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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Common Good City Farm

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator for the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Picture this: It’s Wednesday morning. You’ve been answering emails for two hours straight. Your eyes ache from your screen. Your office has no windows and smells a little like stale coffee. For lunch, you eat something greasy and instant.

Now picture this: You’re breathing in fresh air and kneeling in a garden. You smell basil and freshly tilled soil. You hear a bee buzzing nearby. Your gloves are caked in dirt as you pull weeds. The sun warms your skin. You have gathered a basket of fresh produce, ready for today’s lunch.

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If the second scenario sounds a little more appealing to you than the first, then consider embracing your inner farmer by volunteering at Common Good City Farm. This is what I did recently, and I recommend it for anyone who would appreciate a break from their work to reconnect with nature and accomplish some good.

Common Good City Farm uses their plot of farmland to promote sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition in their local community. Their many programs include selling fresh produce to community members and businesses, employing high schoolers over the summer, teaching children about nutrition, and providing the community with a wide variety of workshops. You can learn more about their programs here.

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I signed up for their Community Volunteer Day, an event specifically designed for folks who only want to try their hand at farming for a one-time commitment. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when I arrived a little after 9. As I approached the main entrance, I was struck by the explosion of GREEN right in the middle of the city block. The lot was immediately adjacent to a playground and surrounded by apartment buildings. Inside the gate I saw an open shelter, with camping-esque kitchen ware and Christmas lights strung around the rafters. Since I had arrived early, I watched staff give an orientation to the City Farmers, the longer term volunteers who would be guiding the first-time volunteers for the morning.

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My first task of the morning was to slice lemons for the water cooler for incoming volunteers. Hydration and sunblock would be important that day–it was hot! I also helped wiped down tables as fellow one-time volunteers flowed in.

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At 9:30, all 34 volunteers received a tour of the farm (a typical Community Volunteer Day gets 30 people). There were four tasks for volunteers to choose between:

  1. Prepping spinach beds in the hoop house
  2. Widening beds for winter preparations
  3. Harvesting basil plants (to be sold at Bacio Pizzeria!)
  4. Tilling the soil along the outside fence

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I chose option 4. This involved pulling weeds and removing rocks. Quite a bit of rocks. An insane amount of rocks. A passerby slyly congratulated us on our fruitful rock harvest. It was highly satisfying work and surprisingly relaxing.
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In my opinion, gardening together is a more engaging environment to socialize with people than the typical DC happy hour; conversation felt less forced and more organic (no pun intended). I enjoyed getting to know other volunteers’ motivations for coming this morning. Some reasons I heard included:

  • They loved gardening and needed a contrast to their Monday-Friday DC professional careers.
  • He wanted to get to know his community better; he lived only a few blocks away but had only recently heard about Common Good City Farm.
  • He had been feeling discouraged about climate change and wanted to tangibly do something.
  • She wanted to make friends.

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One of Common Good’s missions is to “contribute to a sense of connectedness, vibrancy and sense of place.” In my short time volunteering there, I felt this connection to the neighborhood. Urban farming is a way to connect people to healthy food, nature, and each other when they might otherwise remain siloed apart in their separate apartments. Community members can come to the weekly farmer’s market for Common Good’s fresh produce (which participates with WIC, SNAP, Produce Plus, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program). At one point some local kids grabbed gloves and joined us in picking out rocks. Apparently this was a common way for local kids to come have fun and keep busy on a weekend.

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At noon we finished and surveyed the fruits of our labor. After hours of sweating and getting our fingernails dirty, we had managed to remove a good portion of the rocks from the land. It looked remarkably more garden-like. Go team!

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Then, all the volunteers were treated to a lunch made primarily from vegetables grown by Common Good. It was a vegan’s cornucopia: organic, fresh, plant-based, locally sourced. Food always tastes great after working up an appetite and people happily enjoyed the meal and each other’s company until there were hardly any leftovers. The group dynamic was satisfied, warm, and communal. After lunch, people peeled away while I and a few others stayed to clean dishes and wipe down tables.

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If this sounds like a refreshing and enjoyable experience, then consider volunteering with Common Good City Farm. If you only want to come farm for a one-time commitment like I did, then you can sign up for a Community Volunteer Day. In the past these occasions only took place twice a year, but beginning in 2020, Common Good will be meeting demand for volunteer opportunities by providing Community Volunteer Days every month!

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Or, if you’d like to get more deeply involved, you can sign up to become a City Farmer. This is a 12-week commitment to help out on the farm once a week alongside 5-10 fellow volunteers. Being a City Farmer provides a sense of ownership over the produce, builds skills and relationships, and lifts up Common Good by accomplishing more difficult tasks. This opportunity is especially useful for high school students who need to fill service requirements at a single location.

If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty and volunteering with Common Good City Farm, then check out their volunteer page. I loved my time there, and I am sure that you will too.

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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Art Enables

This post was written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy.

Are you an art lover? Do you want to support people with disabilities? Are you a fan of cheese and crackers? If you answered yes to all three to these questions, then you should consider volunteering with Art Enables, a Catalogue nonprofit partner. I did recently, and I highly recommend the experience.

Art Enables allows artists to make, market, and earn an income from original art pieces. These artists experience a broad range of developmental and cognitive disabilities as well as various mental health challenges. This local nonprofit gives artists opportunities to express themselves through visual art by providing a professional studio environment, art supplies, technical guidance, and exhibitions both on and offsite.

After Art Enables caught my eye on the Catalogue volunteer page, I reached out to their staff to set up a volunteer time that worked with my interests and schedule. To allow me to experience different sides of their work, we decided that I would volunteer at two consecutive events. My first position was as a Studio Volunteer for the 2nd Saturday Workshop, an ongoing community engagement event that Art Enables hosts — you guessed it — every 2nd Saturday of the month. Community members can walk in and create art for free in the style of that week’s theme. Past themes have included pop up art, sketch portraits, painted leaves, minimalist watercolors, and more. People get to learn about resident artists’ work and the services that their neighborhood nonprofit provides.

When I entered the studio that afternoon, the first three words that came to mind were bright, colorful, and open. Art pieces lined the walls. Large windows flooded the space with natural light. There didn’t appear to be any separation between staff desks and studio workspaces.

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A staff member welcomed me and introduced me to my fellow volunteers (women from the Junior League of Washington) and our guest facilitator for the day, Sonya Michel. She would be leading everybody in creating “assemblages,” converting “junk’ into 3d-collages.

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I grabbed an apron, got familiar with our art supplies table (plastic, cardboard, paint, paper, markers, magazines, etc) and began welcoming guests as they trickled in off the street. Throughout the day I refilled dirty paint water glasses, chatted with people and artists, and took plenty of cliche art photos from odd angles. You know, for the gram.

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A total of 65 people came that day (typical 2nd Saturdays range from 50-125 people). Community members mingled with resident artists, staff, and volunteers for an easygoing afternoon of making art. When life gets hectic, it’s nice to be able to take a minute and decompress by creating art in a communal space. During the lulls of the day, I even got the chance to make my own assemblage; it’s now proudly hanging on the corkboard above my desk at work.

 

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All the artists I spoke with were generous with their time and sharing their pieces with me. Robert showed me how his painting has been transformed into a mug (other Art Enables merchandise includes playing cards, leather bracelets, and coasters).

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Each resident artist has a drawer with their name on it filled with additional pieces of art (all for sale!). It was a pleasure to recognize the distinctive artistic styles of the resident artists. For example, Shawn is in the midst of a shoe period.

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The workshop came to an end and we moved onto the next event for the evening: the opening reception for the 13th Annual Outsider Art Inside the Beltway (OAIB) exhibit. As described by their website, OAIB “has been committed to highlighting and providing self-taught artists who often don’t have opportunities to exhibit their work the opportunity to do so. This includes new and emerging self-taught artists, artists with disabilities, and artists from traditionally underrepresented communities.” I was to be a Volunteer Gallery Attendant. In preparation, I cleaned up art supplies, wiped up spills, and set up refreshments. Armed with a butter knife, I did a spectacularly mediocre job cutting the cheese for the platter, but they tasted great regardless.

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Throughout the reception, I refreshed snacks, welcomed guests, and took photographs. The Art Enables basement exuded hipness, the perfect industrial-chic look for an art gallery reception. I love art galleries, so getting to hang out and chat about art with people while volunteering was a win-win situation for me.

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At the end of the evening, I helped put away leftovers, wipe down tables, and clean dishes. It had been a lovely volunteer experience with Art Enables; I met some amiable artists, enjoyed some art, and even got to participate in the art making process myself.

If this sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon, then you should consider volunteering with Art Enables. Their volunteer opportunities can easily accommodate individuals with busy schedules who can only come once in a while or on a one-time basis. Possible positions include staffing special events and at the studio (like I did), helping out administratively, and even providing professional services, such as marketing or education. Check out their volunteer page to learn more and work with their helpful staff to find an opportunity that appeals to you. Your support can make a real different for artists with disabilities in the DC region.

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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Housing Initiative Partnership

This post was written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

It was a hot, Saturday morning in August. I was fanning myself with a brochure seated at a table under a tent, one among many, in a church parking lot. In between greeting people walking by, I took in the smell of hotdogs, the sound of blaring hip hop, and the sight of kids jumping on a moon bounce. If it sounds like I was hanging out at a barbecue, you’re right! But it was also my most recent volunteer experience with another one of the Catalogue’s nonprofit partners, Housing Initiative Partnership.

Housing Initiative Partnership (also known by their fun acronym “HIP”) has been a Catalogue nonprofit partner since 2013. Their mission is to revitalize neighborhoods and create economic/housing security in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. They renovate foreclosed homes and develop new multifamily and single family homes to provide low and moderate income families with environmentally-friendly and high-quality affordable housing. Additionally, they provide financial counseling, helping some people prepare for first-time home ownership, and helping others avoid foreclosure.

I first found HIP while looking for volunteer opportunities on the Catalogue website. I reached out via email and got in contact with Lesia Bullock, their new Director of Resources and Communications. HIP has been a vital community resource for over 30 years and yet is still a “best kept secret” that many people don’t know about. Lesia doesn’t want it to be a secret anymore. So, she actively looks for opportunities to improve HIP’s community outreach and raise public awareness about their services.

She invited me to be her volunteer helper in promoting HIP at the Palmer Park Back to School Block Party and Community Resource Fair, hosted by Maryland State Delegate Alonzo T. Washington. Delegate Washington had invited HIP and other local nonprofits to set up tables at the fair to share their resources with community members. My role as volunteer was to help her set up the table, hand out written materials and swag to passersby, and answer questions about HIP’s programming.

It was already hot when I arrived at the Park View Baptist Church at 10:30 in the morning; I bathed myself in sunblock and donned my massive skin-cancer-prevention straw hat. Lesia got delayed at the thrift store where she was buying goodies to hand out to kids, so I went ahead and picked our table out for us. (Turns out I picked poorly — we were situated right next to the DJ, which meant that we would end up having to sometimes yell about HIP’s wonderful services into people’s ears.)

Once Lesia arrived, I helped her unload her car and set up the bright blue and green HIP collateral for our table. The wind was strong that day, which required some cleverly situated weights and clips to avoid HIP branded papers from flying everywhere.

Nancy and LesiaSome of these papers advertised HIP’s upcoming housing opportunities just around the corner in Palmer Park. Right now, nine new NetZero Ready certified townhomes are already under construction. People interested in buying must take required homebuyer education courses with HIP.

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Lesia was in her element tabling. Not only did she know a thorough answer to every question asked her, she also seemed to know just about everyone at the block party (or at least that’s how it felt to me).

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In addition to having a good relationship with our block party’s charming host, Delegate Washington, she also knew US Representative Anthony Brown who swung through the event for a while to shake hands and give a speech. It was a pretty neat surprise to meet a member of Congress that morning. See, this is why you should volunteer! You never know who you’ll run into.

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I recommend volunteering at community events and parties, because parties are fun! There were speeches, games, line dances, giveaways, and even a karate demonstration by a local studio.

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Around 2 pm, I helped pack up and carry HIP materials back to Lesia’s car and thanked her for the opportunity to learn more about HIP and help run the table with her. All in all, the block party/resource fair had been an easygoing volunteer experience. I enjoyed visiting a new community, seeing civic engagement in action, and learning more about one of our nonprofit partner’s contributions to their community.

As Lesia continues to look for more ways to spread the word about HIP’s work, you can potentially join her as a table volunteer at future public events like the one I helped out at, or their upcoming 30th Anniversary Networking Reception in November. Also, HIP can benefit from weekly administrative volunteers at their Hyattsville and Germantown offices to help take the load off of their hardworking counselors. If you’re passionate about affordable housing and financial literacy, you can help out a trusted, community-based nonprofit by visiting HIP’s website.

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Lucky Dog Animal Rescue

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at Catalogue for Philanthropy

Are you in love with dogs, but your apartment lease doesn’t allow animals? Do you wish you could have a pet, but your work schedule is too inconsistent? Do you want to help save a rescue dog from being put down? Then you should consider volunteering with the Catalogue’s nonprofit partner Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. That’s what I did recently, and it was a fantastic experience that I highly recommend.

The weekend was approaching and I considered two possible choices: watch Netflix or contribute to society. As much as I enjoy re-binging The Office, I decided to make the nonprofit-positive choice and began researching last-minute volunteer opportunities. I found a Lucky Dog adoption event just 7 minutes from my house. The signup process was really quick. How convenient!

Although Lucky Dog is based out of Arlington, they frequently host weekend adoption events all around the DC region. They rescue dogs from high-kill shelters, treat their medical needs, and place them with temporary foster homes while they search for forever families to match them with. Lucky Dog prides themselves on their matchmaking skills, placing their dogs with carefully vetted adoptive families that are perfect for them.

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At 11 am on Sunday morning, I arrived at the Rockville Petco, signed in, and received a brisk orientation from a more experienced volunteer, an Event Coordinator. My job for the day was a Volunteer Handler; I would learn my rescue dog’s bio, handle the leash, answer potential adopter questions, and keep the dog happy for the next several hours throughout the adoption event. If people had questions about fostering or adoption, I would send them to the informational tables outside. Some people had already gone through the pre-approval process, and others were stopping through on a whim.

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I was paired with Baloo, a 1-2 year old shepherd mix. He was a real cutie. My informational paper explained a little about his medical history and some behavioral comments from his temporary foster family. They said that Baloo is gentle, sweet, and loves belly rubs. Spot-on observations! During my entire service experience, I never once heard him bark. And he loved snuggles.

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The day in question was hot. Outside were generous amounts of water bowls and baths for the dogs to stay cool in. Volunteers and their doggies huddled under canopy tents or hugged the side of the building. Like many others, I spent the majority of my time inside the air-conditioned Petco; I told myself that it was purely motivated by concern for Baloo’s comfort, but really I also appreciated a break from the oppressive sun.

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Adoption events are bustling, crowded fun! Everywhere you went were dogs being pet, playing, and getting their leashes tangled up together. It was one of the easiest volunteer experiences I have had; I leisurely spent my time walking around, hanging with Baloo on the floor, chatting with other volunteers, promoting Baloo to prospective families, and even sneaking a peak at the puppies section.

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Baloo had been randomly assigned to me, but I became pretty emotionally attached very quickly. Although there were so many diverse types of dogs at this event, I became convinced that my doggie was the best one there. But although he was clearly a favorite of a few families that day, he didn’t make the final cut for any of them. I felt indignant on his behalf; couldn’t people see how amazing he was? A few fellow volunteers coyly mentioned that I could foster or adopt Baloo, but my housing doesn’t allow animals.

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At 3:30pm, I said goodbye to Baloo and he returned to his foster placement, still without a permanent home. I was sad to see him go. I enjoyed my experience volunteering with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. I got to meet both wonderful people and some wonderful dogs. It was rewarding yet stress-free “work,” and it gave me a chance to meet a new community of animal lovers. As much as I love The Office, this had been the superior choice for a weekend activity!

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There were 68 dogs up for adoption this day, which is actually on the low end for Lucky Dog adoption events. Apparently some of their events have had up to 120 dogs! That means a big need for volunteers. There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities at Lucky Dog that can accommodate just about any schedule or level of commitment.

In the week of the event that I volunteered, 27 Lucky Dogs (and 2 Lucky Cats) ended up getting adopted. A few weeks later I was delighted to learn that Baloo ended up getting adopted as well! I hope that he is giving his new family the same friendly cuddles that I got to enjoy during my brief time with him. If you are interested in adopting a dog in need of a home, you can also get started on their website.

 

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Friendship Place

Volunteering can happen anywhere, from multiple blocks of an Anacostia neighborhood to an expansive Virginia warehouse. Or, a single closet. Specifically, the Clothes Closet of Friendship Place, where I recently volunteered.

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Friendship Place has been a nonprofit partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy since 2005. They provide holistic support to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in the greater DC region. After signing up to volunteer on their website, I was contacted by their friendly Community Engagement Manager to find a position best suited for my interests.

She connected me with their AimHire Job Placement program. In 2018, AimHire helped 77 people gain employment with an average hourly wage of $14.26 Most of the volunteers for AimHire are professionals who provide pro bono services such as finding job placements, reviewing resumes, mentoring, and performing mock interviews. Since I was looking for a one-time experience, she recommended that I help out in the Clothes Closet.

The Clothes Closet provides professional and high quality clothes and accessories, either for interview purposes or just everyday wear. Although during my shift I heard Friendship Place staff and volunteers use the terms “customers” and “sell,” the Closet is actually a completely free resource for those in need with no strings attached. All of the items are donated, many of which are dry-cleaned by their donors beforehand. How considerate!

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After arriving, I met my two fellow volunteers, Sylvia and Janice. They are both retirees and resident experts of the Clothes Closet. Once a week they come to sort through donations, organize the layout, and even occasionally provide advice to customers on which tie matches which shirt. Prior to them joining the Friendship Place team, the closet’s upkeep had been “haphazard” because there had not been a consistent volunteer assigned to it. But now it is methodically and consistently run by reliable volunteers with a keen eye for fashion and orderliness.

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For the next two hours, the three of us got to know each other while working elbow to elbow in the closet. Clearly, I was the resident amateur. Sylvia and Janice are experts in identifying designer labels; I couldn’t tell you Dolce from Gabbana. Sylvia and Janice have mastered the art of folding and hanging to avoid wrinkles; I don’t own an iron.

One of my tasks was to sort the sizes of the women’s shirts and pants. In the true spirit of nonprofit ingenuity, we MacGyvered scissors, a sharpie, and a used manila folder to create makeshift signs to make it easier for customers to find the right fit. Sidenote: it turns out that a Chico’s pants size 2.5 is really a US size 14? Confusing.

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People in the DMV are so well-dressed that donations to the closet were incredibly high quality. (One of the participating donors of the closet is a local law firm.) How wonderful that people who need a leg up in finding a job can find such a great local resource that provides them with dignity and style.

I thought it was lovely how two veteran volunteers take the time out of their week to create a thoughtful, tasteful, and welcoming atmosphere to the Closet. Sylvia even made the delightful sign on the outside door to give it a “boutique” feel. Volunteering for Friendship Place has given them a creative outlet, an opportunity to give back to their neighborhood (they both live close by), and a chance to socialize with each other and with customers. It was wonderful to meet them and learn more about a trusted local nonprofit’s programming.

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If you’re interested in volunteering for Friendship Place, they have a wide variety of programs and opportunities. By signing up online and telling them your skillset and schedule, you too can help them end homelessness in DC.

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy

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

A Window and a Mirror: Summer Mentorship at Inspired Teaching

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A Space for Inquiry

It’s 2pm and I’m standing in a classroom in northwest DC holding a yo-yo.

Two brand new Inspired Teaching Fellows (teachers-in-training) are standing next to me, asking me questions.

“Do you, uh, think you can do a trick with the yo-yo called ‘walk the dog?’” one of the teachers asks.

The other one offers: “Could you maybe try, like, throwing it sideways?”

I try to throw the yo-yo sideways and end up dropping it on the floor. I walk away in frustration.

On this particular afternoon, I’ve volunteered to play the role of a student, and the Fellows have been instructed to teach me how to use a yo-yo — but only by asking questions. No statements allowed.

The Fellow pauses and then asks: “What do you think you need to do to be successful with a yo-yo?”

My eyes light up. Unlike her first few questions, she doesn’t know the answer to this one. It’s all on me. She may not realize it yet, but this is the space where the magic of learning happens.

“I think,” I say, after genuinely thinking about it, “that I need to just be able to do 5 regular swings without stopping.”

Now we have a new lesson plan – and I, the student, am in charge of my own learning.

This is what teacher training looks like in Inspired Teaching’s Summer Institute, a 3-week long jumpstart for teachers who are beginning the Inspired Teaching Residency.

This exercise helps new teachers learn how to provide a space for inquiry instead of a list of directions. And the reason I know this activity so well is because I was a brand new Inspired Teaching Fellow myself, standing in this very classroom, doing this exact activity, 5 summers ago.

This summer, however, I’m returning to play the role of the summer mentor. And while I’m stepping into the first year Fellows’ classroom to help out, my primary responsibility is to advise the second year Fellows.

The second-year Fellows have just completed their residency year. They’ve been learning from, assisting, and eventually taking over for their lead teacher, someone who has modeled great teaching practices. Now, they’re starting from scratch, in their own summer school classrooms, with a fellow cohort member. I’ve been assigned to help two teaching teams, four teachers total.

As the summer begins, I watch my mentees struggle with the fact that, with a brand new class coming in next week, there’s no veteran teacher to set everything up. It’s a bit like learning how to drive a car for an entire year and then finding out that you now need to build your own car out of spare parts. And quickly.

The Gap

Even though summer school is only a month long, it can sometimes feel like an entire school year stuffed into four weeks. It’s not uncommon for teachers in summer practicum to re-connect and disconnect multiple times with their passion for teaching. It’s not uncommon for teachers to discover just how much of a gap exists between the teacher that they are and the teacher that they want to be. And it’s not uncommon for those teachers to work excruciatingly hard to close that gap before the summer ends.

The result of all of this reflection and learning is evident because, by the end of the summer, I notice that the Fellows’ teaching powers that I am mentoring have grown. At the start of the summer, I would take copious notes while observing a mini-lesson. I’d analyze every movement the teacher made, every word that they said. And by the end, it’s hard to even find a place to take notes. Classrooms are bustling with students in every corner, working on interesting projects and directing their own learning.

During our final meeting, I ask one of the Fellows, “So now that it’s almost over, do you feel like you’re the teacher you want to be?”

“No,” she laughs. “That will take a while. But before the summer started, I hadn’t even thought about what kind of teacher I wanted to be. Now, I ask myself that question almost daily. My vision is much more clear.”

Remarkably, she is learning to ask herself questions that don’t have an immediate answer.

A Window and a Mirror

I’ve said before that the role of a teacher is to offer their students a window and a mirror. A window with which to see the world through many different lenses and perspectives, and a mirror to allow students to understand the power of their own perspective and potential.

But as a summer mentor, I came to terms with something else: a teacher must also stand in front of their own mirror. It is there, in the glow of their own reflection, where they will do their most challenging work. They will confront every imperfection. They will think about what they will do differently tomorrow. They will, simultaneously, berate themselves and strive for self-acceptance. They will do all of this for the good of themselves and the good of their students.

And it occurs to me that I, the summer mentor, have very little to do with the mirror. But maybe, I hold the window. If I was able to help these wonderful teachers catch a glimpse of all incredible possibilities that lie ahead, then, mission accomplished.

Written by –Zia Hassan

The Grassroot Project: Using Sports to Promote Sexual Health and Positive Youth Development in DC

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Almost ten years ago, 40 student-athletes gathered in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment near Georgetown University. Their goal: fight alarmingly high, increasing rates of HIV transmission in our nation’s capital the best way that they knew how –through sports. Drawing inspiration from his volunteer experience with Grassroot Soccer in South Africa, the group’s leader, Tyler Spencer, wanted to use sports to educate people about HIV and AIDS prevention in a language that they could understand. At the time, 1 in 20 adults in DC were living with HIV, and the rate among teenagers was on the rise.

“There was only one other organization doing school-based HIV prevention work with kids,” said Spencer. “So, there was a huge need in DC, and I felt really excited about taking the Grassroot Soccer model and adapting it to make a difference at home.”

To call this group of Georgetown soccer players, football players, basketball players, field hockey players, rowers, swimmers and golfers a “grassroots” organization would be an understatement. Despite their lack of funding and uncertainty in starting and running a non-profit organization, the 18 to 21-year-olds persisted. Much of the initial program cost fell on Spencer. He took a temp job working with the Association of Schools of Public Health, and with the support of the athletic community, they facilitated their first sexual health program in The School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens in the Spring of 2009.

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Today, The Grassroot Project’s?innovative model continues to employ non-traditional health educators — NCAA student-athletes — to create a fun, friendly and safe environment in which participants learn how to live healthier lifestyles. The peer to peer education method creates an open environment for participants to share their beliefs on sensitive topics such as HIV/AIDS testing and prevention, sexual consent, dating violence, and healthy relationships. The use of sports as a vehicle for social change, and the ability of the student-athlete leaders to connect with the youth and their families are what make this an effective way of learning.

“Being part of the Catalogue has not only helped us to build relationships with philanthropists in DC who care about youth development and health education, but it has also helped us to grow as an organization,” said Spencer. “The first time we applied, we were only reaching 4 schools in DC, and we struggled to manage our programs and partnerships because we had no full-time staff. Since being named part of the?Catalogue…we have operated our programs in more than 60 schools and community centers across the city, and we have reached more than 5,000 DC teenagers with free health education and health services.”

TGP’s?corps of volunteer student-athlete program facilitators has expanded from Georgetown University to now also include student-athletes from The George Washington University, American University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

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Most recent additions to the organization include Grassroots Connect — an end-of-program graduation celebration and linkage to local health care event — as well as Grassroots Fam — an after-school parent/caregiver program that provides similar interactive learning opportunities including sexual health basics, as well as building a parental support system by practicing proper parent-child communication.

“One of the first things our students learn in each program is how important it is to ‘take action in your community,’ and I think that that phrase sums up the mission of Grassroots perfectly,” said Isabel Rose, senior Leader Team member. “This year, TGP took several huge steps that allowed us to take even more action in our community, and that meant that I could help make a much bigger difference than I had initially thought possible.”

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During the summer of 2018, the organization introduced its first Master Trainer program — a team of exemplary student-athletes who’ve undergone an intensive training on social issues in DC, sexual and reproductive health basics, and behavior management skills in middle schools. The Master Trainers traveled to South Africa this summer to learn from partner organization, Grassroot Soccer, about best practices for training new student-athlete facilitators.

“As a student, as an athlete, as a new resident in DC, it is my ​job​ ​to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me,” said Callie Fauntleroy, a sophomore volleyball player at The George Washington University. “I have learned more here in my 8 months with TGP than I have in any other experience.”

What started as a true grassroots organization has morphed into a robust network of students, athletes, and alumnae who are educated about living healthier lifestyles in their communities.

“The Catalogue has been and will continue to be helpful in preparing us for to make an even greater impact on our city,” said Spencer.

The Child & Family Network Centers Holds Annual School Supply Drive

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The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) is holding its annual School Supply Drive during the summer months before the start of the new school year on September 5, 2018. CFNC is collecting hundreds of school supplies to stock our 8 pre-kindergarten classrooms across the city of Alexandria. These supplies will give 138 disadvantaged children what they need to be successful in school, starting on day one.

Community members can donate new school supplies and classroom materials by dropping them at CFNC’s headquarters — 3700 Wheeler Ave, Alexandria, VA 22304. CFNC is also happy to arrange pick up of supplies. The wish list includes basic school supplies such as paper, glue, and folders, as well as other items that are consumed frequently, such as tissues and paper towels.

“This drive allows many less fortunate children in our community to have the supplies they need to start the school year on the right foot,” said CFNC Executive Director Lisa Carter. “Unfortunately many of the families we serve cannot afford or prioritize purchasing school supplies, despite their understanding that they are sorely needed. The school supply drive supports not only the child, but their families and their teachers as well.”

CFNC’s school supply list can be found on their website. All donations of school supplies are tax-deductible.

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About CFNC
The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) provides free preschool education for 138 children and families living at or below 250% of the poverty line, who earn too much to qualify for Head Start but not enough to afford their children with a private preschool education. Providing a unique blend of preschool education and family support services including free health services, in-home visits and counseling, CFNC currently operates 8 classrooms in apartment complexes, recreational centers and other locations throughout Alexandria where these families live. Learn more.

Registration Open for 6th Annual Teddy Bear 5K & 1K Walk/Run!

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Registration is currently open for runners and walkers of all ages for the 6th AnnualTeddy Bear 5K & 1K Walk/Run?on Sunday, September 23, 2018. The race that awards all participants a pint-size teddy bear when they cross the finish line this year moves to the morning with the 5K starting at 8 a.m. and the 1K starting at 9:15 a.m.

To register to run or walk, or to volunteer at the event, go to www.tinyurl.com/TeddyBear5K-1KWalk-Run

Note that children under 12 must be accompanied by a registered adult in either the 1K or the 5K. The 5K also includes a stroller division.

The 5K course takes runners through the shaded Pimmit Hills neighborhood, west of Falls Church City. Runners are urged to check in at the registration booth behind the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center at 7230 Idylwood Road and participate in the Teddy Bear parade at 7:45 pm to the 5K Start/Finish Line in Pimmit Hills Park, between Arch Drive and Griffith Road.

The 1K course follows awards to 5K winners, starting on the field behind the Children’s Center (also home of Lemon Road Elementary School.)

5K runners, boys and girls in 6 age groups for children, from ages 6 to 18, and males and females in 7 age groups for adults, will be eligible for prizes from local businesses, including gift certificates to: Panjshir Restaurant and Hilton Garden Inn of Falls Church; The Greek Taverna, Assaggi Osteria, Cafe Oggi, and Kazan Restaurant of McLean. For kids: A shopping spree at Doodlehopper Toy Store, a Soccer Party with Golden Boot, and more.

Proceeds of the event support Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, a high-quality, nonprofit preschool dedicated to giving young children from low- and moderate-income, working families the strong start they need to be ready for success in school and in life.

Several local individuals and businesses are generously sponsoring the event including Ric and Jean Edelman, Anne Kanter, State Farm Insurance Agent Lynn Heinrichs, VA Delegate Marcus Simon, Hyphen Group, Chain Bridge Bank, Net E, Senior Housing Analytics, Susan and Donald Poretz, Powell Piper Radomsky, Berman & Lee Orthodontics, Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, Drs. Love and Miller, Digital Office Products, and VA 529. Sponsorships are still available by calling 703/534-4907 before August 30 to have logos printed on runner t-shirts.

Founded in 1969, Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center is celebrating its 50th year of providing an affordable, comprehensive, full-time early childhood education program designed to give all children, regardless of their family’s financial resources, a strong foundation on which to build the rest of their lives. For inquiries about openings this fall, call 703/534-4907.