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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.

Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area Recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy

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Thinking back to when I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I suppose my reaction was much like it is for the tens of thousands of other Americans who contract this disease annually. Disbelief, concern, melancholy (even a few tears); but once the shock had subsided, it was time to take this thing seriously.

My approach was first to learn as much as I could about Parkinson’s. What is it? A disease caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain. What causes it? No one really knows though genetics and certain environmental exposures are thought to contribute. What are its symptoms? Although everyone is affected differently, most of us with Parkinson’s have some of the following — slowness of motion, tremor, rigidity, problems with balance. And, because dopamine is also a mood enhancer, people with PD may suffer from anxiety and depression.

I learned that the most effective ways to combat Parkinson’s, and improve my quality of life, are 1) to work with a neurologist specializing in movement disorders to determine the most effective medication regimen, 2) to maintain a positive attitude, and 3) to stay active.

To stay active. Recent research studies have concluded that physical activity, of virtually any type, not only slows the rate of deterioration in PD patients, it can literally improve strength, flexibility, and balance. And it has secondary effects — PD sufferers who exercise regularly are less likely to be anxious or depressed.

But where to do these exercises? We all know about the grandest intentions — just show me what to do and I can do them at home; but, honestly, will you do them?

Enter the Parkinson’s Foundation of the National Capitol Area (PFNCA), whose mission is to “improve the quality of life of those impacted by Parkinson’s disease by offering exercise…programs to strengthen their physical and emotional health.”

Operating with a small, enthusiastic group of dedicated individuals, PFNCA utilizes donations received throughout the year, but especially at the annual Walk Off Parkinson’s fundraiser at National’s Park each September, to provide more than 250 exercise, communication and education program sessions at 29 locations in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

More than 2,000 people impacted by Parkinson’s are served by PFNCA each year. The variety of exercise venues and the geographic scope of providers allow each person with Parkinson’s to select the type of activity, the trainer and the location they prefer for everything from yoga to rock climbing.

I participate in three exercise activities sponsored by PFNCA?– a fitness class focused on balance, strength, and flexibility; boxing, a relatively new Parkinson’s exercise that provides great physical and cognitive benefits; and a Parkinson’s-specific activity called “Big and Loud” therapy. I also play tennis and work in the yard — everything counts.

I firmly believe exercise has helped me cope with Parkinson’s, and that the programs offered by PFNCA have been instrumental in slowing its progress.

Recently, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington named PFNCA one of the best small non-profits in the Washington D.C. area. The award recognizes PFNCA’s success in fostering a sense of community for people with Parkinson’s, and that it is the only organization in the D.C. area that provides holistic programs year-round.

Because the Catalogue for Philanthropy thoroughly vets each organization, donors can be assured the dollars they donate are being well spent.

Being named one of the best small non-profits by the Catalogue is a huge honor for PFNCA and should help ensure that more dollars are donated to “The Cause.”

After all, isn’t that what it’s all about — additional venues, more and more types of exercise, a more diverse compendium of locations and instructors. And, ultimately, a higher quality of life for people with Parkinson’s

Rick Vaughan — Oak Hill, VA — August 2018

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.

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.

After-School All-Stars DC: Helping students become more active, healthy and empowered

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Ward 8 is consistently burdened with the highest crime rates and lowest median incomes out of all wards within Washington DC, and while these instances are somewhat commonplace, the impact continues to be devastating. No group has been impacted more than the youth of the surrounding neighborhoods. Recent violence included a fatal shooting of a high school freshman, and a large fight immediately outside a DC public school called Somerset Prep DC. Somerset is one of seven school sites that After-School All-Stars Washington DC (ASAS DC) serves. While these events were occurring in Mid-May, our students at Somerset Prep DC, Leckie Education Campus, Charles Hart Middle School and John Hayden Johnson Middle School were provided a safe environment within their schools, and an opportunity to enrich themselves through education. After-School All-Stars provides comprehensive after-school programming to middle school students in neglected regions of the country. The DC chapter provides opportunities for students to participate in dynamic courses at no cost to them, and that were not previously available at their schools (e.g. drone engineering, robotics, healthy cooking, yoga, and music production to name a few). It also provides a safe space for our students during the most dangerous time of day, between 3-6 PM when young people within the community are most vulnerable to nefarious activities.

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But despite our in-school programming, tangible divides and bitter rivalries continue to permeate between the four schools we serve in Ward 8. This Spring our staff took it upon themselves to create events outside of our traditional programming, with an express focus on bridging the divide between the students at these schools. ASAS DC held a “carnival” Ward 8 field day event in response to the growing tension, where over 100 students and 25 parents were in attendance. Students participated in games, enjoyed performances from their peers, and were provided a chance to foster meaningful friendships with each other. Beyond spending time together, we also tie in our own values and purpose into events/initiatives. Two weeks after the field day event, students from the four Ward 8 schools gathered at Oxon Run Park, in the heart of South East DC. They participated in a clean-up project to pick up trash and improve the appearance of the park itself. ASAS DC students also completed several community-building activities that required collaboration, and expelling negative preconceptions about their peers from other schools. Most importantly, each student was given an opportunity to share their thoughts with the larger group on how they would solve these issues facing their neighborhood. Profound and meaningful sentiments were shared, with the consistent theme being that they should work together and embrace one another in the face of division and violence.

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ASAS DC is proud to serve the students of this diverse and vibrant community, and as we grow and build relationships throughout DC our hope is to bring these opportunities to every middle school student within the District.

Walking in Another’s (Broken) Shoes with Georgetown Ministry Center

by Carolyn Landes, Communications Manager, Georgetown Ministry Center
IMG_9060On a chilly afternoon this past December, I accompanied GMC Executive Director, Gunther Stern, and GMC Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. John Tarim on street outreach (a program where GMC staff check on and visit with individuals experiencing homelessness outside of the Center, directly on the streets). We’d been walking for about an hour and as we made our way down a street in West End, Gunther called out a greeting to an approaching figure — a large man, well over 6 feet tall and of a stocky build, walking with a cane. To protect his privacy, we’ll call him Ed.

It was clear from Ed’s warm reception of Gunther that he was a familiar acquaintance. Despite his physically imposing frame, Ed was mild-mannered, polite and soft-spoken. Gunther and Dr. Tarim asked the usual outreach questions, inquiring about Ed’s health and well being and asking if he needed any of the supplies we were carrying with us — items like granola bars, hand warmers, hand sanitizer and socks.
IMG_9055I happened to glance down toward Ed’s feet at the same moment Gunther asked, “How are your shoes holding up?” It was a gentle but pointed inquiry. The answer was obvious to all of us without Ed saying anything. His black, leather shoes were well beyond the point of “holding up” — they were literally falling apart. Only his left shoe had a shoelace. Threads were coming out of the seams on both soles and there were large gaping cracks in the leather on both shoes. The hole on the top of his left shoe was so large that I wondered how it was staying on his foot, let alone providing any protection from the cold.

Ed demurred the question at first but Gunther calmly persisted.”We’ll get you some shoes. What size are you?”

“Thirteen,” Ed allowed.

“Thirteen? Are you sure?”

Ed nodded. And then softly added, “Only if there’s extra.”

At that moment, I had to turn away. A large lump had formed suddenly in my throat and hot tears were stinging the corners of my eyes. Although I’d been working at GMC for 9 months by this time and had witnessed guests experiencing homelessness in dire situations before, something about the image of Ed’s tattered shoes struck me. I felt a mix of compassion for this gentle soul - how long had he been wearing these shoes that were disintegrating on his feet? – and anger that I wasn’t sure where to direct. How were we – as a society, as fellow human beings — allowing this? The holes in Ed’s shoes didn’t form overnight. How many others had passed him, noticed his broken shoes, and just kept walking, ignoring his obvious need?

Our interaction with Ed was just one of many we had that afternoon. Walking for just a few hours, we were met with individual after individual — both men and women, of varying ages, backgrounds and dispositions — each with their own story. They all recognized Gunther and knew immediately why he and Dr. Tarim were there — to offer help, even if only on that day in the form of a plastic baggie filled with toiletries, snacks and socks.

The image of Ed and his broken shoes stayed with me and a couple of weeks after our encounter I inquired with Gunther about him. “Whatever happened with the guy we saw on outreach that needed the shoes?”

“Oh! He got them.”

I blinked. “He got them?”

Gunther nodded. “Yeah, I went home that night and told Alexis to pick some up in his size. She was already out shopping for the kids.”

I smiled incredulously. “And did you already get them to him?”

Gunther nodded. “I went by Miriam’s the next day.”

I don’t know how Gunther knew Ed would be at Miriam’s Kitchen, a neighboring non-profit that aids those experiencing homelessness, the next day. It was one of the many small enigmas I was perplexed by working with someone who had been doing their job for nearly 30 years — I guess, like in most jobs, some things are learned with experience.

I do know that my experience on outreach that day cemented in my mind as an absolute surety the dire need our community has for organizations like GMC. It is our responsibility to recognize the needs of our neighbors and to help those who cannot help themselves.

Georgetown Ministry Center is a year-round drop-in center, providing psychiatric and medical outreach, social and mental health services, case management, shelter and housing support, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and laundry facilities to one of the very neediest populations: chronically homeless individuals who suffer from mental illness, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities, as well as physical injuries. Many are resistant to help, so GMC creates a welcoming environment that fosters trust. Last year it reached nearly 1,000 homeless individuals, including 60-70 “regulars.” An on-staff psychiatrist served 100, while a general practitioner provided care to 350. Moving from the streets to housing is profoundly challenging for this population, but for those who achieve it each year, GMC supports them at each step.

Change is in Your Hands with Doorways for Women and Families

Linley Beckbridge, Communications and Outreach Manager, Doorways for Women and Families
Apartment checklistFounded in 1978, Doorways for Women and Families serves women, men, youth and children experiencing abuse and homelessness in Arlington, Virginia. Doorways creates pathways out of homelessness, domestic violence and sexual assault leading to safe, stable and empowered lives. From immediate crisis intervention to counseling, housing and employment support, we offer real options and multiple pathways to build brighter futures.

knowthe5_teendvmonth (1)Did you know that one in three teens in the United States experiences dating violence, which includes physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse? Most of us aren’t aware of how common abuse is among youth, and many youth who experiencing dating violence aren’t aware of the resources available to them. These forms of abuse affect everyone: survivors, parents, family members and friends. Help is available for everyone.

aki-tolentino-125018February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. “Teen DV Month (sometimes called TDVAM) is a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships and promote programs that prevent it,” writes Loveisrespect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Throughout and beyond Teen Dating Violence Month, Doorways is engaging our community to help our neighbors better understand the issue and learn about the critical resources available. The more informed we are, the better positioned we are to prevent abuse before it happens, respond to survivors when violence occurs, and strengthen our community’s coordinated response to these issues.
Knowthe5-LogoNow is the time to take action. Change is in our hands. Fittingly, the theme for Teen DV Month 2018 is “Hands Unite: Do Your Part.”

Through Doorways, making a difference is as easy as 1, 2, 3:
Step 1: Learn the five must know facts about dating violence.
Step 2: Take a Knowthe5 selfie to social media with #knowthe5.
#knowthe5 thunderclap cover imageStep 3: Post your selfie and tag 5 friends to join you to multiply your impact!
Here’s some sample text to go along with your photo:
We can help stop dating violence. Change is in our hands. Join me this February, #teenDVmonth, and #Knowthe5 about teen dating violence: www.doorwaysva.org/knowthe5. To the awesome people I’ve tagged, please post your own selfie like this (and tag 5 friends to do the same).
IMG_5559Resources for Teens, Families and Community Members:
For life-threatening, imminent danger situations, please call 911. Survivors of violence and their families have rights that allow them to make decisions that are best for them regarding legal action, and getting immediate help to be safe does not impede these rights.

IMG_3422(2b)-small_cropIf you know of or suspect abuse, you can call Doorways’ 24-Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline (703-237-0881) for immediate help.
Have questions or concerns? Need support? Resources accessed via Doorways? hotline include education, information and referrals, hospital accompaniment for forensic exams, emergency shelter, court advocacy services, counseling and support groups for survivors of domestic, dating, and sexual violence. All services are free and accessible regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, language spoken or legal status. Learn more at www.DoorwaysVA.org/get-help.

Helpful Websites to Learn More:
Arlington County

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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.

Promoting Healthy Food and Culinary Careers with La Cocina VA

By Rocio Caicedo & Carol Duffy Clay, La Cocina VA

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La Cocina VA works to promote healthy food and empower immigrants with culinary jobs and entrepreneurship skills. We generate social and economic change by helping vulnerable individuals to develop careers and to open businesses within the food service and hospitality industries. Additionally, the organization facilitates access to healthy and nutritious food for neighbors in need.

Patricia Funegra founded the organization in 2014 with the purpose of empowering unemployed members of the Latino community to secure a job by offering comprehensive bilingual Spanish/English culinary training and by giving back to the community through preparing meals for the Food Assistance Program. Recently, La Cocina VA has expanded its reach to offer an additional Small Business Development Program.

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Since operations began in September 2014, La Cocina VA has served 74 individuals; 90% of these individuals have been immigrant women, most of whom come from backgrounds of domestic abuse, human trafficking, and severe financial insecurity. To date 86% of the students graduating from the job training program are fully employed throughout the Metropolitan area and are working with some of the largest corporations in the region.

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Take Karina Herrera, for example, who five years ago didn’t know how to break free from a very problematic marriage while living in a foreign country and culture she didn’t understand. She faced a battle for her own economic independence and the ability to take care of three young children on her own.

A year ago, Karina was referred to La Cocina VA to participate in the full-time 13-week culinary job-training program. It was during the training that she received instruction in culinary techniques, vocational English, food safety, and job readiness. She also completed five days of on-the-job mentoring and a one-month paid internship at one of the organization’s employer partners from the food industry.

At the end of the training, Karina obtained two industry-recognized certifications: a Completion in Bilingual Culinary Job Training Program from Northern Virginia Community College, and a Workforce Development and Food Protection Manager Certification, ServSafe, from the National Restaurant Association.

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Today Karina’s world has changed. She is now supporting her children as a financially independent mother and food service professional. She currently works at the Hyatt Regency Washington as a Second Cook making $22/hr and receives benefits and health insurance coverage for her and her family; she is advancing her career in the culinary arts and serves as a model for not only her own children but also to the other students and families that enter the kitchen at La Cocina VA.

Success stories like Karina’s are the fuel that keeps the staff and volunteers at La Cocina VA working hard to continuing affecting change within the lives of more students – the next generation of cooks.

For volunteering and other engagement opportunities, please contact Daniela Hurtado danielahurtado@lacocinava.org

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.