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

Written by Xiomara Munoz, Program Assistant at The Northwest Center

Xiomara Munoz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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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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Meet the Catalogue for Philanthropy’s New Staff (But Familiar Faces)

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator, and Laura Rosenbaum, Nonprofit Programs Coordinator, at Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington

The Catalogue for Philanthropy team has grown! Last month, two of the Catalogue’s interns were promoted to full-time staff members. Laura Rosenbaum first joined the Catalogue as a Learning Commons Intern in June 2018 before becoming the Nonprofit Programs Coordinator. Nancy Erickson began as a Nonprofit Programs Intern in October 2018 and is now joining the team as the Communications Coordinator. The following is an interview with the two newest team members of the Catalogue to help you get to know them a bit better, and why they chose to stay at the Catalogue.

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Tell us about how you first joined Catalogue for Philanthropy.

Laura: My sister had a friend from college who knew someone who knew Matt. At some point during my internship search Matt reached out to me and from there it’s been history. I wasn’t initially searching in the nonprofit space, but after coming across the Catalogue I was immediately intrigued. I’m so happy I took a leap of faith and trusted my gut!

Nancy: I had just moved to the DC area to start my MPA program at American University. While searching for internships, I noticed something called “Catalogue for Philanthropy” on an online job board. At the time I had mostly been interested in going after international development work but decided to apply to the Catalogue too out of curiosity. After interviewing me for the role, Matt gave me a copy of my very own print Catalogue. On the metro home, I remember being impressed by how professional and beautiful it was as I flipped through its pages. Imagine my delight to be offered the position!

Catalogues!

What was your internship experience like?

Laura: I mostly did secondary research about the nonprofit space and best practices to help inform our professional development efforts. After compiling this research, I would work directly with Matt to make new workshops to use with our nonprofit network. Throughout the summer Matt and I completed five workshops. I also did other “odd jobs” like tracking attendance or doing evaluation analysis. The last big project I worked on over the summer involved helping Matt launch our Learning Commons portal. One of the big pieces featured on the portal is the short three to four-minute “how-to” videos. I did a lot of scriptwriting for the videos and Matt and I spent a week in the studio filming. After the summer, I went back to finish my senior year of college and I interned remotely during the year.

Nancy: Initially the focus of my internship was like Laura’s — research and writing for Learning Commons workshops and other various projects. However, my position slowly expanded both in scope and time as I committed more of myself to the Catalogue mission. The focus of my role first began shifting the day I was asked to make a social media graphic. The team was so impressed with what I came up with that I started getting more requests for visual design, including the task of editing the videos which Laura had filmed the previous summer. The videos have been a ton of fun — a real creative challenge. As I grew in my abilities and confidence, I knew that the Catalogue valued my professional development and took pride in their internship program.

What did working at the Catalogue teach you?

Laura: Wow, honestly so much. I didn’t know a lot about the nonprofit space before interning at the Catalogue so doing secondary research inundated me with knowledge from the get-go. I learned a lot from Matt specifically–like best practices for branding and teaching, scriptwriting, and the ins and outs of “how to be scrappy.” The Catalogue also taught me what it’s like to work from the heart. I know it sounds super cheesy, but it’s true. Everyone at the Catalogue works hard because we all care. I would say the Catalogue taught me how to love what I do.

Nancy: First and foremost, the nonprofit sector! Like Laura, I hadn’t known very much about it prior to joining the team; I still remember innocently asking Matt early on in my internship “What’s a board of directors?” But since then I have learned so much, in big part thanks to the Learning Commons workshops. As an intern, I was responsible for attending and staffing these workshops, which meant that I essentially got to learn about nonprofit management best practices while on the job! Additionally, the Catalogue has invested significant time and resources in my technical abilities, such as photo editing, graphic design, illustration tools, and video software.

Why did you want to expand your role at the Catalogue?

Laura: I had a great experience as an intern and felt like I instantly clicked with the team. I mostly worked with Matt last summer and he trained me on basically everything I did. I knew once Matt and Aaron were promoted to Co-Executive Directors, the Catalogue was only going to grow in terms of our impact and the strength of our team. I’m not only excited about the work itself, but I really enjoy who I get to work with which I think is important to be effective at a job. I genuinely enjoyed coming into work every day last summer because I felt like I had a real impact and I loved learning more about the nonprofit space. I found that the Catalogue had such a unique mission and I’m thrilled to be able to work full-time now!

Nancy: The Catalogue has a warm and open work culture that has made coming to work a real pleasure. I never felt like “just an intern” –I felt like a valued and respected member of the team. My ideas and contributions were taken seriously and utilized. As I felt the end of my internship date coming closer, I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave just yet. I had become emotionally invested in my ongoing projects and the future of the Catalogue. Having developed a role which provided creative freedom and challenges, I knew that I still had more ideas to contribute to the Catalogue.

New Staff

What are you looking forward to in your new role?

Laura: As an intern, I did a lot of behind the scenes work. I’m really looking forward to getting to know our nonprofits better and interacting more face-to-face with everyone. I’m also excited to be the point-person for Giving Tuesday. I know it’s a big project, but I think it has a lot of potential to expand and I’m excited to work with Nancy on it too. I also know there are a plethora of projects and data to look into at the Catalogue and I’m ready to get “knee-deep” in everything!

Nancy: I’m also looking forward to working with Laura! It’s funny that we overlapped as Catalogue interns for 9 months without ever actually meeting (because she was tele-interning at the time from Missouri.) I’m also looking forward to finding more opportunities to visit our nonprofit partners in person. My goal is to cultivate new ways to showcase them by volunteering, attending events, and visiting their work in action so that I can then share via blogging and photography. I’m so excited for the road ahead!

Tell us one fun fact about you!

Laura: I really enjoy camping and hiking. I’m a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) alum and I spent a month packrafting and hiking in Alaska a few summers ago!

Laura Camping

Nancy: Once, I went rappelling off the side of a cliff in South Africa. I screamed my head off, then I paused to smile for the camera, and then I continued screaming all the way down. It was terrifying fun!

Nancy Rappelling

The Catalogue has run out of interns…because they have all been promoted! That is why the Catalogue is now hiring a new Nonprofit Management Intern to join our team to support our programming, communications, and fundraising. You can read more about this position here. We hope that our next intern has as rewarding an experience as Laura and Nancy did!

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Food for Others

1 warehouse + 2 hours + 20 middle schoolers + 7,700 pounds of food = my morning spent volunteering for Food for Others, a nonprofit partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy. The mission of Food for Others is to distribute food to their neighbors in Northern Virginia who struggle with food insecurity. They rely upon food donations — a lot of donations. In 2018 alone, they distributed 2.2 million pounds of food. My task was to help sort some of those donations.

Signing up online for a volunteer shift was easy and painless. Despite being a food-focused nonprofit, the real bread and butter of Food for Others is their volunteer force. Since they rely upon so much free labor (up to 1200 volunteers a month!), they ensure that their sign up process is as convenient as possible. At 9:30am, I arrived at their warehouse, which was already bustling with activity. After being welcomed by the receptionist (another volunteer), I signed into a computer (10 seconds tops) and I was ready to go.

Food for Others 1
The atmosphere of the warehouse was informal, yet industrious. Everyone was friendly, but no one had much time to chit chat; they had mouths to feed, trucks to fill! My supervisor for the morning was Jenn. Prior to joining Food for Others, she used to work in an Amazon warehouse. In other words, she knew her stuff.

Jenn was accustomed to managing large and diverse batches of volunteers: individuals, retirees, corporate teams, school groups, etc. My team of co-volunteers consisted of eighth grade students from a local private school. Twice a year, these students participate in service activities at various nonprofits in the region.

In a succinct, 2-minute orientation Jenn explained our job. We would sort the massive bins of donated food into three categories: dry goods, cans, and breakables.

Food for Others 3
A few of the donated items were already partially consumed, which meant that they had to be thrown out. Unfortunately, one such item was an open bottle of maple syrup, which soaked through and ruined other otherwise acceptable donations in a sticky disaster. Note to readers: if you donate items to food pantries, thank you, but please do not include open or expired items!

Although most of the food were standard staples that you would expect, there were also occasionally some surprises in the mix, such as Polish luxury jams, dog food, maraschino cherries, and even mail.

Working with a pack of middle schoolers was fun. They brought a positive and enthusiastic energy to the morning. What’s not to love about a teenage boy tossing a pack of ramen into a bin and yelling “KOBE!”?

The kids treated me like an authority figure. This amused me since I was hardly an expert, being just a fellow first-time volunteer like them.
Kid: Ma’am, should this be considered a “dry good”?
Me: Sure?
Kid: Should we start placing cans in this empty bin?
Me: Why not! Sounds like a plan.
Kid: This is a box of a can. Should it go in cans?
Me: Follow your heart!

Spurred on by the spirit of innovation and efficiency, the kids formed an assembly-line which involved throwing and catching food items. Although this seemed like fun, I was concerned about them potentially dropping and damaging donations. Even as this thought was going through my head, my own plastic bag of donations split open from the weight and my glass jar of tomato sauce smashed onto the ground. How embarrassing! Unlike my own clumsy self, the students never broke anything (although Jenn did ask them to please pass the food instead).

Food for Others 5

Overall, my two hours at Food for Others was a great experience. It was convenient, enjoyable, stress-free, and rewarding. Despite the legions of new volunteers cycling through every day, the warehouse is a well-run machine in getting donations to the people that need it. The work can be whatever you want to get out of it; you can either get to know new people or just as easily zone out to a podcast.

The warehouse position is just one opportunity at Food for Others. For example, they also have gleaning events at farms (well-suited for families) and food distribution jobs (good for people who like directly interacting with clients). Volunteer relationships can be as involved as multiple hours a week or as noncommittal as once a year. You can learn more about individual and group opportunities on their website.

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at Catalogue for Philanthropy

Summer Outdoor Theatre by Traveling Players Ensemble

Traveling Players Ensemble trains actors like no other theatre in the DC metro region. Their programs are innovative, inclusive, and super fun! And transformative, too.

Their mission, to bring great theatre into the great outdoors, means high school actors perform ‘Shakespeare in the Park” in Shenandoah National Park while backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. These actors don’t just create a show, but have adventures they will remember for the rest of their lives.

You may not have heard of Traveling Players, but people who know about actor training do. The National Endowment for the Arts named Traveling Players one of the nation’s 25 Summer Schools in the Arts and recommends that others follow their comprehensive curriculum as a model. Most other summer programs are simply too short to make the same kind of deep impact, or too large to offer the same level of individualized attention and challenges.

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The Washington Post called them “a summer gem.” Artistic Director Jeanne Harrison has taught at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Folger Shakespeare Library, and various universities. By focusing on classical theatre (Shakespeare, Moliere, and Commedia dell’Arte), Traveling Players trains performers who are bold, resourceful, and skilled. It’s said that if you can act Shakespeare, you can act anything. If this is true, a summer at Traveling Players Ensemble trains you to act not just anything…but anywhere.

All the world is a stage, and this company travels with its oldest students. The tours perform all over Virginia and beyond, combining high-profile venues like Colonial Williamsburg and Lime Kiln Amphitheater with state parks, summer camps, retirement homes, and children’s hospitals, giving the actors unforgettable experiences – and community service hours!

Traveling Players specializes in the immersive experience, which is when transformations happen. Working in small ensembles of only 13 students, a trio of directors stage a classic, supported by a design team. Directors craft their rehearsals around their cast to ensure they build skills on stage — and off. The ensemble nature of the program allows students to practice life skills that will allow them to be successful no matter what career route they ultimately choose. This holistic approach is unique in theatre circles.DSC_2072 (smaller file size)

The camp offers a range of programs for grades 3 to 12. Their High School Ensemble is a four-week program that teaches students the ins and outs of Shakespeare. This year, they will produce Much Ado About Nothing, one of the bard’s most iconic comedies. Their Middle School Ensemble performs hilarious farces by the French playwright Moliere, filled with colorful characters, lightning wit, and slapstick physical humor.

Did we mention that Traveling Players is local to the DC metro area? Its day camp is in residence at The Madeira School in McLean, VA. They provide transportation -on purple buses! – which is included in tuition. Campers are picked up and dropped off behind Dulles Town Center, at 8am and 5pm respectively.

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Once a week the actors pitch tents, cook over an open fire, and sleep under the stars. Whether bonding over s’mores or bringing 400-year-old Shakespearean stories to life, friendships are kindled, confidence nurtured, and actors transformed.

For more information, visit www.travelingplayers.org, call 703-987-1712, or email info@travelingplayers.org.

For Youth in Foster Care, Mentoring Makes a Meaningful Difference

Our very first mentee, Michael, was matched in our program in 2005. He entered into foster care at the hospital on the day he was born, and aged out of care on his 21st birthday. Throughout those 21 years, he was in and out of foster homes, lived off and on with different relatives, and experienced homelessness as a teenager. He constantly faced instability because of his time in the foster care system.

One day Michael, who had just recently aged out of care, called us at BEST Kids in a lot of pain. He had injured his shoulder at work, and after spending the entire day in urgent care, the doctors wouldn’t prescribe him any pain medication or offer him any relief. I went to meet Michael outside his apartment, and while he was calm and in stable condition, he was still in a lot of physical pain. I decided to ride in the ambulance with him to help him get his shoulder checked out at the hospital.

At the emergency room reception desk, they ran through all the routine questions with Michael: his name, insurance, address, etc. I’ll never forget what happened next: they asked him for his emergency contact information. His face dropped and he fell silent. Upon seeing the look on his face, my heart dropped as I saw him struggling to think of a family member or friend in his life that he could list. After about 10 seconds of visual and nearly palpable hopelessness, his face perked up a bit and he spurted out, “My mentor, Lyle.”

Those 10 seconds were an emotional roller coaster for me. To see Michael have to vocalize that he did not have someone to call on in emergencies broke my heart. It opened my eyes to just how difficult that realization is for our youth in so many everyday situations. But the fact that he had a mentor, and that he felt he could count on his mentor during an emergency, gave him hope and reaffirmed for me that the work we are doing is powerful and imperative.

BEST Kids

We hear about the challenges youth in foster care, like Michael, face all over the country. These stories and statistics undoubtedly demonstrate the need for increased resources to help these youth succeed, and the various ways in which we as individuals and communities can support this particularly resilient, yet vulnerable population.

This is where BEST Kids one-on-one mentoring program comes in. Experiences for youth during their time in foster care are quite different. Some youth come into care at birth and spend the entirety of their young lives as wards of the state, while others spend just a few months in care while systems of support are put into place for families. Some youth come into care because of various forms of abuse, while others experience some form of neglect or a tragic occurrence. Youth in foster care experience so many adults and service providers constantly coming in and out of their lives, most of which are paid to do so. Besides voluntarily giving of their time, what makes mentors any different?

Mentors open up opportunities and provide assistance, but aren’t social workers. Mentors are listening ears that aren’t therapists. They inspire a love for learning, but aren’t teachers, and they motivate and encourage, but aren’t coaches. They guide and support, but aren’t parents. Above all else, mentors are there consistently and voluntarily, as they cater to the individual needs of the youth, including creating space for our youth to be kids and have lots of fun.

Lyle has supported Michael as a mentor for over 10 years now. Throughout the years, they participated in many activities like biking, canoeing, picnics and ballgames. Lyle also practiced interviewing skills and supported Michael when he got his first job. He helped Michael get his first apartment and taught him how to fix a few things around the house. Lyle most recently mentored Michael as a new father to a beautiful little girl.

Lyle didn’t swoop in and make Michael’s life perfect or heal all of his trauma; and as a mentor, he was never expected to do so. We train and individually support our mentors to simply spend time with their mentees consistently, to care for them, and help them to keep the hope they need to become successful adults, while overcoming obstacles youth face together.

I urge you to learn about the various ways you can support youth in foster care in your community. There is an ever present need for foster homes throughout the country. You can volunteer with or mentor with organizations that help youth in foster care to thrive, or you can advocate for systemic change to improve services impacting youth in care.

BEST Kids is a nonprofit organization that provides one-on-one mentoring for over 150 youth in foster care in the Washington DC Metro area. We match caring and consistent adult mentors with youth to provide them not only the guidance and support they need to grow up, but also to help them navigate challenges specific to growing up in foster care.

Written by Krislyn Mossman, Executive Director of BEST Kids

Meet the 2019-20 Catalogue Class!

It’s the most wonderful time of year! Well, for the Catalogue team at least. We love each May when we get the chance to unveil to you our brand new 2019 class of nonprofit partners. We hate keeping them secret, so always are looking forward to shouting their names from the mountaintop, exclaiming to all these “best of the best” local nonprofits working to make positive change in our communities.

2019-20 Catalogue for Philanthropy Stamp

All 112 partners in this year’s class went through a rigorous vetting process. We are proud to be able to tell you, with confidence, that your support of these organizations will be well used and leveraged to make a difference in the places we live, work, and play. All organizations went through a three-step process that involved 150+ volunteer reviewers, a financial review, and an in-person site visit. They’re legit, and you can donate, volunteer, or advocate for them with confidence.

Our nonprofit partners cover a range of issues. From preserving the rich history of jazz in DC, to providing a safe and nurturing out-of-school time for young girls, this class is working in a variety of ways to move our community closer to the community we want, need, and deserve. Stepping in to fill gaps in the safety net, working on systemic issues, and enriching our cultural opportunities. Holding hands, making meals, and advocating for change. Regardless of the mission or the specific work, all of our partners have in common their passion, expertise, and focus on using their efforts to strengthen our community.

Now, this announcement isn’t just about our brand-new, awesome, community-changing partners. It’s about you. And us. All of us. We don’t announce this class just because we love announcing things we share and lift up these changemakers so you can find an organization that you can become passionate about. Whether it’s sharing your time, or wealth, or influence, our partners need your support.

We’d love to give you a challenge today, to do just two things. This might be your first time “meeting” many of these organizations, so we aren’t asking you donate or volunteer just yet (but if you do that’d be great!). All our team asks is that you:

  • Pick one (or more) organization to shout out on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter and say thank you for the great work they’re doing in the community. Do it today if you can!
  • Choose one friend/partner/colleague/chatty person next to you to tell about this organization, or to share this announcement with today.

That’s it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities over their four-year partnership to get to know these organizations, support them, and become passionate about their dedication, knowledge, and impact. For now, just help us celebrate and spread the word about these local nonprofits, working with small teams and limited resources to make a real difference, close to home.

Sincerely,
The Catalogue Team

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Anacostia Watershed Society

An innovative, environmentally-friendly workout idea: cleaning up a garbage-bag-worth of cigarette butts. A single butt only weighs about 1 gram, but once you pick up hundreds of them, they start to add up to some serious bicep strengthening. That’s how I celebrated Earth Day 2019 with the Anacostia Watershed Society on April 13th.

As a fellow with Catalogue for Philanthropy, I have the honor of working with and learning about over 400 locally-based nonprofits in the Greater Washington Region. So when my school’s community service committee asked me to arrange a volunteer opportunity for myself and other American University students for Earth Day, I knew where to look. Time to join the #Trashtag Challenge!

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Anacostia Watershed Society’s annual event engages nearly 2000 volunteers for 44 sites around the Anacostia River. My site’s neighborhood in Anacostia was not directly next to the river but in the river’s wider watershed area; whenever it rains, all of the trash in the residential area flows into the river, hurting wildlife and the ecosystem.

Fellow volunteers and I met at We Act Radio Station, a hip local institution and de facto community center. I sat among piles of books from their ongoing book drive. We were welcomed by Stacy and Aroni, two friendly and enthusiastic Anacostia Watershed Society staff members and our team leaders for the day. They gave us gloves to protect our hands, picker-uppers to prevent back strain, and matching t-shirts to look cool and groovy.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning to go for a stroll and pick up garbage. We made a circle around several blocks, carrying a blue bag for recyclables and a white bag for general trash. About 70% of what I picked up were cigarette butts. In public discourse, we acknowledge how cigarettes choke our bodies, but not enough about how they choke the environment too. What made me saddest were butts littered on the ground not 3 feet away from public trash cans.
It was rewarding work. Quite a few residents stopped to thank us and a few even added some trash to my bag. I was pleased too by how social it was; the steady and relaxing pace of our walk through the neighborhood easily facilitated conversations with new and interesting people. Our crew even had a beauty queen! If you want to meet new people, explore a new neighborhood, and make a difference in the environment, I strongly recommend signing up for clean up events. There’s no better way to celebrate the new springtime weather with friends than going and picking up a bag of butts.

 

Written by Nancy Erickson, Nonprofit Programs Fellow at the Catalogue for Philanthropy