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This is Woodley House DC: Meet Chris

This is the first installment in our #thisiswoodleyhousedc series: Meet Chris! When you ask Woodley House residents and staff to describe Chris, the words helpful, respected, flexible and a leader come to mind. Although he’s only been part of the Woodley House program for two years, he’s made a major impact on his fellow residents and is a true asset to our program.

Chris says he was born into a family of helpers. He remembers his parents organizing all the neighbors on their block to give out food baskets every Thanksgiving to those in need. Following that tradition, Chris works every Tuesday in our Food Pantry, loading shelves and giving out food. Helping others comes naturally to him, but it took a while to get there.

Chris_Woodley House

Chris came to Woodley House in 2019, having been homeless off and on for a few years. Chris moved into our Holly House group home in the Shepard Park neighborhood. Holly House provides permanent supportive housing for 8 adults with severe mental illness, most of whom are seniors who experienced chronic homelessness in their past. Chris’ case worker hoped that Holly House might provide the stability he needed. In the beginning, Chris didn’t trust anyone and wasn’t sure that he’d be there for long. Slowly he started to listen to staff about how to adjust to his new home. Attending Day Programs, he learned how to interact with people — when to step up and when to distance himself — learning to adapt to changing situations. Over time he came to be great friends with and a huge help to his older housemates who needed extra help with daily living tasks.

Chris was doing so well that his case worker and our Woodley House Recovery Support Specialist agreed that he was ready to move into our Supported Independent Living Apartment Program. He now lives in his own apartment that he shares with two other residents. He still returns to Holly House for his Day Program and to visit with his Holly House friends. He receives a stipend for assisting as an aide to one of the senior residents at Holly House through a grant from the National Lutheran Impact1890 Foundation. He also volunteers every Tuesday at the Woodley House Food Pantry and receives a small stipend through a grant from the Rotary Foundation of Washington DC. He is interested in furthering his computer skills and taking classes in peer counseling or cooking.

When asked about his best memory of Woodley House, he thinks of how he didn’t trust anyone in the beginning, but that they taught him everything that he knows! Chris says he’s “found my niche” and is happy to continue his parents’ legacy of a being a family of helpers.

Building a Generation of Volunteers

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Volunteer Fairfax was pleased to combine two popular family-friendly volunteer events, Valentines Challenge and Give Together, into the 2021 MLK, Jr. Weekend of Service. In both events, volunteers worked on service projects from the safety of their homes, school, or after school programs. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and some ingenuity in sorting supplies, we were able to distribute nearly 1,000 project supply kits out to the community! The kits included bird seed, crayons/markers, construction paper, glue, stickers, string, pompoms, pipe cleaners, valentine decorations, etc. Sending out project supply kits eliminates the need for parents/guardians to spend funds to secure these items. Our goal was to ensure that, regardless of access or ability to purchase materials, everyone should know the power of Dr. King’s call to service and be able to participate in service activities. We were honored to work with nonprofit organizations like Cornerstones, Lorton Community Action Center, Neighborhood Community Services, and other local civic groups like the Jack and Jill Club of America, Inc. to ensure that several supply kits went to youth in need.

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Making its debut this year was the first-ever MLK, Jr. Volunteer Guidebook which was available in hard-copy or digital download to those who registered to participate in Give Together. This outstanding publication outlines actionable service project ideas to engage families. Parents and educators can select projects based on key mission areas including food insecurity, social justice, elder care, and homelessness. The MLK Jr. Volunteer Guidebook also included Step-Up Challenges geared towards helping teens make simple service ideas actionable with their peers and within their communities.

“Thank you so much for this resource book-it’s set up so nicely, in a way that really helps families engage with their kids of all ages to do something meaningful within the local community. I appreciate all of the local extensions/community contacts, and the overall format with very clear guidance and thought- and conversation-provoking questions. Thanks for putting this together for families looking to volunteer during the pandemic!” Kristin Kuyuk

“Well done! Impressive jobs on the booklet and service projects ideas!” Sara Holtz, 2020 Providence Community Champion

This year, the Valentines Day Challenge expanded its mission beyond supporting youth aging out of the foster care system and challenged the community to share the love with frontline healthcare workers. Based on the overwhelming response for supply kits, we expect our volunteers to have hand-crafted more than 10,000 valentine cards that will be distributed to the following organizations: Foster Care to Success, Fairfax County Foster Care System, Adoption and Kinship Children, Children’s National Medical Center, INOVA Hospital System, Walter Reed Medical Center and Wounded Warriors.

VolFairfax - Handmade valentines day cards 2

We know that those receiving these cards will appreciate the good wishes of the community displaying the creative cards kids and adults alike have so thoughtfully created. To see card making in action along with other Weekend of Service activities, visit the VF Kudoboard. These images have been posted by the community as they share their amazing work and talents.

One of the highlights of the MLK, Jr. Weekend of Service was having U.S. Naval Academy’s Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber join us in recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service with a video message to families to help foster volunteerism with young people. Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber, the Naval Academy’s first African American female brigade commander, has an impressive list of accomplishments including her volunteerism working with a STEM outreach program that leverages mentoring, literature, and service lessons for middle school-aged girls of color. She shared, “My passion, the things that drives me and gets me out of bed each morning is service to others.” For the full recording of Midshipman 1st Class Barber’s inspiring kick-off message, click here.

Thanks to Lead Partners – AT&T, Leidos, and TransurbanCGI; Silver Supporters -Deloitte, NetApp, Northwest Federal Credit Union, and NOVEC; Foundation Supporter -Virginia Service Foundation; and In-Kind Supporter -Wegmans for making this event possible! Special mention to our long-time partner, the Pozez Jewish Community Center, where we hosted a food drive on MLK, Jr. Day that provided 781 pounds of food to Food for Others.

Our hope for the year’s event is to inspire children and youth to observe what’s going on in their community, ask questions of why something might be happening, dream of how things could be different, and feel empowered to be great agents of change. Seeing and hearing from so many of you, despite difficult times, lets us know that together we can accomplish great things! We can be great because we can serve.

For more service ideas for you and your family, please visit our volunteer opportunity database VolunteerNow!

Conversations Matter: A series on local Black history and race equity

Main Street Connect creates dynamic opportunities through affordable, inclusive housing and community engagement so people of all abilities can live their best lives. In August 2020, we were thrilled to open our flagship affordable apartment community, with 25% of the units set aside for adults with varying disabilities. The building is spectacular, but what we are most proud of is the people. We offer a community of support, dynamic programming and an affordable place to live, belong, and thrive. With George Floyd’s death earlier this year, we wondered how we could use our platform to bring our community together, how we could be true to our ethos of creating a space for belonging, and use our outrage at the current state of things to ultimately ask the question, WHY DO BLACK LIVES MATTER?

In collaboration with key partners and local leaders, including the Montgomery County Collaboration Council, Donte’s Boxing and Wellness Foundation, and Virtues Matter, we collectively present an informative series of conversations to educate, support and make change! Thanks to support from Maryland Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a generous donor, Conversations Matter was born. It is a free, four-part virtual series, open to all and intended to educate and address why Black Lives Matter, through the lenses of our local Black history and the intersectionality of race and disability. Our third and fourth sessions will share ways to take action in our local communities and sustain the change we all seek. To join the next Conversations Matter session, please register here.

Conversations Matter graphic

Our first session kicked off on January 19th, and focused on our local Black history, connecting what transpired in our own backyards with key moments in history and how those moments resonate today. The panel covered many different moments and key places in local Black history, including the U Street Corridor, also known as Black Broadway. Panelist Shellee Haynesworth, producer of Black Broadway on U Street, shared thoughts about how Black Broadway came to be: “Black communities built hubs out of necessity and served as early incubators for Black arts, commerce and culture. By 1920 there were 300 African American owned businesses on the U Street corridor, locally known as Black Broadway on U. It was insulated, a safe haven,?and they had all they needed so didn’t need to leave and deal with the unpleasantness beyond their area.” It was an area built by the Black community, for the Black community. Many in attendance during our first session wondered what happened to these Black corridors – many of them were wiped out due to gentrification and urban renewal.

Our second session explored the intersectionality of race and disability. Speakers Tatiana Lee, actor, model and Hollywood Associate at RespectAbility, and Lachi, performing artist, disability champion, and speaker with RespectAbility’s Disability Speakers Bureau, shared their stories of the impact of working in the entertainment industry as a woman of color with a disability. As we work toward more diversity and equity in our communities, Lachi reminded us that, “Disability should be included as diversity.”

Our third and fourth sessions will address ways to take action to support and expand racial justice in our own community and sustain the change we seek. We hope you can join us to learn more and get involved. We hope the connections made through our Conversations Matter series can be a resource to propel you to action and help sustain you as more informed community members and better neighbors. We have a long way to go, but we believe in the power of conversation to help us build a better world for ourselves and our children.

To register for upcoming sessions, click here.

Resources from the first session can be found here.

Talented DMV Youth Get Opportunities to Shine, Win Prizes, and Learn from Experts in DIW’s 4th Annual Youth Talent Showcase

Written by William Keiser, Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator of the Dance Institute of Washington

On Sunday, November 15th, ten talented performers, aged 6-18, took the virtual “stage” for an evening of performance broadcast to an audience of over 50 watchers. This was the Dance Institute of Washington (DIW)’s fourth annual Youth Talent Showcase, an opportunity started in 2016 to provide an uplifting platform for youth who are eager to showcase their talent, who then receive feedback from experienced judges. While this event is usually a big in-person evening, complete with balloons, a charismatic emcee, and families bustling in and out of DIW’s flagship 14th street building, this year, the action was substantially more confined, but no less dynamic.

Teens' division runner up, Fatima Diop

Teens’ division runner up, Fatima Diop

These performances were of varied disciplines; in the first half, we saw dance, acting, and some guitar playing and singing. In the second was rap, modeling, comedy, rock music, and spoken word poetry. After the show, the performers all hopped on a special zoom call to receive personal feedback from the judges: dance teacher Edwin Sorto, model/creative director Yoii Moore, musician Sean Isler, choreographer Shalyce Hemby, and hip-hop vocalist Cleva Thoughts. They announced first and second place winners in each category, but the spirit of the event was more of personal growth and expression than of competition.

For the performers, most of whom have been cooped up in restrictive quarantines for the past seven months, just having the chance to perform is extremely meaningful. Fatima Diop, sister of Adelina Diop, a DIW student, performed Sunday in the Youth Talent Showcase for the fourth time. Her persistence paid off. Her rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing” was technically proficient and emotionally moving. She received 2nd place in the teens’ category and the opportunity to make a professional film with video production company DLE Vision. Fatima’s and Adelina’s mother writes, “I’m so proud of Fatima and of her perseverance and accomplishments. She is truly developing her gift and this is an amazing opportunity is presenting for her. She thanks DIW and DLE for the opportunity to further develop her talent.”

Teens' division first place winner, Morelys Urbano

Teens’ division first place winner, Morelys Urbano

In the kids’ division, first place went to Raegen Coby, with a contemporary and hip hop dance routine. Second place was awarded to Fly Zyah, whose raps covered subjects of injustice and Black Lives Matter protests. In the teens’ division, first place was awarded to 18-year-old Morelys Urbano, whose beautiful and hard-hitting spoken word poem spoke about migration.

 

The Students and Judges' Zoom Call

The Students and Judges’ Zoom Call

 

Kids' division first place winner Raegan Coby

Kids’ division first place winner Raegan Coby

On the kids’ and judges’ zoom call to dispense feedback and answer questions, judge Edwin Sorto summarized the evening best. “There’s only one of you in the world and everybody here needs to see you,” he explains. 10 participants, 5 judges, 10 videos, 44 minutes, and $326 raised in donations for the Dance Institute of Washington later, we are in agreement.

If you would like to enjoy these inspiring performances, we encourage you to watch them here.

 

A Summer Like No Other

Written by Katie Guerin, Director of Development and Communications of City Kids Wilderness Project

When the COVID pandemic closed City Kids Wilderness Project’s offices and postponed our programming in March, as an organization, we, like the rest of the world, had no idea how long we would remain in a state of isolation. However, we knew we needed to start communicating with our youth, families and external stakeholders fast to assure them that we would not only survive this pandemic but thrive in it to support our youth.

City Kids 1

Internal communications with youth and families was key for our programmatic continuation and evolution. We began surveying our youth and families at the onset of the pandemic to ensure that our virtual programming supported them while we were not able to all be outdoors together. Families asked that we stay connected with youth as they navigated a spring separated from friends and began virtual learning.

Then came the May murder of George Floyd and the rise of the broader social justice movement. Following the first weekend of protests after Mr. Floyd’s death, City Kids put part of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement of Beliefs out in a public post on Instagram. Externally, City Kids is increasingly seen as a leader in the outdoor social justice movement, receiving mentions on social media and increasing our Instagram audience by 25% in the month of June alone.

By virtue of the programming we do, City Kids is an organization founded on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) principles, and as such, these core tenets have historically been at the forefront of our internal communications among staff, participants and families. We have been careful and intentional to let our youth voice drive our communications, and this present moment has pushed us to share these efforts publicly and put a call to action to our CK community about allyship and solidarity and provide resources that help educate.

In an effort to respond to inquiries and share the story of City Kids and the impact of the dual pandemic on CK youth and families, we worked with DC production company In My Shoes on a video A Summer Like No Other that has been widely distributed to our stakeholders. Additionally, a group of our high school youth designed and created JET Talks, a new podcast for the City Kids community. So far, two episodes have been released, with more to come focused on exploring meaningful themes about their City Kids experiences.

Our efforts continue to evolve during COVID to meet our youth and families’ needs, and communication is essential to ensuring that we all feel supported during this time. Between March and July, the organization conducted 400+ virtual engagements with many more rolling out this fall. Thanks to emergency grants from several D.C.-based foundations in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we were able to implement The New York Times’ 1619 Project as a central element of our summer curriculum.

After completing the lessons, a City Kids youth reflected: “One thing that I have learned was the ultimate power of narrative and how beneficial it is to take a deep dive into the true narrative, and be able to take great pride in it.”

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Find out more about City Kids’ work by visiting citykidsdc.org.

Making Virtual School Work with Peace of Mind: Kindness and Inclusion

Written by Linda Ryden, Founder of Peace of Mind

As the full time Peace Teacher at Washington DC’s largest public school, I get to work with all of our students in my weekly “Peace Class.” In Peace Class, kids learn about mindfulness and brain science and practice kindness, inclusion and peaceful conflict resolution. One important part of the program is Mindful Mentors. When my students get to 5th grade, they can volunteer to be a Mindful Mentor. My Mindful Mentors visit younger grade classrooms and lead Mindful Moments. Mindful Mentors is a very popular leadership program that younger students aspire to be part of and it has always been a lot of fun.
POM 1

Now that we are having virtual school, I’ve been struggling to figure out how to make Mindful Mentors work. After sorting out the complicated logistics of having my 5th grade students visit other virtual classrooms, I called the first Mindful Mentors meeting. I was a little bit surprised when DeAndre showed up.

DeAndre has cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair and it is challenging for most of us to understand him when he talks, although he talks a lot. DeAndre has been my student for over 5 years and has always seemed to enjoy Peace Class. Now here he was with his Dad by his side helping him out and his younger sister curiously looking on. I suddenly realized that I didn’t know how to handle the logistics at all.

I made a quick decision to see if any of the kids would feel more comfortable working with a partner and a few kids raised their hands, including DeAndre. So I paired him up with a student named Kayla. If we had been in the building I would have been able to pull her aside and talk to her about how she could handle working with DeAndre given how hard it is to understand his speech. They would have had to take turns leading the mindfulness practice. But in an online classroom talking with her privately wasn’t an option. So I just had to have faith in both of them as I sent them together into a virtual 4th grade classroom.

I heard later from the teacher who hosted them that they did a beautiful job. DeAndre was able to lead a mindfulness practice from his living room with his family looking on. Because we have been creating the ritual of the Mindful Moment for many years in Peace Class, all of the children know how it starts. “Let’s get into our mindful bodies. Let’s close our eyes or look down. Let’s take three deep breaths.” So even though they might not have been able to understand DeAndre when it was his turn, they knew what he was saying and were able to follow his directions. All of the kids treated him with kindness and patience, and his partner acted with grace and generosity. This is one of so many beautiful stories that I hold on to during this very difficult time.

DeAndre’s partner is a very thoughtful child, but I think that all of the kids at our school treat DeAndre, and all of the other students with challenges, with kindness because that is part of our culture. In Peace Class we use a curriculum I developed called “Peace of Mind.” Students begin weekly Peace of Mind lessons in early childhood and carry on through Grade 5. Peace of Mind teaches children how to notice and manage emotions such as uncertainty and worry and to understand how their brains work when they feel these emotions and when they use mindfulness to calm them down. Equipped with mindfulness skills and brain knowledge, children learn and practice inclusion, kindness, patience, acceptance, and love. Most of our students do this weekly (or more often) for 7 years in the company of their classmates. These practices are all pillars of the Peace of Mind program and over time they have become an integral part of our school culture.

After 15 years of developing the Peace of Mind Program in my classroom in Washington DC’s largest public elementary school, we formed our nonprofit organization, Peace of Mind Inc., to develop, publish and share the Peace of Mind program with other educators. Peace of Mind is now used by teachers, counselors, and social workers in public, public charter and independent schools to reach over 3,500 students a year in the DC area.
POM 2

As our schools prepare for an uncertain return to in-person learning, focusing on students’ social and emotional well-being has never been more important. In the year ahead, we will continue to develop transformative mindfulness and brain-science based resources, support our Peace of Mind educators personally and professionally, and facilitate and encourage the application of mindfulness and social emotional skills to the most pressing social justice issues of our time.

Though we can’t know exactly what challenges are ahead for our children, we can help to equip them with the tools to meet them with skill and compassion. We hope that the Catalogue for Philanthropy community will join us!

Interested in knowing more? We’d love to talk with you!

TeachPeaceofMind@gmail.com

 

 

For People with Disabilities, Voting Has Always Required a Plan

Written by Mary Ellen Dingley, Communications and Outreach Coordinator of L’Arche Greater Washington, DC (GWDC)

You can’t miss the calls to vote these days. It’s everywhere – online and on yard signs, in hashtags and on t-shirts. The message is clear – make your voting plan and exercise your right to vote! But what about people with disabilities who face challenges accessing their voting rights?

A core member (adult with intellectual disability) at L’Arche GWDC expressed their desire to join their fellow community members in voting. But this core member’s right to vote had been taken away when they were placed under guardianship. A L’Arche leader stated that “with the right supports and the right accommodations” to communicate and explain the issues and candidates on the ballot, this core member could vote. They know who they want to vote for. They have explicitly said they want to vote. But they don’t have the right.

This core member isn’t alone. As Pew Trusts reported there are “tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities who every year lose their right to vote during guardianship proceedings, according to the California-based Spectrum Institute, an advocacy group for people with disabilities.” While this impacts thousands of people, the process itself isn’t standardized: “Not only is there no agreement among legal and psychological experts over whether certain people with disabilities should be disenfranchised, but there is also no set standard for measuring the mental capacity needed to vote.”

And even if someone with disabilities retains their right to vote, actually casting that vote can be difficult. Barriers can include not having a ballot they can read (visual disabilities or ballot formatting), not having an alternative to providing a signature, the voting location not being wheelchair accessible, no functioning accessible machines, or poll workers not knowing how to support people with disabilities. The pandemic, of course, just exacerbates the situation. This is no small number of people impacted by inaccessible voting. Rutgers University researchers found “A projected 38.3 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote in the November 2020 elections, representing close to one-sixth of the total electorate.”

Fortunately, accessible voting does exist and is required by law. Charles Clark, a core family member at L’Arche GWDC, has been active as an advocate and a voter for many years. In his experience he’s always encountered accessible polling places: “that’s the law,” he explained. “Everybody has the right to vote… You discriminate against them, you get in trouble with the law, it’s on the law books.” Organizations and campaigns like the American Association for People with Disabilities REV UP campaign, Crip the Vote, and Easterseals work to end voter suppression, eliminate barriers to voting, and encourage people with disabilities to know their rights and cast a vote.

Asking “what’s your voting plan?” has become part of the “new normal” of 2020. For people with disabilities, including core members at L’Arche, having a voting plan has always been a necessity.

Prior to 2020, many people didn’t have to think of a “voting plan.” They just showed up to vote. “People with disabilities have always had to think about it,” explained Caitlin Smith, Director of Human Resources at L’Arche GWDC.

These questions that people are being encouraged to think about in 2020 – when you will vote, how you will get there – “L’Arche members think about every time an election comes around,” says Eva-Elizabeth Chisholm, Human Services Leader at GWDC. Making those voting plans and discussing them at L’Arche is a normal part of community life.

For the most part, L’Arche finds that our local polling places are accessible. But Caitlin explains that it’s “one thing for a voting process to be accessible and another thing for a person with disabilities to feel like they really belong there.” Other people at the polls might look askance at someone with a visible disability voting and might even question their ability to vote. “Voting as an inalienable right is one thing but voting and feeling like ‘I belong here, I am a person who can vote’…I think is something that in general society takes for granted.”

Core members have varied interactions with voting.

Joseph, a core member in DC, recently registered to vote. He said it was “a little bit” hard to register to vote. When asked if he thinks voting is important he said “Yes. It’s what I wanna do.”

Another core member at L’Arche voted in the last several presidential and local elections but had his right to vote taken away when his guardianship was transferred. L’Arche is now supporting him and his guardian in restoring the right to vote if they choose to do so.

Kelly has voted before and plans to again. She thought the presidential debate was important for getting to know the candidates and she watched both the presidential and the vice-presidential debate.

Lauren, Kelly, and Eric after voting in 2018

Lauren, Kelly, and Eric after voting in 2018

Mike was inspired to vote by his mom: “Mother said it was important and I believe her.” He first voted in 1969. The candidate’s speeches are important to him in choosing who to vote for.

Charles also learned about the importance of voting from his family – he had an uncle who was a congressman and another who was a judge. He reads about all the issues when voting, and specifically mentioned the job market, the Justice Department, and climate change as issues that are important to him. He’s passionate about politics: “So people have the right to vote for whoever they want to, you know.” He watches the news every evening. And what’s the most important thing about a candidate to him? “I look for sincerity and telling the truth,” he explained.

Ensuring that people with disabilities have the right to vote is no small matter. Many government policies directly impact their lives, including subminimum wage laws, marriage equality for people receiving disability benefits, and emergency funding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supporting people with intellectual disabilities to vote requires we “presume competence” says Eva-Elizabeth. That means presuming that even if they communicate or understand differently than the “norm” that communicating and understanding is still valid. We must presume people with disabilities are competent to make their own decisions when it comes to voting. A challenge in supporting people with intellectual disabilities to vote is to do so without making a decision for them.

Right now, L’Arche leaders are working with the core member and guardian mentioned at the beginning of this article to restore voting rights. To do so they must come up with the means of communicating the voting choices and supporting decision making in an unbiased way. “That’s one of the biggest things that people are worried about… is this the person’s choice?” says Eva-Elizabeth.

The right to freely choose who to vote for isn’t one to be taken lightly. At L’Arche GWDC, we’re busy putting our voting plans into motion! How about you?

This blog was originally published on October 21, 2020 on the L’Arche website.

LCNV’s Distance Learning Platforms are Providing “Joyous Times”

Written by Shuyang Wang, Communications Coordinator of Literacy Council of Northern Virginia

The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV), complying with social distancing policies during this evolving situation created by COVID-19, has replaced in-person classes with Distance Learning programs to continue providing basic English education to students, minimizing the disruption to their learning process. The classes have been reported to be “joyous times” that give both the instructors and students an opportunity to socialize and concentrate on something positive.

LCNV serves 1,500 adult learners annually throughout all of Northern Virginia with its mission to teach the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English so they can access employment and educational opportunities and more fully and equitably participate in the community. LCNV is one of only a few non-profit organizations in Northern Virginia that complies with federal education standards as it serves the most beginning-level adult learner, those that understand English at a 6th grade level or lower. Since April, LCNV has provided instruction tailored to students’ technological and time restrictions. Instruction is provided via various platforms:for students with internet and computer access, LCNV is offering virtual instruction in the form of live classrooms with teacher-led instruction, interaction, and whiteboard capabilities;for those with only cell phone and data access, LCNV offers distance learning instruction through Cell-Ed and USA Learns, two online learning apps approved by the Virginia Department of Education; for those that only have voice capabilities on their phone, instructors are scheduling sessions with students for one-to-one conversations to practice English. So far, a total of 21 classes are running for LCNV’s Beginning English, Family Learning and Destination Workforce programs. Over 75% of LCNV’s students that enrolled in January are benefiting from instruction, with the number increasing each day.

 
LCNC Zoom Screenshot

These outcomes could not have been achieved without LCNV’s dedicated force of 500 volunteers and devoted instructors, who called and helped the learner community to understand and set up online learning technologies one-on-one. “The LCNV team has been heartened to see incredible enthusiasm for our efforts to turn to distance learning by instructors, volunteers, and students,” says Roopal Saran, LCNV’s Executive Director, “Their desire to work hard to make sure instruction and learning is uninterrupted affirms that there is great value in continuing to offer English instruction at this unprecedented time.”

Based on the current situation, LCNV is also exploring future distance learning possibilities and optimizing various platforms. To support the expansion of class offerings, LCNV holds Professional Learning Communities (PLC) virtual sessions each week for teachers to discuss their classes, pain points, and successes. To support the learner community, LCNV also created a resource page on its website for those in need to navigate free learning resources, as well as community information on food banks, financial aid, healthcare and more.

Much is unknown at this time, but one thing we do know is that however hard the current situation is on community residents, it will be even harder on those with limited resources. Many of LCNV students are low income workers who are less likely to have sick leave, have options to telework, and to keep their social distance. They are the essential service workers preparing and delivering your meals, stocking the supermarket shelves, providing patient care, and cleaning up hospitals along with many more who will be out of work because their businesses have had to close. We cannot fully comprehend all the challenges that we will be facing in the coming year, but LCNV understands that the lives and well-being of learners are vastly impacted by their ability to read, write, speak and understand English, especially during this unconventional time.

The current semester has been extended from April 23 to June 30th at no additional cost to students. While the current sessions are for enrolled students, LCNV is working diligently to open registrations to the public starting in the Summer. For more information about upcoming sessions, please call LCNV at 703-237-0866.

Building Community through Virtual Peace Circles

Written by by MJ Park, Executive Director at Little Friends For Peace

Little Friends for Peace (LFFP) has been Circling Up with people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and stages for years. Despite the pandemic impacting the entire world, we made the shift to virtual circles in order to continue on with our “check-ins.” We feel now more than ever LFFP needs to help bring people together in order to connect and find tools to help navigate peacefully throughout this new journey.

Since the world has been put to a STOP, this has put added stress on our wellness wheels – impacting our mind, body, and feelings. From the teachings of Pema Chodron, I have learned and believe that when things fall apart we have choices to either fall apart or embrace the experience as an opportunity and time to reset, renew, and rewire ourselves.

During these past three weeks of adjustment to our new normal, LFFP has been doing virtual peace circles for different age groups. It has been amazing and full of connection, inspiration, and practices to help us. Not only to get through these times, but also to see this period as an opportunity to make changes in the way we live and care for ourselves and others.

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LFFP Virtual Peace Circle in Session

As said by one of our virtual peace circle participants: “I think that when the dust settles, we will realize how little we need, how very much we actually have, and the true value of human connection.”

People have been coming to the circle with anxiety, fear, concern, loss of center, feeling less grounded, and loss of connections within the community.

However, after the circles people are leaving the circle feeling more calm, grounded, hopeful, joyful, creative, energized, connected, and motivated to embrace the now. People are given time to reflect on the silver lining and enjoy what they can do and not what they can’t do.

LFFP 2

A Peace Circle Participant at The Father McKenna Center

With compassion and respect as the key ingredients in the virtual peace circles, the Zoom sessions turn into safe and welcoming spaces where everyone can share from the heart when talking about what they are thinking and feeling. To finish off our time together, LFFP leaves the attendees with a peaceful tool with ideas on how to use it in daily life. If put into practice, these tools will help bring yourself as well as others to a more peaceful state.

As another virtual peace circle attendee states: “What I take from this beautiful peace circle is the peace circle per se, like how necessary it is to have more peace circles in the world, and how that can bring more peace culture & education to my country. I learned how necessary it is to do inner work. We need to seize this crisis as an opportunity to redefine what is really important for us and take more joy in the moments we live, in our own realities.”

LFFP will be Circling Up Monday through Friday at 3:00 PM EST with different groups. Check our website for more details and information to sign up. Hope to see you in the circle!

Expanding Urban Debate For All

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

In 2015, a group of former debaters surveyed the educational landscape in D.C. and lamented the lack of high-quality debate programs available for public school students. Debate is a transformative educational experience, but it was only available to students at elite private institutions. They decided to do something about it and founded the Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL), a non-profit dedicated to improving student outcomes through participation in competitive policy debate.

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​Debate is a game-changer for students, improving their GPAs, test scores, graduation rates, attendance, and more. Debate improves college attendance and graduation rates, and is one of the best ways to get a non-athletic scholarship. It improves self-confidence and resilience, and even makes students 3 times more likely to vote! Unfortunately, it was only available for students who already had a leg up.

In our first year, we served more than 100 students from 6 schools. Since then, the WUDL has grown rapidly, and was named the Outstanding Urban Debate League by the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues in 2018. Since the 2017-18 school year, we have served more than 500 students at 39 schools each year in our After School Debate program, and several thousand through our curricular programs. As a one-man operation, however, we plateaued, unable to serve more students and more schools without more capacity.

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For the first four years of our operation, I was the only staff member of the organization. We have a fantastic pool of volunteers that has largely made this tremendous growth possible, but there are limits to what volunteers can do, and when they can be available. These first four years, I’ve had to do everything from direct instruction of students and teachers to fundraising, communications, and volunteer recruitment and management…all at the same time. As we grew, I tried to do more and more myself, but there are limits to what a single person can sustainably do.

Last year, however, we were named “one of the best” local non-profits by the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. The Catalogue offers training sessions to non-profit leaders through a program called the Learning Commons, instructing on everything from donor management to program evaluation. I’ve been to more than 10 workshops, and have learned so much more (shout out to Matt Gayer, who ran most of them!) about how to be a successful, intentional non-profit manager. I can work smarter instead of harder (something my fiancee appreciates).

 

Thanks to the training and financial resources provided by the Catalogue, and the growth of our donor base, the WUDL is growing again rapidly. We’ve hired a program coordinator, Dara Davis, who has taken more than 30 schools off my plate, and has been an immense help developing curriculum and building relationships with a new generation of our students. We’ve also hired a fundraising consulting firm to significantly expand our fundraising capacity to ensure we have the tools needed to make debate available for more students. We are back to work towards our dream of making a high quality debate program available to every single public school student in the region.

This fall, we’ve taken a big step in that direction in D.C. After serving 39 schools last year, we are adding 15 new schools, all across D.C.:

  • Basis DC(PCS, Ward 2)
  • Bard Early College (DCPS, Ward 7)
  • Browne EC (DCPS, Ward 5)
  • Center City Brightwood (PCS, Ward 4)
  • Cesar Chavez (PCS, Ward 7)
  • Friendship Armstrong (PCS, Ward 5
  • Friendship Collegiate (PCS, Ward 7)
  • Friendship Tech (PCS, Ward 8)
  • Ida B Wells (DCPS, Ward 4)
  • Kipp Somerset (PCS Ward 7)
  • Oyster Adams (DCPS, Ward 3)
  • Paul (PCS, Ward 4)
  • School Without Walls (DCPS, Ward 3)
  • Stuart Hobson (DCPS, Ward 6)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (DCPS Ward 5)

We expect more than 200 new debaters across these schools to participate in just their first year, laying the groundwork for hundreds more in years to come. We aren’t done growing yet, and won’t stop making great opportunities available for students in D.C.

If you have a student in a D.C. public school, sign them up for their school’s urban debate team, or come out to volunteer at one of our tournaments. You can learn more at www.urbandebatewashingtondc.org

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