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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

Restoring Rock Creek as it Restores Us

Written by Jeanne Braha, Executive Director of Rock Creek Conservancy

There is something magical about running down the middle of a road in the middle of the day, hearing a creek burbling nearby, without having to worry about passing traffic.

As the last several weeks have provided any number of new things to worry about, having a little magic in our days has been a balm to the soul. There is ample data to support the notion that green spaces improve physical and mental health; Dr. Stacy Stryer, a physician with Park Rx America, shared many of these studies at an online virtual discussion hosted by Rock Creek Conservancy last month. She highlighted the ways in which living near a green space is linked to decreased levels of anxiety and depression, and increased resilience, well-being, and rejuvenation.

Photo by Frank Gallagher

Photo by Frank Gallagher

It’s a little harder to quantify that magic – the thrill of hearing the first wood thrush in spring, the delight of seeing your favorite wildflower on a walk, or the joy of sharing all of those things with a child experiencing them for the first time. And, of course, the feeling of being on the sections of Beach Drive closed to vehicles all week long.

Rock Creek Conservancy, through a philanthropic and stewardship partnership with the National Park Service at Rock Creek Park, protects that magic. By restoring the park and the watershed that surrounds it, the Conservancy is ensuring not just that Rock Creek can serve as the lungs for our region, but that the park will be resilient and be able to share its magic for decades to come.

The Conservancy’s model of people-powered restoration engages nearly 5,000 people each year in group events that clear invasive plants or litter from the park. These volunteers leave the park with the motivation and knowledge to serve as stewards of their portion of the watershed – protecting the park from the outside in.

Trout lilies (a spring wildflower)

Trout lilies (a spring wildflower)

Even though the Conservancy can’t host group events right now, park neighbors and friends can still enjoy and protect the park. Socially-distant stewardship is restorative to us as individuals and continues the Conservancy’s important work of removing invasive plants and litter to help restore the streams and parklands of the Rock Creek watershed.

Here are some actions individuals, families, or other household members can take at home, at work, and in our neighborhoods.

Host an individual cleanup. It’s just what it sounds like: you, a pair of gloves, a trash bag, and whatever patch of the Rock Creek watershed means the most to you. Litter many blocks from the park can get swept up by stormwater or wind and find itself floating down Rock Creek. Picking up litter in our own neighborhoods is one way to work stewardship and exercise into our daily routine.

A volunteer cleaning up in Rock Creek Park DC

A volunteer cleaning up in Rock Creek Park DC

Many of us are gardening with our time at home. Whether we’re doing this in a large yard or in planter boxes on a deck or window boxes, our choices impact Rock Creek. Non-native, invasive plant species can spread from our homes or building properties into the natural areas along Rock Creek. There are dozens of plant species that do not grow here naturally, but were brought to the area by people as ornamental plantings or for food.

For example, English ivy is a major threat to the health of the trees around Rock Creek in Montgomery County and the District. Though a common part of many of our landscapes, it spreads rapidly, can damage property, and can harm trees. The Conservancy works to remove English ivy from trees on park lands, but we need help to remove ivy throughout the watershed.

You can free a treetake the Conservancy’s English ivy pledge and trim the ivy from the trees in your yard or your building’s grounds (get permission from the property owner if that’s not you!). Watch this short video to learn the best way to #freeatree.

Removing non-native, invasive plants from your home garden, deck, or common area is the first step to prevent them from spreading into the city’s natural spaces. If you live in an apartment building you can take action by contacting your landlord, management company, or condominium board and asking them to remove invasive plants. Learn about five of Rock Creek Park’s most common invasive plants in this blog.

Planting native species is a great way to beautify your home and provide benefit to the surrounding ecosystem. Native plants often require less maintenance and can provide a habitat for native wildlife. Even greening your balcony with native potted plants can provide food and habitat to pollinators.

Take a moment to read our blog, “Choose This, Not That,“for some inspiration on what to plant in your green space. Or work with your apartment building to encourage choosing native species for plantings.

Remember, every step each of us takes will enable us all to keep enjoying the wonderful resource of Rock Creek, so central to our health and the health of our community.

A family doing a cleanup in Montgomery County.

Community Spotlight: Stream Team Leader Scott Lynch. Stream Team Leaders play a key role inspiring park friends and neighbors to help steward the watershed. One such community leader is Scott Lynch, a father who has been active with the Kensington-Parkwood Green Team. Scott was inspired to get involved when he heard local kids name a large debris dam “Trash Island.” Normally he organizes cleanups along the stretch of Rock Creek upstream of Cedar Lane (near current weekend closures for socially distant recreation!). The area, which is threatened by the proposed Beltway expansion, has a popular stretch of trail, sensitive wetlands, and plenty of stormwater drainage. Thanks to Scott’s socially-distant stewardship, his neighbors reported individual cleanups totaling 62 volunteer hours, with 18 bags of trash removed.

To learn more about the work of Rock Creek Conservancy and its mission to restore Rock Creek and its parklands as a natural oasis for all people to appreciate and protect, you can visit rockcreekconservancy.org and sign up here for regular updates on ways to get involved.

Girls on the Run – DC Goes Beyond the Classroom! #GOTRDCGoesBeyond

Written by Carly Abarbanel and Katie Von Schaumburg of Girls on the Run – DC

During this pandemic, so many aspects of all of our lives have been turned upside down. At Girls on the Run – DC (GOTR-DC), our in-person season was truncated just two weeks into programming, putting our program to the ultimate test: Can GOTR-DC go beyond the classrooms, persist beyond the parks, and empower over distance? The answer: Yes, we can! GOTR-DC developed virtual programming to persevere in our mission to empower girls to be joyful, confident, and healthy.

GOTR at Home has been our solution to get girls (and their families!) up and moving, thinking, and creating while inspiring them with the core values of Girls on the Run.

Girls who registered for the spring season receive two GOTR at Home lessons per week through the end of our regular season. All lessons include instructions for exercise activities and for creative activities, all tying back to the big idea of the lesson; and each lesson has an accompanying video, making it easy for girls to do these activities independently or together with a guardian or sibling.

All of the GOTR at Home lessons focus on Girls on the Run Core Values such as celebrating our commonalities and our differences, standing up for ourselves and others, and tips for identifying our emotions and managing stress. All of the activities are designed to help our girls check in with her brain and body and practice strategies to find calm and be present.

GOTRDC 1
One of our favorite lessons is “Practice Positivity!” This lesson is focused on recognizing positive and negative thoughts and practicing positivity through words, thoughts, and actions. The exercise, or “Get Moving!”, component of this lesson encourages girls to take a lap outside, hold downward dog pose while slowly breathing in and out, spend five minutes doing something they love (e.g. drawing, listening to music, spending time with your pet, dancing, etc.), play their favorite song and have a dance party, or set a timer for one minute and list everything they are thankful for. All of these activities are focused on empowering our girls, physically and mentally.

GOTR-DC recognizes the importance of social interaction, even from a distance, and we therefore brought our girls and coaches together through GOTR Connect. These are optional, 30-minute sessions held once a week by a GOTR coach. Similar to what an in-person lesson would entail, GOTR Connect offers debrief questions for set teams of girls that align with the messages of GOTR at Home. Questions are designed to reach all girls and vary from serious to silly, helping girls continue to find commonality and appreciate difference, even while physically distant. GOTR Connect has been a great way for girls to maintain rapport with their peers and interact with their coaches who continue to act as positive and influential role models.
GOTRDC 3
GOTRDC 2

Beyond the lessons and the virtual check-ins, GOTR-DC values goal-oriented seasons and celebrating the conclusion of our girls’ intellectual, emotional, and physical effort. Therefore, we’re hosting a Spring 5K Virtual Challenge, giving girls, community participants, coaches, and families the opportunity to set goals and feel part of the bigger GOTR-DC movement. Interested in joining our Virtual Challenge from your home or safe outdoor space? Read more and register at gotrdc.org/5k!

While we’re thankful for our team of staff and coaches who have helped make our new virtual programming possible, our work continues to serve more girls with quality, virtual programming; and we look forward to the day when we can safely gather together to empower our girls in school buildings, parks, and recreation centers. While we’re physically apart for the safety of ourselves and our communities, we remain virtually together for our girls.

Caring for Kids in the Time of COVID-19

Written by Laurie Strongin, CEO of Hope for Henry Foundation

Hope for Henry Child Life Specialist Liz crouched in the hallway outside the room of a six-year-old, unaccompanied boy who she has worked with many times in the past and explained over the hospital room intercom that the young boy would have a test to make sure doctors could take the best care of him. He was going to get a nasal swab to test for COVID-19.

No one will tell you that the long swab inserted into a patient’s nose all the way back into their throat, rotated to collect any viral specimens, and pulled out is remotely comfortable. One TikTok user described it as “like being stabbed in the brain.” But Liz explained to the child that she and her friends at the hospital were doing everything they could to keep him safe, that there is a virus traveling around the world, and that he needed a quick test to be sure he was healthy. If he could sit and talk to her while the nurse put something in his nose quickly, the test would be over faster. Then, on the other side of the glass wall of this little boy’s hospital room, he watched through the open blinds as Liz demonstrated the test on her own little patient, a stuffed bear.

Hope for Henry Blog

The proliferation of COVID-19 has disrupted tens of millions of children’s lives. Instead of attending school, participating on sports teams, meeting friends for dinner, or playing in the park, kids across the country are housebound. Aside from the monotony of living in the same limited space for long periods of time, being quarantined can cause feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and fear in both kids and parents.

These feelings are not unfamiliar to chronically ill children whose treatment often necessitates years in and out of hospitals, but COVID-19 has made life far harsher for really sick kids. While otherwise healthy children tend to have milder symptoms than adults who contract COVID-19, the same isn’t true for a particularly high-risk group of pediatric patients — those with compromised immune systems who have had bone-marrow or solid-organ transplants or are being treated for cancer or a blood disorder.

Keeping these vulnerable children safe during this challenging time requires hospitals to make adjustments that exacerbate their isolation from everything they are fighting so hard for — normalcy and connection. To limit exposure, nearly every child is isolated in his or her hospital room. Playrooms and shared spaces are closed. Art and music therapists are no longer in hospitals working directly with kids. Volunteers who previously rocked sick babies or played games with hospitalized kids have been forced to cease their quality-of-life saving work. These kids are left with one caregiver, at best, or none if they have a single parent with other children at home who need supervision. And they are still enduring the difficult, painful medical treatment necessary to save their lives.

When a hospitalized child shows symptoms of COVID-19, frontline staff have to “rule out” the diagnosis. To protect the staff and other patients in their care, the caregivers have to assume that the child is positive for COVID-19 until proven otherwise. Therefore, all medical staff who enter the child’s room must wear PPEs, including a gown, gloves, mask, and face shield. These precautions can be intimidating and frightening — even, and perhaps especially, for kids who have spent months in the hospital for whom this new gear is unfamiliar and an obvious sign that something has changed, and not for the better.

Thankfully, Hope for Henry’s child life specialists like Liz are still in the hospital and have figured out how to support patients during COVID-19 testing while respecting hospital rules that prevent them from entering the patient rooms to limit exposure and use of scarce PPE. The preparation, coping strategies, distraction, and verbal support before, during, and after the test, along with a selection of toys and games that reward patients for coping so well and successfully completing the procedure, make something difficult a little bit easier. It helps build resilience and arms patients for their continued fight to recover. It enables medical staff to provide care faster so they can move on to the next patient. Because during times like these, there is always a next patient.

JCADA’s Doors are Still Open for Victims of Power-Based Violence – How You Can Support their Efforts from Your Home

Written by Shana Brouder

Over the past month, most Americans have been put under some kind of “stay at home” order to keep them ‘safe’ from COVID-19 — better known as the coronavirus. But what does safe mean? For most of us, safe means simply staying inside our homes with adequate amounts of food and toilet paper, only leaving for essential goods. And maybe for the occasional walk around the block.

But, for the 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 9 men who experience severe physical abuse at the hands of a partner, home is the least safe place they can be — and yet, that’s exactly where they’re stuck. As a recent New York Times article described, helplines across the globe are lighting up frantically with calls from women in danger. NBC News’ investigation gave some more concrete facts and figures: of the law enforcement agencies who answered their call, Houston police received a roughly 20 percent increase in calls in March from February; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police saw an 18 percent jump this March in comparison with March of 2019; while Phoenix police saw a nearly 6 percent in domestic violence related calls.

And that’s just the calls police are getting.

There is more to power-based violence than the severe physical violence. There is the emotional, financial, technological, sexual, and physical violence that goes unreported. And it is this relentless, yet unreported violence that eats away at a person, until they feel they are truly worth nothing. The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Violence (JCADA) is dedicated to stopping this cycle of violence, even in these unprecedented times. JCADA remains open for business, fielding calls from their helpline, 1-877-88-JCADA(52232), during business hours throughout the closures. JCADA is counseling clients through HIPPA compliant remote telehealth and their attorneys and victim advocates can still help with Protection Orders and access to public health benefits through these hard times.

JCADA has also chosen to move its annual event, the JCADA 5K & Wellness Day, online. In a recent email to past participants, JCADA expressed how unfortunate it is that the event must be moved online, as social connection is in short supply these days. In an attempt to stay connected with their community, JCADA has come up with the following 5 ways you, or anyone you know located anywhere in the country, can support the JCADA 5K & Wellness Day.

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

1. Register for the JCADA 5K & Wellness Day ($50) to show your financial support for JCADA’s life-saving work.
2. Follow JCADA’s Empowerment Playlists on Spotify (for free)! Use either the JCADA Empowerment Playlist or the JCADA Empowerment Playlist — Podcasts* to listen to as you walk, run, clean, or simply take a break from your responsibilities from now until May 2, 2020.
3. Pick a physical activity to do in your home or in your neighborhood (Walk/Run a 5K, Run around the block 5 times, do 5 jumping jacks, high five your kids, etc.) and fundraise for JCADA in honor of your efforts!
4. Record all your activity here so JCADA can give you a shout out during our May 3rd Facebook Live event!
5. Join us at 10 am on May 3 on Facebook Live to hear who JCADA’s biggest fundraiser was, and hear the top 5 activities you all participated in.

It is hard to be stuck inside. Please consider joining JCADA in this new challenge to remember and empower those whose homes aren’t a safe place during this global pandemic. If you’d like more information on JCADA, please email their Executive Director, Amanda Katz, at amanda@jcada.org. Follow JCADA on Facebook and Instagram. And, most of all, join them virtually this year on May 3rd and show victims and survivors of power-based violence in this community — you are seen; you are heard.

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

Participants at the 2019 JCADA 5K & Wellness Day

*Trigger Warning: While the JCADA Empowerment Playlist — Podcasts has lots of motivational podcasts and guided meditations, it also has some episodes detailing sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence that may not be suitable to all listeners. Please listen to these podcasts at your discretion

Network for Victim Recovery DC Continues to Battle for Crime Victims’ Rights Amid COVID-19

Written by Diane Dauplaise, Network for Victim Recovery of DC Bilingual Staff Attorney

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One of the things they don’t teach you in law school is that practicing law at a nonprofit is an exercise in creativity. But nothing in my previous five years of practice prepared me for the effect of COVID-19 on a caseload filled with some DC’s most vulnerable populations. As DC Superior Court began curtailing operations down to the most essential court functions, our organization worked overtime assessing the impact these changes would have on crime victims’ rights. As an organization we also anticipated that COVID-19 would affect correctional facilities’ ability to safely house inmates thus requiring the release of some inmates. The challenge would be to find a way to give victims a voice, balanced with the very real threat facing incarcerated men and women from this disease.

People who have experienced crime often struggle with a sense of powerlessness. Many people don’t realize the burden crime victims’ shoulders in the weeks, months and even years after their victimization. Consequences such as medical bills, hours missed from work, moving expenses can pile up on someone who is still trying to process the trauma of what has been done to them. This impact can be felt even more so when you are the victim of crime at the hands of a loved one. Suddenly child custody, housing, and public benefits are all called into question. Being a victim of any crime is a process full of uncertainties – and that was before COVID-19 changed the entire landscape of crime victims’ rights.

Cases in Washington, DC are covered by both the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. 3771, and the DC Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, DC Code Section 23-1901. These two pieces of legislation essentially guarantee crime victims’ rights such as being treated with “fairness and respect,” being notified of court proceedings, and receiving information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, detention, and release of the offender. While these rights do not allow a victim to “direct a prosecution,” they do ensure that victims are given reasonable notice about crucial decisions, such as charging, plea offers, or a defendant’s decision to elect a trial. These rights not only keep victims informed; they are also crucial in keeping victims safe. For instance, if a prosecutor alerts a victim that the defense will be seeking pre-trial release for a defendant that victim can then safety plan with an advocate and take additional precautions to keep themselves safe if the offender is eventually released. Courts and prosecutors work to strike a delicate balance between these rights and the rights of defendants facing a criminal prosecution.

This delicate balance became all the more challenging in light of COVID-19. Many defense attorneys expressed rightful concern that their clients who are elderly, immunocompromised, or had a variety of underlying health issues would not fare well in a correctional facility where many inmates live in close quarters. In response to these concerns the criminal division of the DC Superior Court issued an order creating a “Motion for Release from Detention Based on the COVID-19 Pandemic.” This pleading would allow defense attorneys to argue why an inmate’s condition made them vulnerable to the pandemic allowing the court to weigh that against the charges facing the defendant and the amount of time served. The motion further directed that defense attorneys shall notify the government when filing such a motion.

The team at Network for Victim Recovery DC (NVRDC) advocated to have this order amended to require that “the Government shall certify that is has made efforts consistent with its obligations pursuant to DC Code 23-1902 Notice to crime victims and 18 U.S.C. 3771,” essentially ensuring that prosecutors had to make efforts to alert crime victims if a defendant is even seeking release via a COVID-19 motion. NVRDC made similar arguments in a letter to DC leaders. Notice is crucial for crime victims especially in a time where quarantines have limited the safe places a victim can go and stay. Many victims rely on the homes of elderly relatives as a safer alternative of where to stay if they know their abusers are at liberty; however, in light of risks to older populations this isn’t a viable option for many of our clients. Advocates have been helping connect our clients to Crime Victims Compensation for housing alternatives when victims have expressed a concern for their safety. In additional to all of these reasons, the notice is important because it is a step in returning power to a victim who may have been left feeling powerless after an assault.

In addition to the DC Superior Court’s order the DC Department of Corrections also expanded the “good time credit” for inmates, which is a calculation that allows inmates to earn time off of their sentences for completing months of “good behavior,” i.e. no disciplinary violations. This change in calculations led to several of our attorneys finding out that defendants were to be released within a day. This presents an extra challenge because, unlike a COVID-19 Release Motion, good time credit is decided wholly within the Department of Corrections and many times prosecutors are not alerted when a defendant is released, meaning our crime victims’ rights attorneys are not formally alerted either. Our attorneys have been signing themselves up for automatic notifications available through Department of Corrections to at least be notified when a release occurs. This allows us to give our clients the most up to date information and take any precautions necessary.

As the avenues for a defendant’s release were expanding the DC Public Defender Service filed an emergency motion seeking the release of all inmates serving misdemeanor sentences. NVRDC responded with an amicus brief, not opposing the motion, but asking that the court treat cases of domestic and sexual violence. as well as stalking. on a case-by-case basis affording the victims notice and an opportunity to be heard. NVRDC specifically noted that domestic offenders who reoffend are most likely to do so quickly after their release. Giving victims the opportunity to be heard on these cases allows for case specific requests, such as GPS monitoring or stay away orders, which could directly impact the victim’s safety when there is an articulable basis for concern.

Throughout all of these challenges, NVRDC has recognized the potential safety risk to incarcerated defendants and has never sought to oppose the wide release of incarcerated defendants. The recurrent theme through our motions and briefings has been to give victims a voice in a confusing and uncertain time. It really all goes back to the powerlessness of being a crime victim. NVRDC truly feels that every time we can at least give victims notice, information, and an opportunity to be heard we are helping to replace the loss of power felt by victims of crime. By restoring power, dignity, and self esteem crime victims can thrive and provide thoughtful insight to help the criminal justice system function better, and help judges and prosecutors make the best decisions possible about defendants’ fate. I am proud to work for an organization using creativity, ingenuity, and teamwork to empower crime victims even through an uncertain and confusing time.

This blog post was originally published on April 14, 2020 on the NVRDC website.

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.

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“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.
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“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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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