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A Safe, Nurturing Place for Girls

The Washington School for Girls – By Kelley Lockard

Kelley Lockard and WSG Students (Class of 2016)

Before 1997, there were few quality educational options or services for girls in Southeast DC. And there was no place where a girl on the verge of womanhood could find mentorship or learn in a safe environment that values her as an individual. That is why the Washington School for Girls (WSG) was founded: to provide a safe, nurturing place for girls to not only learn and grow, but to thrive.

Of course, a lot has changed since the school was founded 20 years ago. More people have started to take an interest in Southeast neighborhoods. There are more resources, more options for education. The community itself is changing. However, through all of these changes there continues to be a strong need for a school that works for and with the community. That’s why WSG is so important, and why our students succeed: we educate the whole child.

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We pride ourselves on providing a holistic model of education, one that accepts not just students, but also families. A student’s experiences at home are just as important as her experience in the classroom. We work with parents to engage them in the educational process and help them access the resources they need to support their daughters as learners.

As an administrator and former teacher, I feel I am most attuned to a student’s needs when I have developed a close relationship with her family. I know that if I can build a long-term, reciprocal relationship with a family then I can truly help a child reach her full potential. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing a girl come into her own after entering the school with nearly every aspect of her life in disarray. That kind of transformation does not happen overnight, and it’s impossible without the support of the family.

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Luckily for me, I’ve witnessed that transformation innumerable times in my years at WSG. It’s what motivates me to do the work that I do. My desk is full of photos of the young women I have helped to transform, and every day I am fortified by their smiles and the knowledge of their achievement. I look at them and know that they will make a positive difference in their communities.

WSG was built on the beliefs and values of extraordinary, courageous women. As we enter Women’s History Month and approach the 20th Anniversary of the school this spring, I am increasingly reflecting on that fact. In the classroom, our students are learning about women who have changed the course of history, but they are also learning leadership skills, whether it’s helping their teachers hand out assignments, leading an after-school club, or mentoring younger students.

I recognize the ability to lead and the determination to do so in many of our students. It is something I have worked hard to incorporate into the curriculum at WSG because I believe that leadership builds confidence and allows students to become more actively engaged in the classroom. Seeing the lightbulb come on over a student’s head is the best feeling the world, and it only happens when that student knows she is capable of more.

My hope for the future is that our students take the lessons they learn at WSG, both in and out of the classroom, to heart. There are many challenges ahead for our country and the world, especially in terms of equality and justice. The most daunting task in my job as an administrator is to ensure that our students are prepared to face those challenges, to navigate a world that does not always value them. I know that they will not be able to do it alone, but I hope that we can give them the knowledge, skills, and courage to overcome adversity.

Posted on my door is a daily affirmation known as the Serenity Prayer. It’s a very popular prayer and my mother’s favorite prayer, but I never appreciated it until I became a teacher. I look at it every day, sometimes several times (depending on the day), because it reminds me to be myself and accept the things I cannot change. Superwoman is not at all a part of my name, but I find strength in accepting that fact and courage to try anyway. If my students walk away from WSG accepting of who they are and still ready to change the world, then I know I will have succeeded.

Goosebumps with Girls on the Run – DC

by Kristen Komlosy – Executive Director, Girls on the Run DC

Moten Elem Team pic Fall 2016 5K

When a volunteer coach shares with us, “Girls on the Run allows me to provide a positive space in the school community to help girls to learn and love physical activity and themselves” I get goosebumps and blink twice about how grateful I am to work for an incredible organization.

We have 1,600 amazing volunteers (per year) and that inspires me!

Everyday, I wake up in awe of how many people want to give back to our girls across all eight wards of DC! They are the lifeline of the organization. They have a real passion to empower young girls to become confident women, and our whole team is very grateful for them.

We’re looking forward to continuing the expansion of our circles in the DC community! We have a goal to serve 22,000 girls by 2020 so they all know their limitless potential. On June 4th, we will move our end of season 5K to a more visible venue for our community at Freedom Plaza (14th St and Pennsylvania Ave NW). We want the DC community to join us as we run for our girls – running or walking through the heart of the city. Everyone can support the future of Girl Power by running alongside girls from every corner of DC.

10 years ago we started by serving 13 girls in one school and today we are serving over 2,000 girls a year. 13,000 amazing, strong, and brave young girls have completed this life-changing program. We have watched girls complete the program from every corner of Washington, DC. We have seen thousands of girls cross the 5K finish line, a finish line that does not discriminate by skin color, background, or religion. Girls on the Run brings people together from all walks of life, and that in and of itself is a powerful lesson.

Washington, DC is well known as a center of political power and influence. But this context masks a troubling reality: DC’s children and youth face disproportionately high rates of at-risk conditions, with child poverty, childhood obesity and teen pregnancy that are at or near the highest in the nation. Body image issues among girls escalates quickly in elementary school and by middle school, 70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body, and body satisfaction hits rock bottom between the ages of 12 and 15.

We know that girls who have a strong sense of self-worth, confidence and personal agency and who have been exposed to consistent, positive messages about the benefits of avoiding risky behaviors are shown to make better decisions throughout adolescence than their peers who lack these attributes.

Girls on the Run can make a big difference in a girl’s life. It is a place where pivotal “aha” moments of change can happen. We are ensuring that the next generation of girls in DC will know their limitless potential. Families, relationships, communities, governments all will be strengthened by the confident women that these girls will grow up to become!

To Volunteer or learn more about Girls on the Run DC contact: (202) 607-2288 or email INFO@GOTRDC.ORG

Celebrate Black History Month with CASA Prince George’s County

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“Make Justice a Reality for all Children,”… Including Foster Children

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said at his “March on Washington” on Aug. 28, 1963, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” If he were alive today, he may have even rallied support for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA’s) who stand up for boys and girls. CASA’s are volunteers sworn-in by a judge to investigate a foster child’s needs and challenges – from academics to emotional well-being – and then report back their findings and recommendations.

At CASA/Prince George’s County, we celebrate Black History Month and thank Dr. King, and other veterans of the civil rights movement, for marching our nation forward towards a more just reality. In their spirit, we recruit, train and supervise CASA’s in Prince George’s County.

PG County is the wealthiest, predominately African-American county, in the nation. Unfortunately, many parts of the county and its residents suffer from high crime, high poverty rates, and a troubled school system.

Consider this: More than half of foster children nationwide drop out of high school, increasing the chances that they will slip into poverty, homelessness and possibly even jail. Today, foster children often begin their lives impoverished, are abused and neglected, abandoned and even traumatized. None of this is the fault of the children, they were simply born to parents unable to care for them.

Upwards of 70 percent of foster children who have been assigned to one of our CASA’s graduate, increasing the chances that they will enjoy a full and productive life.

We opened our doors in 2001 and, like other CASA’s nationwide, have made a real difference in the community we serve. We now have about 150 CASA’s in a county with more than 400 foster children. Our goal is to have one CASA for each child in foster care.

Studies show that foster children with CASA’s are more likely to thrive. With the help of a CASA, a foster child is more apt to graduate from high school, escape poverty and live a longer life.

kid and adult living room

Celebrate Black History Month by?becoming a CASA, or learning more about CASA’s, please call: (301) 209-0491 or email volunteer@pgcasa.org.

Also, see: www.pgcasa.org

Living Life to Your Fullest Potential

Deborah.Drawing about NVTRP

As nine-year-old Deborah Busch – with her twinkling eyes and sweet, shy smile – sits at her kitchen table and chats about why she loves all things horse-related, you would never imagine the challenges she has overcome.

Her mom, Jessica, adopted her out of foster care three years ago. “Deborah suffered from extreme abuse and neglect,” she explained. “When I got her, she was six but she could barely talk and she had no core strength. It was hard just to lift her into the car. She was that floppy.”

On her way to work each day, Jessica would drive past the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program (NVTRP), located in Clifton, VA. Having ridden horses as a child, Jessica knew a connection with animals would play an important role in helping Deborah heal.

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For over thirty-five years NVTRP has helped riders to recognize the unexpected potential in their lives by providing equine-assisted activities to children and adults with disabilities, youth-at-risk, military service personnel and their families.

Students improve fitness level and mobility through horseback riding by gaining core strength, muscle control and balance. Working closely with horses and volunteers inspires them to build self-esteem and further socialization, and also helps to provide a sense of community and belonging.

“Deborah has so many diagnoses: fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, significant learning disabilities, it was really hard for her to connect emotionally to anything when she came to me,” said Jessica. A connection with animals is a great way for people to develop empathy. That’s absolutely been the case for Deborah.

Learning to ride and care for a horse not only improves the physical health of a rider, but also generates a critically important sense of achievement.

“Riding helps me do my work a lot. Some things are hard for me, like math and reading, and when I get frustrated, I think about the horses. That makes me feel better.” added Deborah.

Lessons at NVTRP are diverse and include instruction in riding skills, exercises, and games, while also focusing on grooming and horse care. Under the guidance of certified riding instructors, each year over 250 volunteers come together to help more than 350 students achieve an enriched quality of life while overcoming physical, mental, and emotional obstacles.

Deborah began riding at NVTRP in the Spring of 2014 and her mom delights in the success she has found.

“I can’t tell you how great it is to see Deborah do something independently,” Jessica said. “She needs so much support in everything else she does, but it’s like she’s a different kid on the horse. Listening and paying attention are so hard for her every place else. Riding just flows out of her. Riding is what’s fun for Deborah, and it’s so important that she has something fun in her life.”

NVTRP is accredited and nationally recognized by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Int’l). Lessons are taught by PATH Intl. Certified Riding Instructors who are assisted by up to three volunteers per rider. This type of structure and supervision enables riders to participate in a challenging, physically active sport that gives them confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
To learn how you can help riders like Deborah live life to their fullest potential, please visit www.nvtrp.org or call (703) 764-0269.

Making a Difference with CASA of Prince George’s County

We make a real difference in the lives of foster children
male volunteer and teen

Every month is mentoring month at Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County, a nonprofit in its 16th year that recruits, trains and supervises CASAs for foster children.

CASAs are volunteers sworn-in by a judge to investigate a foster child’s needs and challenges – from academics to emotional well-being – and then report back their findings and recommendations.

Besides being an advocate, a CASA is a mentor. They are there to talk to the youth about whatever they want to discuss, take them on field trips – such as to a ballgame or an amusement park – and explain to them the importance of becoming a responsible adult.

Studies show that a foster child with a CASA is far more likely to thrive.
kid and adult living roomConsider this: More than half of foster children nationwide drop out of high school, increasing the chances that they will slip into poverty, homelessness and possibly even jail.

Yet upwards of 70 percent of foster children who have been assigned to one of our CASAs graduate, increasing the chances that they will enjoy a full and productive life.

We are proud to say that we make a real difference. We would like to do even more. Our goal is to have one CASA with each foster child. We now have only about 150 volunteers in a county with more than 400 foster children.

Help us celebrate National Mentoring Month by helping us help more foster kids.

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Please keep in mind that these boys and girls are at risk at no fault of their own. They simply were born to parents who, for whatever reason, were unable to care for them. Help us help them!

For more information, please contact CASA/Prince George’s County at 301-209-0491 or email kbundy@pgcasa.org.

Help VA Students Go Back to School!

NO TAXES….on back to school supplies this weekend (8/1 – 8/3) in Virginia! Help students in need get ready for school by adding an extra item to your cart — whether online or in-store — or find an opportunity to help sort & pack up donated supplies so backpacks are full and ready for the first day of school!
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Guest Post: Aspire Counseling

Mother’s Day is just around the corner and in that spirit, we welcome Aspire Counseling to the blog! Aspire Counseling is committed to meeting the mental health needs of all Montgomery County residents, regardless of income. Their programs reach out to patients at the most critical junctures in their lives: when they become parents, battle an illness, or face aging. In particular, their Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program offers in-home therapy to expecting and new mothers battling post partum depression. Read more about their program and how to get involved here:

When Mother’s Day is Not Happy

Sunday May 11th is Mother’s Day. If a mother, you may receive breakfast in bed, a homemade card, flowers or a text message from your college son with “Happy Mother’s Day!” And yes, mothering can be a “happy” experience. It can also be hard. Sleepless nights, tantrums, juggling schedules, laundry, negotiating, reminding, etc. are no fun and can make for, at times – an unhappy experience.

One in five women will experience an even darker side to motherhood: pre and/or postpartum depression (PPD). Low income women have triple the chance (45 – 55%) of developing PPD compared to women in middle and upper income families. Low income women are also most likely to be uninsured. Finding affordable mental health treatment is often impossible.

Aspire Counseling, a mental health non-profit organization based in Gaithersburg Maryland, runs Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, a community based program that provides free home based mental health therapy to low income, uninsured and under-insured pregnant women and new mothers with pre-natal and post -partum depression. Our bilingual therapists travel to the women’s homes — or wherever easiest for the mother (playground, community center). This way she does not need to find childcare, arrange transport, or leave the house which can be a completely daunting and overwhelming exercise if depressed.

Eighty five percent of the women we serve are foreign-born. Many come from countries where they would be considered “crazy” if depressed. Seventy percent have experienced physical or verbal trauma in their home country. The trauma is often horrific: repeated childhood sexual abuse, gang violence, physical abuse by parents or partners, and rape. These women have not bad choices. They have been dealt a difficult hand in life and want to rise above it — for themselves and their child.

For example, “Jane” was referred for help when she experienced symptoms of pain and paralysis after her baby’s birth and medical tests ruled out physical causes. Most of Jane’s family stayed in El Salvador when Jane came to the US. Her pregnancy was fraught with depression, bad thoughts, and remorse about having left her family behind. Jane’s feeling of paralysis spread. Her anxiety skyrocketed. Her marriage was at risk. After 13 therapy sessions, Jane’s pain and paralysis had almost entirely disappeared. She was able to use “positive self-talk” and relaxation techniques to decrease anxiety and increase her sense of control. Her marriage improved. Jane still grieves her separation from her family in Central America, but she has begun to go church, where she sees other mothers from El Salvador.

The program has been running for over twelve years and treats more than 100 low income uninsured women each year. Nancy Ebb, program founder, recalls the very first client, “She was so anxious she stayed awake all night holding her baby to make sure nothing bad happened. She, and the baby, were listless.” In 2013 the award winning program helped 111 women. One hundred of the 111 women were uninsured and would have had no source of mental health care were it not for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.

Home visitation means therapists can make a real difference. Ninety percent of the women we serve through the program get better and learn tools to combat depression in the future. When a mother’s depression lifts, babies “wake up,” come alive to their surroundings, and begin to thrive. Effectively diagnosing and treating postpartum depression restores the mother-infant bond, and avoids cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems that can arise in children of depressed mothers. Mothers who are available to their babies read their signals, keep them nourished, and teach them to laugh, explore, and trust the world around them.

If you know a family member, friend, or neighbor with a new baby this Mother’s Day, take the opportunity to bring them a cooked meal, offer to run errands, or just let them know it is okay to feel tired, overwhelmed and unsure. If they need more help, are unable to sleep when the baby sleeps, continually crying and are listless, call Aspire Counseling Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program manager, America Caballero on (301) 978 9750.

For more information on Aspire Counseling’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program and other services, visit them online at: www.ccascounseling.org or check out their Catalogue page to get involved!

Guest Post: The Barker Foundation

November is National Adoption Month! Today we’re excited to have a guest post from The Barker Foundation, whose mission is to serve all members of the adoption circle – birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted persons, and anyone whose life is touched by adoption. A licensed adoption agency serving DC, Maryland and Virginia, The Barker Foundation supports teens and women as they consider an adoption plan, places infants and children with carefully selected, local adoptive families, and provides lifelong support and education to all adopted persons.

Reflections by Beverly Clarke

Director, Project Wait No Longer

I have 9 year old twins who are full of questions, and we are always discussing new words and looking up definitions on-line. Recently, we were looking up the definition for the word “inspiration.” There were many definitions, but the ones that I felt most drawn to were “divine influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind” or “to spur on, impel, energize or motivate.” My kids began making up sentences based on this new found understanding of the word and all the things that are “inspirational” in the life of a 9 year old. My favorites were “I am inspired to eat my broccoli so that I can have a brownie,” or “I am inspired to read three books so that I can watch an episode of Scooby-Doo.” Listening to them was entertaining but also got me thinking about what inspires me.

I realized that I am fortunate to feel inspired on a daily basis while working with Project Wait No Longer, Barker’s older child adoption program. I am inspired by the children and teenagers that still have the audacity to hope for a forever family even after surviving years of abuse and neglect at the hands of adults. I am amazed when I see them begin to break down their protective walls, change their behaviors, and develop trust for the members of their new families. I am inspired by the parents who come to our program, determined to provide loving and stable homes for older children who oftentimes don’t know how to be a part of a family – by the families that stick it out, even when the going gets unbearably tough.

This is what drives me to work harder every day to find placements for older children who are often languishing within the foster care system. The needs of the children weigh on my mind and soul, inspiring me and the amazing team in PWNL to be a part of the solution.

Recently, I had the pleasure of helping to facilitate the placement of a little guy (Bobby) who is 10 years old into the home of Sue and John. Bobby has been doing really well with his new family, but has come from a long history of being rejected by former caretakers, so making the leap to calling Sue and John “mom” and “dad” has been really hard. Last week my phone rang, and John was on the line. I was surprised to hear from him because Sue (the more emotional one of the pair) is usually the one who calls me. In a very excited voice, John said to me, “Bev, something pretty cool happened. Bobby was talking about me to one of his friends, and I overheard him call me “dad.” This is the first time he has ever done that! Isn’t that great?” Through the phone I could hear the pride, joy and excitement in John’s voice. After several months of patient and consistent love, his son has begun to claim him as “dad.” This is what we work for at Barker. These are the true moments of inspiration.

Beverly Clarke, LCSW-C, LICSW is the Director of Project Wait No Longer at the Barker Foundation. For more information on our work, visit us at: www.barkerfoundation.org.

 

Around Town 11/1-11/7

Happy November! Catalogue nonprofits are kicking off the month right with lots of great events all around the area. Let us know if you are heading to one (and you never know, you might even see us there!). Don’t have time to get out to an event? Request a copy of our brand new catalogue (out on November 1st!) and get to know our new class of nonprofits!
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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