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Celebrating Milestones: HomeAid Northern Virginia Completes 150th Project Renovating Homeless Shelters & Rebuilding Lives

Written by Kristyn Burr, Executive Director and CEO of HomeAid Northern Virginia

This summer, HomeAid Northern Virginia proudly completed its 150th project of building and upgrading emergency shelters and supportive housing facilities for those experiencing homelessness! These 150 projects have spanned:

  • building a brand new residence for runaway teens (Youth for Tomorrow in Bristow, VA)
  • renovating residences for female veterans experiencing homelessness (Final Salute in Fairfax, VA)
  • updating multi-unit supportive housing properties (Community Lodgings in Alexandria, VA)
  • expanding local food pantries (Loudoun Hunger Relief in Loudoun, VA)
  • installing upgraded security at domestic violence shelters (Artemis House in Fairfax, VA)

See a complete listing of HomeAid projects here.

We do this by connecting regional homebuilders and housing industry professionals with local nonprofit organizations focused on ending homelessness. Our building industry partners donate their expertise, time, and resources to renovate or build homeless shelters, housing facilities, and other spaces at little to no cost to the nonprofit service provider. Importantly, this allows HomeAid’s nonprofit partners to allocate their scarce resources on programming and supportive interventions such as job skills training and mental health services that improve lives and greatly facilitate the transition out of homelessness, rather than on construction/renovation costs.

150th Renovation: Winchester Rescue Mission

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Our milestone 150th project is our recent renovation of the Winchester Rescue Mission, which provides safe and secure housing for 33 individuals, serves up to 80 individuals at its nightly dinner, and operates a community food pantry — all within a historic 1930′s building that was in dire need of upgrade. HomeAid Northern Virginia with our “Builder Captain” Dan Ryan Builders and three construction trade partners installed new flooring throughout the building, repainted the entire interior, and replaced flooring and tiling throughout.

“This facility is critical to carrying out our mission of supporting individuals who are experiencing homelessness, and some of our programs — such as providing meals and offering laundry and shower facilities for resident and community use — are components that we feel can keep others from becoming homeless,” said Winchester Rescue Mission Executive Director Brandan Thomas, “There are so many in our community who are on the verge, and losing our ability to serve because of issues with our building would be truly devastating. We haven’t been able to make any updates to the building since 1985, so this renovation is a gamechanger. The cafeteria is probably the most incredible example, with luxury plank replacing a really worn concrete floor that had layers of peeling paint. It is a beautiful facility now, and all of the other changes allow us to service people more fully and more efficiently. This building is a source of pride for our whole community now, and we are so grateful.”

Winchester Rescue Mission

Winchester Rescue Mission

Winchester Rescue Mission

Winchester Rescue Mission

The Unique Challenge of Renovating Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic did not halt our work. Through deliberative and creative coordination with building crews, we were able to complete the Winchester Rescue Mission project and other projects already underway when the pandemic took hold. Balancing the need for worker safety, we and our building partners deployed small crews at different time intervals to finish projects.

In fact, construction is considered essential during these uncertain times, and new HomeAid projects continue to move forward today as housing and service providers prepare for a potential homelessness crisis in the region as coronavirus emergency protections end — and evictions begin. The need for supportive and affordable housing programs will be more keenly felt than ever. We are ready to serve and are looking strategically ahead to the next 150 projects in the coming years to build sustainable solutions to prevent and end homelessness and rebuild lives.

Real World Impact: Each Project Brings Hope & Dignity

Across our 150 projects, HomeAid Northern Virginia has invested more than $18 millionin building a better community and has generously donated $11 million in labor, time, materials, and expertise. This has real-world impact. This is money that our shelter partners can invest in people rather than on building projects, helping them with things like life skills and job training, rather than on building maintenance. This is money that means children have somewhere safe to go after school.

This is funding that helps close the enormous funding gaps that exist between what our community nonprofits need versus have — making a real difference in our ability to provide safe and stable places for the 167,000 people who have benefitted from our enhanced spaces as they work to regain their independence.

Most importantly, each of the 150 projects bring hope and dignity to individuals and families struggling to obtain stable housing and in need of critical wrap-around services. Adults and children experiencing homelessness can rebuild their lives in safe and dignified spaces thanks to our partnerships with homebuilders and construction trade partners who collaborate with us and our nonprofit partners to build solutions to end homelessness. These collaborative partnerships enable homebuilders to do what they do best (build!) and service providers to do what they do best (provide supportive programs and wrap-around services!). At the end of the day, our building projects rebuild lives and, as one of our nonprofit partners recently told us, “serve as a launchpad for new beginnings.”

HomeAid Northern Virginia launched the HomeAid 150 Campaign to commemorate this milestone, engage supporters, and make a difference in the lives of those experiencing homelessness.

“It is so special for the women in our program to move into a beautiful and newly upgraded residence like this. It helps them to feel, sometimes for the first time, that they themselves deserve to live in a beautiful space. It really reinforces to them that they are in the next chapter of their story. It reinforces to them their responsibilities to themselves and to the program. When you live in a space that is beautiful, you have to maintain it. You have to put in the work– both in this house and in their lives, inside and out. HomeAid Northern Virginia truly created a beautiful space to serve as a launch pad for new beginnings.”-Friends of Guest House executive director Kari Galloway

 

Adapting Project Soapbox in the Time of COVID-19

Written by Justine Hipsky, Program Director of Mikva Challenge DC

A bustling auditorium. Dozens of middle and high school students pouring in the front doors and following the signs down the escalators, some springing with excitement and some whispering to their friends and their teachers about how nervous they’re starting to feel. A lively registration table with pump-up music playing in the background and an assortment of colorful nametags out for the taking. The sound of 120 young people playing musical questions to start the day before launching into a spirited Rock Paper Scissors tournament, building community and shaking off any nerves. This is a typical start of Mikva Challenge DC’s annual Citywide Project Soapbox event, an electrifying in-person celebration of youth expertise.

One of Mikva Challenge DC's in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

One of Mikva Challenge DC’s in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

Mikva DC’s work revolves around amplifying youth voice and creating meaningful opportunities for DC’s young people to “learn democracy by doing democracy” through Action Civics, with one of our cornerstone programs being Project Soapbox. Project Soapbox asks young people to, well, get up on their soapboxes! Answering the prompt of “What is the most pressing issue facing your community, and what should be done about it?”, over a thousand middle and high school students from all eight Wards of DC write and deliver a 2-3 minute-long soapbox speech in their classrooms during the fall semester – on topics ranging from housing costs to gun violence to the inequities of public education – with finalists from every classroom attending our annual Citywide event each December.

Throughout a typical fall, we host professional learning community dinners and curriculum trainings for our incredible partner teachers. We visit schools, run guest lessons to kick off the Project Soapbox unit, and coordinate over 75 adult allies to visit these classrooms as civic partners and guest judges.

One of Mikva Challenge DC's in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

One of Mikva Challenge DC’s in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

Of course, now, as we look ahead to the start of a new school that seems anything but “typical,” we’ve been asking ourselves the same questions as so many others. How do we continue to support our teachers and students effectively in the lead up to Soapbox and beyond? And how do we meet this moment to not only adapt our existing model but to also innovate and improve?

A huge piece of this innovation has been to adapt our Issues to Action curriculum to accommodate both asynchronous and synchronous remote learning. Mikva’s Issues to Action curriculum guides students through six steps of community problem-solving:

  1. Identity and Community Analysis
  2. Project Soapbox: Issue Identification and Envisioning Change
  3. Research
  4. Power Analysis
  5. Strategizing and Taking Action
  6. Showcase and Reflection.

Not long after social distancing began, we collaborated as a national team to convert key lessons and activities to be student-facing. From media literacy to how to create a community asset map to how to identify a Project Soapbox issue, we’ve compiled an array of resources for this age of physically distanced education. After receiving teacher input, we are continuing to expand our digital activity offerings to cover the span of the Issues to Action curriculum and to create and share fun instructional videos, student-facing PowerPoints, as well as opportunities for students to attend virtual election events this fall.

We are thrilled to continue to provide as many digital resources to our teachers and students as possible to amplify youth voices remotely, but we also know that teaching and learning don’t happen in a bubble. Since we sadly can’t bring our teacher cohort together in person for training and fellowship in the coming months as we normally would, we hosted a highly interactive, three-day Action Civics Institute over Zoom in early August. During this institute, we modeled how to build community and develop empathy in virtual classroom spaces in preparation for Project Soapbox and held two immersive Project Soapbox sessions where teachers got to explore how to facilitate digitally, as well as write and deliver their very own powerful speeches! To close, we asked participating teachers to encapsulate their professional development experience in one word. Some of the responses included:

“Ready!”

“Inspired!”

“Invigorated!”

A recent Mikva Challenge DC's virtual teacher training

A recent Mikva Challenge DC’s virtual teacher training

To build on this momentum and further foster our professional learning community as we move from summer to fall, we have planned out a series of virtual teacher “dinners,” where programming will allow for community-building, best practice-sharing, and a chance to connect with Mikva DC staff.

As we move from summer into an unchartered new school year, we will be continuing to partner with our teachers to find out just what Mikva DC’s 2020 Project Soapbox will look like, sound like, and feel like. However, what we are certain of is that there is no stopping youth voices, and that DC’s young people need a microphone and a platform now more than ever. Project Soapbox speeches will still be delivered by middle and high school students from all eight Wards of the District, and we will be showcasing the finalists through an online platform.

We look forward to continuing to connect young people from across the city, as well as bringing youth voices directly to adult community members and elected officials. We may not have an auditorium this year, but we have this city’s leading community experts and they deserve to be heard.

If you are interested in learning more or serving as a Project Soapbox adult ally to support and celebrate DC youth voice this fall through our Project Soapbox program, please email Mikva Challenge DC’s Issues to Action Program Director, Justine Hipsky, at justine@mikvachallenge.org.

The Right to Dream

Written by Koube Ngaaje, Executive Director of District Alliance for Safe Housing

Imagine being 18 years old again, about to begin the journey into adulthood. No longer a child, but not yet a grown up, navigating the enormous changes and new demands that come at this major transition point in life. You might be exploring numerous new roles and transitions, leaving behind your adolescent support networks, finding a job, and forming more complex intimate relationships. It can be an exciting time, but unfortunately it is also a time of intense vulnerability.

Transitioning youth (aged 18 to 24 years) are more likely to experience domestic or sexual violence during this phase of their life than at any other time. The 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that almost half of women who experienced violence by an intimate partner first experienced it between 18 and 24 years of age. For marginalized populations, such as LGBTQ youth and those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, or exiting the foster care system, this period is particularly precarious, and their risk level is even higher.

To compound this issue, transitioning youth often have the least contact with support services. Transition services that are geared specifically to smoothing the progression from adolescent to adult services are few and far between, so these young adults are often pushed into adult services that are ill-prepared to meet their needs, especially as they recover from abuse. In DC, the experience of domestic violence is the most defining characteristic of homelessness or housing instability for this age group.

The District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) is the largest provider of safe housing for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Washington, DC. We believe that all survivors deserve a safe place to call home, including transitioning youth. This is why we have created our newest, innovative program, Right to Dream.

What is Right to Dream?

Right to Dream is a scattered site housing program for transitioning youth (aged 18-24 years) who are survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence and are experiencing housing instability or homelessness. Like all of DASH’s programs, it is survivor-centered, low-barrier, voluntary, and trauma-informed.

DASH 1

Through Right to Dream, 20 transitioning youth survivors will receive wraparound supports and housing assistance for up to two years. They will be partnered with a DASH advocate who will help them find and set up their new home in the DC Metro area, check in with them regularly, and help them develop a plan for their safety. DASH advocates will support participants to identify their long-term goals and help them eliminate the barriers to achievement, helping them gain the skills, knowledge and supports to be confident adults who break the cycle of power and control their abusers forced on them.

Right to Dream participants will have access to educational opportunities, job training and career planning as well as a range of other community-based supports to help them recover from their trauma and become empowered. The goal at the end of the program is for each participant to be economically secure and able to maintain the lease on their own or, if they choose, to move to similar lease, and transition to self-sufficient adulthood.

DASH 2

Why are we doing this?

There are very few long-term transitional housing programs in our area that cater specifically to transitioning youth survivors. DASH saw the immense need for support services for this population and designed the Right to Dream initiative to start filling the gap. Right to Dream will expand the availability of youth-friendly, survivor-focused, long-term transitional housing and services.

What are we hoping to accomplish?

Our Right to Dream program has two primary goals: to ensure short-term and long-term stability for transitioning youth survivors. We want to assist youth survivors to get stable housing right away, and we want to help them find long-term economic and housing stability, meaning a secure job, and a place they can call home. But ultimately, this program is about more than just providing safe housing. For many of these young people, the support DASH provides will help break intergenerational cycles of abuse and enable them to build lives free of violence.

You can learn more about the program on our website or contact us by emailing righttodream@dashdc.org.

DASH 3

 

The Poverty Pandemic

Written by Leah Paley, Executive Director of Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services

What a year it has been. COVID-19 served a devastating blow to those who were already experiencing hunger, homelessness, and fear of an uncertain future. I will personally never forget the shaky voice of the mother who called us from a motel with her four children crying in the background. At the height of the pandemic, she was running low on food and money to keep her family sheltered for another night. This call was just one of hundreds we have received over the past six months.

I asked our frontline staff to reflect on what things have been like at Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services (LARS) since the start of the pandemic. This is what our Emergency Services Manager, Alli Milner, shared with me:

What has work and/or life in general been like for you over the past few months since the pandemic started?

“During the pandemic it seems like even the simplest task has become complicated. Before, we could easily unlock our doors and allow clients to come in and sit down. We could easily hand them clipboards with their paperwork and collect their information. Now, our doors are locked and we have to wear masks and gloves. We try to avoid handing things like pens and clipboards to clients, and when we do, they are sanitized after use.”

What feelings have you had?

“Some days, I feel like we go non-stop. Right now, there are so many people who need support and it can get overwhelming. But, it has been great to see how people in the community are stepping up and supporting one another.”

What feelings or worries have your clients expressed?

“Clients are expressing a lot of concern for the future. Many of our clients have lost employment or they have been furloughed. There are also concerns for safety and some feel that by leaving their home to get help they are putting their health at risk.”

Although Maryland’s infection rate is declining, thousands of residents across Prince George’s County are terrified of losing their housing now that the moratorium on evictions has been lifted. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) reported that “Before the pandemic struck, a quarter of all renters – and 71 percent of extremely low-income renters – were paying over half their incomes for housing, too often leaving them one emergency away from eviction. Now we’re seeing millions of people all have those emergencies at once.”

Across Laurel’s four zip codes, the average housing wage (the hourly wage one must earn to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on rent) is $34.80, or $72,400 per year. This is more than three times the earnings of a minimum wage worker. A single parent working as a grocery store cashier would need to work over 120 hours PER WEEK just to afford basic shelter for their family. Essential workers in food, transportation, health, and other service industries are the backbone of our community, and this pandemic has made that even clearer. Yet these vital members of our community are up against impossible odds. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Despite the disheartening state of the world right now, we have also witnessed incredible acts of kindness in our community, like City of Laurel employees who helped us quickly transport food to that family in the motel, along with many of our senior and immuno-compromised clients. Or the young man who collected over 200 bags of toiletries for LARS in lieu of birthday gifts. And LARS’ Permanent Supportive Housing participant who called us to meet him at Giant to collect a cart full of groceries he had just purchased for our food pantry. Or LARS’ Self-Sufficiency Program participant who received a bonus at work and donated it to LARS to pass on to someone in greater need. Often, we see that those who have the least give the most. Because they know what it’s like to go without their basic needs met, and the difference it makes when that worry is lifted.

LARS Donation

 

 

Kindness, gratitude, and hope have propelled our organization forward through this dark time. Let us make this collective experience a lesson on the importance of caring for all members of our society in good times and in bad.

For more information on LARS and how to get involved, visit www.laureladvocacy.org.

Adapting to COVID-19 and Moving Forward

Written by Jessica McLaughlin, Development and Communications Fellow of DC SAFE

Long before national headlines began highlighting the rise of domestic violence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, DC SAFE– the District’s only 24/7 crisis intervention agency for domestic violence– was preparing for a surge. We understood that survivors forced to stay inside with their abusers could only lead to one outcome.

All at once, COVID-19 further isolated survivors from their personal support networks and resources. Family and friends who could once offer temporary help, even spaces of refuge, could no longer afford to do so amidst their own health and financial concerns. Along with that, many community resources were cut off. As such, we knew we had to do everything we could to ensure that DC SAFE was fully operational and that survivors had a reliable resource for immediate support.

We swiftly shifted gears the day that Mayor Muriel Bowser initiated stay-at-home orders, going almost fully remote on March 13, 2020. There was no time to be stunned; the situation called for immediate action. Our first priority was to figure out how to maintain normal operations for our 24/7 Crisis Response program and SAFE Space Crisis Shelter.

COVID Data Dashboard (1)

We had to invest in new equipment, like Voice over IP phones, for advocates to facilitate our Response Line from home. The Response Line has historically operated as a hotline for first responders, such as police officers, hospital personnel, and other community partners. However, amidst COVID-19, along with the increasing demand for more alternatives to 911 throughout the summer, our Response Line has become an even more vital community resource.

Furthermore, while the DC Superior Court’s two Domestic Violence Intake Centers have remained closed, we have been diligent in adapting to newly instated online processes for survivors seeking Civil Protection Orders and other court-based services. We have even provided virtual court accompaniments!

While we do our very best every day to provide high quality services remotely, some emergency services still demand in-person attention. For example, our On Call advocates continue to meet clients after hours to check into shelter or bring grocery store gift cards to survivors placed in hotels. Our advocates in the field have been pillars of strength during this difficult time, and we have relied on them tremendously to provide support and comfort to survivors in crisis.

Other equally critical work takes place more behind the scenes. In mid-June, for instance, we joined many of our partners, including the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to campaign for a FY21 District budget that prioritized the needs of survivors. In anticipating a second surge in requests for services as stay-at-home orders began to lift, we had to advocate for a budget that would match those future needs. We asked for a $5 million dollar addition to victim services across the city.

Included in the $5 million ask was $3 million to be allocated toward a new facility for our SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, which will be able to house over 700 survivors and their families each year when completed. This will double our current capacity. We are proud to report that the DC Council voted unanimously to include the $3 million in their final budget. This allows us to move forward with the project; and we are planning to break ground in early 2021!

Crisis Shelter Rendering

While the $3 million allocation is a success worthy of celebration, there remains substantial needs around domestic violence in our community and we hope you’ll consider showing solidarity with survivors as COVID-19 continues. We will continue to do our part to remain clear and transparent about our needs and progress. We have taken several steps to accomplish this so far:

  • Starting June 18th, we have shared weekly graphs on our social media accounts to showcase the work of our Response Line, reporting the total incoming calls and total minutes spent on the phone.
  • We’ve also included important updates in our monthly newsletters.
  • And we just launched a brand new COVID-19 Impact Dashboard on our website that provides up-to-date information regarding the work of our Response Line, SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, hotel placements, legal support. This page also contains links to helpful resources for clients and other providers amidst the pandemic.

Our goal is to show our community the most up-to-date data to display the real-time impact we see every day.

Lastly, we have seen the imperative to share our newfound knowledge and expertise both locally and globally. In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, two of our team members led a training seminar, “Practical Guidance for Hotline Services for Women Survivors of Violence in the Context of COVID-19,” for domestic violence service providers located throughout Latin America. We are all in this together and we know there is enormous value in sharing our resources.

Amidst all of our efforts throughout the pandemic, we have been so acutely focused on our responsibility to survivors, so it was a real honor to hear our colleague, Cortney Fisher, Deputy Director of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, recently share this: “We often think about in our office when things can’t seem crazier and we actually say to ourselves ‘DC SAFE does this and more!’ You’re literally holding DC together right now, and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, you’re one speck of hope and help in what may seem like a no win situation for many, many people.”

We are so grateful for our incredible community of supporters, partner organizations, fellow advocates, survivors, and neighbors. The immediate future is still very uncertain, and at times overwhelming. But we have a network of formidable women and forward-thinking men who will see us through COVID-19 to the other side. And we will move forward together.

 

Empowering Girls – Still Vital, Now Virtual!

Written by Carly Abarbanel, Program Director of Girls on the Run-DC

At Girls on the Run-DC, we believe that every girl, everywhere, in every circumstance deserves the resources and support to activate her limitless potential. While no one can be sure of what this school year holds, we are sure of one thing: joy, empowerment, and confidence are NOT cancelled!

As Girls on the Run-DC coaches, we teach our girls to cope with difficult feelings and situations, to do what’s right, to set goals and work to achieve them, and support their friends and communities; at the Girls on the Run-DC office, we’re putting those same lessons to work.

While we are still offering Fall 2020 in-person programming for a limited number of sites who are choosing to implement our safety guidelines, Girls on the Run-DC will be hosting a mostly virtual season this fall.

At Girls on the Run-DC, we’re excited for a strong virtual season running September 8th through November 14th, and we hope that by the end of this post, you will be too!

GOTRDC 1

Why should I care?

  • 97% of Girls on the Run participants report learning critical skills to manage emotions, resolve conflict, help others, and make intentional decisions. These skills are essential to our girls’ success this year, and they will continue to be vital through and past the pandemic.
  • Girls on the Run-DC serves as an additional level of support for our girls as they navigate these challenging times with the leadership of our trauma-informed and inclusivity-trained coaches.
  • Girls on the Run was one of the only three after school programs recognized by researchers at Harvard University as a top research-based Social and Emotional Learning program.

What’s the same?

  • The skills and lessons in the curriculum tailored to 3-5th graders (Girls on the Run) and 6th-8th graders (Heart & Sole)
  • Teams will remain the same throughout the season, facilitating an environment for the girls to create lasting connections and friendships
  • Teams will still meet twice per week
  • A celebratory 5K equivalent
  • Girls get t-shirts and medals
  • Two certified Girls on the Run-DC trained coaches per team of 6-12 girls
  • Payment will still be collected on sliding scale based on self-reported household income

What’s new?

  • Virtual practices last only 45 minutes on the team’s online platform. Though the practice times will include a lot of movement and activity as part of the lesson, the lesson will end with a preview of the workout girls then complete on their own in or around their homes.
  • Every girl will receive a Girls on the Run program journal to use throughout the season to track her goals and progress.
  • The Virtual 5K Week (November 8th- 14th) provides girls and Community Runners the chance to participate in the celebratory event in a way, space, and time that meets their unique needs.

If you know a girl interested in finding joy, friendship, confidence, grit, and a number of other social emotional skills while she develops healthy and active habits, have her check out our website, gotrdc.org/register-now, and sign up for a life-changing virtual season!

GOTRDC 2 GOTRDC 3

“I’m Stronger Than I Think” – Reflecting on a Year Serving Mothers and Children

Written by Xiomara Munoz, Program Assistant at The Northwest Center

Xiomara Munoz

As I reflect on this year of service, one word continues to encapsulate my emotions: gratitude.

I’m so thankful for my time working as a Program Assistant at the Northwest Center. This year has been filled with practicing accompaniment, witnessing joy and hope and walking with mothers who face immense difficulties, but who remain resilient and brave in the face of these challenges.

One of my favorite memories from a conversation I had with a client was when she was opening up with me about the joys and struggles of motherhood. She shared how she had really surprised herself by her own resilience as a new mom. She paused midway through the conversation and seemed to be thinking out loud as she reflected, “You know, I’m stronger than I think.” I felt empowered just listening to her embrace her own strength. For me, that’s the beauty of accompaniment; basking in a strength unveiled.

Sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes the moms don’t see their strength right away, sometimes the daily challenges that they’re up against seem a little less conquerable. But I’ve learned that this too is the beauty of accompaniment; being there to remind the moms that their strength is there, yet unveiled, but still, undoubtedly, there.

I’ve been inspired day in and day out, by the moms who come to the center and also by the staff and their dedication and service to each and every one of our clients. Again, it’s the beauty of a strength and compassion that gives without counting the cost.

Thank you to the moms who have been more inspiring to me than they’ll know. For their courage in vulnerability and for how they have exemplified the strength of a mother’s self-sacrificing love.

Thank you to the staff and volunteers who never failed to give their all. I’ve been encouraged and uplifted by their commitment to a holistic approach to caring for all life. Thank you for all the hidden ways you’ve given of yourself.

I’m overcome with gratitude that I could be a witness to authentic accompaniment, to hope, and to the promise of unveiled strength that new life and motherhood always brings. What a gift this year has been and all I can say is, thank you.

This reflection was written by Xiomara Munoz, who served the past twelve months as The Northwest Center’s Pregnancy Center Program Assistant during her volunteer year with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps.

To find out how you can support The Northwest Center in its mission to serve women and babies, contact Kelly Marcum at kelly@northwestcenter.net or visit the Center’s website.

 

How Court Appointed Special Advocates Support Trauma-Impacted Youth

Written By Allison Kahn-Pauli, Chief of Staff for CASA for Children of DC

Trauma. A word that is heavy with meaning. Acute trauma. Complex trauma. Historical trauma. What do you think when you hear the word trauma? Perhaps a specific event in your life comes to mind, or one experienced by another. An injury, a natural disaster, an experience that has left lasting marks.

When CASA for Children of DC hears trauma, we think about the trauma of youth who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect. We think about the trauma of foster youth who have been removed from their homes, separated from their family, their friends, their community. We think about the cycle of trauma that may have led to an abusive or neglectful home. And we think about the impact of childhood trauma: affecting brain development, predisposing youth to dysregulated emotion, behavior, memory, and processing, impacting youths’ success in education, building life skills, and overall well-being.

But we think too, about resilience – the ability to overcome trauma. Positive, consistent, adult relationships have been identified as a significant protective factor in mitigating the impact of trauma and in helping to build resilience. We think about what we can do, as an organization, and a community, to build resilience in our youth.

CASA for Children of DC provides positive and consistent adult figures to court-involved youth in the District of Columbia through Court Appointed Special Advocates – CASA volunteers. CASA volunteers are recruited from the community and specially-trained to provide support to trauma-impacted youth. CASA volunteers form a mentor-like relationship with children and youth, engaging them in positive activities, and assisting them with goal attainment. Based on the relationship developed, CASA volunteers represent their youth’s best interests in Court.

CASA DC Photo 3

CASA volunteers are trained to support youth across four domains designed to mitigate the impact of trauma: Permanency, Education, Well-Being, and Life Skills. Throughout this work, CASA volunteers help to build the “7 C’s of Resilience” in youth:

  • Competence – Gaining mastery over topics, learning skills, improving in school
  • Confidence – Building self-confidence
  • Connection – Helping connect to community, extracurriculars, peers, family members
  • Character – Knowing one’s self, developing interests & hobbies, being a role model
  • Contribution – Connecting to community service, giving back
  • Coping – Identifying & developing alternative coping mechanisms like yoga, writing, sports; advocating for therapy
  • Control – Helping youth to self-advocate, goal-setting

CASA DC believes that together, we can help mitigate the impact of trauma and help court-involved youth to thrive.

CASA DC Photo 2

Take, for example, Sahara*, removed from her mother at 7 years old due to substance use and neglect, who had been left to parent her younger siblings time and time again. Who told others that she was made to sleep on the floor because she was “bad.” Behind in school and struggling to read, Sahara had a strong desire to learn. So Sahara was connected with a CASA volunteer who helped her to write stories, encouraging her to build competency and confidence in her reading and writing. Sahara became an honor roll student. With her CASA volunteer, Sahara discovered recreational activities and a passion for art, building character. Her CASA consistently advocated for therapy, ensuring that Sahara had appropriate supports for coping. And as Sahara’s mother demonstrated consistent sobriety and improved parenting, the CASA supported that connection, working with the whole family towards successful reunification.

Consider Myra*, placed in foster care at 16 following an incident of physical abuse. When matched with her CASA volunteer, Myra was struggling with mental health and emotional dysregulation, in addition to being a teenage mother. Though Myra did not engage well with her interdisciplinary team, she and her CASA formed a strong connection, providing Myra with a consistent supportive adult figure. Myra and her CASA worked together for over three years until she emancipated from care on her 21st birthday. During that time, Myra’s CASA volunteer helped her to gain control over unstable placement arrangements and to identify employment so that Myra aged out with a stable home for parenting youth and a job.

Like Sahara and Myra, there are over 800 court-involved youth in the District of Columbia, who have been impacted by childhood trauma. But like Sahara and Myra, they too can find connection and resiliency in a Court Appointed Special Advocate. If you want to change a child’s story or wish to learn more about the work of CASA for Children of DC, please contact our Executive Director, Arika Orozco, at aorozco@casadc.org or visit our website.

CASA DC Photo 1

Continuing to Build Our Community Virtually

Written by Carole Trevey and Carolyn Jeppsen of BroadFutures

BroadFutures is revolutionizing the way young people with learning and related disabilities prepare for the workforce through an innovative training, mentoring and paid internship program. Like most organizations, COVID-19 threw us a hefty number of curveballs for our summer internship program. Our program is founded on community, peer to peer learning and interaction, both in our training and at the internships.

No longer able to meet in person or to engage our participants in internships, we could have easily foregone our summer program completely. However, in so doing, it would have been the young people we serve who would have lost out. Not being able to help them realize their potential and abilities would have been contrary to the very heart of our mission. We therefore made the important decision to move forward with programming – only this time, it would be completely in the virtual setting and focused on training and mentoring. In early June, we introduced our first-ever virtual Summer Strengths Program with participants from all over the country. The program consisted of a five-week intensive and interactive program focused on college and career readiness. From 9:30am to 2:30pm, Monday through Friday, each day was filled with interactive workshops, thoughtful discussions, and curriculum-reinforcing games. Our curriculum is focused on ensuring that our participants learn their strengths and where they need support, as well as strategies for success. We cover a wide variety of topics, including developing professional communication and self-advocacy skills, mastering effective time management and executive functioning skills, building and refining resumes and LinkedIn profiles, practicing how to ace a job interview, understanding financial literacy, and so much more. Our online curriculum mirrored our in-person curriculum and stayed true to our mission by integrating the arts, as well as mindfulness and yoga.

Our curriculum stressed the importance of accommodating alternative learners and ensuring that our program was fun, engaging, and relevant to our participants’ future success. With the use of virtual breakout rooms, direct instruction limited to short periods of time, the incorporation of drama, yoga/mindfulness sessions, and games, the participants successfully remained engaged throughout the entire day, making the program an overwhelming success. Our biggest success, however, was the cohort itself. They created an incredible community of diverse learners. They all grew together with compassion, empathy, patience and earnest appreciation of each other – in just five short weeks.

On the first day of the program, one by one the participants clicked the program-assigned Zoom link, immediately throwing them into a virtual space they had never experienced before as a community. Unsure of how to navigate the virtual world in a Zoom meeting with people they had never met, everyone was hesitant at first to speak up. They were even perhaps a bit nervous because this was new territory for everyone, including our own BroadFutures staff. By the last week the picture of our cohort was very different. They happily engaged in conversations and helped each other out when needed, an incredible testament of how far they came in terms of navigating the virtual space and building their own community.
BroadFutures Hats

It has been quite extraordinary to witness how relationships can develop so quickly in a virtual setting. Even though the participants are not having the in-person internship experience, they are still taking something equally valuable from the BroadFutures program. Ultimately, our participants were given the space to connect with young people who were experiencing similar struggles, successes and triumphs; these shared experiences bringing them together as a community. This especially came to light when we challenged the participants to reflect back on their experiences within the program and our BroadFutures community. Their responses on a piece of gratitude they would take with them from the program were awe-inspiring. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Learning in spaces with other people”
  • “Everyone’s unique outlooks and insights”
  • “How we work as a team”
  • “Friendship”
  • “How we communicate with each other and the bonds that we have – I will miss this a lot when I go back to school”

Responses like these helped to validate that BroadFutures’ value holds strong even with the program being held virtually. To continue creating spaces for individuals with learning and attention issues to come together, we have decided to hold a virtual Fall Program as well! The fall program will be much like the summer program – held entirely over Zoom, providing an inclusive and interactive college and career readiness curriculum that integrates the arts as well as yoga and mindfulness. Participants can also opt to sign up for an additional four weeks where they can work on an independent project or portfolio of their choosing with the support and guidance of the BroadFutures team.

To learn more about the Fall 2020 Strengths Program, download our flyer here. In addition, we are holding two virtual information sessions:

  • July 21st, 10:00am EST
  • August 18th, 10:00am EST

Please RSVP to ctrevey@broadfutures.org to receive the Zoom link.

If you are interested in signing up for the fall program, please fill out this form. We are looking forward to continuing to serve our community and unlocking the potential of the amazing young people who drive our mission.

Washington Urban Debate League Brings Home (Virtual) National Debate Championship

Written by David Trigaux, Program Director of the Washington Urban Debate League

The COVID 19 pandemic derailed the school year mid-semester. Teachers were given a single weekend’s notice in some instances that they were going online on Monday, schools scrambled to address the digital divide, and many students were lost in the shuffle or just gave up on the semester amid the chaos. Dire warnings about learning loss and exacerbating opportunity gaps fly fast and frequent, with few structural solutions in sight as the school year ends and we start looking towards the fall. This chaos has been magnified by the disproportionate impact of the virus on the black and brown members of the greater Washington community and the ongoing protests (and the government response) against racial injustice and police brutality, especially here in D.C.

It’s been a tough few months for the D.C. community, but I’m here today to share a bit of good news: a pair of intrepid young middle schoolers, representing a tiny D.C. charter school, overcame the steep odds and the pivot online amidst the pandemic and won a national debate championship.

Eighth graders David Sipos and Samantha Perkins of Inspired Teaching Demonstration School were among the 6 partnerships (from Capital City [x2], EL Haynes, Washington Latin, and Benjamin Tasker) that qualified to represent the Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL)* at the Urban Debate Middle School National Tournament in May 2020. Originally scheduled to be hosted in Tulsa, Oklahoma this season, the national tournament was one of the first in the country (and one of the few national competitions of any kind) to pivot online and actually happen this spring, giving at least a few young people the culminative experience they’d worked so hard to achieve all year.

Samantha Perkins and David Sipos at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute Summer 2019. They won first place in the JV Division despite only being in middle school

Samantha Perkins and David Sipos at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute Summer 2019. They won first place in the JV Division despite only being in middle school

The WUDL qualifiers hardly missed a beat, shifting to online preparation sessions with their coaches and our Program Coordinator, Dara Davis, several times a week on top of their schoolwork and all the turmoil that was April. This year’s topic was global arms sales, with students considering questions of national security such as the wars (and human rights situations) in Yemen, Ukraine, and beyond. While a different WUDL program (Kenmoor Middle School) took home the top prize at least year’s Middle School National Tournament, the number of competitors more than doubled this year, and we did not have realistic aspirations of repeating the title. We asked each qualifying pair what their goals were, and most simply said that they wanted to win more rounds than they lost, or at least not embarrass themselves.

The tournament was the first event of its kind that any of the participants had attended before. Normally, students (in this case, from around the nation) would gather at a school or university, toting laptops and tubs of evidence to debate a timely question of public policy. Tournaments are highly social events, with students laughing and joking in the hallways and having serious discussions about some of the biggest questions (often with more sophistication than some political leaders). The normally lively and exciting atmosphere was replaced by a student’s home and the quiet of spending most of a weekend online, debating and chatting with friends and competitors alike via Zoom.

David and Samantha at a local WUDL tournament at DC International in Fall 2019, winning trophies, as usual.

David and Samantha at a local WUDL tournament at DC International in Fall 2019, winning trophies, as usual.

Through the early rounds, Samantha and David did well, defeating teams from Kansas City and Brooklyn before lunch on Saturday, but they hadn’t faced powerhouse teams from Harlem or Boston yet. Helping administer the competition, I didn’t get a chance to check in with them again until the awards ceremony that evening, where they expressed cautious optimism. As awards were announced, David and Samantha were undefeated through preliminary rounds. David was named the nation’s 7th best individual speaker, (out of 72 national qualifiers, and thousands more who didn’t qualify) and they advanced to elimination rounds, along with 5/6 of the WUDL qualifiers. We were extremely proud and pleased.

On Sunday, they entered their second straight long day online — after 11 hours of screen time the previous day! Round after round, they presented their arguments before panels of experienced judges from around the nation and defeated highly lauded teams from Tulsa and New York before coming face to face with close friends Joey Villaflor and Jener Balk from Capital City (also a WUDL school). Joey and Jener had defeated teams from Tulsa, Kansas City, and Boston in route to the final round, a familiar re-match that had occurred many times at local competitions here in D.C. On a split decision, presenting before a panel with more than 50 years of combined debate expertise from around the nation, Samantha and David prevailed, bringing home the national championship to their school and the WUDL once again!

Jener Balk and Joey Villaflor of Capital City, the national runner ups at Middle School Nationals this past year, seen at a tournament in December 2019

Jener Balk and Joey Villaflor of Capital City, the national runner ups at Middle School Nationals this past year, seen at a tournament in December 2019

The WUDL partnered with Inspired Teaching to start a debate program three years ago, but the program took a huge step forward this year. Founding members David and Samantha partnered with new coach Maggie Meiman (George Washington, Class of 2020) to dramatically expand the size of the team and decided to get serious about achieving some competitive success this season. The pair were the top middle school team at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute** last summer, and didn’t let up all season, eventually leading their squad to win a series of regional awards, including Best Middle School Team, Best Middle School Debaters, and more.

National titles are exciting, but the trophies are a big shiny signal about the learning and personal growth occurring along the way. Peer reviewed research tells us that participation in Urban Debate significantly improves the traditional academic measures of success that we look at such as grades, test scores, graduation rates and admission to selective high school magnet programs and elite universities. (This year’s class includes freshmen at Georgetown, GW, Howard, Duke, and a number of other elite universities.) Beyond the numbers, I’ve seen these young people learn to harness their thoughts and learn to express incredibly complex ideas with the dexterity of advocates many years their senior. The intellectual confidence, poise, and leadership I’ve seen them develop are portable skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. The growth these two phenomenal young people have shown over the past year is exactly what makes me excited to go to work every day.

About half of the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School (ITDS) Debate Team, including Samantha and David, between rounds earlier this spring.

About half of the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School (ITDS) Debate Team, including Samantha and David, between rounds earlier this spring.

Online debate was highly successful, beyond our hopes, and the lively atmosphere is largely replicable online. More than 40 WUDL debaters and a strong cadre of family members and teachers joined to cheer on their league-mates, and new friends were made across the nation. The medium presented some unique benefits, such as Inspired Teaching Principal Seth Biderman being able to hop on and watch his student’s success as they advanced through elimination rounds on Sunday.

We are excited about the upcoming Ornstein Summer Debate Institute, and this coming year’s very timely topic, Criminal Justice Reform. Many of our students are passionate about what’s going on in the world around them (Samantha and David skipped a major competition last year to attend the Climate protests with Greta last fall, and I’ve seen many in the streets protesting the last few weeks), and this topic will help them hone their advocacy skills further.

The story of this tournament wouldn’t be complete without a huge THANK YOU to all of the members of the WUDL community that helped out and assisted with the tournament, either helping prepare students to compete by watching practices, or as judges during the tournament: Darrian Carroll, Eric Clarke, Michael Fuentes, Arielle Giordano, Ny Glover, Wil Hawk, Selah Lee-Bey, Alex Pappas, Raffi Piliero, Renee Reneau, Andrew Samuelson, and Zoe Spielvogel. I’d also like to give a huge shout out to our Program Coordinator, Dara Davis, for leading our prep sessions for the competition.

*The Washington Urban Debate League is a local non-profit (and Catalogue for Philanthropy Partner) that supports debate programs at public schools in the D.C. area. Only 5 years old, the WUDL has grown quickly to work with more than 40 local schools and thousands of local students each year. All our programming is 100% free for students and schools.

**The institute is hosted by the Washington Urban Debate League and the Matthew Ornstein Memorial Foundation every summer and is free for any D.C. area public school student in middle or high school. Registration is open now for this year’s summer institute, hosted July 20th- August 1st, 2020, online.

About the Author: David has been teaching debate and/or working in politics for 15 years. He’d love to tell you more about the WUDL and how you can get involved. David.Trigaux@UrbanDebate.org