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Christ House: COVID-19 Vaccine Access

While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the country has begun, Christ House leadership has been diligently preparing and coordinating access to vaccines for patients, Kairos permanent housing members, and staff. Christ House’s Quality Improvement Committee decided to focus efforts on access to vaccines in January and has made great strides.

As of February, many staff had received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, or are scheduled to receive their second dose shortly. Christ House clinical staff have been identifying patients who want to learn about the vaccine, setting up appointments, and monitoring symptoms after patients receive their doses. They have been meeting with patients 1-on-1 to review how the vaccine works and most importantly, to answer any questions a patient might have about the vaccine. “This way,” says Mary Jordan, Executive and Clinical Director, as well as Nurse Practitioner, “patients are prepared either way once the vaccine is available to them.” The fact sheet distributed during these meetings includes information on how the vaccines work, risks of COVID-19, benefits of the vaccine, and information for those who have a weakened immune system.

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Connecting patients with vaccines has required a high degree of patience and coordination among shelters, Unity Health Care workers, and the DC Government. The adaptability of the staff has already opened the door for many patients and Kairos members to receive their vaccines. Part of this adaptability includes extending patients’ stays when needed so that they are able to receive the second dose of the vaccine without complications. Nurse Practitioner Mari Lowe discusses another challenge to connecting patients with the vaccine, “There are misconceptions that vaccines make you sick. There is a history of systemic racism where communities of color have been mistreated in medical settings. What we’ve done to make patients comfortable is to promote autonomy in decision-making and provide access to information.” Using these strategies, Mari is happy to share that most patients, staff, and Kairos members have received at least their first dose of the vaccine at this point. She says “There is a consensus among patients, staff, and Kairos members that we are a community and vaccines are another way to protect and foster our community.”

When asked about receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, one patient shared, “I didn’t feel a thing. No bad reaction. I’m glad I took it. I recommend everybody take it.” For Mary Jordan, the most important aspect of receiving the vaccine is our ability to continue to treat patients: “We’re fortunate – it gives us a degree of protection to keep working with patients coming through our doors.” In looking ahead into 2021, she shares, “I’m hopeful because we?ve contained any outbreak, we’re effectively working to get staff and patients immunized, we’re doing daily surveillance and weekly testing of patients and Kairos members. We, as healthcare workers, all feel more hopeful now that there’s a vaccine available.”

People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 when living in congregate settings such as shelters. Practicing hygiene and accessing PPE also present challenges to this population, increasing the risk of transmission. Ensuring the homeless population has access to vaccines quickly can help reduce the spread of the virus.

Celebrating 10 Years of Empowering Young Readers in DC: By Ryan Turse, Reading Partners AmeriCorps Literacy Lead

Reading Partners is a national children’s literacy organization that empowers young students from under-resourced communities to build their reading skills and unlock their full potential. This year, Reading Partners DC is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and it’s been a year unlike any other. Through our online tutoring platform, Reading Partners Connects, trained community volunteers work with students from kindergarten through fourth grade, providing individualized reading support using a structured, evidence-based curriculum that is tailored to each student’s needs. Our program works in partnership with 19 Title I elementary schools across the District, and is virtually managed by over 30 AmeriCorps members who, in addition to tutoring, provide coaching to volunteer tutors and assess students’ progress. I am one of them.

My name is Ryan and I joined the team in August 2020 as a literacy lead. When I learned about Reading Partners, applying to become an AmeriCorps member was an easy decision to make. I really appreciated the core values of the organization: reading matters, big challenges are our thing, volunteers get results, together we are better, data drive decisions, laughter keeps us going, and educational equity for all. I was excited for an opportunity not only to gain more specific experience in education, but to also develop myself professionally and personally. I also really appreciated the emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) topics such as mindfulness and self-confidence. SEL topics are critical because they teach students how to effectively apply the various skills and attitudes to both understand and manage emotions, set achievable and positive goals, maintain positive relationships, and learn to feel and show empathy for others.

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While I was in primary school, I was enrolled in a reading program very similar to Reading Partners and it had a tremendous effect on me. As a child, I didn’t like to read because it wasn’t something I excelled in. But thanks to the extra support, I gained the confidence and skills needed to enjoy reading (and become good at it). Reading is a fundamental life skill, as we need to be able to read written language every single day of our lives. At Reading Partners, I have the opportunity to build important skills that are useful not only in education, but can easily be transferred to any other career field.

My favorite aspect of this role by far is having the privilege to work with our students on a daily basis. I really enjoy logging into a tutoring session and having conversations with a kindergartener and their stuffed animals before we dive into an interesting children’s book and our curriculum. It is the healthy dose of laughter I need to get through my day. Working with Reading Partners, I feel like I am doing important work, while also genuinely having fun every day.

Education during the pandemic has certainly been challenging and has required tremendous innovation and creativity. Throughout the year, all of the AmeriCorps members supported each other and our tutors by having tech training sessions. Since most students are logging in from home, we now work with families more closely than ever, acutely aware that everyone’s life has been affected one way or another by the pandemic. We want to do as much as we possibly can to meet families where they are in the moment, which means flexibility as to when and where sessions take place.

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At Reading Partners, we are deeply committed to advancing educational equity for students in DC. We recognize that the ability to read can alter outcomes for young students and entire communities. To move towards educational equity, we need to make high-quality literacy intervention accessible to students everywhere to make sure they have the support they need to be successful in school and beyond. This requires first examining and understanding the unique challenges and barriers that students face and working to dismantle them.

I believe that building an educational environment that is equitable starts with student empowerment. How can we expect students to be successful without giving them the tools they need to succeed? Some of the ways in which Reading Partners strives to build a more equitable educational environment is providing cultural competency training for all staff as well as community volunteers, improving volunteer recruitment strategies with a deeper focus on diversity, enhancing the Core Read Aloud Library to better reflect our student population, and hiring staff with competencies to push forward these initiatives.

Deciding to do a year of service with Reading Partners was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. Reading Partners is an organization that not only examines the greater systemic issues that students are facing, but does the on-the-ground work to close the opportunity gap. Throughout my service year, I felt supported by both the staff and fellow AmeriCorps members. The training and experience I have received from Reading Partners gave me the opportunity to grow as a person, while fostering and nurturing skills that I will take with me as I continue my career journey.

Community Forklift: Keeping Our Community Cool

Did you know that heat-related illness, while preventable, kills on average 702 people in the United States annually? Every year, Community Forklift’s Home Essentials Program (HELP) provides dozens of free air conditioners to neighbors who need one but can’t afford it. Many seniors and people with medical conditions risk serious health problems as the temperatures rise. For an elderly neighbor, someone suffering from heart or lung problems, or a child with asthma growing up in a neighborhood with heavily-polluted air, an air conditioner can make a world of difference.

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This year we already have 18 households waiting for A/C units, and summer hasn’t even begun!

Community Forklift’s HELP program provides home repair supplies and household essentials free of cost to families and individuals who qualify for need-based assistance. The program has a very simple application process, and staff are constantly screening new applicants. The program has provided thousands of air conditioners, appliances, doors, windows, and other necessary home improvement items for those in need in the Port Towns area of Prince George’s County, DC, and the surrounding area. We also partner with dozens of other organizations and agencies to facilitate greater access to our services. Since 2011, over 4,300 individuals have been served through the HELP program, receiving over $320,000 worth of materials.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, we began providing free delivery for customers to minimize the risk of COVID exposure and to ensure that those who are unable to come in person to the Reuse Center are still able to receive their home essentials.

In June 2020, we received a call from Ms. B, a 59-year-old woman who is homebound and suffers from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Her apartment would get very hot in the summer and she needed her home to be well ventilated. Ms. B was able to receive two window A/C units through the HELP program, which Community Forklift delivered directly to her home. Ms. B said, “Thank you so much! I didn’t know how I was going to make it this summer. I really appreciated it and I appreciate you.”

Rock Recovery: A Mission to Help Our Community Overcome Disordered Eating

My journey to Rock Recovery began twenty years ago, when I went on a seemingly harmless diet that fueled almost a decade of disordered eating. Many of my loved ones and peers praised my weight loss. The health magazines that I scoured further affirmed my bias that the thinner you are, the healthier your body must be. For so long, I put my body through a rigorous cycle of disordered eating and over-exercise. It took me years to realize my “small diet” had grown into a major problem, let alone for me to seek treatment.

When thinness is the goal, health will not be the result. Health was never truly my goal; thinness was. While my eating disorder may have started as a simple desire to lose weight, that wasn’t where it ended, and it isn’t where it ends for millions of Americans who struggle.

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What many people don’t know is that eating disorders are complex illnesses, and a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to their development. According to the Academy for Eating Disorders, an estimated 28.8 million Americans will battle an eating disorder (such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder) in their lifetime, while millions more will struggle with disordered eating, dieting, and an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. Yet, as stigma and misunderstanding remain high, treatment coverage and affordable options for care remain low.

Until recently, eating disorders were the number one cause of death from mental illness (now surpassed by opioid use), yet too many people consider eating disorders to be a phase, a fad, a choice, or, worse yet, a vanity.

Now more than a decade into recovery, I have the joy and privilege of serving as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a D.C.-based nonprofit that provides affordable and accessible clinical treatment, community support, and educational programs to bridge gaps that keep people from getting the help they need to recover.

Countless clients we serve at Rock Recovery come to us feeling like they are failing, ashamed that they can’t seem to get better on their own. At Rock, we provide the clinical treatment and community support they need to heal and break free from their eating disorder. Since finances are one of the biggest barriers to treatment, we provide our recovery services to clients without regard to their ability to pay as we never want cost to be a barrier to anyone receiving treatment.

As our society continues to demonize fat, idolize thinness and belittle the severity of eating disorders even though they are life-threatening illnesses, our team at Rock is working hard to change the conversation. May is Mental Health Month and our hope throughout this month (and all year long!) is to educate people about this important mental health issue and begin to eradicate the stigma surrounding weight, size, health and disordered eating. Our hope is that community members will discover a new mindset around health and the relationship with food, while those who need support will learn how to get connected to the life-saving treatment they need.

As a community organization, the best part about working for Rock is hearing the powerful testimonies from our clients. People often come to us broken, lost and afraid, clinging to that last sliver of hope for recovery. There is no greater joy than watching them leave the program with a renewed sense of hope and an excitement for the life that is possible in freedom from an eating disorder.

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Daniela, one of our program graduates, said, “Rock Recovery set a safe space for us to follow one of the most basic human needs, eat free of judgment, and especially from our own judgment. Moreover, at group, I felt for the first time in my life that my life mattered.. When I look back at my darkest moments, I remember that there were people who thought I was worthy of feeling good in my body, that encouraged me to trust myself, and believed in me, the Rock team. I still have moments of doubt and hesitation, but I can seek comfort in healthier habits and not in rules and restrictions.”

Another program graduate, Tim, reflected, “I was never supposed to have an eating disorder. I’m male, I had self-control, and I had friends….The group met on Sundays, but during the week I’d think of the people there. They weren’t supposed to have eating disorders either. But they did, and now they were looking at my life for proof that recovery was possible – that we didn’t have to be this way forever – and I was looking at them. What I saw saved me.”

I love hearing these testimonies, or stories of healing as we call them at Rock Recovery. My personal journey to Rock Recovery began twenty years ago, when my life was changed by an eating disorder. Fifteen years into recovery, I get to use my journey to show people that freedom from an eating disorder is truly possible – for them, their loved ones, their friends and so many more. It’s incredibly meaningful work and I cannot wait to see how the journey continues.

Christie Dondero Bettwy serves as the Executive Director for Rock Recovery, a local nonprofit that helps people overcome disordered eating by combining clinical and community care. Having gone through recovery herself, she understands the depth of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual support needed to recover. She is passionate about spreading the message that complete freedom from disordered eating is possible. She is an active speaker and shares her story with organizations and media outlets across the country. You can learn more about Rock Recovery’s work at www.rockrecoveryed.org

The Joy of Accompaniment: Reflecting on 15 years of serving moms and babies in Washington, DC

This year I mark my 15th anniversary working at The Northwest Center (NWC). As I reflect on these years, I am reminded of the foundational value of a good volunteer experience and how it can influence future career paths.

As a freshman at Georgetown University, I chose to receive a fourth credit for my Introduction to Psychology course by taking on weekly volunteer work. I value volunteering and also supporting pregnant women, so my search led me to NWC and its Pregnancy Center Program. I volunteered for a semester and subsequently chose to volunteer on my own my sophomore year. I remember helping sort donations and sitting with women and listening to their personal stories. It left a lasting impression.

To this experience, I later added a post-college year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps working with teen mothers and felt called to pursue a career in social work. Fast forward 10 years and, after several years of working in child welfare for Montgomery County, I was thinking it was time for a job change. A friend who had been volunteering at NWC told me there was an opening for Director of the Maternity Home, a second program offered at NWC. Before I knew it, I was working at the agency where I had gained my very first work experience related to my eventual social work profession. Subsequently, I also became Executive Director, overseeing both NWC programs.

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During these ensuing 15 years at NWC, I have grown in so many ways. When I left Montgomery County for the maternity home position, my supervisor gave me a small novelty hammer and screwdriver. To my great surprise, those farewell gifts turned out to foretell how much I would need to learn about maintenance issues for the upkeep of the 100-year-old DC townhouse that houses NWC’s programs.

But the main growth has been in understanding the need in the community and how best to meet that need. I have learned the importance of creating a safe space for women to share their hopes, dreams, and struggles and to respond by listening, not judging, and providing encouragement.

My experience at NWC often brings to mind the words of Father Greg Boyle in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Father Boyle talks about “standin awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

I am truly awed by the resilience of the women we serve in the face of what they have to carry: from domestic violence to poverty and lack of resources (housing, food, adequate medical care), to the racism they face. In spite of this, each and every mother makes countless sacrifices for her baby and her family. My lens of viewing the world has widened as I have seen the daily struggles and joys of so many different families who have allowed me a glimpse into their lives.

“Accompaniment” is my greatest joy in being a social worker and working at NWC. Walking alongside women – providing support, encouragement, guidance – has allowed me to watch the moms grow in every area of their lives as they become new parents and build long-term stability for their families. Being a part of a child’s life – from before they are born, and watching them grow, achieve developmental milestones, and become a member of the village which supports their family – is truly a gift.

The story of one determined mom is an example of the difficult path women have walked as they progress through NWC programs. This mother was pregnant with her second child and did not have stable, safe housing nor health insurance. She was eager in working towards her goals: deliver a healthy baby, find daycare for her children, obtain U.S. citizenship, and find a better paying job to support her family. She obtained health insurance, gave birth to a full-term baby, and found a good daycare. The mother and I deciphered our way through the citizenship application. I drove her to the immigration office for her interview, reviewed study questions for the test with her, and eventually attended her naturalization ceremony. She obtained a better paying job, now lives in affordable housing, and I continue to provide resources and support to her family.

And then there is the joy of reading to a young infant and watching that become a part of his daily routine. I was reading a board book to a 4-month-old who blurted out gleeful sounds every time he saw the hippo in the book. His mom was impressed that a baby that young enjoyed reading and began reading to him daily. Some of the babies liked the animal noises so much that every time they wanted to read a book, they walked around making animal noises and handed their mothers a book.

Many we serve become extended family, keeping in touch after they have moved to independence, and often visiting NWC to support new women entering the programs. This is a real way that I see The Northwest Center living out its mission to support all women through pregnancy as well as beyond to long-term well-being for themselves and their families.

I have been blessed with dedicated, supportive, and creative coworkers who truly define what it means to be a team. I am grateful for the wide range of volunteers who pick up and sort donations, meet with families, and offer their expertise, energy and passion. It is these volunteers that keep me going when the work is challenging. I am amazed at the generous community donations that help provide resources in support of the needs and hopes of new mothers and their infants.

My 15-year tenure also has been enriched by the generosity of our donors, by the strong commitment of the board, staff and volunteers, and by the embrace of our local community. I am humbled to work at an agency that exists and thrives because of these caring efforts in support of pregnant women and families.

This reflection was written by Susan Gallucci, LICSW, the current Executive Director of The Northwest Center (Photo by Renata Grzan Wieczorek/FortheLoveofBeauty.com).

A Catalogue Member Reflects: Hear from Nicole Lynn Lewis About Her Forthcoming Book, Pregnant Girl

When I got my first job out of college and started to get to know my coworkers, I shared a bit about my college journey. So many people told me that I need to share more to inspire others and to change the way people think about teen parents. Nearly 20 years later, my book Pregnant Girl: A story of teen motherhood, college, and creating a better future for young families is being released by Beacon Press on May 4th.

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Part memoir, and written as an urgent call to action, Pregnant Girl explores how we can better support young families so they can thrive and how the intersectionality of race, gender, and poverty impacts our lack of support for young parents. In it, I also reflect on my own experiences as a Black mother and college student fighting for opportunities for my family. The book presents the possibility of a different future for teen parents – one of success and stability – in the midst of the dire statistics that dominate the national conversation.

I also tell the story of how Generation Hope, the nonprofit I founded in 2010 and later included in the Catalogue for Philanthropy in 2014 and 2019, came to be. I share our philosophy and approach to helping young parents succeed, and I talk about the dearth of funding for organizations led by people of color. As a Black woman and nonprofit CEO, I’m often called a unicorn, because this combination is too rare in this sector – less than 10% of nonprofit leaders are people of color. A further differentiator is the fact that I have lived the mission of my organization as a former teen mom and college graduate. This background and lived experience have aided me in leading and growing Generation Hope over the past decade by informing our mission and the whole-family work we do every day to help more teen parents earn their college degrees while also preparing their children for kindergarten success.

One of my main motivations in writing Pregnant Girl was taking steps to ensure that my story, both as a teen parent in college and, in subsequent years, as a Black woman leading a direct service and advocacy nonprofit, is no longer a rarity. Fewer than 2% of teen parents earn their college degrees before they turn 30, and nonprofit organizations led by Black women receive less than 1% of foundation giving. These statistics point to broad systemic changes needed in higher education (Which students do we deem “college material” and worthy of support? Who was our higher ed system designed to serve?) and in the ongoing racial inequality that permeates all industries, including philanthropy.

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One of the most powerful tools we have is our stories. In Pregnant Girl, I share stories – mine, and the stories of the young parents we work with at Generation hope – in order to shed light on populations that are too often overlooked and rendered invisible. For too long, the stories that have dominated the issue of teen pregnancy – and more broadly race, poverty, single mothers, etc. – have been negative, damaging, and inaccurate. At Generation Hope, our work is directly informed by the tremendous assets and needs of the families with whom we work, underscoring the different kinds of stories it is possible to tell about teen parents and their families. Our impact and our families’ triumphs have been clear, proving that the future we wish to see is not an impossible dream.

I hope you will join us in telling a new story about young families. You can pre-order Pregnant Girl here, join us for our spring events for an in-depth book discussion and a celebration of our graduates, and/or continue the conversation with me on Twitter. We can all play a role in removing obstacles to opportunity, reimagining our educational systems as places that truly fulfill their promise of mobility and success for all students, and changing philanthropy to invest in leaders and solutions that will truly address racial disparities.

Early praise for Pregnant Girl:

“Reading this book, you will learn something important about race, poverty, and gender and how they play a role in teen pregnancy. And you will learn something about how hope can win over adversity.”

- Soledad O?Brien, award-winning documentarian, journalist, speaker, author and philanthropist

“Pregnant Girl is not just a powerful memoir; it’s an empowering guide for all of us. Nicole Lynn Lewis shows us that all our journeys matter, and the beauty of those journeys is not just the destination but the lessons of the path. I would highly recommend this book to all.”

- Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood Foundation

“Makes a compelling case for the multifaceted approach that is necessary to ensure that all young people – particularly our youth of color and young parents – are able to make the choice to pursue a college education, earn a degree, and lead thriving lives…It is an approach that is deeply rooted in the belief and call to action that is core to this book – that all young people are worthy of an education, worthy of resources and opportunity, and worthy of our every effort to help them reach their potential and soar.”

- Dr. John King, 10th US Secretary of Education under President Obama

Street Sense Goes Weekly, by Eric Falquero, Editorial Director

Street Sense Media is realizing a long-time goal of doubling how often we publish the street paper of our nation’s capital! Starting April 14, our community can look forward to a new publication every Wednesday! At the heart of this expansion is one simple thing: vendor income. We project that the women and men selling our newspaper will earn an average of 40% more money based on observations from our sister street papers in Chicago, Seattle, and Portland that have already transitioned to weekly distribution.

This increase will help vendors meet their daily, basic needs​ and make the program more attractive to new vendors. The more consistent income will make saving and budgeting funds from working with Street Sense Media easier. And we will also be able to pay the artists who contribute to Street Sense – writers, photographers, illustrators, and more – twice as often.

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A 2015 analysis of our past sales data found that sales were, on average, 74% higher in the first week of a paper’s circulation. And in a readership survey the following year, a whopping 78% of readers said they would purchase the paper every week if we made this change.

Writing, editing, designing, and printing twice as much is a big lift and it has taken a long time to successfully connect with the generous funders who have made this happen. Last year, we hired a second full-time editor, Deputy Editor Jake Maher, doubling the size of our editorial department. And we are – continuing to recruit – volunteer editors, reporters, and page designers.

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More frequent publication also strengthens our product to better serve our community. The range and depth of our journalism has continued to grow from year to year. Publishing more frequently will mean bringing our print readers more timely news by featuring articles that would usually run online only. It also allows space to spotlight more relevant news from our partner newsrooms: DCist, The DC Line, Greater Greater Washington, and other street papers from around the world. Our community calendar and job listings will be more frequent. The voices and talents shared in our pages through poetry, prose, and visual art will diversify and be amplified all the more. And the opinion section, which is – open to all members – of our community, will be able to provide a platform for more timely commentary and debate.

This is our entire community’s paper, and we’re so excited to grow it with the community’s support.

A lot has changed over the past year. The pandemic decimated paper sales; street vendors cannot work from home. Our community rallied around us, helping to establish a vendor assistance fund for our case management department and increasingly using – our mobile payments app – to pay vendors for what people are reading at home, or just to provide them extra support. But none of this has measured up to the same level of income Street Sense Media vendors earned previously. As our community works through the vaccine rollout and continues to rebuild and recover, we want to be there to meet our readers? information needs every week and provide a stronger no-barrier work opportunity than ever before for our unhoused neighbors.

This is Woodley House DC: Meet Chris

This is the first installment in our #thisiswoodleyhousedc series: Meet Chris! When you ask Woodley House residents and staff to describe Chris, the words helpful, respected, flexible and a leader come to mind. Although he’s only been part of the Woodley House program for two years, he’s made a major impact on his fellow residents and is a true asset to our program.

Chris says he was born into a family of helpers. He remembers his parents organizing all the neighbors on their block to give out food baskets every Thanksgiving to those in need. Following that tradition, Chris works every Tuesday in our Food Pantry, loading shelves and giving out food. Helping others comes naturally to him, but it took a while to get there.

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Chris came to Woodley House in 2019, having been homeless off and on for a few years. Chris moved into our Holly House group home in the Shepard Park neighborhood. Holly House provides permanent supportive housing for 8 adults with severe mental illness, most of whom are seniors who experienced chronic homelessness in their past. Chris’ case worker hoped that Holly House might provide the stability he needed. In the beginning, Chris didn’t trust anyone and wasn’t sure that he’d be there for long. Slowly he started to listen to staff about how to adjust to his new home. Attending Day Programs, he learned how to interact with people — when to step up and when to distance himself — learning to adapt to changing situations. Over time he came to be great friends with and a huge help to his older housemates who needed extra help with daily living tasks.

Chris was doing so well that his case worker and our Woodley House Recovery Support Specialist agreed that he was ready to move into our Supported Independent Living Apartment Program. He now lives in his own apartment that he shares with two other residents. He still returns to Holly House for his Day Program and to visit with his Holly House friends. He receives a stipend for assisting as an aide to one of the senior residents at Holly House through a grant from the National Lutheran Impact1890 Foundation. He also volunteers every Tuesday at the Woodley House Food Pantry and receives a small stipend through a grant from the Rotary Foundation of Washington DC. He is interested in furthering his computer skills and taking classes in peer counseling or cooking.

When asked about his best memory of Woodley House, he thinks of how he didn’t trust anyone in the beginning, but that they taught him everything that he knows! Chris says he’s “found my niche” and is happy to continue his parents’ legacy of a being a family of helpers.

Jasmine is a Woman on a Mission!

Jasmine’s success, and the success of her community, has been driving her for a long time, but especially since she returned home in October 2020 from a 15-year prison sentence.

Last year brought challenges for everyone. Combining the challenges and barriers of COVID-19 with the stigma of being a returning citizen, Jasmine was faced with a choice: return to the life of her past or continue to fly high. Only weeks after choosing the latter, Jasmine connected with the DC Department of Employment Services’ (DOES) Project Empowerment Program for supportive services, job coaching, employability and life skills, for DC residents living in areas with high unemployment or poverty. It was there that she was introduced to Suited for Change.

From beginning to end, Jasmine describes her experience with the volunteers at Suited for Change as “Amazing. From the moment I stepped in, I felt comfortable, even though I’ve never had an experience like that. It was like I was at a photo shoot,” Jasmine recalled. While there, volunteer Marianne Clifford Upton helped Jasmine pick out clothes that made her feel comfortable and prepared her for her next steps.

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Jasmine remembers walking away from her first appointment feeling proud, confident and excited about the choice that she had made, and that was even before she was put in touch with her Suited for Change volunteer mentor coach who helped her prepare for her interview with the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation.

Jasmine remembers her coach, Patricia Blackshire, being incredibly patient and working with her through job interview exercises.

“Patricia made me feel so confident in my skills. This experience was so new to me, but I walked away feeling assured that I was going to be able to obtain a job and do well.” Each Suited for Change coaching session focuses on bolstering client confidence in their qualifications and tailoring their strengths for upcoming interviews.

After Jasmine successfully got a job as an Administrative Assistant with the Training and Development Corporation, she shared that she is most excited about her work for several reasons:

“Success just excites me, I’m so hungry to succeed because I know that through working here, I can continue to soar.”

Jasmine also shared that she is excited about continuing to build her skills working for an organization impacting in her community. The Training and Development Corporation works to provide training and employment opportunities for people in economically depressed neighborhoods to help them and the surrounding communities. Jasmine is tied to the mission because it allows her to be a part of something that makes the path to success easier for people in her community faced with lots of hard choices.

Her experience at Suited, with DOES and now at the Training and Development Corporation have helped her immensely on her path to success, but Jasmine also attributes her success to others along the way like her mentor, Michelle West. Michelle was a fellow inmate with Jasmine and was influential in leading her towards her current path as a role model and mentor.

“Women like Michelle, who is a first-time offender facing two lifetime sentences, are my why. She taught me simple things like being early is being on time and looked out for me on my path to this choice.”

Jasmine’s excitement is infectious, and her drive to succeed is clear. Now that she is well on her way, having made her choice, there’s clearly no stopping this woman on a mission. We here at Suited are glad to have been a part of her journey.

Building a Generation of Volunteers

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Volunteer Fairfax was pleased to combine two popular family-friendly volunteer events, Valentines Challenge and Give Together, into the 2021 MLK, Jr. Weekend of Service. In both events, volunteers worked on service projects from the safety of their homes, school, or after school programs. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and some ingenuity in sorting supplies, we were able to distribute nearly 1,000 project supply kits out to the community! The kits included bird seed, crayons/markers, construction paper, glue, stickers, string, pompoms, pipe cleaners, valentine decorations, etc. Sending out project supply kits eliminates the need for parents/guardians to spend funds to secure these items. Our goal was to ensure that, regardless of access or ability to purchase materials, everyone should know the power of Dr. King’s call to service and be able to participate in service activities. We were honored to work with nonprofit organizations like Cornerstones, Lorton Community Action Center, Neighborhood Community Services, and other local civic groups like the Jack and Jill Club of America, Inc. to ensure that several supply kits went to youth in need.

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Making its debut this year was the first-ever MLK, Jr. Volunteer Guidebook which was available in hard-copy or digital download to those who registered to participate in Give Together. This outstanding publication outlines actionable service project ideas to engage families. Parents and educators can select projects based on key mission areas including food insecurity, social justice, elder care, and homelessness. The MLK Jr. Volunteer Guidebook also included Step-Up Challenges geared towards helping teens make simple service ideas actionable with their peers and within their communities.

“Thank you so much for this resource book-it’s set up so nicely, in a way that really helps families engage with their kids of all ages to do something meaningful within the local community. I appreciate all of the local extensions/community contacts, and the overall format with very clear guidance and thought- and conversation-provoking questions. Thanks for putting this together for families looking to volunteer during the pandemic!” Kristin Kuyuk

“Well done! Impressive jobs on the booklet and service projects ideas!” Sara Holtz, 2020 Providence Community Champion

This year, the Valentines Day Challenge expanded its mission beyond supporting youth aging out of the foster care system and challenged the community to share the love with frontline healthcare workers. Based on the overwhelming response for supply kits, we expect our volunteers to have hand-crafted more than 10,000 valentine cards that will be distributed to the following organizations: Foster Care to Success, Fairfax County Foster Care System, Adoption and Kinship Children, Children’s National Medical Center, INOVA Hospital System, Walter Reed Medical Center and Wounded Warriors.

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We know that those receiving these cards will appreciate the good wishes of the community displaying the creative cards kids and adults alike have so thoughtfully created. To see card making in action along with other Weekend of Service activities, visit the VF Kudoboard. These images have been posted by the community as they share their amazing work and talents.

One of the highlights of the MLK, Jr. Weekend of Service was having U.S. Naval Academy’s Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber join us in recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service with a video message to families to help foster volunteerism with young people. Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber, the Naval Academy’s first African American female brigade commander, has an impressive list of accomplishments including her volunteerism working with a STEM outreach program that leverages mentoring, literature, and service lessons for middle school-aged girls of color. She shared, “My passion, the things that drives me and gets me out of bed each morning is service to others.” For the full recording of Midshipman 1st Class Barber’s inspiring kick-off message, click here.

Thanks to Lead Partners – AT&T, Leidos, and TransurbanCGI; Silver Supporters -Deloitte, NetApp, Northwest Federal Credit Union, and NOVEC; Foundation Supporter -Virginia Service Foundation; and In-Kind Supporter -Wegmans for making this event possible! Special mention to our long-time partner, the Pozez Jewish Community Center, where we hosted a food drive on MLK, Jr. Day that provided 781 pounds of food to Food for Others.

Our hope for the year’s event is to inspire children and youth to observe what’s going on in their community, ask questions of why something might be happening, dream of how things could be different, and feel empowered to be great agents of change. Seeing and hearing from so many of you, despite difficult times, lets us know that together we can accomplish great things! We can be great because we can serve.

For more service ideas for you and your family, please visit our volunteer opportunity database VolunteerNow!