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A Young Performing Artist’s Dream Comes True

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 3.56.43 PMAt just 16 years-old, Mateo Ferro only dreamed of performing at The Kennedy Center in a Lin-Manuel Miranda Tony Award Winning musical. But, right now, he is rehearsing alongside stars like Vanessa Hudgens and Eden Espinosa for just that dream. Last month Broadwayworld.com and Playbill.com announced that Ferro was cast in the Washington, DC premiere of IN THE HEIGHTS, to run at The Kennedy Center from March 21st to March 25th.

Ferro has been a dedicated performing arts student since he was a student at Rocky Hill Middle School, but it wasn’t until he enrolled in Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA), a 2017-2018 Catalogue nonprofit, that his dream of professional performances was realized. Young Artists of America at Strathmore is the region’s premier training organization for collaborative performing artists. It is the only known program in the nation where high school students receive mentorship and individualized instruction from renowned artists while training to perform fully-orchestrated works of music-theatre in state-of-the-art venues. With campuses in Montgomery County, MD and Howard County, MD, students from all over the mid-Atlantic region participate in their Performing Ensembles, while many travel from overseas for their Summer Performing Arts Intensives.Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 3.52.06 PM

Although Ferro only needed to travel from Clarksburg, MD, his experience at last year’s Summer Intensive set this dream in motion. Ferro was cast as the lead, playing Usnavi in YAA’s summer showcase production of IN THE HEIGHTS. His performance, which he perfected during the two-week summer intensive, made a lasting impression on YAA’s Founder and Artistic Director, Rolando Sanz. So much so, that when Sanz was contacted by The Kennedy Center’s Casting Director over the fall of 2017 in search of a young, local performer who could also rap, Sanz thought of Ferro immediately. The Casting Director then invited Ferro to audition for the role of Sonny, and Ferro was subsequently cast.

Read more about Ferro’s story in his own words and watch highlights of his performance here.

Learning Life Lessons with Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena

by Ty Newberry, Executive Director, Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena
annual appeal photo 1Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena (FFDIA) is located in the heart of Ward 7 and serves 2,500 children annually; introducing them to ice skating, providing advanced instruction in ice hockey, synchronized skating, figure skating, and speed skating.
Approximately 60% of these children and teens live in or attend schools in underserved neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC.

Kids On Ice (KOI) is a youth development program that uses sports to instill a positive self-image and the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle in children and youth ages 5-18. KOI teaches valuable life lessons beginning with a participant’s first steps on the ice. In the past 20 years, the number of skaters in our programs has grown from 11 to 2,500.

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Skating provides multiple character-building opportunities and participants in KOI programs gain self-esteem while learning respect, fairness, reliability, courtesy, responsibility, sportsmanship, and the value of practice, and perseverance. Classes are taught in a group setting with children and youth ranging in age from 5 – 18 years, representing diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena (FDIA) was established in 1996 to rescue the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington, DC from closure. FDIA revitalized the arena and now operates the facility, providing a traditionally underserved neighborhood with an NHL-size ice rink, recreational and cultural activities, skating instruction and regular physical education programming for District schools.

The Fort Dupont Ice Arena is the only public indoor ice arena located in Washington, DC and is the only skating facility in the region that provides free skating programs to disadvantaged children. Our mission is to provide increased opportunity, education and inspiration to young people in Washington, DC and the surrounding area through ice skating and educational activities.

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KOI consists of Learn To Skate or basic ice skating instruction, P.L.U.S. or advanced ice skating instruction, and Schools Skate For Fitness in which approximately 30 schools participate in physical education classes during the week. The Schools Skate For Fitness program allows for DCPS and Public Charter Schools to alternate typical gym time with an ice skating lesson. Camps are also available throughout the summer months. When kids succeed here, they know they can take that feeling and succeed in other places.

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The opportunity to access a full-size ice rink in the inner city opens up a world of choices for kids who traditionally would not be able to participate due to the cost associated with ice sports. The best part of working at FFDIA is watching kids progress in skill level both on and off the ice while developing new friendships and learning life lessons in the process. Making a difference close to home happens every day in our warm, welcoming, supportive, diverse environment. Kids learn how to get up after falling down time and time again. They build critical self-confidence and self-esteem through off-ice programming that complements on-ice activities, all while being embraced by staff, volunteers, program participants, instructors, and parents.

Visit our website at fdia.org and call the rink at (202) 584-5007 to register your child for classes. Registration forms and complete information is readily available and accessible. All of our programming is from volunteer instructors; we truly value all of our volunteers because we know we could not do it alone. Volunteer opportunities vary and information can be provided upon request. Helping out our basic skills program or hosting a community service day with your company are just two of the various options. The facility is open to anyone during public skate times. Please follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram.

What’s the next big idea? Young Social Entrepreneurs Pitch at LearnServe

by Emma Strother, Development Manager, LearnServe International
cfpdc2015-LearnServeInternational-5955-1840Immigration. Gentrification. Environmental issues. Teen mental health. Where will the next big idea originate? They can’t yet vote. They are years from becoming credentialed doctors, lawyers, and teachers. They may compete for jobs that have not yet been invented. But today they can begin as changemakers. In a moment when adults often feel powerless – overwhelmed by daunting social, environmental, and political challenges – how can we set a different tone for our young people? How do we challenge them to empathize, innovate, and persist when others say it can’t be done? How do we remind them that social change begins with them?

LearnServe Community 3 (1) At LearnServe, middle and high school students are not just the leaders of tomorrow. They’re the leaders of today. And in 30-second “elevator pitches” on December 7th, they will debut their plans to make a positive impact in their communities and schools.

LearnServe International believes in the power of young people to create change, and in the power of change work to shape young leaders. Through interconnected in-school, after school, and summer abroad trip programs, we train DC-area middle and high school students to be social entrepreneurs and global citizens, equipping them with the business skills, vision, and tenacity to tackle social challenges at home and abroad.
#StartsWithMe 2018 Fellows 1The LearnServe Innovator’s Coffee House is an opportunity to witness the start of our students’ social venture projects, meet the LearnServe community, and promote youth-led social innovation in the DC area. The event was held Thursday, December 7th at Impact Hub DC. Here is a video of the event. A special thanks to Impact Hub DC for providing the space for this event.

This is video from last year’s LearnServe Coffee House and some of the students most inspiring stories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQtxZITQkps&t=5s.

If you are inspired by what you see, we would love to meet you at the Coffee House! To learn more, visit our website at learn-serve.org, send an email to info@learn-serve.org, or connect with us on social media #learnserve @learnserve.

Restoring the Potomac with Potomac Conservancy

By Potomac Conservancy

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The 9.6 million acres of the Potomac watershed are home to vast forests and diverse wildlife, wild and scenic rivers, extensive recreation opportunities, places of national historic significance, vital rural farming communities, and vibrant cities.

Encompassing 14,670 square miles over four states and our Nation’s Capital, the Potomac Basin is home to 6.1 million people. The Potomac’s waters sustain wildlife, agriculture, and industry. Most importantly for our community’s health and sustainability, the Potomac River is the source of drinking water for nearly 5 million residents. Our personal health, our communities and our economy all rely on clean water.

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Of all the major sources of pollution in the river, pollution flowing from factories and sewage treatment plants is now largely under control. The only major source of pollution that is increasing is polluted storm water runoff from streets, over-fertilized lawns and parking lots. Each time it rains (or snows), that water rushes over the land, picking up dirt, oil, trash, pet waste, and toxic chemicals.

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In an unaltered landscape, this water is re-absorbed into the ground and filtered by trees and plants. But when rainwater falls on roofs, driveways, or other hard surfaces, it isn’t absorbed. It flows into the nearest creek or storm drain, carrying pollution with it.

The majority of polluted runoff goes directly into our local streams. As development around the region increases (throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, we lose 100 acres of forests per day), there are fewer trees to absorb pollution and more paved surfaces that prevent polluted water from filtering naturally through the ground.
The excess nutrients that flow into our waters can cause algae blooms, which deplete oxygen levels in the water, damaging the river’s vegetation and wildlife.

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The underwater vegetation serves to filter pollutants out of our water and provides food and habitat for wildlife and once gone is difficult to bring back. Trash, especially plastics, has a very negative impact on water quality. Plastic releases toxic chemicals into the water that have been linked to inter-sexed fish (fish that have both male and female characteristics), which can lead to population decline. Additionally, plastic does not disappear, rather it breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, plastic and microplastic make up the most prevalent type of marine debris found in our oceans. Because the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay and then into our oceans, what we do to protect the river and improve water quality will have a global impact.

29316219083_a8dca2d659_oThe good news is that things are moving in the right direction. Pollution levels in the Potomac River are the lowest they have been in decades. But, the challenges of storm water-bourne pollution continues to grow. We have a long way to go before children can safely swim in our streams, fishermen can eat their catch, and you can drink water out of your tap without a filter.

Restoring a river is a complex scientific process, which, in the Potomac’s case, is made more complex by the diversity of the Potomac region. Rural areas, suburban towns, and urban cities all face different challenges that demand unique solutions. Potomac Conservancy has those solutions and is taking a strategic, targeted approach to address these problems. We are confident that through our hard work, along with our movement of 21,000+ constituents, we will make the Potomac cleaner for generations to come.

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Twenty-five years ago, a group of paddlers concerned about deteriorating conditions in the Potomac Gorge formed Potomac Conservancy. They saw unchecked development and clear cutting as having a deleterious effect on the quality of the water where they retreated for peaceful recreation. Today, the Conservancy focuses on the entire Potomac watershed. We care not just about what you see in front of the Kennedy Center, but about all the streams and rivers that flow into the Potomac. We care about having clean water to drink, and clean water in which to fish and recreate.

Restoring the river to full health is not just an environmental issue, it’s a matter of public health. We are fighting for all who rely on the Potomac for sustenance and we are driven by our movement of 21,000 activists, landowners, volunteers and donors who are fighting with us.

Our waters are only as healthy as the lands that surround them. We fight to save healthy lands in the Potomac’s headwaters by working one-on-one with private landowners to permanently protect forested, agricultural, streamside, and open space lands in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and the South Branch River Valley of West Virginia.

We empower hundreds of volunteers every year to remove trash from the river’s shores and plant trees along degraded stream banks. Trees are nature’s “Brita Filters” and as such, planting them are one of the most effective, and least costly actions to take on behalf of the river’s health.

Finally, it is local, on-the-ground action coupled with state-led protections continue to be our best chance to save the Potomac and its streams.

  • We hold local leaders accountable for keeping clean water a top priority.
  • We protect the Potomac by advocating for clean water policies, promoting river friendly growth, and restoring local waterways.
  • We also activate local residents to speak up with us for these policies. We give them the tools and information to empower them to make a difference in their local communities.

People can reach us any time, either by directly calling the office or through our website and social media. We encourage people to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter “River Update” to find out about how they can become further involved. We direct readers to petitions or local actions they can take on behalf of the river. We also list our volunteer events as well as those of our partners.

We host many volunteer and recreation activities throughout the year at various locations in the DC-Metro area. There are several options for getting involved with us:

  • Potomac Stewards Trash Cleanups: We welcome volunteers of all ages to join us in removing trash from parklands surrounding the Potomac. We provide the supplies and know-how, all you need to bring is a smile and a willingness to get your hands dirty for clean water!
  • Growing Native: Every fall, we mobilize volunteers to gather acorns and other native tree seeds at select locations. After collection, we send the seeds to state nurseries to be grown into seedlings for use in conservation plantings. These seeds aid state foresters in the restoration of streamside forests throughout the region, containing polluted runoff, improving wildlife habitat, and contributing to increased watershed integrity and quality of life.
  • Tree plantings: In the Fall and Spring volunteers are invited to join us in planting native trees along degraded stream banks of the Potomac’s tributaries. Trees help stabilize stream banks to prevent erosion and serve as nature’s Brita filter, filtering out pollution from water running off the land before it can enter our waterways.
  • Paddle The Potomac: An Alternative Happy Hour. During the summer months, we host the Paddle the Potomac – An Alternative Happy Hour series for young professionals. Participants spend a summer’s evening paddling and networking off the shores of Georgetown. This opportunity to learn about and enjoy the Potomac River from the water has proven to be one of Potomac Conservancy’s most popular community offerings.

Around Town

Copy of Around town template (1)Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Poetry Slam! (night 1) *This event is accepting volunteers
DC SCORES

The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! is the largest youth slam in Washington, DC, and the culminating event of the DC SCORES fall season. The two-night event showcases original works of poetry written by over 2,000 students representing District of Columbia public and public charter schools in seven of the city’s eight wards. In a competitive format, each school takes the stage for five minutes to perform group and individual poems in front of capacity crowds. The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! funnels the energy and creativity of youth into self-expression as a means of improving their literacy rates and raising their self-esteem. The event has been featured in The Washington Post &n Capital Community News, and participants have read their poems on NBC-4.

When: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Where: Columbia Heights Education Campus (auditorium), 3101 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20010 map
Volunteer Info: Volunteers are needed for setup, breakdown, ushering special guests, and more.
Contact: Lindsey Sharp, (202) 393-6999 ext 310
For more information: click here

Maryland Solar Info Session
Solar United Neighbors

This info session will cover everything a you need to know if you’re interested in going solar. Solar United Neighbors of Maryland will present on solar technology, financing options, and the basics of solar policy & markets. We will also discuss our solar co-op process, which works like a bulk purchase. Co-ops bring together a group of homeowners to get the best quality installations for the best price, plus free 1-on-1 support from Solar United Neighbors, a neutral nonprofit solar expert.

When: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 (7:00 PM – 8:30 PM)
Where: Rockville City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave, Rockville, MD 20850 map
Contact: Andrea Hylant, (202) 888-3601
For more information: click here

Thursday, November 16, 2017
Poetry Slam! (night 2) *This event is accepting volunteers
DC SCORES

The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! is the largest youth slam in Washington, DC, and the culminating event of the DC SCORES fall season. The two-night event showcases original works of poetry written by over 2,000 students representing District of Columbia public and public charter schools in seven of the city’s eight wards. In a competitive format, each school takes the stage for five minutes to perform group and individual poems in front of capacity crowds. The DC SCORES Poetry Slam! funnels the energy and creativity of youth into self-expression as a means of improving their literacy rates and raising their self-esteem. The event has been featured in The Washington Post & Capital Community News, and participants have read their poems on NBC-4

When: Thursday, November 16, 2017 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Where: H.D. Woodson High School, 540 55th St. NE, Washington, DC 20019 map
Volunteer Info: Volunteers are needed for setup, breakdown, ushering special guests, and more.
Contact: Lindsey Sharp, (202) 393-6999 ext 310
For more information: click here

Reach’s Book Release Party *This event is accepting volunteers
Reach Incorporated

Each summer, selected Reach teens author children’s books as part of our Summer Leadership Academy. On November 16th, we will celebrate these teen authors at our annual Book Release Party. The event will take place at Pepco Edison Place Gallery, near Chinatown, and will provide an opportunity to honor our young people, celebrate their new books, and raise funds to support our continued work.

When: Thursday, November 16, 2017 (5:00 PM – 8:00 PM)
Where: Pepco Edison Place Gallery, 702 8th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 map
Fee: Tickets start at $50. Volunteers are free.
Volunteer Info: We are seeking volunteers to run our registration table and assist with book sales.
Contact: William Ross, (202) 827-3795
For more information: click here

Saturday, November 18, 2017

What’s Going On

Dance Place

Returning home after a sold-out nationwide tour, What’s Going On is Dance Place’s critically acclaimed producing debut that offers the sweetest solace possible: people coming together. (The Washington Post). Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye’s transcendent music and finds a reflection of the world today. Taking inspiration from 1971′s inimitable What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye’s insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives with choreography by Vincent E. Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah.

This evening-length work features Modern, Jazz and West African dance. What’s Going On seeks to provoke thoughtfulness and spark conversations to ignite change in each community it touches.

When: Saturday, November 18, 2017 (8:00 PM)
Where: Dance Place, 3225 8th St NE, Washington, DC 20017 map
Fee: $15 -$30
Contact: Amanda Blythe, (202) 269-1601
For more information: click here

Sunday, November 19, 2017
Girls on the Run – DC Fall 2017 5K presented by PepsiCo *This event is accepting volunteers
Girls on the Run – DC

Join us for the fall 5K on Sunday, November 19th, at Anacostia Park. Girls on the Run – DC brings the community together to support and celebrate girls across the city. The race is open to the community and there are many ways to get involved — from being a buddy runner for a girl who doesn’t have an adult to run with, a community participant or a volunteer who makes the day memorable for a girl.

When: Sunday, November 19, 2017 (10:00 AM – 11:30 AM)
Where: Anacostia Park, 1101 Howard Rd, SE, Washington, DC 20020 map
Fee: $35 race entry
Volunteer Info: Various 5K volunteer opportunities include: course safety marshal, information team, general volunteer, parking metro guide, photographer, and race packet pick-up.
Contact: Kelly Makimaa, (202) 607-2288
For more information: click here

What’s Going On
Dance Place

Returning home after a sold-out nationwide tour, What’s Going On is Dance Place’s critically acclaimed producing debut that offers the sweetest solace possible: people coming together. (The Washington Post). Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye’s transcendent music and finds a reflection of the world today. Taking inspiration from 1971′s inimitable What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye’s insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives with choreography by Vincent E. Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah.

This evening-length work features Modern, Jazz and West African dance. What’s Going On seeks to provoke thoughtfulness and spark conversations to ignite change in each community it touches.

When: Sunday, November 19, 2017 (4:00 PM)
Where: Dance Place, 3225 8th St NE, Washington, DC 20017 map
Fee: $15 -$30
Contact: Amanda Blythe, (202) 269-1601
For more information: click here

Thursday, November 23, 2017
13th Annual Turkey Trot This event is accepting volunteers
Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services

This Thanksgiving Morning, over 800 runners, walkers, and spectators will flock to Laurel’s Historic District for the 13th Annual 5K Turkey Trot to Benefit Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services, Inc. (LARS). This event has gained a loyal following and continues to grow each year, raising crucial funds for LARS, a non-profit organization helping homeless and low-income families and individuals achieve stability and self-sufficiency. This event is LARS’ biggest fundraiser, raising over $50,000 last year to help us provide food, financial help, and housing to Laurel residents in crisis.

When: Thursday, November 23, 2017 (8:00 AM – 10:00 AM)
Where: McCullough Field, 7th & Montgomery St, Laurel, MD 20707 map
Fee: $35 through end of October; $40 Nov 1-Race Day
Volunteer Info: Registration, course marshaling, set up/clean up, cheer on race participants
Contact: Laura Wellford, (301) 776-0442 ext 27
For more information: click here

Unwavering Belief in the Potential of Youth with BUILD MetroDC

by Bryce Jacobs, Executive Director, BUILD Metro DC

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BUILD was created with the audacious notion that students at the highest risk of dropping out of high school have the power to become self-starters who can change the trajectory of their lives. BUILD has seen that holistic academic support, combined with business training, leads to long-term success both in the classroom and beyond high school. We like to say that, “entrepreneurship is the hook; college is the goal.”

Through the process of developing and managing their own businesses, BUILD students experience first-hand how their academics are not only relevant, but also crucial, to life beyond the classroom. The result is a vital sense of ownership over their education and careers. As the applicability of school to “real life” becomes clear, and as students gain important skills, the BUILD program stimulates their motivation, challenges them to set high expectations for themselves, and empowers them to succeed.
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BUILD holds an unwavering belief in the potential of youth. Unlike many other youth programs, BUILD Metro DC targets students who are not are not on-track academically and might not consider college an option. Furthermore, many BUILD students are at a socio-economic disadvantage, and will be the first generation in their family to earn a college degree.

For this school year, BUILD is serving nearly 350 students at six schools in the Metro DC area: Columbia Heights Education Campus, Eastern Senior High School, Friendship Collegiate Academy, Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy, Roosevelt Senior High School, and The SEED School of Washington, D.C. And, for the first time ever, BUILD is also working with the entire 8th grade class at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy Middle School.

In Washington, DC, only 69% of high school students graduate high school on time compared to the national average of 78%. Of those who do graduate on time, only 50% enroll in college. With such low graduation rates in DC, the dropout crisis does not just impact individual lives, it cripples our local economy and sets our city’s competitiveness behind. BUILD Metro DC launched in 2008 to stem the tide of high school dropouts and prepare students for college.

Our nation’s education system itself is woefully outdated. Students are not being taught the skills they need to thrive in the 21st Century, particularly in under-resourced communities in urban environments. BUILD aims to change that. With a focus on skills like creative problem solving, effective communication, self-management, collaborating effectively with others, grit and determination – what we describe as the “entrepreneurial mindset”. BUILD uses entrepreneurship to prepare young people for the Innovation Era and to get them engaged in their education.

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While I’m passionate about BUILD’s curriculum and how it engages our students with a very hands-on, experiential learning model, what truly inspires me are our students. There’s Jada and Imani, and Daniel, to name a few. They came to BUILD uncertain of the possibilities and opportunities available in their future, and exceeded their own expectations.

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For us, our outcomes speak for themselves. The impact of BUILD’s program on the achievement of low-income students is notable even after only one year: in the lowest performing schools in which BUILD serves students, BUILDers with just one year of BUILD graduate at a rate up to 56% higher than their peers. In higher-performing schools, BUILDers graduation attainment is 12-15% above the average for their low-income school peers.

The results of BUILD’s program speak to the impact of our model on student achievement and success. Since BUILD Metro DC’s first class of students became high school seniors in 2012, 95% of seniors have graduated from high school on time and 95% have been accepted to a college or university. In the 2016-17 school year, BUILD Metro DC’s accomplishments included a 100% on-time graduation rate for seniors and a 100% rate of acceptance to at least one college. Collectively, BUILD seniors were accepted to 100 colleges and won $1.4m in scholarships.

Further, BUILD students persist in college at a higher average than their peers. Research conducted by BUILD demonstrated that BUILD’s 2013 graduates enrolled in more four-year colleges, compared to two-year colleges, than their peers at the national level. For BUILD’s target demographic of low income, 100% minority, urban high school students, 75% of BUILD students in 2013 enrolled in a four-year college compared to 57% nationally. Moreover, BUILD students are on track to have higher college graduation rates within six years than the national average for both the target demographic of low-income minority students, and overall nationally.

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Because the nature of our work is so collaborative, a great day at BUILD is when everyone – program staff, BUILD teachers, mentors, and students – are in sync. In practice, that means teachers, staff and mentors are creating a safe and inclusive space for learning, collaboration and creativity. It means students are not just dreaming about but acting on their desire to start a business, tour prospective colleges and experience potential careers with professionals who host them throughout the city. It means that we are working relentlessly to reduce the opportunity gap for our students and work together to collectively impact our student’s success.

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BUILD could not do our work without the involvement of committed volunteers. Mentors play a critical role by working with students on a weekly basis to support their businesses and academics. Annually, BUILD recruits and trains 100 mentors who fulfill their mentor requirements of working with students (10th – 12th graders) on a weekly basis, starting in the 6th week of the school year, for 1.5 hours per week, to support their business and academic pursuits. Mentors are college-educated professionals who expose students to different career options while serving as reliable, caring adults.

BUILD also offers one-time volunteer opportunities where professionals from the community serve as judges at Business Pitch Competitions or serve on college and career panels.

Individuals interested in volunteering and supporting BUILD should contact us at builddcinfo@build.org.

Washington Improv Theater: The Case for Laughter

by Sarah Marksteiner, Washington Improv Theater
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A Need for Laughter
In Washington, D.C. (and throughout the country), people crave connection and community – yet we increasingly isolate ourselves. While our world becomes more digitally connected, we grow increasingly disconnected from one another, caught up in the grind of DC life. Now, more than ever, we need to find common ground and engage. We need to laugh and communicate with one another.

Washington Improv Theater has created a space that ignites genuine human connection – a community fueled by the deeply impactful nature of longform improv. At WIT, improv brings people from diverse backgrounds, often with seemingly little in common, together to learn and play in a safe and judgement-free zone. Through improv that WIT aims to unleash the creativity of Washingtonians.

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Inspiring levity through dynamic, one-of-a-kind performances
Artists at WIT practice longform improv, an exercise of live, collaborative theater in which actors can weave complex stories set in any space and cast themselves in any role. Each performance becomes an unscripted, thrilling world premiere. Washington Improv Theater hosts over 300 performances per year.

Improvisation as a form uniquely engages audiences by sharing with them the moment of creation. Our community of six company ensembles and seven Harold teams establishes warm rapport with our audiences as they create one-night-only works of art. WIT also stages special project shows including the satirical mock election POTUS Among Us where improvisers lobby for audience votes and the dark, dramatic murder mystery Citizens’ Watch inspired by the British TV series Broadchurch.

A treasured patron tradition is our weekly free Harold Night, where our teams bring new life to the classic format. Each night ends in a community-wide improv ‘jam’ where novice audience members can try their hand at improv alongside seasoned performers and current students.

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Creating connecting through arts education
At WIT, we believe improv is for everyone. Our inclusive classes program, which enrolls 1,500 annually, attracts a student body spanning age, career, and economic background to its curriculum. And we take accessibility seriously. We offer at least two free Improv for All workshops monthly, reaching every ward of the District. This year, we proudly launched our first Diversity Scholarship toward tuition in the classes program with the aim to ensure more diverse communities can pursue improv.

The benefits of improv skills like confidence, creativity, and supportive collaboration are universal. Our WIT@Work program enhances these skills in the professional sphere by conducting applied improv training seminars in the workplace. WIT@Work more than doubled in scope last year alone, bringing a spirit of “Yes, and” to organizations like Deloitte, Goodwill, NIH, The American Red Cross, and NPR.

Our growing youth programming teaches the District’s kids the power of positive collaboration and creativity. Our work includes engagements at DC Public Elementary Schools such as a semester-long after-school program at Marie Reed Elementary School.

Get involved in our community
There are a myriad of ways you can get involved with Washington Improv Theater.

Preparing Students for a Complex and Changing World With Center for Inspired Teaching

By Rebecca Bauer, Project Manager, Inspired Teaching
BlogPhoto1Only weeks after beginning my job at Inspired Teaching, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Intensive component of the organization’s signature program, the Inspired Teaching Institute. At the Institute, educators participate in hands-on, improvisation-based activities to align themselves around best-practices for engagement-based instruction.

When I arrived on Day 1, I didn’t know exactly what that meant or what I should expect, but I’d been told the Institute is something I had to experience to truly understand. Less than two weeks later, I’d bonded with a cohort of amazing teachers, danced and sang, lesson planned and discussed ways to address students’ needs.

I’d used yo-yos to learn about inquiry-based education. I’d honed my ability to think creatively by overcoming obstacles while climbing imaginary mountains. Now, I was beginning to truly understand: when colleagues had told me that Inspired Teaching leads transformative teacher trainings, they really meant transformative.

A particularly impactful activity challenged teachers to examine their understanding of discipline and what that word means and looks like. Gathered around two sheets of chart paper, the facilitator sternly said, “This school needs more discipline,” and asked the group to share what words come to mind when they think of “discipline.” Teachers began shouting out words. Punishment. Consequences. Control. They had no trouble brainstorming a vast list. Suspension. No Recess. Phone call home. After the sheet of chart paper was covered in words that gave many flashbacks to their own days of being sent to the principal’s office, the facilitator told us to close our eyes. “Imagine you are a skilled artist,” she said. We sat focusing on this idea for a moment, envisioning our crafts, the skills that we’d honed. “Now open your eyes. Tell me what words come to mind when I say discipline.” An entirely new list began to form. Dedication. Focus. Self-control. Sacrifice. Passion. We examined the two lists, noting the stark differences, pointing out that the lists had very few words in common. The activity left participants thinking about how schools need to shift from enforcing a rigid set of rules to preparing students to be good citizens of our complex and rapidly changing world.

FILE2369Through thought provoking activities like this one, as well as many others that required more flexibility (physically, emotionally, and mentally), the Institute demonstrated that – for both teachers and students – creativity and rigor are not mutually exclusive, but rather go hand in hand.

In addition to being a fun, joyful and refreshing program, it was inspiring to witness the teachers engage in serious reflection on their practices, learning about themselves and discovering new ways to reach their students. One teacher commented, “Institute has helped me look at the types of ways I can elevate my teaching practices emotionally, psychologically, and physically.” Another shared, “Institute has fine-tuned my metacognition and skills of perception.” Most importantly, while teachers celebrated the growth that took place at the intensive, they also acknowledged that there is always more work to be done – which is why the Institute includes seminars and ongoing support throughout the year.

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The Inspired Teaching Institute, comprised of the summer Intensive and seminars throughout the school year, is only one of Inspired Teaching’s many programs that serve teachers and students in the DC area. From the Residency program that prepares pre-service teachers for successful, sustainable careers to Real World History, a hands-on course that provides students an internship experience where they cultivate the skills of an historian, all of our programs authentically engage participants to become changemakers in their schools, districts, and communities.

Given that students report feeling bored during 70% of their time in school and stressed for 80% of it, we need changemakers now more than ever. If you’re questioning whether Inspired Teaching’s professional development can really impact these bleak statistics, if you’re skeptical that we can create meaningful changes to our education system, one teacher at a time, I hear you. Two weeks ago, I was skeptical, too, but I’ll tell you what my colleagues told me: You have to experience it to truly understand.

Knowing that seeing is believing, we host visits to our programs each month. If you’d like to see Inspired Teaching in action, sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates!

Youth-Led Social Innovation at Home and Abroad

by Emma Strother, Development Manager, LearnServe International.

LearnServe is creating a culture of youth-led social innovation in the Washington, DC area. We believe in the power of young people to affect social change, and in the power of social change work to shape young leaders. We provide in-school, extracurricular, and abroad trip-based social entrepreneurship training to middle and high school students from public, charter, and independent schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
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[I] recently had a debate about whether or not Washington, DC had the same genuineness as Paraguay. Andrenae -rising Junior at Ballou High School-having just returned from a LearnServe Abroad trip to Paraguay.

In a blog post, she urges her readers to let new experiences put their lives in perspective. Here’s my opinion, if you haven’t opened up your thoughts, your heart, and your mind to new people and new things, you will never fully experience the opportunities given to you.
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Andrenae is one of 54 students and teachers who returned on Wednesday from LearnServe Abroad trips to Jamaica, Paraguay, Zambia, and (for the first time!) South Africa. Her insights remind us why LearnServe International takes young social entrepreneurs abroad. Our students build the courage to travel far outside their comfort zones, and the strength to grow as leaders through these experiences.

This year for the first time, LearnServe is proud to partner with Eastern High School, the DC Public Schools, Empowering Males of Color initiative, and the organization Empowering Men of Excellence to send 14 students and 1 teacher on a LearnServe trip to South Africa. The group explored the vibrant social enterprise scene in Johannesburg and Cape Town, conducted a human-centered design workshop with their South African peers, and volunteered with local organizations.

Across the trips, our students worked with dynamic community leaders and entrepreneurs to deepen their understanding of local solutions to global issues. On the LearnServe Blog, they reflected on the implications of their experiences for their communities back home and their personal growth.
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As Jayme-rising Junior at Eastern High School-put it, “I want you to think about how your presence can affect the lives of others who may not have the same opportunities as you. Think about how whenever you meet and spend time with new people, you are creating memories.”

You can access an in-depth look at our students – and teachers – experiences in Jamaica, Paraguay, Zambia, and South Africa on the LearnServe Blog (learn-serve.org/blog) and in our online photo albums (flickr.com/people/cie-wis).

Skills for the Future with Washington Youth Garden

by Crystal Williams, Communications and Events Manager, Washington Youth Garden
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Washington Youth Garden (WYG) is a program of Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) on the grounds of the US National Arboretum and uses the garden cycle to enrich science learning, inspire environmental stewardship and cultivate healthy food choices in youth and families. WYG has three subprograms within the organization; SPROUT (Science Program Reaching Out) – field trip program, Green Ambassador Program- high school internship program, and Garden Science – school garden development program.

In 2016, 3,140 students visited the garden on nearly 100 SPROUT trips while 90% of SPROUT participants tasted something new from the garden.

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This year from April through June, we’ve already served 2,500 students through our SPROUT program and 15 new high school Green Ambassadors joined us for the busy summer ahead!

Gardening and carpentry skills are not the only thing our students gain in the garden, as illustrated by the following quote:

“The Green Ambassador Program] gave me a lot of skills for future jobs and helped me grow as a person as well. A lot of my peers come from very different backgrounds, so it gave me a lot of new perspectives.”
-DeWayne Walker, Green Ambassador Program 2016

This year we celebrate our new education pavilion. The new pavilion at Washington Youth Garden’s demonstration garden is the result of a partnership between the Weissberg Foundation, local businesses, and nonprofit organizations working together to benefit school groups and families from underserved D.C. neighborhoods and other communities in the region. The pavilion is dedicated to the late Judith Morris, who was passionate about sharing nature and the Arboretum with surrounding communities and underserved youth. The pavilion provides a much-needed outdoor classroom space for young people coming to our demonstration plot to learn about environmental science and nutrition.
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We encourage the community to be a part of Washington Youth Garden by either attending an event such as Family Garden Day on August 12th or volunteering with us. Volunteer as an individual or bring a group. Individuals should sign-up for an orientation here. Volunteering as a group with Washington Youth Garden is a fun and active outdoor experience that is sure to build staff cohesion outside the office. For more information visit our website at www.washingtonyouthgarden.org