Greetings! Let’s welcome to “7 Questions” … Sonia Quinonez, Executive Director of SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) of Northern Virginia. Last year alone, 7000 children were reported as victims of abuse in Virginia and SCAN is there to stand up for them, offering parental support groups and education and producing creative public awareness initiatives. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, so this is an ideal time to learn more about SCAN’s essential work in our region.
1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?
SCAN of Northern Virginia just hosted our annual Allies in Prevention Awards Luncheon last Friday. It was a wonderful gathering of some 190 advocates for children — from front-line child protective services workers to elected officials. We honored five inspiring individuals, who have demonstrated exemplary commitment to improving the lives of children and strengthening families. Leon Harris of WJLA/ABC7 was a delightful emcee introducing us to the Ally Award winners. From a foster parent to a probation officer to a Deputy Director of Community and Human Services, each of the honorees has demonstrated a lifetime of commitment to protecting the most vulnerable children in our community. Our keynote speaker, Christine James-Brown, CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, engaged us in reflections on national advocacy efforts to focus anew on child welfare and the responsibility and accountability each of us has for playing our role in the systems that support families. It was truly an inspiring event.
2. What else are you up to?
This year, during the month of April, we are launching the blue pinwheel as an awareness-raising symbol for our efforts. Prevent Child Abuse America selected the pinwheel as the new nationwide symbol of support for child abuse prevention. Everyone thinks of childhood when they see a pinwheel, and it reminds us of the hope and promise that a happy, nurturing childhood can set in motion. It represents a change in the way our community thinks about prevention, a focus on programs and policies that prioritize prevention right from the start to make sure child abuse and neglect never occur. So we are trying to use pinwheel imagery on our outreach materials and through social media in the hopes that anyone who sees a blue pinwheel will be reminded to take time for children, to support families in their community, and to support public policy efforts that protect and uplift our next generation.
3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?
My own parents both worked for and volunteered with nonprofit organizations all my life. They also served as emergency foster care parents and taught STEP parenting classes while I was growing up. They gave my sister and me the self-esteem and support we needed to pursue our own dreams and goals, but they also taught us to care about other children in our community who did not have the same healthy, happy start to life. I remember their simple actions, like my mother boycotting Nestle because of the company’s activities in the Third World — even though that meant giving up her favorite chocolate bar! I remember my father wrestling with how to explain the actions of Idi Amin in Uganda in the 1970s to his distraught 10-year old daughter. I am grateful for the way they parented me and for the vision they demonstrated, through their words and actions, about the responsibility we have to one another in our local and global communities.
4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?
My predecessor as executive director at SCAN was Diane Charles, who led SCAN for 11 1/2 years. She was also my supervisor, mentor, and guide during my first 6 1/2 years at SCAN. I learned so much from watching her, the way she was careful about selecting committed and professional staff, and then nurtured them in living out their own passions through their work at SCAN. She is a highly respected “community trustee” in this region, who cares deeply about strengthening our community through her nonprofit work, her own volunteer efforts, and the way she supports individual friends and family members in their times of crisis. She never withheld knowledge from an employee or another organization, especially if she thought it would serve the greater good. I have big shoes to fill now, but she has given (and continues to give!) me valuable advice and modeling.
5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?
I think the greatest challenge in this work is making choices. We seem to have unlimited ideas and opportunities, but such limited time and resources! There are so many different groups and sectors of our community that SCAN could partner with to reach more families and support their efforts to raise children in nurturing, positive ways. Yet, healthy partnerships require time, attention, and focus. We strive to be strategic in selecting partnerships, and we continue to look for ways to engage other professionals, advocates, and volunteers so that we can increase the impact of our messages of positive parenting throughout Northern Virginia.
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?
My advice is to surround yourself with people you respect and admire for their approach. So much of our work in community-based nonprofits evolves out of relationships. Working with and for individuals who inspire you and reciprocate enthusiasm will sustain you through the many challenges associated with child welfare work. It is also critical to find groups of colleagues or friends who challenge you to look at things from a different perspective or suggest an alternate approach. That praxis of ideas and reflection with practical work that makes a difference will nurture your spirit and enable you to avoid burnout.
7. What’s next?
As we move forward in April, we will continue to expand awareness of child abuse issues in this region through promotion of the blue pinwheel symbol. We have a do-it-yourself pinwheel pattern on our website that can be printed out at home. We are encouraging families, youth groups, preschools, and others to make their own pinwheels, snap a photo of themselves with their unique pinwheel, and “plant” it in our virtual pinwheel garden on Facebook! Meanwhile, we are engaging retail companies in Northern Virginia to join us as Pinwheel Partners, posting pinwheels in their retail location in exchange for a donation or adding a badge on their website that links to our “Pause for a Child” campaign and online Parent Resource Center. Look for the blue pinwheel in your neighborhood and remind your friends and colleagues to take that opportunity to think about how you can join us in making a difference.
EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?
I would invite Bob Moses, who studied philosophy and organized the Freedom Summer project in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement and now organizes an Algebra Project to prepare disadvantaged kids to compete academically. He always avoided the limelight. but clearly wrestled with what it meant to truly stand for what was right during tumultuous times. I’d add Nelson Mandela because I am amazed at his resilient ability to maintain sanity and generosity of spirit during so many years of injustice and imprisonment. His ability to emerge out of that experience and to collaborate with those who had abused him to move his country forward is truly inspirational. And I would complete the table by inviting Marian Wright Edelman whose leadership in standing up for the needs and rights of children has long been a guiding force in my life. Her example and the work of the Children’s Defense Fund continue to move our dialogue forward in the realm of public policy.