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HER Resiliency Center: A Personal Story by M. Hicks-Pope

I will never become homeless because I am too smart to be homeless.

That’s what a young, early teenage version of myself repeatedly told themselves. But why would a child have to say that?

Being raised in the DC area by a mom and dad you knew was not yours only because you attended your real father’s funeral at 5 years of age. Watching your stuff on the sidewalk but mostly watching your daddy’s PlayStation, hoping no strangers came and took it as mommy and daddy figure out where we will stay next. Having someone knock on your door and take you and your little brother away from the only parents you knew. Moving from foster home to foster home, being beaten, molested, treated like a b****** who needed rescuing. These are my childhood memories. These are the reasons the teenage version of me had to convince themselves that homelessness could and would never be an option. Put out of the house by my adopted mom at age 16 to emancipation from CFSA* at age 21 to homelessness, living in different homes up to age 25. From age 16 up to today I’ve lived in over 40 different places.

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How did a child manage school, mental health, and other needs through all of this? Well of course drugs and alcohol helped me through 12 years of that trauma. But also that child continued to tell me “You’re too smart to be stuck on the streets. You’re too smart to not succeed.” This child version of me kept me alive for many years.

The trauma the child version of me saw and experienced. How could they be so strong? Why would they want to keep pushing on? This couldn’t have been all that was out there for me. It couldn’t just be struggle after struggle with no gold sitting under a tree.

Today I am the Executive Assistant to the Founder & President of HER Resiliency Center, Natasha Guynes.

It’s not a coincidence that I ended up here. For the past 6 years HER has been here for me. When I wanted to kill myself and was admitted to the hospital, HER was there. When I couldn’t pay bills and just wasn’t stable, HER was there. Natasha answered my every call and not once did she leave me stranded. The day I decided that I couldn’t drink any longer, HER was there. And when I just couldn’t push any further, Natasha found the best rehab she could find and helped get me a scholarship and I went there.

I wouldn’t be 5 months sober today if HER had given up on me like many programs have in the past. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if HER’s founder hadn’t gone through her own traumas and built the resilience she has today. If Natasha would’ve believed that no one deserved a chance to fight another day I would not be here. For that I am forever grateful. For that I am able to share my story with the next woman just hoping that they too will see that there is purpose, that they have purpose, and that they are here on purpose.

Resilient: The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. I’m now able to see that I’ve always been resilient in many different ways but I had to learn how to cope and be resilient in a healthier way. HER is a part of the reason I have the resilience that I have today.

*CFSA – DC Child Family Services Administration

PEN/Faulkner Celebrates the Power of Literature this National Arts in Education Week

For more than three decades, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation has connected authors with students in classrooms across the District to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. This year, we join Americans for the Arts in celebrating National Arts in Education Week to recognize the transformative power of the arts in education. Since 2010, this national celebration has brought attention to the arts as an essential part of a complete education, with students of all ages benefiting from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity.

PEN/Faulkner believes that our society only thrives when we all have access to stories from a diverse variety of perspectives. Through our education programs, we empower young people to be confident and empathic global citizens by equipping them with the skills and tools they need to tell their own stories. Our experience of the pandemic this past year has shown us that the arts play a critical role in healing and unifying our communities. However, according to a 2012 report from the National Center of Education Statistics, high-poverty schools are significantly less likely to provide students with access to arts education. We strongly support access to the arts for all learners and, alongside peer literary and arts organizations serving the District, are working to address these inequities.

In response to the decline of students’ reading habits and comprehension across the country, reading specialist Elena Forzani states that “we’re teaching kids to read in a content and motivational vacuum.” Our methodology intends to achieve the exact opposite: we want to center students’ lived experiences to demonstrate how storytelling can be valuable for them.

Last school year, we served a total of 4,007 students in grades 3-12 across 41 public and public charter schools, of which 95.1% were Title I schools where at least 40% of students qualify for free and reduced meals. We donated 3,709 books to these students, including texts like Stamped by Jason Reynolds, This is My America by Kim Johnson, and Into the Beautiful North by Luis Urrea. Aside from giving students free books that they can add to their home libraries, which have been shown to positively impact individuals into adulthood, our team partners closely with educators to select the contemporary texts and authors that would best reflect and represent their students.

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According to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who has contributed groundbreaking research within the fields of education and American children’s literature, “literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.” In a publishing industry that is predominantly white, with less than 30% of the 3,299 books reviewed by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2020 written by BIPOC authors, it is important that we start to shift the narrative around who is “allowed” to tell stories and who can be in them.

Our education programs create supportive and inclusive learning communities where students can write poems about fear in a writing workshop led by author Derrick Weston Brown; where students can work with a professional writer in a year-long residency to self-publish an anthology of their own writing; and where students from different schools can come together to write a collaborative poem inspired by author Aida Salazar’s use of sensory language.

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As Dr. Yusef Salaam, member of the Exonerated Five and co-author of Punching the Air, said to students in one of our Writers in Schools visits, “Historically, when you don’t see yourself being talked about or being dignified in what you’re reading, you disengage. We’re storytellers. We get to tell those stories.” While our team continues to address pandemic-related challenges this school year, we remain more committed than ever to provide students across DC, especially students from low-income families and students of color, with equitable access to the arts in their classrooms.

To learn more about the multicultural literary opportunities PEN/Faulkner offers to students across DC, you can visit our website, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Christ House: COVID-19 Vaccine Access

While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country has begun, Christ House leadership has been diligently preparing and coordinating access to vaccines for patients, Kairos permanent housing members, and staff. Christ House’s Quality Improvement Committee decided to focus efforts on access to vaccines in January and has made great strides.

As of February, many staff had received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, or are scheduled to receive their second dose shortly. Christ House clinical staff have been identifying patients who want to learn about the vaccine, setting up appointments, and monitoring symptoms after patients receive their doses. They have been meeting with patients 1-on-1 to review how the vaccine works and most importantly, to answer any questions a patient might have about the vaccine. “This way,” says Mary Jordan, Executive and Clinical Director, as well as Nurse Practitioner, “patients are prepared either way once the vaccine is available to them.” The fact sheet distributed during these meetings includes information on how the vaccines work, risks of COVID-19, benefits of the vaccine, and information for those who have a weakened immune system.

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Connecting patients with vaccines has required a high degree of patience and coordination among shelters, Unity Health Care workers, and the DC Government. The adaptability of the staff has already opened the door for many patients and Kairos members to receive their vaccines. Part of this adaptability includes extending patients’ stays when needed so that they are able to receive the second dose of the vaccine without complications. Nurse Practitioner Mari Lowe discusses another challenge to connecting patients with the vaccine, “There are misconceptions that vaccines make you sick. There is a history of systemic racism where communities of color have been mistreated in medical settings. What we’ve done to make patients comfortable is to promote autonomy in decision-making and provide access to information.” Using these strategies, Mari is happy to share that most patients, staff, and Kairos members have received at least their first dose of the vaccine at this point. She says “There is a consensus among patients, staff, and Kairos members that we are a community and vaccines are another way to protect and foster our community.”

When asked about receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, one patient shared, “I didn’t feel a thing. No bad reaction. I’m glad I took it. I recommend everybody take it.” For Mary Jordan, the most important aspect of receiving the vaccine is our ability to continue to treat patients: “We’re fortunate – it gives us a degree of protection to keep working with patients coming through our doors.” In looking ahead into 2021, she shares, “I’m hopeful because we?ve contained any outbreak, we’re effectively working to get staff and patients immunized, we’re doing daily surveillance and weekly testing of patients and Kairos members. We, as healthcare workers, all feel more hopeful now that there’s a vaccine available.”

People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 when living in congregate settings such as shelters. Practicing hygiene and accessing PPE also present challenges to this population, increasing the risk of transmission. Ensuring the homeless population has access to vaccines quickly can help reduce the spread of the virus.

The Joy of Accompaniment: Reflecting on 15 years of serving moms and babies in Washington, DC

This year I mark my 15th anniversary working at The Northwest Center (NWC). As I reflect on these years, I am reminded of the foundational value of a good volunteer experience and how it can influence future career paths.

As a freshman at Georgetown University, I chose to receive a fourth credit for my Introduction to Psychology course by taking on weekly volunteer work. I value volunteering and also supporting pregnant women, so my search led me to NWC and its Pregnancy Center Program. I volunteered for a semester and subsequently chose to volunteer on my own my sophomore year. I remember helping sort donations and sitting with women and listening to their personal stories. It left a lasting impression.

To this experience, I later added a post-college year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working with teen mothers and felt called to pursue a career in social work. Fast forward 10 years and, after several years of working in child welfare for Montgomery County, I was thinking it was time for a job change. A friend who had been volunteering at NWC told me there was an opening for Director of the Maternity Home, a second program offered at NWC. Before I knew it, I was working at the agency where I had gained my very first work experience related to my eventual social work profession. Subsequently, I also became Executive Director, overseeing both NWC programs.

Susan

During these ensuing 15 years at NWC, I have grown in so many ways. When I left Montgomery County for the maternity home position, my supervisor gave me a small novelty hammer and screwdriver. To my great surprise, those farewell gifts turned out to foretell how much I would need to learn about maintenance issues for the upkeep of the 100-year-old DC townhouse that houses NWC’s programs.

But the main growth has been in understanding the need in the community and how best to meet that need. I have learned the importance of creating a safe space for women to share their hopes, dreams, and struggles and to respond by listening, not judging, and providing encouragement.

My experience at NWC often brings to mind the words of Father Greg Boyle in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Father Boyle talks about “standin awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

I am truly awed by the resilience of the women we serve in the face of what they have to carry: from domestic violence to poverty and lack of resources (housing, food, adequate medical care), to the racism they face. In spite of this, each and every mother makes countless sacrifices for her baby and her family. My lens of viewing the world has widened as I have seen the daily struggles and joys of so many different families who have allowed me a glimpse into their lives.

“Accompaniment” is my greatest joy in being a social worker and working at NWC. Walking alongside women – providing support, encouragement, guidance – has allowed me to watch the moms grow in every area of their lives as they become new parents and build long-term stability for their families. Being a part of a child’s life – from before they are born, and watching them grow, achieve developmental milestones, and become a member of the village which supports their family – is truly a gift.

The story of one determined mom is an example of the difficult path women have walked as they progress through NWC programs. This mother was pregnant with her second child and did not have stable, safe housing nor health insurance. She was eager in working towards her goals: deliver a healthy baby, find daycare for her children, obtain U.S. citizenship, and find a better paying job to support her family. She obtained health insurance, gave birth to a full-term baby, and found a good daycare. The mother and I deciphered our way through the citizenship application. I drove her to the immigration office for her interview, reviewed study questions for the test with her, and eventually attended her naturalization ceremony. She obtained a better paying job, now lives in affordable housing, and I continue to provide resources and support to her family.

And then there is the joy of reading to a young infant and watching that become a part of his daily routine. I was reading a board book to a 4-month-old who blurted out gleeful sounds every time he saw the hippo in the book. His mom was impressed that a baby that young enjoyed reading and began reading to him daily. Some of the babies liked the animal noises so much that every time they wanted to read a book, they walked around making animal noises and handed their mothers a book.

Many we serve become extended family, keeping in touch after they have moved to independence, and often visiting NWC to support new women entering the programs. This is a real way that I see The Northwest Center living out its mission to support all women through pregnancy as well as beyond to long-term well-being for themselves and their families.

I have been blessed with dedicated, supportive, and creative coworkers who truly define what it means to be a team. I am grateful for the wide range of volunteers who pick up and sort donations, meet with families, and offer their expertise, energy and passion. It is these volunteers that keep me going when the work is challenging. I am amazed at the generous community donations that help provide resources in support of the needs and hopes of new mothers and their infants.

My 15-year tenure also has been enriched by the generosity of our donors, by the strong commitment of the board, staff and volunteers, and by the embrace of our local community. I am humbled to work at an agency that exists and thrives because of these caring efforts in support of pregnant women and families.

This reflection was written by Susan Gallucci, LICSW, the current Executive Director of The Northwest Center (Photo by Renata Grzan Wieczorek/FortheLoveofBeauty.com).

Street Sense Goes Weekly, by Eric Falquero, Editorial Director

Street Sense Media is realizing a long-time goal of doubling how often we publish the street paper of our nation’s capital! Starting April 14, our community can look forward to a new publication every Wednesday! At the heart of this expansion is one simple thing: vendor income. We project that the women and men selling our newspaper will earn an average of 40% more money based on observations from our sister street papers in Chicago, Seattle, and Portland that have already transitioned to weekly distribution.

This increase will help vendors meet their daily, basic needs​ and make the program more attractive to new vendors. The more consistent income will make saving and budgeting funds from working with Street Sense Media easier. And we will also be able to pay the artists who contribute to Street Sense – writers, photographers, illustrators, and more – twice as often.

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A 2015 analysis of our past sales data found that sales were, on average, 74% higher in the first week of a paper’s circulation. And in a readership survey the following year, a whopping 78% of readers said they would purchase the paper every week if we made this change.

Writing, editing, designing, and printing twice as much is a big lift and it has taken a long time to successfully connect with the generous funders who have made this happen. Last year, we hired a second full-time editor, Deputy Editor Jake Maher, doubling the size of our editorial department. And we are – continuing to recruit – volunteer editors, reporters, and page designers.

SSM Q Featherstone

More frequent publication also strengthens our product to better serve our community. The range and depth of our journalism has continued to grow from year to year. Publishing more frequently will mean bringing our print readers more timely news by featuring articles that would usually run online only. It also allows space to spotlight more relevant news from our partner newsrooms: DCist, The DC Line, Greater Greater Washington, and other street papers from around the world. Our community calendar and job listings will be more frequent. The voices and talents shared in our pages through poetry, prose, and visual art will diversify and be amplified all the more. And the opinion section, which is – open to all members – of our community, will be able to provide a platform for more timely commentary and debate.

This is our entire community’s paper, and we’re so excited to grow it with the community’s support.

A lot has changed over the past year. The pandemic decimated paper sales; street vendors cannot work from home. Our community rallied around us, helping to establish a vendor assistance fund for our case management department and increasingly using – our mobile payments app – to pay vendors for what people are reading at home, or just to provide them extra support. But none of this has measured up to the same level of income Street Sense Media vendors earned previously. As our community works through the vaccine rollout and continues to rebuild and recover, we want to be there to meet our readers? information needs every week and provide a stronger no-barrier work opportunity than ever before for our unhoused neighbors.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.