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Child Philanthropists Know the Importance of Play

Written by Melanie Hatter, Communications Coordinator of Homeless Children’s Playtime Project

If anyone knows the importance of play, it’s children and youth, so it comes as no surprise that Playtime resonates with young people who are interested in giving back to their community.

Back in 2006, before Playtime was even incorporated, one of our first major donations came from then 13-year-old Danny Schwaber, who donated money he received in honor of his bar mitzvah’s total of $6,000, which was, at the time, Playtime’s entire organizational budget for the year!

Since then, we have been fortunate to benefit from numerous philanthropic efforts by children. Most recently, Girl Scout Troop 42013 from Murch Elementary School in D.C., donated one third of their cookie earnings to Playtime. We were honored to be invited to their bridging ceremony from Daisies to Brownies in June at the Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church where they presented us with $200.

Troop Leader Dana Hedgpeth explained that the 18-member troop decided to use their earnings in three ways: to give, to save, and to spend. They brainstormed several ideas for giving and after reviewing a variety of organizations, the group selected Playtime.

“They liked the purpose, and I think it was something they, at six and seven years old, could relate more to since Playtime helps kids specifically,” said Hedgpeth. “They understood that all kids want some fun toys and items to play with.”

Playtime Development Director Brandi Stanton, who attended the bridging ceremony, was awed by the Brownies’ responses when she asked them why play was important for children living in shelter. They intuitively spoke about Playtime’s research-based outcomes for children when they said play helps children do better in school and look forward to the next good thing in their lives.

Playtime Project 1

“I think it’s important for homeless children to be able to play the same as kids who have homes,” said troop member Noura Connor. “If I were homeless, I would want someone to play with me. I love seeing kids being happy, playing and having fun with other kids! I want homeless kids to have fun too!”

In 2017, we were impressed by one young man who started his own business and decided to donate part of his profits to Playtime. Nevan Brundage, 13, was a fifth grader at Grace Episcopal Day School at the time. He’s now a rising eighth grader at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Northeast D.C. His business is called Nevan’s Neckties and Necklaces – you can find him on Etsy and at local business fairs. And he has continued to support us, sending another check in 2018.
Playtime Project 2

“I feel a lot better about helping the community because I’m not only helping kids have better childhood experiences, but I’m also making the world a better place,” Nevan said. He first learned about Playtime when we gave a presentation at his school. “I thought it was a great charity to donate to because it helps kids with tutoring and to make friends when they normally wouldn’t be able to due to their family’s financial situation. It gives them the childhood experiences that can help them have a successful and happy life.”

Earlier this year, third through fifth graders from Wood Acres Elementary School in Bethesda, Md., presented Playtime with a check for $1,000. They were participating in the Kids for Kids Fund, which is part of The Giving Square in Bethesda, where children learn about philanthropy and use “their empathy, sense of injustice, unique insights, and collaboration skills” to select an organization serving children to receive the donation. Most recently the Children in the Shoe Child Care Center, also in Bethesda, held a children’s art and bake sale with the proceeds going to Playtime. And last year, Gabby Lewis and her fellow second grade classmates at Mann Elementary School in D.C. held a bake sale to raise money for Playtime.

We have also been the lucky recipient of many donation drives organized by children and youth. In February 2019, Sara Lynn’s third grade class at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington, Va., collected birthday party supplies and snacks for the children of Playtime.

In 2018, we were touched when a young woman, Nava Mach, selected Playtime for her bat mitzvah project. She assembled 15 baskets filled with art supplies for teens and preteens and donated a variety of household items for their families, including towels and linens.

And the Megalim class of Temple Sinai D.C.’s nursery school collected almost $400 in gift cards for our Playtime children and families, to purchase food and household necessities. The pre-K class of four- to five-year-olds had been discussing homelessness as a result of the new Sesame Street character, Lily, with help from Barbara Duffield of SchoolHouse Connection. The youngsters also sent notes to the children of Playtime. One said, “I hope you find a home.”

We’re filled with inspiration and gratitude when young people find ways to support the importance of play for children experiencing homelessness! They give us much hope for the future.

This blog was originally published on August 5, 2019 at playtimeproject.org.

All of Playtime’s programs are currently on hold in response to COVID-19, but their staff is staying connected to families and providing “Playtime-to-Go” play kits to keep children engaged and entertained in the shelters. To find out more about how they are continuing to support families and children during this time of crisis, please read their response to COVID-19.

Why I Am a #1 Fan of Girls on the Run: From New York City to Northern Virginia

Written by Tyler Allen, Associate Board Member of Girls on the Run NOVA

Riding the Subway in New York, you can tell what line you’re on by the snacks the kids are eating. The L train from Williamsburg to Chelsea has kids toting dried fruit in reusable glass jars. The J/Z line from Queens to Downtown has kids drinking sodas and eating packaged cupcakes. It occurred to me that some more hands-on involvement and guidance might be helpful for some youth to understand a more holistic approach to their health and place in their community.

Thinking back to my youth, I fondly remember field hockey and lacrosse as the backbone of my routine that kept me in line with my schoolwork, gave me purpose and responsibility, and placed me in an uplifting social circle of encouraging friends and coaches. It’s true that youth involved in physical activity are not only taking care of their physical and mental health, but they perform better in school and social situations, too. I am lucky to have experienced the power that physical activity and female mentorship can have on your life. I am passionate about sharing that experience with as many girls as possible.

As a female runner, my eyes teared up when the Girls on the Run program came across on a volunteer forum. It seemed too good to be true. Here is a program that addresses not just health disparities, but also provides the tools girls need to be strong and confident. It works to level the playing field for youth wellness no matter their background and — bonus — it incorporates running!

GOTR 1

Studies show that by adolescence, girls’ confidence drops about twice as much as boys’. Fortunately, Girls on the Run envisions a world where every girl, regardless of background or the neighborhood she lives in, knows she has the ultimate power to be her best. The program is delivered over a 10-week season by trained volunteer coaches who guide and mentor girls through a research-based curriculum. Running is incorporated into each lesson to encourage physical wellness and teach life skills such as team building, creating a support system, standing up for themselves and others, and decision making. The girls prepare for a celebratory Girls on the Run 5K event at the end of each season.

GOTR 2B

Photo by Gabriella Sinicopi

I arrived at the Girls on the Run NYC office with my printed resume and writing samples in hand. “Could I please volunteer with you?” I begged. I was immediately welcomed in by an amazing staff and soon became a co-chair of the communications committee where I drafted press releases, videographed events, wrote blog posts, and reached out to media contacts. Running alongside girls from across all boroughs at the end of season 5Ks, gripping hands and smiling as we crossed the finish line, made my heart burst with joy.

Last year, I moved back to my hometown in Alexandria, Virginia and took on a leadership role with Girls on the Run of NOVA (GOTR NOVA) as a member of their Associate Board. The community of staff and volunteers are just as inspiring as the program itself. Each person–whether they are a coach, parent, board member, community runner at the 5K, or general volunteer– exudes the same passion for this program and knows the impact it has on local girls. This year, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary. That is, 20 years of a program that serves nearly 5,000 girls at local middle and elementary schools each year with now almost 40% of its participants receiving financial assistance or program fee subsidies to participate.

GOTR 3

The GOTR NOVA Associate Board is in the midst of planning one of our most popular events of the year – LUNAFEST. An evening of short films by and about women that includes fun raffles, food and drinks — all while raising funds to support GOTR NOVA. The event will be held on March 26 at the Angelika Film Center at Mosaic in Fairfax. I encourage you to join us at LUNAFEST in March.

Please consider also joining us at one of our three end of season 5Ks in May. Take the opportunities to witness the power of this program. Cheer thousands of girls across the finish line. I wouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself rushing to our Fairfax office with your own resume and writing samples in hand — just like me!

GOTR 4

 

The Value of Being Human

Written by Moira McLaughlin, Development Associate at New Endeavors by Women

We are a nation that loves success as defined by a well-paying job, a nice house and a white picket fence. The people who become the best at their craft are our national heroes. We write story after story about them. We quote them. We elevate them. We tell our kids to be like them. And when they die we mourn their deaths deeply.

We are a nation that places a high value on these people, these lives, these stories.

It’s hard to know how many homeless people die in the United States each year. (That in and of itself is telling.) But the National Coalition of the Homeless estimates it’s at least 13,000. That’s 13,000 lives unmourned, 13,000 stories untold, 13,000 mothers, daughters, sisters, friends.That’s 13,000 fellow humans.

Walking down North Capital Street recently, I was saddened to witness a couple step over a man sprawled out on the sidewalk. They didn’t look at him. They didn’t stop their conversation. They kept walking. For them, it seems, his was a life unvalued.

At New Endeavors by Women (NEW), we serve some of the most vulnerable women in the city. They come to us having suffered enormously from abuse, addiction, and mental and physical illness. They need housing, food, clothing and a new sense of self-worth. We house them and provide them with individually tailored one-on-one case management. The goal is for the women to achieve stability and confidence that will propel them onto a new, healthy path.

NEW 1B

 

The more-than-3,000 women who have come to New Endeavors since 1989 are survivors. Their stories are heart-breaking. From the get-go, some women hardly stand a chance: addicted parents, abusive boyfriends, foster care after foster care. And yet they make it to our door with an incredible strength to keep going. We here at NEW know that each woman’s life is as valuable as anyone’s, and we work to build her up so that she’ll realize that too.

Success looks different here at NEW. Success is first, a woman walking through our door. Success is building trust. Success is regular meetings with a case manager. Success is therapy. Success is taking one minute at a time to get to a healthier place. Success is building confidence and feeling valued as a human, in the immediate community and beyond.

I met D. a couple years ago, when I first started working here at NEW. She was a loyal participant in NEW’s Walking Club, where we talked about jazz musicians, her love of sunflowers, and her grandson. She had this awesome raspiness to her voice that years of smoking had afforded, and she hummed as she walked. She was saving money. She had a part time job. She was well-liked among the women. Little by little, she was succeeding. A part of her story was also one about addiction. And she struggled with it. But that part of her story doesn’t negate the other parts of her story. That part of her story doesn’t define her and it certainly doesn’t make her life less valuable.

D. died riding on the Metro last spring. She left behind a sister, a daughter, grandchildren and a boyfriend. Many of her friends from NEW spoke at her funeral about her smile, about her frustrations, about her life.

At NEW, we know that every life holds value: the heroes and the homeless, the successful and the struggling, the powerful and the powerless. It’s a message we try to live and infuse into our community. But it’s hard for many people, with a confined definition of success, to understand.

D. and the 13,000 homeless who die in the United States every year are heroes. Not for their talent, money or fame, but because they are community members, they are survivors, and they are human. Isn’t that enough?

 

NEW 2B

We’re Growing… More Space Means More Lives Touched

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

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

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

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

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

Greater DC Diaper Bank 1

Before

Greater DC Diaper Bank 2

After!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Neighbor: Why I fight for the Potomac River

How getting face-to-face with dirty water turned this Old Town resident into an advocate.

What turns someone from a simply living near the Potomac River, to being a true neighbor of the river?

Like the other 5 million people in the DC metro region, Susan Ginsburg lives near the water – in fact, she lives just a few strides away from its edge in Alexandria, Virginia. However, she hasn’t always had a deep connection with the Potomac. Once curious and unsure of the waterway around which her city is built, she now plays an active role in restoring its health. Hear from Susan how her relationship with the river has changed through years of walks, runs, paddles, and adventures with her dog:

Susan Ginsburg – Potomac Conservancy supporter and volunteer

“Dear neighbors of the Potomac River,

My journey with the Potomac River started when I moved to Old Town Alexandria from Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle over 27 years ago. Even though I moved to just a few blocks away from the Potomac, it took me a while to really notice the river.

When I did, I decided to start running in the mornings to take advantage of the national trail, the views up and down river, the sounds of the water lapping, the turtle-laden logs, the fresh-air breezes on my face. I began to appreciate the beauty of what we have with the Potomac River.

Then, wanting to be just a bit more adventurous and take advantage of what the Potomac has to offer, I decided to get into kayaking. At the time, Atlantic Kayak was headquartered in Old Town near the coal plant. I needed to get a safety certificate so I could rent their kayaks.

During one of the safety certificate training sessions one day, I found myself hanging upside down in the river, head under water, zipped into the kayak. The idea of the training was to extricate oneself, flip the kayak, and climb back in. Which I did. But in that long moment of hanging, suspended in the water, I asked myself, Do I really want to be hanging in this water? It seems kind of brown and murky.

Now feeling more curious about the river than ever before, I began to notice more things about this river that I loved and depended on for daily fun and exercise outside. I began to notice trash that dotted the shorelines after storms. I began to read about Old Town’s sewer system, and how its need for significant modernization was not being met. I was aware, and now upset to learn that raw sewage sometimes flowed from Alexandria into the Potomac River in heavy rainstorms.

I started to think about how our community lives along the Potomac, sometimes unaware of its challenges and changes.

Flooding in Old Town 2016. Photos courtesy of John Sonderman via Flickr.

Flooding in Old Town 2016. Photos courtesy of John Sonderman via Flickr.

I discovered that Lee Street in Alexandria was originally called Water Street; in other words, the street that was now two blocks away from the water’s edge used to be the shoreline. The floods at the base of King Street are notorious, and one year I actually saw kayakers paddling along Union Street making their way to Starbucks. As entertaining a scene as that was, I began to wonder about the implications of the climate breakdown for Old Town Alexandria, as well as for Georgetown where I grew up, and downtown Washington, DC.

My questions led to more learning, and then to Potomac Conservancy.

One day I decided it was time to do something about my feelings for and concerns about the river. I opened my computer, looked for relevant organizations, and found Potomac Conservancy and became a member. Now that I’ve gotten involved, I do think differently about the river.

I’m now aware that there are 31,000 friends and supporters of Potomac Conservancy doing everything from volunteering their time, to picking up trash along the river’s banks, to writing their county commissioners about the need to tighten water pollution policy. I read the River Update email newsletter and see upcoming tree planting events and learn about local fish populations and other wildlife benefiting from cleaner waters and healthier habitat.

Most of all, I’m energized to know that I’ve joined a community that cares about our local environment – and takes actions every day to help our local environment heal and thrive.

 

Potomac Conservancy volunteers cleaning up trash along the river at Jones Point Park

Potomac Conservancy volunteers cleaning up trash along the river at Jones Point Park

We all have our paths of discovery. We drive around this region, frequently along the Potomac River. We run, bike, walk our dogs, sometimes we kayak, row, or boat on the river. Many of us have had a riverside snack at a restaurant that enjoys a Potomac River view. We all use the water – and that water comes from the Potomac River.

Potomac Conservancy makes it easy to get involved. Do you want to volunteer? Speak out to encourage river-friendly laws? Learn more about our water, our wildlife, and how we can help our local environment be as healthy and clean as we know it should be?

There is a way to get involved that’s going to be right for you. I hope to see you on the river.

Sincerely,

Susan Ginsburg”

 

This blog post was originally published at potomac.org on January 3rd, 2020.

Becoming Visible

Written by Tyler French

My work with Story Tapestries began in the summer 2018. I joined the team as a teaching assistant, supporting a visual artist to lead Neelsville Middle School students in Germantown, Maryland to design and create two murals for their school. One student in particular, “John,” stands out when I reflect on that summer program. John was incredibly quiet, didn’t engage with many of the other students, and never raised his hand when the group was asked a question. When we brought out the paints to start realizing our design, he worked silently on his corner. Cleaning spilled paint out of my hair (one of the tubes had exploded), I saw John working on his corner of the mural, intensely focused. I stopped and watched while he carefully applied the paint, blending from lavender to a deep purple that pulled me into the piece.

Story Tapestries Mural 1

I flashed back to my middle school self as I watched John paint. I recognized his shyness in myself. I recognized his inability to easily engage with his peers, his hesitancy to raise his hand even though he knew the answer to our questions. At the moment, another student was walking behind John, stopped, and asked, “How’d you do that?!” pointing to the gradient purples. From that moment, John became a consultant to other students’ mural sections. He helped others blend their paint, get a clean edge, and troubleshoot issues. I witnessed John become visible to himself, to matter.

Story Tapestries Mural 2

Story Tapestries is continuing to serve Neelsville Middle School students as the Lead Partner on a Trawick Foundation TeamUp Grant. Trawick started the TeamUp grants to promote collaboration among nonprofit partners, decrease duplication, and expand resources. Story Tapestries has the pleasure of collaborating with Aspire Counseling, Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, and NAMI MC (all of whom are also Catalogue for Philanthropy partners). Our various programs at the school blend trauma-informed counseling and training, conflict resolution skill building, and arts integration programs for academic supports and social emotional growth. Story Tapestries sees the power artmaking has to open up youth to others and help them express their thoughts and feelings. Working alongside these other nonprofits, we are able to provide additional supports for youth who may have these experiences in our arts-based sessions, and may also benefit from other services including therapy and coaching.

Every time I visit Neelsville Middle School and pass that mural, I see another section of John’s handiwork that I hadn’t noticed before. I always pause and take a moment to remind myself what incredible power arts experiences have for students (and had for me, when I was John’s age). Working in tandem with these partners, I am excited to learn what impact our various programs and services will have for John and other students. As we move toward collecting data for a midyear report, we look forward to the opportunity to reflect with John and other students to start to evaluate not only the individual but also the collective impact of our programs.

If you would like to know more about Story Tapestries’ collaborative framework and the Neelsville mural, or connect about the Trawick Foundation supported collaboration at Neelsville Middle School, please don’t hesitate to email Development Director, Lorienne Beals, at lorienne@storytapestries.org.

ASAS DC Engages STEM Professionals to Enhance Afterschool Programs

Written by Patrick Giblin, Development & Marketing Manager of After-School All-Stars, Washington DC

After-School All-Stars, Washington DC (ASAS DC) is a local charity focused on providing free after-school programs to low-income DC middle schools. A unique element of ASAS DC’s programming is our heavy emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, more affectionately referred to as STEM in the education sector. Across three DC wards and six schools, hundreds of students experience our free STEM offerings in the afterschool space every weeknight. Those offerings include classes such as digital photography, drone engineering, video game design, coding, real estate development and environmental science.

In addition to those classes this year, we have two dedicated “STEM Clubs” at Stuart-Hobson and John Hayden Johnson Middle Schools, where students can engage in purely STEM-related activities. Based on our participants’ interests, “STEM kits” and related curricula were acquired from the National Energy Education Development (NEED). NEED provides ample resources and training for our instructors to create quality STEM classes, and ASAS DC is uniquely positioned to implement the classes, providing it to students who need it the most. All-star’s students have consistently expressed an interest in environmental/conservation topics related to STEM, and as a result several of the NEED STEM kits are focused on alternative energy and environmental science.

ASAS DC sought to provide appropriate complements to these offerings, which is why we engaged with two leading organizations in the field. This past October and November, our chapter hosted two STEM-themed employee volunteer events with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Bechtel, respectively.

Specifically, scientists and education specialists from NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, Education and Community Involvement Branch visited Stuart-Hobson MS in October. They spent an afternoon with our students, sharing information on their work and completing three hands-on activities designed to educate youth on DNA and science more broadly. Students scraped their cheek cells and examined them under NIH microscopes, they extracted DNA from strawberries using a technique demonstrated by the science professionals, and completed a watercolor activity revolving around the shape and code within a DNA double helix. Fifteen ASAS DC students were exposed to high-level and engaging science subjects; they expressed interest in the scientists’ jobs and showed a desire to work with the microscopes every day!

ASAS-DC NIH

A consistent aspect of our program has always been career exposure. Regardless of professional sector, it is important that our students are connected to reputable professionals who can not only describe their current work, but also their journey and obstacles they’ve had to overcome in order to be where they are now. Many of our students had not considered the possibility that they could do something like this for a living prior to this NIH engagement, which is why this exposure is invaluable.

Less than a month later, ASAS DC was contacted by the global engineering company Bechtel. Keith Hennessey, president of Bechtel Enterprises, serves on the board of ASAS DC. He also serves as an Executive Sponsor of Women@Bechtel, a business resource group within the company meant to promote the development of women’s careers. Members of this group expressed an interest in skills-based volunteering with underserved youth. What resulted was another successful collaboration in the same style as the NIH event that preceded it — this time dedicated to the engineering portion of STEM.

Four Bechtel engineers presented in front of a group of 15 Stuart-Hobson students in early November. Bechtel Fellow Kit Ng shared a presentation on Bechtel’s water treatment work. The presentation had tremendous resonance with our students who are extremely passionate about climate change issues, and they asked several questions about water filtration systems in the developing world as a result.

To bring this material to life, Bechtel provided a hands-on experiment very similar to NIH. Students split into teams and tested several water filtration techniques using materials brought in by the engineers. Students compared each solution, (grass, pebbles, coffee filters, cloth, etc.) and based on the information presented to them earlier, were able to discern which materials filtered the clearest water. These realizations were related to the earlier presentation of Bechtel doing the same work on a larger scale. With that connection, students had a newfound respect for this work. Not only increasing the quality of life for underserved communities but doing it an efficient and environmentally-friendly manner was of great interest to our youth. Bechtel staff were pleased to see this interest, and several of the students even asked about internships with the organization!

ASAS-DC Bechtel

STEM is a complex and nuanced subject matter that lends itself to hands-on work. Any letter in that acronym is associated with high-level and detailed academic information. ASAS DC prides itself on effectively teaching these subjects to adolescent students in an engaging way and age-appropriate way. We cannot do that without the support of our partners and external organizations such as NIH and Bechtel. Not only do they possess the resources and expertise, but their respective staff genuinely care about underserved youth and are happy to volunteer their time in order to convey some of their experience to our students. Most importantly, our students are shown a clear path to success in these fields by having direct access to professionals who are eager to support them. We are humbled to be a part of that collective effort and will continue to use all resources at our disposal to provide the most impactful and highest quality experience to adolescents in the District of Columbia.

 

Amplifying Voices for Racial Equity in Montgomery County

Written by Tyler French, Innovation and Partnerships Director of Story Tapestries

On October 5, 2019, a group of family, friends, new acquaintances, and strangers gathered at the Strathmore Mansion. We were there to share in poetry, storytelling, and conversations about race, difference, and connection. Holding together this constellation is the Amplify US! Initiative, a collaboration between Story Tapestries, Arts on the Block and Impact Silver Spring to unite the voices of the past with those of our future in a dynamic series of workshops, performances and community dialogue. Amplify US! is committed to furthering racial equity in Montgomery County by amplifying underrepresented voices, creating platforms for advocacy and connection, and bringing together community members for necessary conversations.

Amplify US! is a community-led initiative and, as such, is difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t attended. It’s difficult to capture in words the feeling of the room. The conversations were not necessarily easy or without discomfort, but all were warm and caring. They felt urgent and necessary. Every person who showed up was meant to be there. People lingered longer than usual, already late for a Saturday evening. The performances and conversation created a kind of gravitational force and held us there.

Regie Cabico, Story Tapestries Master Teaching Artist, spoken word poet and performer, MCed the evening. He shared the stage with two professional performers, Jenny Lares and Dwyane B. and Story Tapestries youth and community members, Charles Stokes, Glory Egedigwe, Karina Gorham, and Mimi Hassanein. Each read poems or shared stories ranging in topics from immigration to our education system, the legacy of slavery in the United States, and spaces for finding joy and resilience. It was particularly striking to witness Glory’s excitement when she realized Jenny had performed for her when she was younger. Michelle Faulkner-Forson shared an excerpt from an in-process film project about Amplify US!, documenting the impact of these spaces for storytelling and listening.

ST 1

The second half of an Amplify US! event flips the script, asking audience members to join in by having facilitated conversations with each other. Carolyn Lowery of Impact Silver Spring facilitated the conversations, asking audience members to share with each other answers to questions about racial identity, moments of discomfort or disconnect, and moments of connection. Primed by the performances, audience members leapt into conversation with each other, discussing aspects of their lives rarely shared with strangers. The conversations engaged intergenerational connections across race and nationality and the event spilled over its end time as audience members were reluctant to end their conversations.

ST 2

Why this urgent need for dialogue?

In 2017, Montgomery County’s Police reported an 26% increase in bias incidents compared to the prior year. Of the incidents reported, roughly half were motivated by bias toward religion and half were motivated by bias toward a race or ethnicity. Story Tapestries took this report as a call to action and collaborated with other local organizations, including the Strathmore and Impact Silver Spring, to call upon our wide networks of concerned individuals to begin meeting and form a Task Force. These community meetings led to the design of what we now call the Amplify US! Initiative.

The statistics highlighted in the Montgomery County Police Department report not only guide the Amplify US! initiative but also filter into our programming across the county. We choose artists in whom youth can see themselves – so we’ve increased the number of male artists involved in these programs to serve as role models and mentors. We’ve also collaborated with organizations that serve the demographics most frequently involved in bias incidents – for example partnering with Latin American Youth Center and their GED program and with the Correctional Facility. Our artistic and administrative staff have been trained to lead dialogue circles and use conflict resolution techniques to support their ability to infuse this aspect into every program we lead and into how we operate and collaborate.

The October 5 performance kicked-off this year’s Amplify US! season. Starting in January, Amplify US! will offer free workshops in communities across Montgomery County. Participants in those workshops will work with artists in multiple art forms and a facilitator to cultivate and share their stories. Similar to the community members described above, those who wish to will have an opportunity to perform in free public performances alongside professional artists after this season’s workshops conclude in Spring 2020.

We want the texture of your voice and your experience to enrich our next conversations. To find out more about upcoming events for Amplify US! and Story Tapestries, please visit our website storytapestries.org – or reach out directly to me at tyler@storytapestries.org.

The October 5 workshop and performance event were made possible by funding from:

Alternate ROOTS

Poets & Writers

October Is National Bullying Prevention Month

Written by Rhonda Lee Thomas, President, DTWT’s Board of Directors

Bullying is an issue very close to the heart of both Do The Write Thing (DTWT) cofounders, Loretta (LoLo) Smith, and myself, Rhonda Lee Thomas.

LoLo, a former teacher, saw firsthand the detrimental effects that being bullied had on child victims, including her own great nieces. They were bullied so badly that their mother withdrew them from a Missouri public school in January 2019 and sent them to DC so LoLo could homeschool them. Instead, LoLo enrolled them in a DC Public School where the principal had established a safe and warm environment for all students. The girls appear in one of DTWT’s kindness/antibullying books along with some of the friends they made in DC.

I faced bullying, racism, and other types of hatred and abuse early in life, growing up in the 1950s in South Dakota, where people of color were scarce. As a lifetime human rights activist, I always speak up against injustice on social media and through kindness/antibullying projects.

Unfortunately for humankind, in 2017, 20% of students age 12-18, reported being bullied at school according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of students ages 12-18, about 13 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 13 percent reported being made fun of, called names, or insulted; 5 percent reported being pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on; and 5 percent reported being excluded from activities on purpose. Parents, guardians, other teachers, and youth must help to develop strategies to handle bullying, which has serious consequences.

DTWT addresses the issue of bullying by teaching children to be kind to one another. We can change the world with one act of kindness at a time! We observed National Bullying Prevention Month in October by focusing our attention on solutions to the critical problem of bullying. As we do every year, DTWT kicked off our month‑long antibullying activities on the first Monday of October. For example, LoLo and I encourage our youth to perform ten acts of kindness during this month.

We also produce kindness/antibullying books, posters, and other materials with our students. Our personalized books feature DC Public School children dressed in superhero costumes; after all, we are superheroes who fight bullying with kindness! One six-year old girl loved her book so much that she slept with it under her pillow, ate with it at breakfast, and brought it to school every day! Our books are available for public consumption on Amazon, including the following titles:

DTWT Book Covers

This year, on October 5th, World Day of Bullying Prevention (also called Blue Shirt Day), DTWT students at Plummer Elementary School signed No-Bullying Pledges and posted them on their customized No‑Bullying Pledge Wall:

DTWT’s NO-BULLYING PLEDGE

  • I pledge to stop bullying my siblings at home.
  • I pledge to stop bullying my classmates at school.
  • I pledge to stop bullying my classmates on the playground.
  • I pledge to stop bullying on the Internet.
  • I pledge to tell an adult when I see someone being bullied.
  • I pledge to say no to bullying like a superhero.

DTWT Kids

DTWT 3 - Copy

DTWT’s efforts to prevent bullying won’t stop tomorrow on October 31st when National Bullying Prevention Month ends. DTWT continues its bullying prevention efforts throughout the school year. DTWT has developed a unique Kindness Project that we implement year-round at elementary schools. The Kindness Project includes:

  • Personalization of a book about kindness
  • Independent readers recording the text of the book to create CDs
  • A kindness pledge
  • Friendship songs
  • Group writing stories about kindness
  • Reading books about friendship and kindness from a recommended list compiled by the DC Public Library, such as “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein
  • Creating posters with kindness slogans and transferring slogans onto tee shirts and other clothing. Advanced students have the opportunity to walk the runway in a fashion presentation that features girls and dolls in matching clothing with kindness slogans.

This year, Plummer Elementary School students will stage the anti-bullying musical, Corduroy: A Bear In Search of Acceptance and Friendship, during the December holiday season. The musical explores the issues of bullying and the importance of friendship.

DTWT is proud to continue promoting kindness among children during Bullying Prevention Month and year-round!

Visit DTWT’s page at the Catalogue For Philanthropy website.

 

A Typical Saturday

Written by Laura Beth Williams, OMM Program Manager at Josh Anderson Foundation

On a typical Saturday at 8:00 a.m., if I were to walk into a school building, it would likely be completely empty. On Saturday, October 5th, there were over 60 students who woke up early, organized transportation, and met at Fairfax High School just after sunrise. Why would they do such a thing? These students came together to work on common goals: practicing mindfulness, learning about protective and risk factors, performing coping skills exercises, and engaging in conversations to address the stigma around mental health at the third annual Our Minds Matter (OMM) Teen Summit hosted by the Josh Anderson Foundation.

When planning the annual summit, we wanted to reflect the values and goals OMM. Naturally, this meant the summit should be student-led. Five OMM student leaders facilitated our Mental Health 101 activity and coping skills stations. Seeing the students positively influencing their peers throughout the summit exemplified the importance of amplifying students’ voices and was a special thing to witness.

If you have ever worked with students you know that they can easily become disengaged or distracted. One of the most remarkable aspects of the day spent with these students was seeing how they stayed engaged throughout the entire four-hour summit.

We concluded the day with our guest speaker, Dr. Marc Brackett from the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence. When adults (especially doctors) speak to teens, they can oftentimes be perceived as a little boring, but not Dr. Brackett. In fact, the students reported that learning “name it to tame it” was one of their favorite parts of the summit. Plus, you always get brownie points for free swag. Especially when it’s a book that teaches you how to unlock the power of emotions to help kids, ourselves, and our society.

Why does any of this matter? Suicide has grown to become the second leading cause of youth deaths in the United States. Teens today are reporting the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than in recent decades. We at the Josh Anderson Foundation believe it is critical to reverse this trend by providing training and material support that empowers student leaders to effectively deliver OMM activities to their peers on topics such as Mental Health 101, Stigma Reduction, Resource Awareness, Healthy Habits and Healthy Mindset.

The OMM model is student-led and is the first of its kind to offer structure and support for the high school population. If it’s anything we are learning as we develop this program, it’s that our kids want to support each other. They care for one another, and sometimes all it takes is providing them with opportunity. We see it every day, and we want as many people to see it as possible.

If you would like to learn more about the OMM program, please visit www.ourmindsmatter.org. To learn more about the Josh Anderson Foundation, visit www.joshandersonfoundation.org.

“I had so much fun and especially loved the guest speaker. The summit left me super inspired and excited for the future of OMM” – Edison High School

“Thank you so much for coming I really needed to hear it” -Oakton High School

Executive Director of the Josh Anderson Foundation, Lauren Anderson, welcoming students.  Photo: Donnie Biggs/Fairfax County Public Schools

Executive Director of the Josh Anderson Foundation, Lauren Anderson, welcoming students.
Photo: Donnie Biggs/Fairfax County Public Schools