our streams, fishermen can eat their catch, and you can drink water out of your tap without a filter.

Restoring a river is a complex scientific process, which, in the Potomac’s case, is made more complex by the diversity of the Potomac region. Rural areas, suburban towns, and urban cities all face different challenges that demand unique solutions. Potomac Conservancy has those solutions and is taking a strategic, targeted approach to address these problems. We are confident that through our hard work, along with our movement of 21,000+ constituents, we will make the Potomac cleaner for generations to come.

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Twenty-five years ago, a group of paddlers concerned about deteriorating conditions in the Potomac Gorge formed Potomac Conservancy. They saw unchecked development and clear cutting as having a deleterious effect on the quality of the water where they retreated for peaceful recreation. Today, the Conservancy focuses on the entire Potomac watershed. We care not just about what you see in front of the Kennedy Center, but about all the streams and rivers that flow into the Potomac. We care about having clean water to drink, and clean water in which to fish and recreate.

Restoring the river to full health is not just an environmental issue, it’s a matter of public health. We are fighting for all who rely on the Potomac for sustenance and we are driven by our movement of 21,000 activists, landowners, volunteers and donors who are fighting with us.

Our waters are only as healthy as the lands that surround them. We fight to save healthy lands in the Potomac’s headwaters by working one-on-one with private landowners to permanently protect forested, agricultural, streamside, and open space lands in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the South Branch River Valley of West Virginia.

We empower hundreds of volunteers every year to remove trash from the river’s shores and plant trees along degraded stream banks. Trees are nature’s “Brita Filters” and as such, planting them are one of the most effective, and least costly actions to take on behalf of the river’s health.

Finally, it is local, on-the-ground action coupled with state-led protections continue to be our best chance to save the Potomac and its streams.

  • We hold local leaders accountable for keeping clean water a top priority.
  • We protect the Potomac by advocating for clean water policies, promoting river friendly growth, and restoring local waterways.
  • We also activate local residents to speak up with us for these policies. We give them the tools and information to empower them to make a difference in their local communities.

People can reach us any time, either by directly calling the office or through our website and social media. We encourage people to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter “River Update” to find out about how they can become further involved. We direct readers to petitions or local actions they can take on behalf of the river. We also list our volunteer events as well as those of our partners.

We host many volunteer and recreation activities throughout the year at various locations in the DC-Metro area. There are several options for getting involved with us:

  • Potomac Stewards Trash Cleanups: We welcome volunteers of all ages to join us in removing trash from parklands surrounding the Potomac. We provide the supplies and know-how, all you need to bring is a smile and a willingness to get your hands dirty for clean water!
  • Growing Native: Every fall, we mobilize volunteers to gather acorns and other native tree seeds at select locations. After collection, we send the seeds to state nurseries to be grown into seedlings for use in conservation plantings. These seeds aid state foresters in the restoration of streamside forests throughout the region, containing polluted runoff, improving wildlife habitat, and contributing to increased watershed integrity and quality of life.
  • Tree plantings: In the Fall and Spring volunteers are invited to join us in planting native trees along degraded stream banks of the Potomac’s tributaries. Trees help stabilize stream banks to prevent erosion and serve as nature’s Brita filter, filtering out pollution from water running off the land before it can enter our waterways.
  • Paddle The Potomac: An Alternative Happy Hour. During the summer months, we host the Paddle the Potomac – An Alternative Happy Hour series for young professionals. Participants spend a summer’s evening paddling and networking off the shores of Georgetown. This opportunity to learn about and enjoy the Potomac River from the water has proven to be one of Potomac Conservancy’s most popular community offerings.

Hope and Balance at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

By Heller An Shapiro, Executive Director, ArtStream

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Every day, the staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) struggle to find hope and balance in a demanding position. In support of these compassionate men and women who care for wounded veterans, ArtStream, a local performing arts nonprofit, is proud to share You Are a Work of Art (YAWA).

This project, funded by the Prince Charitable Trusts, is designed for nurses, medics and technicians at WRNMMC to practice stress-management and self-care while building friendships through the arts.

ArtStream’s talented team of artists bring art projects, poetry, music, and camaraderie directly to the hospital staff. Sometimes, hospital staff engages with art in a five-minute pop-up project during the workday. Other times, they take an hour away from the job to eat, sing, make art, write poetry, and share their stories.

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Each year, the ArtStream program team meets with nursing staff to brainstorm project ideas for You Are a Work of Art. At one such brainstorming session, Dr. Judy Rollins, a consultant for ArtStream’s Military Hospital programs, recalls a nurse saying, “You know, there’s no history retained here because we come and go so often. It would be nice to have something that people could write in – put pictures in – so that we could remember each other and feel connected.”
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ArtStream’s Military Hospital programs team got to work, creating 75 wooden scrapbooks, one for each of the nurses’ stations and clinics at WRNMMC. One of the artists, Rosanne Singer, recalls the team’s commitment to the hard work, saying, “This was a team effort, and the tediousness of the job was alleviated by working together and knowing that these ledgers will hold meaningful memories for the nursing staff. Everyone worked for hours straight, sometimes laughing and joking, committed to getting the job done.”

The Legacy Ledgers live up to their name at the hospital. They are proudly displayed on bronze easels at each nurses’ station and clinic at WRNMMC. Some are painted or stained. Others have been decoupaged as a preview of the creativity within. Any hospital staff member, patient, or family member can pick up the Legacy Ledger and enjoy it.
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The hospital can be a stressful work environment, but it is also filled with supportive caregivers and uplifting stories. Inside the Legacy Ledger, many items create a history of the workplace. One page may have a nice note from a patient, the next may have a post-it note drawing from a former co-worker, long-gone from the hospital. Hospital staff members add pictures from parties, and craft projects from other You Are a Work of Art activities.

Once, at a You Are a Work of Art workshop, a nursing unit leader was so proud of his cupcake decorating skills that he said he would save a photo from the day in his unit’s Legacy Ledger.
A recent You Are a Work of Art project asked hospital staff to write a message about what it means to them to take care of others and to take care of themselves. The results were collected from all over the hospital and used to create a word cloud. This word cloud connects the feelings of nurses, medics, and technicians throughout the hospital. Each Legacy Ledger has a copy of the word cloud, further connecting the caregivers as a community.
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Some personnel at WRNMMC have requested Legacy Ledgers to display at their offices or clinics outside the main complex. They are inspired by the idea and want to create their own histories as they help wounded warriors heal beyond the walls of the hospital. Fortunately, ArtStream can fulfill these requests.

On behalf of the You Are a Work of Art team, Dr. Rollins, says, “We are really pleased with the response to the Legacy Ledgers. Prince Charitable Trusts wants our projects to be in partnership with the people we are serving. The success of the Legacy ledger project is proof that this is a sound approach for supportive programming.”

About ArtStream:
ArtStream is a performing arts nonprofit based in Chevy Chase, Maryland with programming throughout the Greater Washington DC Metro region. We believe that when people make their own choices and are engaged, stimulated, challenged and inspired, they surpass both their own and others’ expectations.

ArtStream’s programming includes Military Hospital programs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) and Inclusive Performing Arts programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including autism and other social and behavioral needs.
Military Hospital programs include Allies in the Arts, a bedside arts program for patients and families at WRNMMC, and You Are a Work of Art, which focuses on arts experiences to build resiliency for hospital staff at WRNMMC. Allies in the Arts was featured in the 2013 white paper Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum and the July 2015 issue of Art & Health. You Are a Work of Art was featured in the 2017 white paper Arts, Health and Well-Being in America.

ArtStream’s Inclusive Performing Arts programs include inclusive performing companies, performing arts classes, and classes that use the performing arts to teach social skills, self-advocacy, and pre-employment communication skills.
ArtStream’s inclusive performing companies perform for the public in Maryland and Virginia. See www.art-stream.org/see-a-show for a full schedule of events.
Inclusive Performing Arts programs welcome adult and teen volunteers to learn as peers with the participants. See www.art-stream.org/volunteers for volunteer opportunities. Provider organizations for people with disabilities may engage ArtStream teaching artists for one-time workshops or weekly classes. See www.art-stream.org/bring-artstream-to-your-community for more information.

Measuring Success with Smiles at Tracy’s Kids

by Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman, Tracy’s Kids

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Our mission at Tracy’s Kids is to help children with cancer cope with the emotional toll imposed by the disease & its treatment. We enrich the patient experience by embedding Masters-trained Art Therapists in hospital clinics right alongside the medical team.

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I was diagnosed with cancer as a ten year-old and appreciate the challenges and disruptions that the illness imposes on a child as well as his siblings and parents. Our Art Therapists help families work through their concerns and fears. Today, some 80% of children diagnosed with cancer will beat the disease and spend the overwhelming majority of their lives cancer free. Our goal is to help them navigate this chapter of their lives and not let having been sick define who they are.

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Recently a parent of one of our kids — an oncologist himself — had tears in his eyes when he told us,

“Tracy’s Kids saved our family. The chemotherapy drugs are essentially the same in every hospital — what makes a difference to families is the type of care they receive. The therapeutic boost that Art Therapy provides is invaluable.”

We measure our success with smiles at Tracy’s Kids. Our Facebook page has picture after picture of kids looking happy despite the fact that they are enduring painful treatments, and having their lives disrupted. Parents tell me all the time that their children look forward to going to the clinic because our Art Therapists make it a safe space where kids can be kids — not sick kids — just kids sitting alongside others getting similar treatments. Many of our kids paint such a rosy picture of their clinic experience that their healthy friends sometimes accompany them to their treatments. That sentiment is inconceivable to me — and is proof positive that we are making a real difference.

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This coming March marks our Twentieth Anniversary. Tracy’s Kids started at Georgetown University Hospital and we are now in seven clinics in five states and have provided over $5 million in Art Therapy programs. We estimate that we work with 80% of the kids in the DC metro area who are battling cancers and blood disorders.

One of the things I am most proud of is that we are a lean operation that is laser focused on our programming — which is provided free-of-charge to those we serve. In 2016, 83% of our spending went to Art Therapist salaries and art supplies.

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We appreciate any and all support people are willing to offer. Whether it is spreading the word about us during the Combined Federal Campaign (#21655) or #GivingTuesday, hosting Art Supply Drives, or organizing any kind of fundraiser that helps sustain our wonderful program. Find us online at www.tracyskids.org

Excellence is Attainable with Young Artists of America

by Rolando Sanz, Producing Artistic Director & Co-Founder,Young Artists of America at Strathmore
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Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA) is the region’s premier training organization for collaborative performing artists. It is the only known program in the nation where high school students receive mentorship and individualized instruction from renowned artists while training to perform fully-orchestrated works of music-theatre in state-of-the-art venues.

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The heart of the work at Young Artists of America that it teaches students that excellence is attainable with disciplined hard work and focus. The lessons they learn at YAA about work ethic and finding joy in music and stagecraft are something that they will carry with them throughout their lives regardless of what they dedicate themselves to in college and beyond.


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For both my brother, Kristofer, and I, we were very fortunate to receive wonderful professional level training at the collegiate level from our mentors in our respective fields of orchestral music and voice. We wanted to create this same opportunity for high school and middle school students here in the D.C. community where we grew up and where we have chosen to raise our own families. Now, alongside our wonderful extended YAA family of teachers and professionals, we could not be more pleased to see our students blossoming on stage as well as in their own personal lives.

Come see us perform! Our students work incredibly hard and we love to share their efforts with as many people as possible. We hope you’ll be as moved by their work as we are!

There are occasional volunteer opportunities, but really, the most helpful thing people can do is spread the word about our mission and come out to support the student performances.

We’re always happy to take a phone call and can be reached at: (301) 272-8604.

 

Hope for the Future with Woodley House

By Linda Meixner, Development Director, Woodley HouseIMG_0675

Woodley House is a community-based organization dedicated to helping men and women struggling with persistent mental illness live full and healthy lives with dignity. We offer the opportunity to heal within a safe and comforting residential community as they work toward recovery and reclaiming their lives.

Woodley House serves over 300 adult men and women each year who have been diagnosed with severe mental illness, many of whom are lower-income and at risk of becoming homeless. We provide a residential housing program and supportive services needed to achieve greater independence. Mental illness cuts across all socio-economic and ethnic groups, but is often ignored or overlooked due to the entrenched stigma surrounding it. Woodley House exists to help our residents attain the stability and life skills needed to recover and reintegrate into their community.
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One in five of us will experience a mental health issue in the coming year — this affects us all. For some, this may be a temporary period of intense anxiety or depression, while for others, the reality will be much more severe and long-lasting. When your mind is working against you, it can be very isolating and the challenges of just living each day can be truly overwhelming.

Woodley House takes a whole-person approach, viewing our residents as individuals, not simply as clients with a diagnosis. We know that having a home with a welcoming, family-like environment is critical to achieving stability and hope for the future.

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We offer a range of housing, from short-term crisis stabilization, to longer-term group homes and finally, shared apartments throughout the city as part of our Supported Independent Living Program, so we are there – through each step of their journey to recovery. But simply providing a home, while very important, isn’t enough. People need to have the ability to maintain that home to be truly successful.

Woodley House offers personalized support through our Life Skills Trainers who meet with each resident, both individually and in groups, multiple times per week. They work together on issues particular to that resident, from basic hygiene and room/apartment maintenance, to budgeting, nutrition, communication skills and job readiness. We work with, not for, our residents and this very personal approach has proved successful for nearly 60 years.

Celebrating our 60th anniversary in 2018, we have succeeded by offering essential, life-changing services for a very vulnerable population.

  • “Success” for Woodley House means the ability to continue to provide our residential and supportive services long into the future for the men and women in the District who struggle each day with mental illness.
  • “Success” is also when our residents, helped by the daily support of Woodley House, overcome the vagaries of their mental illness and “graduate” to a bright, secure future by achieving and maintaining their stability in the most independent lives in the community that they can manage.
  • Many residents move on to greater independence in shared, semi-independent apartments, or to total independence. For others, their best success is achieved in a more structured environment helping them maintain a stable, full life.

Woodley House serves the full spectrum of people needing our help and we applaud them all.

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A basic tenet of Woodley House is that each person is viewed as an individual and will be treated with the dignity and respect that we all deserve. The goals of one resident might differ from those of another, but they all share the desire to remain stable and work toward fuller, more independent lives. Our residents come to us in varying stages of recovery, so success for some might mean appreciating a stable, caring home after years on the streets, while others may be further along on their journey, and a new job might be the highlight of their year.

One resident of Holly House recently got a part-time custodial job at Howard University and is so excited that she is always waiting by the curb at 6:30 in the morning for the van that picks her up at 7 to ensure that she won?t be late! Success for our residents is individual, but all share the goal of learning to live with their symptoms so that they can achieve the fullest, most productive life possible.

Woodley House has been serving our community for nearly 60 years, but has remained a secret to far too many over the years. We welcome the opportunity to introduce ourselves and share the critical role we play to those who turn to us each year. For more information about Woodley House, please contact development director, Linda Meixner lmeixner@woodleyhouse.org to arrange a tour or simply to find out a bit more about our program. Donations are ALWAYS welcome and can be made online at www.woodleyhouse.org or mailed to: Woodley House, Inc. 6856 Eastern Avenue, NW – # 300 Washington, DC 20012.

Unwavering Belief in the Potential of Youth with BUILD MetroDC

by Bryce Jacobs, Executive Director, BUILD Metro DC

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BUILD was created with the audacious notion that students at the highest risk of dropping out of high school have the power to become self-starters who can change the trajectory of their lives. BUILD has seen that holistic academic support, combined with business training, leads to long-term success both in the classroom and beyond high school. We like to say that, “entrepreneurship is the hook; college is the goal.”

Through the process of developing and managing their own businesses, BUILD students experience first-hand how their academics are not only relevant, but also crucial, to life beyond the classroom. The result is a vital sense of ownership over their education and careers. As the applicability of school to “real life” becomes clear, and as students gain important skills, the BUILD program stimulates their motivation, challenges them to set high expectations for themselves, and empowers them to succeed.
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BUILD holds an unwavering belief in the potential of youth. Unlike many other youth programs, BUILD Metro DC targets students who are not are not on-track academically and might not consider college an option. Furthermore, many BUILD students are at a socio-economic disadvantage, and will be the first generation in their family to earn a college degree.

For this school year, BUILD is serving nearly 350 students at six schools in the Metro DC area: Columbia Heights Education Campus, Eastern Senior High School, Friendship Collegiate Academy, Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy, Roosevelt Senior High School, and The SEED School of Washington, D.C. And, for the first time ever, BUILD is also working with the entire 8th grade class at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy Middle School.

In Washington, DC, only 69% of high school students graduate high school on time compared to the national average of 78%. Of those who do graduate on time, only 50% enroll in college. With such low graduation rates in DC, the dropout crisis does not just impact individual lives, it cripples our local economy and sets our city’s competitiveness behind. BUILD Metro DC launched in 2008 to stem the tide of high school dropouts and prepare students for college.

Our nation’s education system itself is woefully outdated. Students are not being taught the skills they need to thrive in the 21st Century, particularly in under-resourced communities in urban environments. BUILD aims to change that. With a focus on skills like creative problem solving, effective communication, self-management, collaborating effectively with others, grit and determination – what we describe as the “entrepreneurial mindset”. BUILD uses entrepreneurship to prepare young people for the Innovation Era and to get them engaged in their education.

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While I’m passionate about BUILD’s curriculum and how it engages our students with a very hands-on, experiential learning model, what truly inspires me are our students. There’s Jada and Imani, and Daniel, to name a few. They came to BUILD uncertain of the possibilities and opportunities available in their future, and exceeded their own expectations.

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For us, our outcomes speak for themselves. The impact of BUILD’s program on the achievement of low-income students is notable even after only one year: in the lowest performing schools in which BUILD serves students, BUILDers with just one year of BUILD graduate at a rate up to 56% higher than their peers. In higher-performing schools, BUILDers graduation attainment is 12-15% above the average for their low-income school peers.

The results of BUILD’s program speak to the impact of our model on student achievement and success. Since BUILD Metro DC’s first class of students became high school seniors in 2012, 95% of seniors have graduated from high school on time and 95% have been accepted to a college or university. In the 2016-17 school year, BUILD Metro DC’s accomplishments included a 100% on-time graduation rate for seniors and a 100% rate of acceptance to at least one college. Collectively, BUILD seniors were accepted to 100 colleges and won $1.4m in scholarships.

Further, BUILD students persist in college at a higher average than their peers. Research conducted by BUILD demonstrated that BUILD’s 2013 graduates enrolled in more four-year colleges, compared to two-year colleges, than their peers at the national level. For BUILD’s target demographic of low income, 100% minority, urban high school students, 75% of BUILD students in 2013 enrolled in a four-year college compared to 57% nationally. Moreover, BUILD students are on track to have higher college graduation rates within six years than the national average for both the target demographic of low-income minority students, and overall nationally.

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Because the nature of our work is so collaborative, a great day at BUILD is when everyone – program staff, BUILD teachers, mentors, and students – are in sync. In practice, that means teachers, staff and mentors are creating a safe and inclusive space for learning, collaboration and creativity. It means students are not just dreaming about but acting on their desire to start a business, tour prospective colleges and experience potential careers with professionals who host them throughout the city. It means that we are working relentlessly to reduce the opportunity gap for our students and work together to collectively impact our student’s success.

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BUILD could not do our work without the involvement of committed volunteers. Mentors play a critical role by working with students on a weekly basis to support their businesses and academics. Annually, BUILD recruits and trains 100 mentors who fulfill their mentor requirements of working with students (10th – 12th graders) on a weekly basis, starting in the 6th week of the school year, for 1.5 hours per week, to support their business and academic pursuits. Mentors are college-educated professionals who expose students to different career options while serving as reliable, caring adults.

BUILD also offers one-time volunteer opportunities where professionals from the community serve as judges at Business Pitch Competitions or serve on college and career panels.

Individuals interested in volunteering and supporting BUILD should contact us at builddcinfo@build.org.

Washington Improv Theater: The Case for Laughter

by Sarah Marksteiner, Washington Improv Theater
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A Need for Laughter
In Washington, D.C. (and throughout the country), people crave connection and community – yet we increasingly isolate ourselves. While our world becomes more digitally connected, we grow increasingly disconnected from one another, caught up in the grind of DC life. Now, more than ever, we need to find common ground and engage. We need to laugh and communicate with one another.

Washington Improv Theater has created a space that ignites genuine human connection – a community fueled by the deeply impactful nature of longform improv. At WIT, improv brings people from diverse backgrounds, often with seemingly little in common, together to learn and play in a safe and judgement-free zone. Through improv that WIT aims to unleash the creativity of Washingtonians.

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Inspiring levity through dynamic, one-of-a-kind performances
Artists at WIT practice longform improv, an exercise of live, collaborative theater in which actors can weave complex stories set in any space and cast themselves in any role. Each performance becomes an unscripted, thrilling world premiere. Washington Improv Theater hosts over 300 performances per year.

Improvisation as a form uniquely engages audiences by sharing with them the moment of creation. Our community of six company ensembles and seven Harold teams establishes warm rapport with our audiences as they create one-night-only works of art. WIT also stages special project shows including the satirical mock election POTUS Among Us where improvisers lobby for audience votes and the dark, dramatic murder mystery Citizens’ Watch inspired by the British TV series Broadchurch.

A treasured patron tradition is our weekly free Harold Night, where our teams bring new life to the classic format. Each night ends in a community-wide improv ‘jam’ where novice audience members can try their hand at improv alongside seasoned performers and current students.

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Creating connecting through arts education
At WIT, we believe improv is for everyone. Our inclusive classes program, which enrolls 1,500 annually, attracts a student body spanning age, career, and economic background to its curriculum. And we take accessibility seriously. We offer at least two free Improv for All workshops monthly, reaching every ward of the District. This year, we proudly launched our first Diversity Scholarship toward tuition in the classes program with the aim to ensure more diverse communities can pursue improv.

The benefits of improv skills like confidence, creativity, and supportive collaboration are universal. Our WIT@Work program enhances these skills in the professional sphere by conducting applied improv training seminars in the workplace. WIT@Work more than doubled in scope last year alone, bringing a spirit of “Yes, and” to organizations like Deloitte, Goodwill, NIH, The American Red Cross, and NPR.

Our growing youth programming teaches the District’s kids the power of positive collaboration and creativity. Our work includes engagements at DC Public Elementary Schools such as a semester-long after-school program at Marie Reed Elementary School.

Get involved in our community
There are a myriad of ways you can get involved with Washington Improv Theater.

Friendly Visitors and Strong Partnerships at Senior Services of Alexandria

by Mary Giordano & Mary Lee Anderson

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Every week in the City of Alexandria, more than sixty volunteers visit a senior for an hour or more in their home, apartment, assisted living or healthcare community through the Friendly Visitor Program of Senior Services of Alexandria.

The program is designed to enhance the quality of life of socially isolated seniors by providing social interaction, mental stimulation and emotional support.

Recently, a volunteer, Paul, was matched with “Mr. S.”, who was the Clerk of the Supreme Court during the time Thurgood Marshall was a Justice of the Supreme Court. As a videographer, Paul plans to create an oral history of the many fascinating stories “Mr. S” tells during their visits.

Another volunteer, Megan, is visiting “Mrs. V.”, who received a Master’s Degree in Mathematics in the 1940s and was one of the first women to work on scientific computers in the country. Megan plans to bring the movie, “Hidden Figures”, on an upcoming visit to watch together.

A few of the volunteers bring their dogs or small children on their weekly visits. Some pairs play cards or Scrabble together or go to activities within the assisted living community including musical performances, bingo and chair yoga. The unanimous sentiment of both the seniors and volunteers in this unique program is the realization that what starts as a weekly visit becomes much more than that – a special friendship.

Senior Services of Alexandria and Rebuilding Together Alexandria, are teaming up to provide free in-home safety inspections for seniors who currently receive Meals on Wheels. This program came about from the “Meals on Wheels America” campaign to provide seniors with a “more than a meal” support so they can remain in their homes as they age.

Earlier this summer, “Meals on Wheels” clients received a flyer from Senior Services of Alexandria for a free home safety check by Rebuilding Together Alexandria. Several clients requested free home repair services from Rebuilding Together. Our Senior Services of Alexandria staff responded and developed an “action plan” to correct any hazards. We will continue to provide the information about the safety checks to any new clients added to Meals on Wheels program.

“Conducting a home safety check can go a long way in preventing problems that could lead to a fall, other injury, or loss of independence,” stated Katharine Dixon, President & CEO of Rebuilding Together Alexandria. “By spotting these hazards and taking some simple steps to correct them, seniors can continue to live at home safely.”

At the core of the “Meals on Wheels” service is a nutritious meal, companionship and a watchful eye on the health and safety of our seniors. Adding the home safety inspection is just another way of ensuring that Alexandria seniors are remaining safe in their own homes and aging with independence and dignity.

If you know of a senior living in Alexandria who would benefit from this program or have an interest in volunteering, please Mary Giordano, Program Director, at (703)836-4414 Ex. 120 or by email at friendlyvisitor@seniorservicesalex.org.

Back to School For Young Social Entrepreneurs

by Emma Strother, Development Manager, LearnServe International

As the DC area heads back to school, LearnServe International is preparing to help a new year of changemakers take action on pressing social issues. Imagine if every student graduated high school with the business skills, vision, and tenacity to launch social ventures to benefit their communities.

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Our 60 new LearnServe Fellows represent 30 public, independent, and charter schools from across the region. How do we build a cohesive community? Get them outdoors!

We are thrilled to have built a partnership with another Catalogue for Philanthropy member organization For Love of Children (FLOC). This is our 10th year working together, and we look forward to many more! Through ziplining, ropes courses, team-building activities, and an overnight stay–complete with a campfire and marshmallows, of course–our LearnServe Fellows build trust and understanding during a weekend at FLOC’s outdoor campus.

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LearnServe Fellows use this inspiration and collaborative spirit to create social change projects to serve their communities and schools. In the past, our students have launched a concussion detection app, a fleet of electric school buses, and a college scholarship fund for children of incarcerated parents, among many other ventures. Young people’s calls to action, understanding, and hope are more important than ever — so LearnServe is creating a culture of youth-led social innovation in our region.

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Preparing Students for a Complex and Changing World With Center for Inspired Teaching

By Rebecca Bauer, Project Manager, Inspired Teaching
BlogPhoto1Only weeks after beginning my job at Inspired Teaching, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Intensive component of the organization’s signature program, the Inspired Teaching Institute. At the Institute, educators participate in hands-on, improvisation-based activities to align themselves around best-practices for engagement-based instruction.

When I arrived on Day 1, I didn’t know exactly what that meant or what I should expect, but I’d been told the Institute is something I had to experience to truly understand. Less than two weeks later, I’d bonded with a cohort of amazing teachers, danced and sang, lesson planned and discussed ways to address students’ needs.

I’d used yo-yos to learn about inquiry-based education. I’d honed my ability to think creatively by overcoming obstacles while climbing imaginary mountains. Now, I was beginning to truly understand: when colleagues had told me that Inspired Teaching leads transformative teacher trainings, they really meant transformative.

A particularly impactful activity challenged teachers to examine their understanding of discipline and what that word means and looks like. Gathered around two sheets of chart paper, the facilitator sternly said, “This school needs more discipline,” and asked the group to share what words come to mind when they think of “discipline.” Teachers began shouting out words. Punishment. Consequences. Control. They had no trouble brainstorming a vast list. Suspension. No Recess. Phone call home. After the sheet of chart paper was covered in words that gave many flashbacks to their own days of being sent to the principal’s office, the facilitator told us to close our eyes. “Imagine you are a skilled artist,” she said. We sat focusing on this idea for a moment, envisioning our crafts, the skills that we’d honed. “Now open your eyes. Tell me what words come to mind when I say discipline.” An entirely new list began to form. Dedication. Focus. Self-control. Sacrifice. Passion. We examined the two lists, noting the stark differences, pointing out that the lists had very few words in common. The activity left participants thinking about how schools need to shift from enforcing a rigid set of rules to preparing students to be good citizens of our complex and rapidly changing world.

FILE2369Through thought provoking activities like this one, as well as many others that required more flexibility (physically, emotionally, and mentally), the Institute demonstrated that – for both teachers and students – creativity and rigor are not mutually exclusive, but rather go hand in hand.

In addition to being a fun, joyful and refreshing program, it was inspiring to witness the teachers engage in serious reflection on their practices, learning about themselves and discovering new ways to reach their students. One teacher commented, “Institute has helped me look at the types of ways I can elevate my teaching practices emotionally, psychologically, and physically.” Another shared, “Institute has fine-tuned my metacognition and skills of perception.” Most importantly, while teachers celebrated the growth that took place at the intensive, they also acknowledged that there is always more work to be done – which is why the Institute includes seminars and ongoing support throughout the year.

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The Inspired Teaching Institute, comprised of the summer Intensive and seminars throughout the school year, is only one of Inspired Teaching’s many programs that serve teachers and students in the DC area. From the Residency program that prepares pre-service teachers for successful, sustainable careers to Real World History, a hands-on course that provides students an internship experience where they cultivate the skills of an historian, all of our programs authentically engage participants to become changemakers in their schools, districts, and communities.

Given that students report feeling bored during 70% of their time in school and stressed for 80% of it, we need changemakers now more than ever. If you’re questioning whether Inspired Teaching’s professional development can really impact these bleak statistics, if you’re skeptical that we can create meaningful changes to our education system, one teacher at a time, I hear you. Two weeks ago, I was skeptical, too, but I’ll tell you what my colleagues told me: You have to experience it to truly understand.

Knowing that seeing is believing, we host visits to our programs each month. If you’d like to see Inspired Teaching in action, sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates!