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Authentic Storytelling and the Nonprofit Sector

A_Banner_HomepageSince 2003, the Catalogue has relied on the art of storytelling to raise awareness about the work of our 350+ nonprofits. Whether through our print Catalogue, website, or events, we use storytelling to bring to life each charity’s programs, and impact. Spreading the word about our charities work is central to our mission, and we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to do this.

In a recent blog post, our friends at Meridian Hill Pictures tackled the topic of authenticity in storytelling, and how this topic was reflected in their feature film, CITY OF TREES. The film follows the stories of trainees and staff at Washington Parks and People (’14-’15) as they navigate the “inspiring but messy world of job training, and the roadblocks change makers face in urban communities everyday.” In conjunction with the film, Meridian Hill Pictures is launching a regular dialogue series titled Authentic Storytelling Moves People, in which they hope to bring together nonprofit leaders, independent filmmakers, and community members to talk openly about how they can all embrace more authentic storytelling to strengthen our community. Below is an excerpt from their blog:

“Whether in narrative or documentary, moving or still pictures, newspapers or tweets, we’re interested in exploring ways that society can elevate and reward authenticity, so that honest conversations are not withheld from the public sphere out of fear of losing funding, donations, support, or trust. We do not see authenticity as a sign of weakness rather, it requires courage. What if funders asked their grantees to demonstrate authenticity alongside impact? What if the public demanded authenticity as a form of accountability from public and private institutions? What if we all had the courage to create and tell more authentic stories?

In our first feature film, CITY OF TREES, we’ve attempted to embrace these values through an honest, character-driven story that challenges audiences to think deeply about the triumphs and struggles in making a long-term social impact within a non-profit organization… CITY OF TREES thrusts viewers into the inspiring but messy world of job training and the roadblocks changemakers face in urban communities everyday. Telling this kind of story required all parties — filmmakers, participants, funders, audiences — to embrace a certain unpredictability, lack of control, and reality that the ‘message’ would never be as perfectly conveyed through a people-centered story as through a tightly-crafted grant report, speech, tweet or fundraising video. Our hope has been that this kind of people-centered, reflective storytelling helps everyone to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues, a meaningful connection to the stakeholders as individual people and not statistics, and a more-informed investment in the potential of possible solutions.”

Read the full blog post here.

Interested in checking out City of Trees? Join Meridian Hill Pictures at the DC Environmental Film Festival for the premiere of CITY OF TREES (or check the CITY OF TREES website for other festival screenings).

cityoftrees


In anticipation of the screening, we caught up with Lance Kramer, Executive Director at Meridian Hill Pictures, to learn more about how the film came to fruition, and the potential it has to impact the nonprofit sector.

What conversation started Meridian Hill Picture’s involvement with Washington Parks and People?

Lance: In building a relationship, particularly one between a filmmaker and a subject, there are so many conversations that play a role…. more that I can count. The evolution of our relationship started when we first moved into the Josephine Butler Parks Center, continued through visiting the Corps members’ work site at the North Columbia Heights Green, a participatory video training we facilitated with the Corps members, then the bulk of the filming with all of the participants to follow the story of the grant. We realized that there was something really interesting and complex going on in both the spaces where the Corps was working, in the lives on the people and the organization.

What role do you see the film playing in the nonprofit space?

Lance: I think there’s a lot of interest, concern and confusion about embracing storytelling in the nonprofit community. What is storytelling and what does it mean for a nonprofit? There isn’t just one right answer. I hope that one outcome of the people in the film placing their trust in us and allowing themselves to be vulnerable, is to help others understand how hard change can be and allow others in the field to take a deep breath and feel ok with sharing the struggles that we all face. I hope others see that storytelling can be a powerful place to have a meaningful dialogue around successes and challenges, and that honesty can have a positive impact on the organizations serving our community. I hope the film shows that the march towards truth requires people to have trust in each other, the storytellers, and in the potential of honest stories to move people.

cityoftrees2If you could have one group of people see the film and talk about it, who would that be?

Lance: Only one group? I think nonprofit funders are an important audience for this film because they have the power to change the mechanics of how programs can impact our communities. We hope this film can help people build stronger relationships and understanding between people at the top, the staffs who design and implement programs, and the community members who are most closely impacted by programs. We can only benefit by strengthening communication and empathy for the struggles and needs all of these stakeholders face.

If every person who sees the film can walk away asking themselves one question, what should that question be?

Lance: Where do I fit in? This film isn’t about “other” people- it deals with issues that affect all of us. I hope people watching the film take a moment to look inward, to see that we are all connected and part of a system. Through the film and this kind of storytelling, maybe, it can help people think about where they fit into that system, and what each one of us can be doing or thinking differently in order to increase positive outcomes in our communities.

Check out the CITY OF TREES this week at the DC Environmental Film Festival (or visit the CITY OF TREES website for other festival screenings)!

7 Questions: Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman

We welcome Matt Gerson, Founder and Chairman of Tracy’s Kids to our 7 Questions Blog. Tracy’s Kids helps young cancer patients and their families cope with the emotional stress and trauma of cancer and its treatment and is brand new to the Catalogue as part of the 2015-16 class. Under Matt Gerson’s leadership, Tracy’s Kids has grown from one therapist at Georgetown University Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Center to the much larger organization it is today.

 

  1. What motivated you to begin working with your organization?

I was diagnosed with cancer when I was ten years old– 47 years ago. I remember that battling the disease was lonely and scary and emotionally grueling. Tracy’s Kids uses Art Therapy to enable the children we serve to engage with Masters-trained professionals who help them express their fears and better understand this impossibly difficult chapter of their lives.

  1. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?

My heroes are our eight dedicated Art Therapists (“ATs”) who bring compassion and professionalism to their work every day. They see a lot of sadness but generate smiles, comfort and confidence. For years parents have told me that their kids look forward to going to the clinic which I find inconceivable. But it’s because our ATs enable them to feel like themselves: not like sick kids, just kids.

  1. What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?

Our program director, Tracy Councill, is always encouraging our team of Art Therapists to try new ways to make the clinic more fun and inviting. The past couple of years they’ve made music videos including one to Pharrell’s song, Happy, that had the whole clinic — nurses, docs, kids and parents — lip syncing and dancing. But my favorite was to Andy Grammers, Keep Your Head Up. The lyrics could not be more appropriate and became something of an anthem — You got to keep your head up. This is just a journey, drop your worries, you are gonna turn out fine.

  1. What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?

We make a special effort to work with the siblings of the children that we serve. A cancer diagnosis traumatizes the entire family, and we appreciate that the healthy sibling is scared for her brother, confused by the treatment regime and wrestles with emotions that should be shared with a trained professional. We even established a focused summer program at Children’s Hospital called Scribbling Siblings.

  1. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?

Sadness. Today, over 70% of the children diagnosed with cancer will beat the disease. But parents still lose children, and brothers lose sisters. This Fall a remarkable 16 year old lost her battle with osteosarcoma. Abby used Art Therapy to cope with her prognosis and create a legacy of artwork for her family and friends. Her mother told me that Tracy’s Kids was invaluable to her daughter and that the family wants to work with us so they can positively impact the lives of others. This kind of feedback enables us to deal with the heartache because it validates our efforts to help children and their families cope with the psychological toll imposed by the disease and its treatment.

  1. What advice do you have for other people in your position?

Just Do It. There are innumerable good causes. Find one that excites you and give it your best shot. Don’t be afraid to ask for financial support, and don’t talk it personally when you get turned down or someone doesn’t deliver.

  1. What’s next/coming up for you?

Tracy’s Kids is in three clinics in the DC area and one in San Antonio, Texas. We joined New York Presbyterian Hospital in October and are exploring a partnership with a hospital in Baltimore. Other clinics have asked us to bring our program to their facility and if we have the resources we can go anywhere to make a real difference in the lives of children in a harrowing position.

7 Questions: Thembi Duncan, Artistic Director of African Continuum Theatre Company

TDuncan Headshot 2

Right now theaters are integrating and experimenting with technology and social media in their artistic work, as well as in their outreach efforts.”

In honor of Black History Month we welcome Thembi Duncan, Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre Company. The African Continuum Theatre Company presents high-quality productions, workshops, and programs that illuminate African-American experiences, examine multiple facets of identity, and explore the connections of African-Americans to the African Diaspora. A native of the Washington D.C. area, Thembi has performed as an actor, playwright, director, and teaching artist in the region for almost 15 years. Many of her most treasured and formative onstage experiences were in African Continuum productions, so she is honored to serve as the leader of this renowned artistic?organization.

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7 Questions with Rebecca Read Medrano, Executive Director of GALA Theatre

Rebecca_1 (1)In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month we welcome Rebecca Read Medrano to 7 Questions. Rebecca has served as chief finance and administration officer for GALA Hispanic Theatre since 1976. Medrano has also served as the principal development and marketing staff member, managing GALA’s $4.2M capital campaign and developing its strategic marketing plan. GALA (Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos) Hispanic Theatre is a National Center for Latino Performing Arts in the nation’s capital. Since 1976,GALA has been promoting and sharing the Latino arts and cultures with a diverse audience, creating work that speaks to communities today, and preserving the rich Hispanic heritage for generations that follow.
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7 Questions with Adam Levner, Executive Director of Critical Exposure

AdamAs we wrap up blogs for Artist Awareness Month, we welcome Adam Levner, Executive Director of Critical Exposure to 7 Questions. Critical Exposure trains youth to use photography and advocacy to make real change in their schools and communities. Previously, Adam worked as a fifth grade teacher and then as a community organizer with Stand for Children, where he led successful reform efforts that resulted in over $20 million annually in additional revenue for Prince George’s County, MD school district.

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The Importance of Arts in Youth Empowerment

August is Artist Appreciation Month and we welcome Executive Director Nancy Schwalb from to speak about the important influence of artistic creativity on youth development and empowerment. The D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, based in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast D.C., unites parents, teachers and professional writers-in-residence to transform the lives of youth through self-expression and the power of the written word.

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Around Town 10/25-10/31

We are in the final stretch of October (can you believe it?)! See what these great nonprofits are doing to help October go out with a bang! Continue reading

Around Town: September 27-October 3

Catalogue nonprofits are staying busy! If you are looking for something fun to do with your friends and family this upcoming week, try one of these events put on by some great Catalogue nonprofits!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Beethoven’s Eternal Masterworks

National Philharmonic
Soovin Kim, violin, Piotr Gajewski, conductor – Come hear award-winning violinist Soovin Kim perform one of the most popular works ever written: Beethoven’s only violin concerto, a virtuosic masterpiece both lyrical and serene, radiating surprises and a soaring spirit. When Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was premiered, the press commented that it “projects its force upon all people of all ages, just like the great natural phenomena, which leave us in awe every time they appear. This symphony alike, will still resound centuries to come, for as long as there will be man and music.” Beethoven Violin Concerto Symphony No. 5
When: Saturday, September 28, 2013 (8:00 PM)
Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852
Fee? yes $28-$84 (Kids Free)
Contact: Deborah Birnbaum, (301) 581-5100
For more information: click here

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Montgomery County Farm Tour (by bike!)

Montgomery Countryside Alliance
MCA is partnering with Potomac Pedalers for the 5th annual MoCo Farm Tour. Bikers can choose from winding farm routes of 17-75 miles through Montgomery County’s Ag Reserve. There is also a picnic for bikers and event volunteers at Kingsbury’s Orchard.
When: Sunday, September 29, 2013 (09:00 AM)
Where: Start: Pooleville Golf Course, 16601 West Willard Rd, Poolesville, MD 20837
Fee? no
Volunteer Info: Help set up the picnic for bikers- shuttle biker’s belongings back to their cars, engage with event attendees about the purpose and importance of the Ag Reserve. Service learning hours are available for MCPS students.
Contact: Kristina Bostick, (301) 602-4013
For more information: click here

Beethoven’s Eternal Masterworks

National Philharmonic
Soovin Kim, violin, Piotr Gajewski, conductor – Come hear award-winning violinist Soovin Kim perform one of the most popular works ever written: Beethoven’s only violin concerto, a virtuosic masterpiece both lyrical and serene, radiating surprises and a soaring spirit. When Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was premiered, the press commented that it “projects its force upon all people of all ages, just like the great natural phenomena, which leave us in awe every time they appear. This symphony alike, will still resound centuries to come, for as long as there will be man and music.” Beethoven Violin Concerto Symphony No. 5
When: Sunday, September 29, 2013 (3:00 PM)
Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852
Fee? yes $28-$84 (Kids Free)
Contact: Deborah Birnbaum, (301) 581-5100
For more information: click here

Teddy Bear 5K & 1K Fun Walk/Run

Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center
Register now to Join Boston Marathon runners and a local Junior Olympiad recordholder for the Teddy Bear 5K and 1K Walk/Run on the W&OD Trail starting in the heart of Falls Church, VA. All participants will receive T-Shirts and great prizes will be awarded the top three male and female runners in 8 age categories, plus best overall male, female and Stroller-Runner. Bring your Teddy Bear or favorite stuffed friend to be admitted to a tea party after the race. Online Registration thru Sept. 26 at www.safetyandhealthfoundation.org/TeddyBear. Proceeds benefit the Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center, a high-quality early childhood education program serving all children, regardless of their family’s financial resources.
When: Sunday, September 29, 2013 (4:00 PM – 6:00 PM)
Where: W&OD Trail, 400 N. Oak St., Falls Church, Virginia 22043
Fee? yes 5K thru Sept. 26, $30; 1K thru Sept. 26, $15.
Volunteer Info: Volunteers welcome to assist along the trail, giving out water to runners.
Contact: Renee Boyle, (703) 534-4907
For more information: click here

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Volunteer Opportunity at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Children’s National Medical Center

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC
Volunteer Opportunity at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Children’s National Medical Center Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Greater Washington DC needs volunteers to work a weekly 3 hour shift in the Ronald McDonald Family Room located at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC). Shifts are seven days a week: 9AM to Noon, Noon to 3PM, 3PM to 6PM and 6PM to 9PM. Volunteers will be cross trained by both RMHC and CNMC. A commitment of two shifts a month/60 hours a year is required. Contact: Karen Judson, 202-529-8204/kjudson@rmhcdc.org. www.rmhc.greaterdc.org.
When: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 (09:00 AM)
Where: Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC), 111 Michigan Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20310
Fee? no
Volunteer Info: Greeting and helping families, coordinate family programming activities and more.
Contact: Karen Judson, (202) 529-8204
For more information: click here

Around Town: September 13-19

A calm weekend for Catalogue nonprofit events, but we have a fantastic one waiting for you next Tuesday, courtesy of Sitar Arts Center!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Documentary Film Screening

Sitar Arts Center
A brief film titled “Doing it For Me” by teens at Sitar Arts Center. The film views the issue of dropping out of high school from the perspective of three teens.
When: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 (7:00 PM – 8:30 PM)
Where: Sitar Arts Center, 1700 Kalorama Road NW, Suite 101, Washington, DC 20009
Fee? no
Contact: Kendall Ladd, (202) 797-2145 ext 113

Around Town: August 9-15

Looking for something to do around town for the next week? Leave it to these great Catalogue nonprofits–they have already planned the events, you just need to show up! Let us know if you end up at an event! Tweet at us, Facebook us, or drop us a line at info@cfp-dc.org. We would love to hear from you!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Step Ahead Concert

Joy of Motion Dance Center
Step Ahead immerses 50 DC high school students in the dynamic, challenging environment of the performing arts workplace. Developing both dance and job skills, Step Ahead teens spend six weeks in the summer training and rehearsing like professional dancers. The experience culminates in the Step Ahead concert at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. http://www.joyofmotion.org/outreach/step-ahead/
When: Friday, August 9, 2013 (6:00 PM – 07:00 AM)
Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002
Fee?: no
Contact: Julia Cain, (202) 399-6764 ext 166

Monday, August 12, 2013

Wetland Workday

Anacostia Watershed Society
The Anacostia Watershed Society is working to restore a wetland along the Anacostia River called Kingman Marsh. Wetlands do great things for our river — they provide habitat for native wildlife, help filter toxins from river water, and act like a sponge to prevent flooding. We need your help to ensure to restore Kingman Marsh! No previous training or skills are required. All tools and supplies needed (including boots and waders) will be provided. Please note that the work will be muddy and volunteers will be asked to wear waders for the entire event. Bending, lifting, digging, and walking fair distances will be required. If this will be an issue, please consider joining us for another event. Contact Maddie Koenig at 301-699-6204 ext. 109 or mkoenig@anacostiaws.org to sign up!
When: Monday, August 12, 2013 (10:00 AM – 1:00 PM)
Where: Driving Range of Langston Golf Course, Benning Rd. NE, Washington, DC 20002
Fee?:no
Volunteer Info: See above.
Contact: Madeline Koenig, (301) 699-6204 ext 109
For more information: click here

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wetland Workday

Anacostia Watershed Society
The Anacostia Watershed Society is working to restore a wetland along the Anacostia River called Kingman Marsh. Wetlands do great things for our river — they provide habitat for native wildlife, help filter toxins from river water, and act like a sponge to prevent flooding. We need your help to ensure to restore Kingman Marsh! No previous training or skills are required. All tools and supplies needed (including boots and waders) will be provided. Please note that the work will be muddy and volunteers will be asked to wear waders for the entire event. Bending, lifting, digging, and walking fair distances will be required. If this will be an issue, please consider joining us for another event. Contact Maddie Koenig at 301-699-6204 ext. 109 or mkoenig@anacostiaws.org to sign up!
When: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 (10:00 AM – 1:00 PM)
Where: Driving Range of Langston Golf Course, Benning Rd. NE, Washington, DC 20002
Fee? : no
Volunteer Info: See above.
Contact: Madeline Koenig, (301) 699-6204 ext 109
For more information: click here

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wetland Workday

Anacostia Watershed Society
The Anacostia Watershed Society is working to restore a wetland along the Anacostia River called Kingman Marsh. Wetlands do great things for our river — they provide habitat for native wildlife, help filter toxins from river water, and act like a sponge to prevent flooding. We need your help to ensure to restore Kingman Marsh! No previous training or skills are required. All tools and supplies needed (including boots and waders) will be provided. Please note that the work will be muddy and volunteers will be asked to wear waders for the entire event. Bending, lifting, digging, and walking fair distances will be required. If this will be an issue, please consider joining us for another event. Contact Maddie Koenig at 301-699-6204 ext. 109 or mkoenig@anacostiaws.org to sign up!
When: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 (10:00 AM – 1:00 PM)
Where: Driving Range of Langston Golf Course, Benning Rd. NE, Washington, DC 20002
Fee? : no
Volunteer Info: See above.
Contact: Madeline Koenig, (301) 699-6204 ext 109
For more information: click here

Look at Literacy

Literacy Council of Montgomery County
Come learn about the state of adult literacy in Montgomery County, how the Literacy Council addresses the needs of adults with low literacy skills, and how you can be involved.
When: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 (7:30 PM – 8:30 PM)
Where: Rockville Library, Suite 320, 21 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850
Fee?: no
Contact: Marty Stephens, (301) 610-0030 ext 202
For more information: click here