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What I’ve Learned from 7 Months of Serving Homeless and House-Insecure Women in DC

AVODAHGRAs I finished my senior year at Wesleyan University, one of the things I was most afraid of for my post-grad life was losing the environment in which everyone is eager to share the learning process with their friends and peers. The desire to preserve that, and the importance of my Jewish communities and experiences to me, is what led me to Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.

Avodah is based on studying the issues and approaches of our own service work as a way to navigate the centuries-old question central to Jewish life that is: how do Jews meet our obligation to serve? To do this, my fellow 23 Avodah Corps Members in DC and I are placed at leading anti-poverty organizations across the District – where we gain hands-on work experience and learn about the root causes and effects of poverty in this country. We work with individuals facing challenges related to healthcare access, food insecurity, housing insecurity, our immigration and refugee systems, and much more, as we also consider how to best organize the Jewish community toward a more just and equitable future.

For the past seven months, I’ve been serving as a program associate at N Street Village. N Street Village empowers homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. to claim their highest quality of life by offering a broad spectrum of services, housing, and advocacy in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

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Before I started Avodah, I was worried that my position and responsibilities would be too far removed from the macro-level social justice that I had spent most of college thinking about and cultivating my skills toward; I was nervous that I would not only miss reading, writing, and critically thinking about social justice in these ways, but that I wouldn’t be qualified for the direct service work that our clients needed me to do. Within the first few months I definitely faced a steep learning curve, but have also since found that I continue to learn more than I could have ever imagined about the lived experiences at the heart of the issues that I care about. This has been due in part to all of the training and learning opportunities that my placement provides its staff – especially its Avodah Corps Members and social work interns.

One of the areas of learning that has profoundly impacted me this year is trauma-informed care. Trauma informed care is a holistic approach to providing services, based in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. What fascinates me about this framework is that trauma-informed care is more about changing systems than providing brief interventions to navigate traumatic experiences: it’s more about how a person who has experienced homelessness feels in a space that is intended to provide care, rather than about agencies checking off boxes of predetermined treatment requirements.

Learning and exploring the principles of trauma-informed care has helped me imagine concrete ways in which the choices that I make at work can be empowering for clients, even when challenges within the systems can be endlessly disempowering for them. Having an understanding of this holistic approach to care, I’m able to better recognize symptoms of mental health instability as related to the traumatic experiences of homelessness and being deprived of basic human needs. Most importantly, this framework helps me as a staff person to focus on the sheer resilience at the core of human responses to stress and crisis, reduce the shame and stigma associated by homelessness and/or other crises, and ideally, help survivors feel respected, connected, and hopeful about their recovery.

Though I describe trauma-informed care as systemic, and at its core it is all about a widespread change to social work and the standards behind providing services, where it really manifests are the personal experiences I have with clients and my coworkers. In the fall, our N Street Village CEO wrote a letter to the organization’s staff in the wake of multiple acts of white supremacist violence – from the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to the murders of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones in Louisville, Kentucky. She wrote that in our work at N Street Village, “every day we have multiple invitations to challenge our implicit biases and to seek interpersonal justice. We are invited to acknowledge our well-worn habits of mind which automatically see an ‘other’ — and instead to exercise new habits of heart which see our commonality and which instinctively reach for connection.”

Having experienced this work for the past seven months, and getting to see its impact, I’m so grateful to my workplace and to Avodah as a whole for bringing the interpersonal connections to the foreground in my understanding of justice. I can only hope that through the rest of the year and beyond, my fellow Corps members and I never stop finding ways to fold that interpersonal justice into greater action and movements for progress.

 

About the Author:

Sammi Aibinder is an Avodah Jewish Service Corps Member. She currently works as a program associate at N Street Village, which empowers homeless and low-income women in Washington, D.C. Ms. Aibinder is a graduate of Wesleyan University.

 

Join Britepaths and the Financial Empowerment Center at South County in offering a warm welcome to our very first cohort of students in our Healthcare Pre-Apprenticeship Training Pilot Program!

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The Program offers the necessary foundation for Fairfax County residents to pursue better-paying jobs in the healthcare fields where there is a great need for skilled workers. It is a pilot program formed in partnership between Britepaths/Financial Empowerment Center at South County (FECSoCo) and Fairfax County’s Department of Housing and Community Development and is funded through the Fairfax County Community Funding Pool. Initial client recruitment is focused on Department of Housing clients in the South County area.

Britepaths’ FEC Workforce Development Coordinator Sally Meyer and Housing Services Specialist III Lura Bratcher hosted information sessions in June and July at the Westford Community Center in Alexandria, and our first students were recruited from these sessions. Future offerings may include training in other fields, such as construction and information technology.

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The first cohort began their 12-week session on September 10. The 10 students attend classes Monday through Friday. Britepaths’?Adult Basic Education Instructor Kristie Kleha provides their primary instruction, incorporating job readiness skills with the enrichment of math, reading, and writing that are contextualized for healthcare.

The students also have sessions each week in Financial Literacy with volunteers from FECSoCo and in computer skills training with our partners from Computer C.O.R.E. Other enrichment opportunities include a visit to Northern Virginia Community College’s Clinical Simulation Lab, an overview of medical certifications that NVCC offers, guidance in applying for grants to fund their future training, and guest speakers who present professional options in healthcare. The students also use this time to research and take an interest assessment to help them determine whether to pursue work with patients or in administration.

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After the 12-week session, students will enroll in a medical training course of their choice at a healthcare provider site. This class will also prepare them to take a certification exam.

Throughout the experience, and up to a year after completion, students are matched with a volunteer success mentor who will support them, provide resources, refer them to community supports if needed, and work with them to find and stay in a job.

We are excited for our students and wish them much success in their journey toward new careers!

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We would like to thank Fairfax County, the Department of Housing, Computer C.O.R.E., Northern Virginia Community College, and all the community partners, guest speakers, and volunteers who are supporting the launch of this pilot.

We are also reminded of our dear friend and long-time volunteer Diane Jenkins, who helped inspire and inform our initial proposal for this program. Diane was a retired Department of Housing Specialist who worked throughout her career to help her clients improve their lives. She passed away in July 2018, and it is heartening that her memory will live on through the success of students in this Program.

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Catalogue for Philanthropy Highlights Washington-Area Nonprofits That Support Vets and Their Families

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WASHINGTON — Nov. 7, 2017 — Veterans Day is an important time to thank those who’ve served their country; many nonprofits in the greater Washington area find ways to keep this gratitude going throughout the year for vets and military families.

The Catalogue for Philanthropy, Washington’s trusted “go to” source for finding organizations with meaningful impact, has compiled a list of charities serving local veterans and their families.

The Catalogue, a nonprofit that has raised over $40 million for small nonprofits in the D.C. region at no cost to those organizations, has vetted these charities in a thorough process that involves a program review, financial review and site visit. This means donors can feel confident that they are supporting organizations that make the Washington region a better place to live for everyone.

All Catalogue nonprofits are locally based which enables donors to give where they live. To initially apply to the Catalogue, an organization must have a budget of between $100,000 and $4 million.

The full Veterans Day list is at http://bit.ly/2CZEaYE. Many of the nonprofits include volunteer opportunities in their descriptions.

  • Our Military Kids (www.cfp-dc.org/militarykids) provides small grants to help families pay for extracurricular activities when a parent is overseas and supports children of wounded warriors from all military branches.
  • Operation Renewed Hope Foundation (www.cfp-dc.org/orhf) helps homeless and at-risk veterans secure safe, permanent homes and overcome the root causes of homelessness and instability in their lives.
  • Operation Second Chance (www.cfp-dc.org/osc) provides direct support to those in financial crisis due to combat injury or illness, usually during the gap between active duty pay and the initiation of veterans’ benefits. The nonprofit also will be sending care packages to 50 deployed service members and will be part of a fundraiser Nov. 10.
  • ThanksUSA (www.cfp-dc.org/thanksusa) empowers military families — children and spouses of military personnel — through its scholarship program to expand their education and skills through college, technical school or vocational training programs.
  • The Veterans Consortium (http://cfp-dc.org/vet) provides free legal services to over 400 veterans and their families each year, ensuring equal access to justice in court and achieving favorable outcomes in 80 percent of its cases. The organization will be holding a discharge upgrade clinic Nov. 9, at the Washington Convention Center.
  • Yellow Ribbon Fund (http://cfp-dc.org/Yellow-Ribbon) provides practical high-touch support to wounded, ill, and injured service members, their caregivers and families in the D.C. area at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir as they transition back to their homes and communities. The nonprofit is connected to a number of upcoming events that support its mission.

 

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Shop for a Cause: Shop Suited!

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Every week, Suited for Change changes women’s lives. We prepare women to meet the professional appearance expectations of employers and help them to enter interviews and their jobs with the self-confidence to succeed. At Suited for Change, individualized suiting sessions provide women with a one-on-one mentoring experience to help them develop their professional style and receive two complete outfits of professional clothing. Once they get the job, which they often do, women can return for three more outfits to complete a full work-week’s wardrobe. But to fulfill our mission, we need your help. Here are a few ways you can help.

If you are looking for great deals or to build a wardrobe inexpensively, once a month Suited holds a Boutique Sale in our offices at 1010 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 450, Washington. Here you can find the perfect holiday dress or the shoes you need to match a new outfit at the lowest prices in DC. These sales allow us to sell off our excess inventory while bringing in needed funds to buy items and sizes that are in short supply for our clients. Suits, jackets and dresses are $15 each. All separates, jewelry, shoes, and handbags are only $5 each. It is a great way to shop for a cause and get a great deal.
The next Boutique Sale is Wednesday, November 7, 4-7 pm, followed by the December sale on Wednesday, December 5, 4-7 pm. We hope to see you there. You can find more information here.
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And another way to help: To stock our beautiful and well-organized boutique, we accept donations of new or gently worn, seasonally appropriate professional clothing at our offices at 1010 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 450. We always need work-ready handbags, earrings, shoes, particularly larger sizes, and plus-sized clothing. Donations are accepted on a drop-in basis at our offices on Thursdays and by appointment one Saturday per month at curbside pick up. More information can be found here.
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By empowering local low-income women to achieve their employment potential, you help eradicate poverty in our community. Join us at our Boutique Sales or donate clothing.

Join Friendship Place for the annual Friendship Walk on Saturday, November 3rd!

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Registration and fun starts at 9:30! Friendship Walks is a 1.5 mile fun walk around the National Mall focused on ending homelessness in the Washington D.C. region. All proceeds benefit Friendship Place, a nonprofit organization that offers the most effective model for addressing homelessness, with innovative programs that empower participants to rebuild their lives, find homes, get jobs, and reconnect with friends, family, and the community, permanently!

Visit http://support.friendshipwalks.org for more details!

Celebrating 95 Dream Project Scholars This Academic Year

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“When I received the Dream Project Scholarship…I sat in silence for a good 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. I was overcome with happiness. I felt as if it was a sign from the Universe telling me that I was headed in the right direction…” — Olvin V., 2018 Dream Project Scholar

This back-to-school season, 95 Dream Project Scholars began the 2018-2019 academic year at colleges and universities across the United States. Dream Project awarded a $1,500 renewable college scholarship to these students to ensure that their immigration status – be it TPS, DACA or undocumented – does not block their access to higher education.

Not all undocumented students are so lucky. Nationally, only 5-10% of Dreamers, out of 65,000 high school grads, start college each year.

But the Dream Project, an organization that empowers students whose immigration status creates barriers to education, is making strides in changing this statistic for Dreamers in Virginia. 90% of Dream Project Scholars stay in college.

And among those students that are in college,?97% say that the Dream Project has played a significant role in their acceptance to college and the success they have found while attending college.

The Dream Project provides the necessary tools to empower low-income immigrant students. Over the past 8 years, through scholarships, mentoring, community engagement and advocacy, the Dream Project has aided over 150 immigrant families. Although several new attacks exist to these families – such as President Trump’s decision to end DACA, and the ongoing lawsuits disputing the fate of DACA – The Dream Project is committed to continuing to provide local Virginia Dreamers the support that they need to succeed in college.

Everyone can take a step to help the Dream Project distribute more “…signs from the Universe” to Dreamers all around by getting involved.

Written by — Lizzette Arias, Executive Director, Dream Project

Helping Moroccan Women Access Land: Soulalilyates Campaign for Land Reform

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Just over ten years ago, the family of Rkia Bellout, a woman from the Kenitra region of Morocco, sold its ancestral land. While the men in her family reaped the profits, she did not receive any compensation. Rkia is a member of the rural Soulilyate minority in Morocco, and like other women in this group, she had no rights to her land.?

Rkia decided to take action and sought the counsel of Moroccan women’s organizations to help her claim her right to participate in decisions over land ownership. When she brought her complaint to an NGO called ADFM (l’Association D’mocratique des Femmes du Maroc), the organization helped mobilize a national grassroots movement of Soulaliyate women calling for equality in land ownership. For over 10 years, ADFM has been building the leadership skills of rural minority women to advocate and participate in political processes for this cause.

ADFM is a member of Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP), a coalition of autonomous women’s rights organizations located throughout the developing world that promote women’s leadership and human rights. WLP organizations promote gender equality through training programs, advocacy campaigns, and capacity building. Since 2000, WLP partners like ADFM have been empowering women and girls to make change in their communities. (Click here to read more about WLP’s global impact on its Catalogue for Philanthropy profile.)

ADFM’s advocacy for Soulaliyate women’s rights pressured Morocco’s Ministry of the Interior to pass a specific law guaranteeing equality between men and women in communal land ownership and transactions. The Ministry reacted to the pressure, but not nearly as decisively as ADFM demanded. The government issued a series of non-binding ministerial guidelines called “circulars” that merely paid lip-service to the Soulaliyate movement. The latest one, Circular 17, recognized Soulaliyates’ right to land ownership in theory, but not in practice.

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Then, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Soulaliyate movement, ADFM organized its greatest advocacy push to date: a three-week “Caravan of Soulaliyates.” From October 24 to December 15, 2017, the caravan mobilized 660 Soulaliyate women and allies who traveled to three regions: Fez, Daraa-Tafilalt, and Rabat-Sale. The caravan met with policymakers and raised the voices of Soulaliyate women.

ADFM also held 10 leadership workshops during the caravan, with an average of 50 women attending each one. They used WLP‘s manual on inclusive leadership, Leading to Choices, which has been the cornerstone of ADFM’s capacity building work with the Soulaliyate communities since the movement’s inception in 2007. The leadership methodology in the manual empowers Soulaliyates to participate effectively in decision-making processes in their tribes.

Three to four Soulaliyate movement-leaders from different regions shared their advocacy experiences at each stage of the caravan. This dialogue between Soulaliyates from remote corners of the country fostered camaraderie. Even though 465 kilometers and the Atlas Mountains separate the coastal city of Kenitra and the Algerian border-town of Errachildia, women from these two areas discovered that they have shared experiences and are working towards a common goal. The caravan’s mobility strengthened the bonds of solidarity among Soulaliyates across the country.?

ADFM President Saida Drissi Amrani emphasized those bonds, “We have met women who, even if they do not know how to read or write, are very aware of the principle of equality,”?Amrani told HuffPost Maroc. “They denounce contempt and they are ready to fight. We will support them until the end.”

In July 2018, their campaign resulted in a major victory — for the first time, Soulaliyate women of the Ben Mansour and Ouled Mbarek tribes in the Kenitra province were awarded financial compensations and land transfers. While ADFM and WLP celebrate this success, they continue to campaign and fight for equal land rights for women throughout Morocco.

Why School Lunch Will be Better This Year: Real Food for Kids

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I don’t know who’s happier that school’s back in session, me or my kids. Some days it felt like the longest short summer ever. But now, we’re back in the groove and I’m adjusting to the rhythm of having twins in high school. I know — I’ve been warned. Thankfully I’ve always been pretty good with routine, even if it doesn’t always make me very popular at 6:00 AM. The moment I see the opening of one sleepy teenage eye, my first question is “whad’ya want for breakfast?” Imagine how that goes over.

But, I’ll bet those of you like me who have kids are asking that same question and making sure they’ve eaten something before heading off to the bus. Why? Because this is what you know. When kids are fueled up with healthy, delicious foods they are fired up to learn.

Here’s something we at Real Food for Kids know. School meals — when done right — fire up kids to learn.

But here’s something you may not know.

School meals these days are a lot better than you’d expect. And we can take some credit for that.

  • The quality of food in our school lunchrooms — after decades of decline — is improving. Every day we are blown away by the school nutrition professionals we get to work with who care as much as you do about what your kids eat every day. These are their customers and they are demanding. The response has been impressive. It’s just that a lot of us haven’t peeked into the cafeteria recently to see the transformation that’s been happening. If you haven’t, you should.
  • School meals have a solid, balanced nutrient profile. Studies show that the meals kids get at school — in most cases — power them better than lunches sent from home. Think about it. I’m the first to admit that what goes out in my kids — brown bag isn’t always ideal.
  • At the schools where kids regularly, consistently eat school meals, their attendance, concentration, grades, test scores, behavior, and physical activity all improve. The schools actually improve. This is all backed up by valid research, not just stories.
  • When done right, school meals not only increase kids — fruit and vegetable consumption, they increase kids desire to consume more fruits and vegetables because they learn how delicious they are. What parent doesn’t want that?
  • School meals can — and do — impact the choices our kids make outside of school walls. Done right, they can have a lasting impact on their health into adulthood. But there are still so many challenges that keep our kids from having the best school meals experience they can. And those are the challenges Real Food for Kids is working to change.

Our school systems are still grappling to understand that school meals — when done right — are an integral part of learning. When we shift that mindset, our kids can truly begin to make the connection between what they eat and how they learn. As one of our wonderful school nutrition partners likes to say, school food is an “education intervention.”

School lunch continues to be viewed as a support service to the instructional day instead of a critical component to student success (just like recess). The environment in which kids eat is less about nourishment — social, emotional and physical — than it is about hurrying on to the next academic subject. And food services staff — even though they are wonderful and love our kids — are often relegated to the sidelines of our school communities, limiting their interaction with our students to a 10-second transactional relationship.

When the culture of the lunchroom becomes integral to the culture of a school, we create an environment in which healthy relationships are organic and lifelong healthy eating behaviors are inspired and embraced.

Real Food for Kids‘ work in the Metro DC area over the last 8 years has resulted in changes to the quality of school meals served to over 250,000 kids. Now it’s time to change the environment in which they get those meals so they can be fueled up by the food and the experience, ready to learn, ready to thrive.

This fall, our funding will go directly toward work already underway to identify best practices in school meal environments and how to change perceptions so that those practices can be replicated in our schools — in your schools. Your support will go a long way to pushing that tray down the lunch line.

This post was written by Mary Porter, Director of Programs.

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

Students striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.

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For the past 4 years, After-School All-Stars (ASAS) has convened a leadership training event at the 4-H National Conference Center outside of the Nation’s Capital: All-Stars Leadership University (ASLU). ASAS is a national non-profit, providing free and comprehensive after-school programs to Title 1 middle school students, and the Washington DC chapter is the local office serving over 600 students at 7 schools within the district. 19 of our chapter cities are invited to send student and staff representation at ASLU. Each Chapter sends two youth, a Rising Youth Advisory Board Mentor (YABs) and a Returning YAB Mentor, as well as an Adult Mentor to come to DC and learn about self-leadership, serving others, and how to serve and advocate in their communities. YABs are selected for these positions based on their commitment to the program, as well as their academic performance and leadership abilities. The 4-day retreat includes leadership training, team building exercises, opportunities to create service projects for their local communities and thoughtful reflections on each student’s respective communities and the issues they all face.

ASAS DC was extremely proud to have 2 YAB students representing our chapter. Ajani Atkins from Somerset Prep DC and De’Quan Atchinson from Charles Hart Middle School (now a rising Freshman at Eastern High School) both attended earlier this summer. Ajani assumed the role of Rising YAB while De’Quann had the opportunity to be a returning YAB mentor.

De’Quan is a great example of an ideal YAB and ASAS DC student. He has been with the program since 6th grade and is now a proud graduate of both Hart MS and the ASAS DC program. He has grown immensely in that time, learning to be a better public speaker, convener, and leader amongst his peer group. We had the chance to speak with him about ASLU and his broader experience in the program.

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De’Quan, along with many of the other YAB participants, was particularly struck by one of the special presenters at ASLU. Thanks to our partnership with Essentia Water, Joe La Puma attended the event as a guest speaker. Joe is the Vice President of Content Strategy at Complex Magazine, and host of the magazine’s “Sneaker Shopping,” a program that takes you inside the sneaker shopping process for such celebrities as Wiz Khalifa, Kevin Hart, Antonio Brown, and A$AP Rocky. De’Quan has a myriad of interests ranging from athletics to community service, but he is also extremely passionate about fashion. It was invaluable for him to be exposed to someone like Joe, who has worked hard to make a name for himself in a progressive sector of work that resonates with our students. Across the country, we are intentional about exposing ASAS students to unique and accessible career paths. Joe’s journey was one that had a profound resonance with the YABS. De’Quan admitted that hearing Joe speak inspired and excited him. It was a narrative that he could genuinely connect with and aspire towards, whereas those sources of inspiration were previously hard to come by.

De’Quan looks back at his journey from 6th grade and acknowledges how much he has matured within the ASAS DC program. Initially, he didn’t dedicate enough time to his classes and homework, opting to spend evenings with his mother. Due to her intensive work schedule, they could only spend the late evenings together, and that wasn’t conducive to completing all his work and developing an interest in school. An attitude change was as simple as providing him with a safe space and a positive environment. ASAS DC dedicated academic time allowed him to progress more in his school work, and that culminated this past year when he made the honor roll for the first time in his academic career. He recalled his mother’s reaction, and that she was quite literally “in tears of joy,” overwhelmed by her son’s success.

The exciting thing about De’Quan as well as the ASAS DC chapter, is that this is just the beginning. In speaking with De’Quan it was as if his experience in the program gave him a new lease on life. Not only is he excited for high school, but he already has plans to join the track team and as many clubs as he can get his hands on. De’Quan’s 3.5 GPA is something he is proud of, but at Eastern, he wants to build off of that and achieve even higher marks in his first year. He has a strong desire to seriously pursue his interests at the next level in the fields of leadership, athletics, academics, and fashion.

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As De’Quan reflected back on his experience it was no surprise that above all else, personal connections were the most meaningful to him. He credits ASAS DC staff for “getting him out of his shell” and inspiring him to be a leader. On more than one occasion he referred to the ASAS DC Program Manager Tierra Stewart as “Superwoman,” a sentiment that many of her colleague’s share. He knows that in 6th grade he wasn’t the type “to open up to just anybody,” but with the help of mentors like Tierra he began to make that transition to a more outgoing and charismatic person. He made that change because he along with his fellow ASAS students understood that our instructors genuinely cared about their well-being and future. As is the case with many of our 600+ students in the district, our staff have close relationships with De’Qunn and his family, and that level of understanding and communication is inextricably connected to his growth and success.

The DC chapter is proud to showcase De’Quan’s story. It is a unique and compelling narrative, and at the same time, we know that there are tens of thousands of ASAS students across the country having a similar experience. He didn’t have time to complete his homework, ASAS DC provided him that time and space, he was shy and unmotivated, he is now going off to high school as a leader with aspirations to be the captain of every team and club he joins, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, ASAS DC showed him what it looks like to succeed in school and have an attractive career. As he reflected back on his own journey at the 4-H center, eyes welling with tears, his heart was full: for his family, his ASAS mentors, and mostly for his fellow students that are striving to make better lives for themselves and their communities.