Archive for Year: 2017
100WomenStrong Member Wins the Golden Helix Award
Congratulations to 100WomenStrong member, Teresa Wheeler, who was recently awarded the Golden Helix award for her dedication and Service to Inova Loudoun Hospital. She is Vice Chair of the Foundation, a member of the Ladies Board, and a generous supporter of the hospital.
See more about her work here. Congratulations, Teresa!
Educating Adults is the Key to Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
As Loudoun County’s population continues to grow, so does the need for services and support for children and families. For example, Child Protective Services caseloads within the county are some of the highest per caseworker in the Northern Virginia region. In FY16 alone, Loudoun County’s Child Protective Services assessed or investigated 1,209 valid referrals of child abuse and neglect and provided intensive ongoing services to 59 families. This was the fourth largest number of valid referrals received by a local department of social services in Virginia.
One of the many factors that contribute to the vulnerability of children is unstable housing and the combination of unrelated individuals in a household, which often occurs when low-income families face the high cost of living in Loudoun County. And, a Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) report highlighted the fact that children who live with a single parent with a live-in partner are at the highest risk and are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents.
In truth, all children in our community are at risk. Child sexual abuse crosses all ethnic, economic, regional and gender boundaries. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before his or her 18th birthday.
“Protecting children from sexual abuse is an adult responsibility, and education is the first critical step as well as the catalyst for larger cultural and societal changes,” Sonia Quinonez, MSW, executive director of SCAN stated. “To achieve this, SCAN partners with Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting children from sexual abuse by diminishing the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse and raising awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse in our communities.
“Through Stewards of Children, we increase education and awareness on the part of adults, who are crucial to protecting our community’s vulnerable children,” Quinonez explained.
With its 2017 grant from 100WomenStrong, SCAN is training 10 new Stewards of Light facilitators, who will then educate 150 or more teachers, police officers, social workers, parents and others about the facts, recognition and appropriate response to child sexual abuse. They also will empower and motivate them to take actions to protect the children with whom they interact. According to SCAN, after training participants will understand the facts of child sexual abuse; recognize that adults are responsible for the protection of children, as well as the signs to look for; and understand how to react responsibly to incidents of child sexual abuse.
“SCAN’s mission is to promote the well-being of children and prevent child abuse and neglect by educating the community about the scope, nature and consequences of child abuse and neglect,” according to Quinonez explained. “Ninety percent of children who are abused know their abusers, so we also provide direct education to parents/caregivers in how to help minimize risk, respond appropriately and advocate effectively for their children in the community, legislature and courts.
“When the taboo of sexual abuse is diminished, children can receive timely supportive treatment to be resilient in the face of that experience, and all Loudoun children can live in an environment of safety.”
Girls On The Run Builds Confidence in School-Age Girls
Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia (GOTR NOVA) is an after-school program that helps girls in 3rd-5th and 6th-8th grades develop the confidence and character they need to become self-assured, active adults. The 10-week program uses a research-based curriculum that integrates running with lessons that focus on self-awareness and self-care, as well as healthy social relationships. They also teach girls the empowerment that comes from having a voice in their personal well-being and how it can affect the well-being of the larger community.
“We are creating a community of girls who are empowered to be their best, by teaching them the skills they need to be strong, confident and healthy women,” said Katey Comerford, executive director. “We focus on the girls building inner strength and confidence about themselves and their decisions in life. Through Girls on the Run, we have not only helped girls increase their physical activity levels, but also have helped them create and maintain healthy behaviors and improve self-esteem and body image.”
GOTR NOVA has been working in Loudoun County for more than 16 years. During the 2015-16 school year, GOTR NOVA registered more than 500 girls in Loudoun County, almost 15 percent of whom were eligible for free or reduced lunch and received financial aid covering up to 85 percent of the program fee.
GOTR NOVA has a strategic focus to ensure all local girls have access to high-quality youth development programming. The nonprofit is an Independent Council of Girls on the Run International, which has more than 200 councils in the United States and Canada.
“By connecting to GOTR International, we can tap into a powerful movement that is making a difference in the holistic health of girls, families and communities,” Comerford explained. “We want to inspire girls to recognize their limitless potential and pursue their dreams boldly.
“I want them to have the confidence to try a new sport later on, or apply for a job they think is out of their reach, or ask someone out on a date when the time comes.”
The grant from 100WomenStrong is funding a position at GOTR NOVA and helping them to expand their efforts to support more girls.
100WomenStrong to Accept Letters of Intent for Consideration for 2018 Grant Funding
Local philanthropic group has donated more than $1.3 million to Loudoun County nonprofits focused on shelter, health, hunger and education.
Window for submitting initial letter opens on November 1
Leesburg, Va. – October 25, 2017 – Loudoun County-based 100WomenStrong, a group of concerned area residents and business people who strategically support organizations and programs that enhance the lives of Loudoun County residents will begin accepting Letters of Intent from area nonprofits on November 1 in advance of its 2018 grant cycle. Non-profit organizations that serve Loudoun County and wish to be considered for this grant cycle must submit a Letter of Intent between 8 a.m. on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, and 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 30, 2017.
According to Lynn Rubin, Vice President of 100WomenStrong, Letters of Intent will be accepted from 501(c)(3) organizations serving Loudoun County residents and should include:
- Name and purpose of organization
- Dollar amount of grant request
- Description of the proposed project(s) addressing needs of Loudoun County residents in one of 100WomenStrong’s areas of interest (below)
- Explanation of importance of the proposed project(s) to those served and to Loudoun County and its residents
Letters of Intent must be no more than one page in length, in 11-point font or larger, and should be emailed to [email protected] as a .pdf attachment with the name of the organization in the subject line of the email. Every applicant will receive an email confirming receipt of its Letter of Intent. Organizations that submit a Letter of Intent will be notified of the status of their applications on or before January 14, 2018 (UPDATED).
Interested organizations can find further information on the 100WomenStrong website at www.onehundredwomenstrong.org.
“Using a Letter of Intent as a first step makes it easier for nonprofits to submit a request, especially those that don’t have staff or support to help them with grant funding requests,” said Rubin. “This process has had the added benefit of making us more aware of the many smaller – and newer – nonprofits across the county, because they can participate in this first step of our process easily. Once we have reviewed the Letters of Intent, we will then ask specific organizations to provide a full application and budget for the project they are proposing.”
100WomenStrong grants funds in support of programs addressing issues in the following areas of interest:
Health – Although ranked among the healthiest counties in Virginia, the components of a healthy life are not readily available to all in Loudoun.
Hunger – Despite living in one of the most affluent areas of the United States, Loudoun County residents of all ages experience food insecurity.
Education – Gaps in educational opportunities continue to exist here, both for those in need of specialized educational programs and those in at-risk situations or in low-income families.
Shelter – Though not always apparent, Loudoun County has a population of residents of all ages and backgrounds who need affordable housing, are seeking safety from abusive relationships or are otherwise housing insecure.
501(c)(3) non-profit organizations serving the Loudoun County community in these areas should visit 100WomenStrong at http://www.onehundredwomenstrong.org/grants/application-process/ to learn more.
Please note: Letters submitted prior to 8 a.m. on November 1, 2017, or after 5 p.m. on November 30, 2017, will not be considered. Only the first page of letters longer than one page will be reviewed.
Formed in 2008, 100WomenStrong is committed to improving the quality of life for residents of Loudoun County, Virginia, through strategic grants to nonprofits working in the areas of shelter, health, hunger and education. Members of 100WomenStrong connect and collaborate to leverage their philanthropic resources as a donor-advised fund of the Community Foundation of Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties. For more information about 100WomenStrong, contact Pam Ray at [email protected].
Just Neighbors Reducing Obstacles to Opportunity
Just Neighbors, a 100WomenStrong grant recipient, provides immigration legal services to low-income immigrant and refugee residents who have a legal pathway in the United States, but are unable to access it because of financial, social or physical challenges. Studies show that naturalized citizens earn more than non-citizens, are less likely to be unemployed and are better represented in highly skilled jobs. Not only does citizenship offer immigrants a sense of membership and participation in society, it also gives them access to many other tax and Social Security benefits.
For more than 20 years here in Northern Virginia, Just Neighbors has used a clinic model to leverage staff attorney time, minimize costs of support staff and efficiently assist clients from 127 countries in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and other areas of the world. The nonprofit organization has a 97-percent success rate for all of its filed cases and wanted to expand its work in Loudoun County. While they helped 48 Loudoun County families last year, they had to turn away many more due to a lack of available funding.
“We have assisted clients from Loudoun County for many years, but are finding a greater need and wanted to increase the number of clients we are able to serve,” shared Stephanie Barnes, Just Neighbors Operations Director. “We receive more than 150 requests for services from Loudoun clients each year, and there are hundreds more who need help, but are unaware of our services.”
According to Barnes, a refugee, immigrant or asylee with a work permit or green card becomes more self-sufficient. The long-term impact for these families is that, once given the ability to work, they are able to find stable employment, increase their earnings and achieve their goals of self-sufficiency. Additionally, when family members gain employment authorizations, individuals can pool their resources together for the benefit of the entire family, greatly increasing their ability to thrive.
“Besides the affirmation of self-worth, long-term legal status gives individuals the needed income to pay for food, clothing and housing for themselves and their families, as well as stable housing, education and healthcare,” Barnes explained. “This in turn reduces their dependency on other social services. For some, the eventual impact is becoming a U.S. citizen.”
The grant from 100WomenStrong will impact approximately 15 families across Loudoun County by funding a community clinic and then provide them with the services they need to take every step of the way toward legal status.
“Because there are few inexpensive options to get help with immigration cases, families often turn to unlicensed immigration providers,” Barnes explained. “Unscrupulous lawyers with inaccurate and misleading advice have exploited many immigrants in Loudoun County, stealing their savings and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Also, by requiring individuals to pay expensive fees for these services, they have to choose between paying for legal services or for basic needs like food and housing.”
Besides providing support in attaining legal authorization to work in the United States, the Just Neighbors Loudoun Project also benefits its clients by helping them to escape from domestic violence situations and, in the case of refugees and asylees, unite or reunite with their families.
“By funding an immigration legal clinic, 100WomenStrong is able to address the root of poverty for many immigrant families by providing members of that family the opportunity to work.”
New Phones Help LAWS Answer the Call For Help
For more than 30 years, Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter (LAWS) has served adult and child victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse who live in Loudoun County. In 2016 alone, LAWS served more than 6,000 individuals through its shelter, crisis hotline, counseling services, support groups, case management services, advocacy programs, its Loudoun Parent-Child Nurturing Program and educational outreach efforts.
In recent years, it had become clear to the staff at LAWS that it was past time to purchase and install a complete phone system that would allow them to serve those individuals more effectively. Using funds supplied through a 100WomenStrong grant, LAWS recently replaced a 16-year-old system that not only was deteriorating and working improperly, but also was inefficient, outdated and missing important functions that the 24-hour hotline staff needed to serve callers safely and effectively.
“We desperately needed a better way take calls and serve our clients,” said Judy Hanley, LAWS’ interim executive director. “Beyond the fact that the system was so old, we couldn’t transfer calls or connect people between our Emergency Shelter and the Community Services Center. That meant that a caller couldn’t easily be patched to an advocate or a counselor, which didn’t always work well.”
As Hanley, explained, making the first call to a crisis hotline is not done easily. Asking callers to disconnect and make additional calls was a problem.
“Making that first call to our hotline to ask for help can be a daunting task for a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, who is uncertain as to what the future holds. We must remove any potential barriers that may make seeking services more difficult for survivors,” Hanley explained. “Reducing the number of calls needed to access services is important to ensuring that a survivor is safe, feels reassured and has a seamless and coordinated experience with us.”
Last year, LAWS answered 886 hotline calls through its 24-hour hotline, and most of the victims who called the 24-hour hotline needed to be connected to services provided through the crisis center. In addition to the inability to connect calls between locations, outdated technology kept staff from conducting conference calls or using the speaker function, both of which are critical for language interpretation services.
“Most people take caller ID for granted, but we didn’t have it,” she explained. “and that presented safety challenges to the staff. The ability to identify a caller’s number allows staff to monitor potential safety issues, as well as ensure that we have a client’s contact information in the event a call is dropped or there is an emergency.
“Over the years, grants from 100WomenStrong have made it possible for us to improve our services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse in so many ways,” Hanley said. “with this grant, we can monitor the safety of our callers and we have both speaker phone and conference call capabilities. This upgrade makes it easier for us to serve survivors without requiring him or her to make additional calls.
“That is essential to our mission, and we are very grateful for 100WomenStrong’s support of LAWS and other nonprofits in Loudoun.”
Giving Vulnerable Children a Head Start With Vision Screening
The Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Head Start program, a division of the federal Head Start program, provides comprehensive services to 100 three- and four-year-old children who are living at or below the poverty level in Loudoun County. The purpose of the program, which includes preschool, is to promote social competence and enhance school readiness of low-income children.
During their time in Head Start, the children receive support for their cognitive, social and emotional development in a learning environment that supports growth in language and literacy, as well as math, science, art and physical skills. They also receive health, educational, nutritional, social and disabilities services, based on family needs and goals as well as their cultural and linguistic heritage.
In addition to teachers, LCPS Head Start has social workers and a nurse on staff to provide services to families. Staff promotes connections to community agencies to meet immediate needs and to empower families to continue to be self-sufficient after they are no longer involved with Head Start. LCPS Head Start has served more than 2,000 children and their families in Loudoun County over the past 24 years.
One of the services that LCPS Head Start provides has been providing since 2012 is vision screenings for the preschoolers in its program. They partner with local chapters of the Lions Club to assist them in performing vision screenings, using a Lions Club vision screener. The Lions Club also provides referrals and vouchers for eye glasses to Head Start students who need them.
“Last year, the vision screener revealed 20 percent of our students would benefit from a comprehensive eye exam,” Kris Caldwell, Head Start Health Nutrition Coordinator, wrote in her request. “Of those referred to an eye care professional, 95 percent were prescribed treatment, which was most often eye glasses.”
LCPS Head Start used its funding from 100WomenStrong to purchase a Welch Allyn Spot Vision Screener that will allow them to screen for indicators of more than six of the most common vision problems in children.
“Prior to attending Head Start, most of our students have not had a vision screening. Early screening can lead to prompt treatment, which can significantly impact a child’s health and academic achievement,” Caldwell explained.
“Owning our own vision screening equipment allows us to provide the consistency of using one type of screening equipment for all vision screenings throughout the school year, as well as constant availability of the equipment. We will continue our partnership with the Lions Club for initial vision screenings at the beginning of the school year, but owning our own equipment allows us to complete vision screenings during the remainder of the school year.”
Resilient Strategy Improves Outcomes in Loudoun County
A new eight-week course, “Here, Now and Down the Road: Growing Resilience,” is helping parents learn how to foster resilience in children, enhance their ability to overcome adversity, and lead healthy, socially competent, successful lives. The class, created and offered by Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), has expanded into Loudoun County thanks to a grant from 100WomenStrong.
Resiliency is the ability to effectively deal with challenges of all kinds – from everyday problems to trauma, tragedy or personal crisis – and bounce back from them quickly and more capable to withstand the future.
NVFS is one of a growing number of organizations using social science research on resilience in programs that teach people how to emerge from problems or challenges stronger and with more self-confidence.
According to NVFS Director of Early Childhood, Shereen Ali, the agency’s focus on resiliency includes the new courses in Loudoun, which started in July and run through October. Ali said the program has been successful in helping parents better understand how they can affect their children’s days.
“Sometimes on busy days, we don’t stop and think how parenting can have an impact on a child’s ability to be school ready, but it does, so we want to drive home that fact,” she said in a recent interview with the Loudoun Tribune.
The class includes games and other activities that teach and encourage parents to get involved in their child’s learning process. Breaks between sessions are designed to give parents time to practice what they have learned about supporting their children’s emotional strengths, as well as to give them a chance to provide feedback and experiences.
NVFS had already been providing resiliency training for children participating in Head Start in Loudoun County, and the 100WomenStrong grant allowed them to expand the training to parents so they can keep that work going in the home. Ali cited the epidemic of teen depression and suicide gripping Loudoun County as an important reason for children to learn healthy ways to deal with difficult situations from an early age.
As she shared, “We don’t want to wait until a child is a high schooler to say, ‘Hey, we could have done this earlier.’ It’s always better when you’re able to build in support when they’re much younger. Empowering the parent to be [an active] part of the child’s life and to advocate for the child and to provide that kind of support goes a long way.”
Parents enrolled in the class are referred to NVFS through the organization’s Head Start program, social service providers, hospitals, the school system and family shelters. NVFS provides babysitting money and dinner to parents to make the program as accessible as possible.
For more information on the science of resilience, and how NVFS works to support children through our early childhood development programs, please feel free to visit our blog: http://www.nvfs.org/developing-strong-mental-health-children/
Updated Kitchen Helps Dulles South Food Pantry Expand Services, Reach More Families
The Dulles South Food Pantry (DSFP) is an emergency-relief pantry that provides nutritious food, personal supplies and other services to those in need in Dulles South and the surrounding area. DSFP works with Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Feeding America to support its programs and distributed over 135,000 pounds of food in 2016. DSFP’s Friday Food Packs Program provide weekly bags of food for more than 125 students at 12 local schools so they won’t be hungry over the weekend.
Along with its impact on area youth and families, DSFP has recently expanded its boundaries to serve a wider area of Loudoun County, invested in additional freezer space and purchased a floor scale to lessen the burden on their volunteers and improve guest wait times.
To create more efficiencies to support the thousands it serves every year, DSFP submitted a grant proposal to 100WomenStrong for a kitchen renovation project and to expand seasonal storage, as well as to hire a part-time operations manager, during 2017.
According to Charlene Jones, DSFP president, the facility improvements will help DSFP to do even more in southeast Loudoun County.
“We needed to consolidate our facilities to make it easier for our volunteers to serve others,” Jones explained. “For example, our freezers are in a building outside our Distribution area, but – by renovating the kitchen space – we brought a freezer inside, thus reducing the need to load frozen goods into coolers, haul them into the kitchen area, make multiple runs between our Distribution area and the outside building, etc.”
“Thanks to the grant from 100WomenStrong, our volunteers can better serve the needs of the approximately 50 families we distribute food to each Wednesday at the pantry,” she said.
An additional industrial freezer affords DSFP the opportunity to serve more families as the density in Dulles South continues to rise, Jones added.
“In the past, we have had to turn down some donations of protein – ground meat, for example – because we didn’t have the space or there was a chance of spoilage during our Wednesday distribution because we had to haul food from one location to another and there wasn’t a place to keep it cold in the distribution area. The grant from 100WomenStrong has taken care of that logistical problem, and we hope to expand the number of families we can serve!”
See photos of the completed kitchen expansion at DSFP: http://mailchi.mp/dsfp/dulles-south-food-pantry-august-2017-newsletter
This Is My Brave Expands Storytelling Program Through NoVA
This Is My Brave, Inc. (Brave), which was founded in 2014 by two residents of Loudoun County, serves anyone who is or has been affected by mental illness in his or her lifetime. This includes people who live with mental illness every day, as well as those who care for, work with, go to school with, or love someone dealing with mental health disorder(s).
To help eliminate the stigma that many impacted by mental illness feel, as well as to connect people with needed resources, Brave founders created This Is My Brave – The Show. The first show was held in Arlington, Va., in 2014, and Brave has since expanded to nine new and unique shows that take place across the country. All told, more than 243 stories have been shared on stage – and many more have been shared through the Brave blog and on its YouTube channel – since 2014. This year, a slate of 14-16 shows is planned, many in new cities with all new casts and production teams.
Loudoun County has experienced a sharp rise in teen suicides in the past two years, from one reported in 2015, according to the County Sheriff’s Office, to five reported in 2016 and more than three already this year. To concentrate on the urgent need here, Brave is partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to facilitate a growing conversation throughout Loudoun County about feelings and experiences regarding mental illness, including stress and anxiety from being high school and college students in an academically high-performing area.
Through the 100WomenStrong grant, Brave will expand its storytelling programming to Loudoun County community college students to educate attendees about the symptoms of mental illness, empowering them to become more aware of how they and others are feeling and when someone needs professional help.
“We know that sharing stories helps save lives,” said Jennifer Marshall, Co-Founder and Executive Director, “by giving residents the knowledge and confidence to seek help when needed. Through this grant from 100WomenStrong, we will be able to bring its live stage production of This Is My Brave to the Loudoun County campus of Northern Virginia (NOVA) Community College.”
“By allowing participants to share personal stories, we hope it will help end the stigma of mental illness and empower attendees,” Marshall continued. “The college community and greater Loudoun County can benefit from openly discussing mental illness.”
Loudoun Hunger Relief Expands Its Efforts Through Key Partnerships
Loudoun Hunger Relief (LHR) is in its 26th year of helping alleviate hunger in individuals and families in our county. Last year, LHR directly served more than 11,000 individuals – almost half of whom were children – and distributed more than 1.2 million pounds of food.
In addition to providing food to children, LHR provides food to families, senior citizens, the working poor and the homeless, all of whom suffer from hunger or food insecurity. This year, with help from 100WomenStrong and in collaboration with several area businesses and nonprofit organizations, LHR has begun expanding its efforts to meet its clients’ needs today and to prepare them for a better future through several innovative efforts, including:
- Pop-up pantries — groceries delivered directly into the neighborhoods where the need is greatest.
- A satellite pantry in shared space at HealthWorks, which is within walking distance of one of the lowest income population centers in Loudoun County.
- A fruit and vegetable prescription program designed to combat childhood obesity and a nutrition program designed to supply vulnerable seniors with supplemental nutrition, both of which are in partnership with HealthWorks.
- An improved new-client intake process and increased efforts to refer clients to other non-profit services and educational opportunities in household budgeting, nutrition and healthy cooking, meal planning, effective grocery shopping, stress management and job search and interviewing to help them change their current circumstances.
In addition, LHR is partnering with HealthWorks, the Loudoun Valley HomeGrown Markets Cooperative and other local farms on a new series of Nutrition and Healthy Cooking classes. Educators and volunteer nutritionists will focus on teaching how to create nutritionally balanced, easy-to-prepare weeknight dinner options.
“Working families comprise almost 70 percent of the households we serve, and they need to know how to prepare nutritious meals easily and quickly,” said Jennifer Montgomery, LHR executive director. “Our goal is to help families alleviate the struggle to provide healthy, home prepared food on a budget using the kind of shelf-stable staples they receive from us at the pantry.”
Each class will include nutrition education, advice for how to make better food choices and how to create nutritionally sound menus.
“In addition to fast weekday cooking techniques, we also must address how families can construct healthier meals with the basic items they typically receive as food pantry clients,” Montgomery explained. “We also provide families with cooking tools and small appliances, such as crock pots, which we expect will help them take what they learn into their homes.”
Many of the families served at LHR are unfamiliar with the food items that are typically donated or find them difficult to use in their standard recipes.
“Our families are enthusiastic about receiving fresh produce, but sometimes do not know how to prepare it,” Montgomery explained. “Thanks to our grant from 100WomenStrong, these Nutrition and Healthy Cooking classes will help the families we serve move from hunger to health.”
Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers Brings the Community to the Home
An army of more than 200 volunteers is out and about every week in Loudoun County helping frail elderly and disabled adults maintain independent living, as well as connection to our community. Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers (Caregivers) offers support to adults who are unable to use public transportation services for everything from medical appointments, cancer treatments, grocery shopping and prescription pick up to food pickup from Loudoun Hunger Relief, errands, voting and non-medical needs.
The 200+ dedicated Caregivers serve hundreds in our community in other ways too. These include respite sitting to assist families who care for family members with Alzheimer’s, dementia, ALS and Parkinson’s, among other debilitating conditions; weekly phone calls to ensure that the homebound stay connected to the community and help with chores.
“Our mission is to help people stay in their own homes as long as possible,” Susan Mandel Giblin, Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers executive director explained. “They may live in a senior living community, or have their own apartment or home, but cannot get to the doctor, get to the grocery store or get to Loudoun Hunger Relief by themselves.”
The 2017 grant from 100WomenStrong is earmarked for LVC to fund their programs that help provide hunger relief, as well as food delivery and shopping programs for elderly, chronically ill and disabled adults.
“This grant will help us to make sure people are getting food on a regular basis, and it helps us identify who is vulnerable to food shortage,” Giblin explained. “We don’t charge anything for the services we provide, and we want to be available to anyone in Loudoun County who may need us. 100WomenStrong helps us to do so.”
Friends of Loudoun Mental Health Keep Homelessness at Bay
Mental illness can create a dark time for those who suffer from it, as well as their family and friends, so the Friends of Loudoun Mental Health has worked hard for more than 60 years to “drive back the darkness afflicting so many of our fellow citizens in Loudoun County,” according to its website. The Friends, as they refer to themselves, have created a vital program for preventing homelessness, as well as meeting multiple needs of residents disabled by and recovering from persistent mental illness.
The all-volunteer, community-based, non-profit organization, which is a recipient of a 2017 grant from 100WomenStrong, helps those affected by mental illness by serving as advocates, educators and service providers. They offer assistance to help them better their lives by providing assistance for living arrangements, advocating on their behalf for improved care and resources and promoting recovery and community awareness.
Since 1993, the group has worked to spread its services to Loudoun County citizens living with chronic mental illnesses who are not being covered by federal, state or local funding. To do so, they formed a public/private partnership with the Loudoun County Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services to get to the core issues of homelessness among residents living with chronic mental illnesses.
A Place to Call Home is one of the Friends’ six core programs and helps prevent homelessness among Loudoun County residents disabled by mental illnesses. Through it, the Friends provides rental subsidies to consumers of Loudoun County Mental Health Services who are prepared to live independently but who cannot afford to do so.
“All of the funding for A Place to Call Home is from donations, and the grant from 100WomenStrong will help many people,” according to Joey Coburn, Friends’ director of development. “This grant not only will help a person from becoming homeless, but also will help his or her dependents. It will help keep families together.”
AART Makes Preschool Possible for At-Risk Children
Last year, 18 percent of kindergarteners in Loudoun County entered school without any preschool education. Publicly funded preschool programs here are full and have waiting lists, therefore many needy children are simply not served. In Sterling, Va., 59 percent of the Sterling Elementary kindergarten class did not attend preschool, 49 percent did not meet the fall school assessment and, following the first quarter, 43 percent required intervention services.
All Ages Read Together (AART), a 100WomenStrong grant recipient, is working hard to help children like these by offering free preschool programs to at-risk children between the ages of 4 and 5, most of whom are from non-English speaking homes and are from low- to moderate-income families. Research has shown that participation in high-quality early education programs not only improves early literacy and math skills, but also is associated with better academic performance in the primary grades and beyond.
When children start with AART, many have had little or no exposure to books, reading or a classroom setting. After they graduate from AART, they start kindergarten prepared for what’s expected of them in today’s increasingly rigorous and challenging educational environment. In addition, every child who attends AART receives books to help establish a home library.
Focusing on preschool skills not only saves the schools they enter an estimated $3,500 per child per year in remediation costs, but also – and more importantly – provides each child with the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty by instilling the practical tools essential to overcoming the achievement gap that plagues our schools.
“AART is working towards reducing the achievement gap in Loudoun County,” said Michelle Sullivan, AART Executive Director. “This grant will help us to continue to serve the Sterling community with our current classes, as well as look to add a new location in the area.”
AART has identified a need for parenting education for families and is investigating parenting programs currently offered in the county for possible collaboration, assessing parents’ educational levels and possible gaps and developing topics that could be beneficial to parents.
“Parents are their children’s first teachers, so we want to build on their strengths and connect them with community activities and resources that will become tools they can use to encourage learning outside of the AART classroom,” Sullivan continued. “This generous grant from 100WomenStrong will help us assist even more children and families in the Sterling community and will ultimately benefit all of Loudoun County.”
Loudoun Nonprofit Provides “Heeling” With Therapy Dogs
Heeling House, Inc., based in Sterling, Va., works to improve the lives of children with special needs through animal-assisted interactions. The nonprofit organization, a new 100WomenStrong grant recipient this year, provides animal-assisted therapy (AAT) to children with social, emotional or anxiety-driven challenges; children with physical disabilities; and children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
In 2015, its first full year of operation, Heeling House had eight Therapy Animal Teams that served more than 550 clients in Loudoun County Public Schools and local therapeutic centers. Last year, Heeling House grew to 15 Therapy Animal Teams that provided service to more than 800 across Loudoun County.
The 2017 grant from 100WomenStrong is designed to support the Heeling House’s Animal Assisted Social Skills program, which includes 10 weeks of instruction using therapy animals to help children between the ages of 4 and 14 improve their social skills. One of the biggest challenges that children with ASD face is around social skills; however, research has shown that exposure to social situations and the practice of social skills in a safe and familiar environment can alleviate anxiety.
By the end of June 2018, Heeling House hopes to be serving 80 students each week in its Animal Assisted Social Skills program.
“Heeling House is so grateful and honored to receive a grant from 100WomenStrong that will make it possible for us to offer this new and innovative animal assisted social skills program to children in our community,” said Kathy Benner, Executive Director. “With the number of children diagnosed with ASD rising every year, the need for social skills classes also has increased.
“Research has proven that AAT produces more results than traditional therapies alone, as children are more willing to participate when an animal is integrated into the program. The unconditional love, acceptance and tolerance that the children receive from the dogs in a fun, interactive environment allows them to improve their communication and social skills very quickly,” Benner explained. “We are thrilled that 100WomenStrong believes in and supports our mission, allowing us to bring this much-needed service to our community.”
Maternity Coordinator at HealthWorks to Support Healthy Pregnancies
Loudoun Nonprofit Helping to Reduce Life’s Strain During Cancer Treatment
Approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to Breastcancer.org. Think about how many women you know and consider that statistic. On a positive note, breast cancer rates have been decreasing since the year 2000.
A diagnosis alone can be devastating on many fronts, from emotional to financial. In Loudoun County, the Step Sisters serve breast cancer patients who have been identified by an oncology nurse navigator as those that are struggling in a particular area or areas which may impact or delay their treatment plan. Not all of these patients are financially disadvantaged – some simply do not have outside support (such as a friend to safely drive them to a doctor appointment). On the other hand, some of these patients have been hit hard financially by the disease and need a lot of assistance in a variety of areas.
100WomenStrong’s 2017 grant will allow the Step Sisters to start a crisis fund for cancer patients experiencing extreme financial strain. The group, which was founded in 2005, will use the grant to supplement the practical support services they provide to Northern Virginia patients as they battle the disease.
“Breast cancer hits every patient hard, but for some, the financial impact can be devastating,” according to Ashley Campolattaro, Step Sisters founder and co-executive director, “Some may be forced to make tough choices between medical expenses and basic life needs. The Step Sisters are delighted that this support from 100WomenStrong will allow us to establish a Breast Cancer Crisis Fund to keep patients on their feet, and most importantly, in treatment.”
Suicide Prevention Strengthened By Peer-to-Peer Programs
In Virginia, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 15-34 and the third leading cause of death for ages 10-14, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). On average, one person dies by suicide every eight hours in the state.
Here in Loudoun County, teen suicide has risen from an average of one every other year in 2013 to five in 2016 alone, making suicide the leading cause of death for teenagers in our county. The Ryan Bartel Foundation, recipient of a recent grant from 100Women Strong, is working in Loudoun County Public Schools to try reverse that trend.
According to the Foundation’s founder, Suzie Bartel, research indicates that suicidal youth are less willing to seek help from adults than their non-suicidal peers and instead turn to their friends for help first. Therefore, the chance of success at prevention can be increased by training and encouraging teens to connect with their peers and support them before they reach a crisis.
The Ryan Bartel Foundation leads the We’re All Human committee in individual schools, providing ongoing youth-led, peer-to-peer efforts to promote awareness and support for those dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal behaviors. Started at Woodgrove High School in 2015, the We’re All Human program is supported by an evidence-led, nationally recognized training program called Sources of Strength, in which students learn to develop resilience, coping skills and help-seeking behaviors that build protective norms. Trained peer leaders then help other students who are struggling, connecting them to the help they need and reducing the number of students in crisis.
The Foundation is currently working with six high schools where their active We’re All Human student groups range from 30-90 students who are empowered to engage with peers through their activities, campaigns and events. By working with these students, the Foundation expects to reach approximately 10,000 students in these schools.
With the recent 100WomenStrong grant, The Ryan Bartel Foundation is planning to expand its outreach to even more students in Loudoun County as they continue their work to prevent youth suicide. Their goal is to increase services to an additional two high schools and expand their reach to approximately 13,000 students in the coming year.
“The Ryan Bartel Foundation is truly honored and grateful to receive a grant from 100WomenStrong,” said Suzie Bartel. “This grant will help us in our goals to prevent youth suicide and enable us to expand into more schools with the We’re All Human Committee.”
EveryMind Supports Veterans With “Serving Together” Program
Approximately 30 percent of U.S. veterans return from service having experienced traumatic brain injury (TBI) during their deployment, and 20 percent experience symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after they return home. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 20 veterans die by suicide in the United States every day.
Here in Loudoun County, almost 20,000 veterans cope with these issues along with a lack of understanding of the trauma they experienced during deployment and the challenges they face as they return to civilian life.
A 2014 study of Northern Virginia’s veterans found that a lack of coordination between veteran support services organizations kept veterans from accessing those services. EveryMind, an organization that works to strengthen communities and empower individuals to reach optimal mental wellness through advocacy, direct service programs and community education, has been working to change that for veterans in Loudoun County.
To that end, the 2017 100WomenStrong grant recipient will expand upon its Serving Together program, which helps veterans, active duty service members and their families navigate family services, evaluate mental health needs and identify when someone is in crisis.
“We are grateful and deeply honored to receive this grant from 100WomenStrong,” said Serving Together Director Michael Ball, U.S. Air Force (Retired), MBA, “I am committed to reaching out to every veteran in Loudoun County who needs resources and helping connect them to our team of Veteran Peer Navigators to assist them in accessing the benefits and services they have earned.
“Serving Together will continue to work with its partners to create a network of support for county veterans in need, and we are committed to improving veterans’ access to resources for housing, employment, mental health, VA benefits assistance, transportation and much more,” Ball continued. “We are humbled by this opportunity, and deeply committed to serving our fellow veterans, service members and their families.”
Nonprofits Partner to Bring Mindfulness to At-Risk Children
Studies have shown that lack of food security or unstable domestic environments can cause stress that affects a child’s entire wellbeing, from education to health. Mindfulness can help children in those at-risk situations reduce stress, regulate emotions and focus cognitively. First-time 100WomenStrong grant recipient Five Stones Wellness Institute is partnering with former grant recipient INMED Partnership for Children to bring mindfulness to area at-risk children to help them gain greater control of their lives.
Five Stones is a wellness and healing center that bases its methodology on healthful eating, balanced movement, integrative medicine, mindful stress management and interconnected living. Led by Dr. Martha Calihan, Five Stones includes mindfulness as one of its core practices, because the act of focusing on the present moment and accepting it can be critically important in times of stress.
Mindfulness also has been shown to improve physical and emotional symptoms. By bringing mindfulness training to INMED Partnership, Five Stones aims to teach children self-support mechanisms for times of crisis.
The children are learning ways to bring mindfulness into their daily lives through healthy menus and de-stressing techniques, and surveys conducted by INMED program staff show that 75% of the students who use mindfulness techniques demonstrate an ability to calm themselves and regulate their emotions. In addition to working with children in the afterschool program, Five Stones is planning summer mindfulness mini-camps at INMED. Bi-weekly mindfulness sessions will begin in September 2017 and continue through the 2017-2018 school year.
Dr. Calihan appreciates the ability to expand the program, saying, “The Five Stones Institute is thrilled to have been awarded a grant from 100WomenStrong to further our work in bringing the incredible tool of mindfulness to our community and, in particular, to the children at INMED. We believe passionately in the power of mindfulness as a foundational tool in the creation of a healthy lifestyle and in the mitigation of stress.”
Giving Circles Create a Sum That is Bigger than the Parts
Giving Circles like 100WomenStrong are a form of participatory philanthropy in which groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund and decide together which charities or community projects will receive their time or funds. Preliminary results from an upcoming study identify at least 1,300 active giving circles in America, each with their own structure and mission. Some of the larger circles have small chapters or affiliate groups across the nation, taking that number up to more than 1,800, according to a recent news story widely reported across the country. The study also is expected to show that the number of giving circles have doubled in the United States in the past eight years, and that these circles are more likely to make grants to small nonprofit organizations that are often ignored by traditional philanthropy. Read the Washington Post article here.
New Ag School to Train Next Generation of Agribusiness Leaders
Volunteers of America Chesapeake Driving to Fill a Need
Loudoun County has a shuttle system designed to help area homeless to obtain and maintain both employment and housing opportunities that would not be available to them due to lack of reliable transportation. Provided by Volunteers of America Chesapeake (VOAC), a 2017 grant recipient, the goal of the Hope’s Chariot Transportation Program is to help homeless people to increase their stability and self-sufficiency.
VOAC provides health and human services, housing and support to homeless individuals, community organizations, veterans and many others throughout Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. In 2016, VOAC provided those vital services to more than 4,100 people, including 2,134 homeless individuals and 204 veterans and their families.
Providing transportation services to those in homeless shelters can help not only decrease the length of their stay in shelters, but also can increase their chances for gaining employment and permanent housing.
According to Russell K. Snyder, VOAC President/CEO, “Volunteers of America Chesapeake Inc. is very happy to receive this award from 100WomenStrong. We really appreciate 100WomenStrong sharing our vision of creating more adequate transportation for the most vulnerable people in Loudoun County. This grant will help us continue to provide innovative transportation services to low-income residents of Loudoun County.”
Learn more about VOAC here.
Volunteer Youth Organization Takes Action in The Community
Since 2013, Loudoun County’s Peers and Students Taking Action (PASTA) have shown that together they can do anything. In the past four years, the student-run volunteer organization has launched 94 projects, from collecting cereal and donations for Loudoun Hunger Relief to creating a “birthdays in a box” for families in need.
PASTA has proven its commitment to helping kids across the community through learning how to run volunteer programs and teaching other teens how to do so, researching the needs of their peers, and acting to fill those needs. This year, 100WomenStrong is proud to support PASTA’s newest project, “Nothing’s ImPASTAble,” a tutoring and mentoring program for 4th and 5th graders, with a $1,500 grant.
“Thanks to 100WomenStrong, we will be able to train and provide materials for our tutors to be used in our Nothing’s ImPASTAble program,” PASTA President Jenna Fortier said. “This tutoring/mentoring program matches high school students with 4th and 5th graders in Loudoun County to provide them with academic support, a boost in self-esteem, and a friendship with a high school mentor. We are so excited to be receiving this grant!”
There are several PASTA chapters, all of which have between 4-8 students who work together to help kids/teens in Loudoun County. Current PASTA chapters include students from Rock Ridge High School, Stone Bridge High School, Briar Woods High School, Stone Hill Middle School, Trailside Middle School, Eagle Ridge Middle School, and Legacy Elementary School.
Read more at https://www.wearepasta.com.
Educating America During Mental Health Month
May is Mental Health Month, and this year, Mental Health America is educating people about habits and behaviors that can increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or even could be signs of mental health problems themselves. Risk factors include risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, compulsive buying or excessive spending, marijuana use and excessive exercise. If you know of someone who engages in these risk factors, May might be a good time to let them know about Mental Health America and its Risky Business toolkit for help.
Preventing Child Abuse By Identifying Risk Factors
|Age and poverty are two of the top risk factors for child abuse, according to long-time 100WomenStrong grant recipient, Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS). The group, through its Healthy Families Program, works to halt child abuse and neglect, as well as to prevent its occurrence in the first place. To help you and others recognize and intervene, Healthy Families shared the following leading risk factors during National Child Abuse Prevention Month:|
Age: In cases of neglect, younger children are more at risk because they are less likely to be able to defend themselves, speak up for themselves or remove themselves from harm’s way. In cases of sexual abuse, risk increases with the child’s age.
Learning disability, congenital anomaly, or chronic or recurrent illness: Challenges such as these make physical and emotional abuse and neglect more common.
Poverty and/or financial hardship: High stress takes a severe toll on parents’ ability to tolerate frustration. In addition, working long hours — a common result of working multiple jobs — can impede parents’ awareness of their child’s emotional well-being or whether there is abuse occurring when the child is under someone else’s care.
Another family member is experiencing domestic violence: In 30 to 60 percent of families where spousal abuse takes place, child maltreatment also occurs.
You can help children in your community:
Reporting abuse when you suspect it is the primary way to combat child abuse.
100WomenStrong Earmarks $193,700 for 2017 Grant Funding for 20 Loudoun County Nonprofits
The rain held off Wednesday evening, April 19th, long enough for us to honor our 2017 grant recipients at Shoe’s Cup & Cork in Leesburg! We were thrilled to announce that 20 Loudoun County nonprofit organizations will share $193,700 to help support shelter, health, hunger and education programs. These grants take our donations to more than $1.3 million over the past nine years!
Working to Reduce the Stigma of Being Hungry
Children who are hungry during the school day have enough stress without fearing they will not receive lunch if they cannot pay for it or their parents have a debt with the cafeteria. Unfortunately, in many states, that is a real fear. In Colorado, a cafeteria worker was fired allegedly for feeding a first-grade student who didn’t have lunch money. In Pennsylvania, a school worker quit after she said she had to take away hot meals from two students. Things are changing, however, in New Mexico, where a Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act recently became law. The Bill of Rights requires that all students have access to the same lunch, regardless of ability to pay. It was spearheaded by a legislator who wanted to end practices, such as throwing away lunches if a student can’t pay or requiring students to do chores to work off debt. This Bill of Rights was personal to him, because he grew up mopping cafeteria floors to earn his school lunch, as well as befriending cafeteria workers so he wouldn’t have to go hungry. Here in Loudoun County Schools, the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch rose from 12,541 in 2013/2014 to 13,529 in 2016/2017. This is why programs like the Backpack Coalition, a 100WomenStrong long-term initiative, is important for our students. It helps support food insecure students by providing healthy weekend nutrition for them in a way that doesn’t stigmatize them. Read about the Bill of Rights here:http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/04/11/523312769/lawmakers-childhood-experience-drives-new-mexicos-lunch-shaming-ban
Loudoun County Agencies & Nonprofits Highlight Area Needs and Outline Recommendations for Child Abuse Prevention Month
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and area nonprofits and county agencies are putting the focus on ways to detect and intervene on behalf of area children. This is an important initiative, given that between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, there were 1,355 children involved in valid cases of child abuse and neglect in Loudoun County. A report spearheaded by 100WS grant recipient Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), highlighted dichotomies in Loudoun County – such as median household incomes that are more than double the national average, while one out of 25 school-age children in the country lives in poverty. Called Resilient Children, Resilient Loudoun!, the report was created by the Loudoun County Partnership for Resilient Children & Families Steering Committee, which includes 100WomenStrong grant recipients HealthWorks, INMED Partnerships for Children, Inova Loudoun Hospital, Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter (LAWS) Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, and county agencies and public service organizations. They explored the changes that have taken place that are impacting families and explored recommendations for how to:
- Increase community outreach to underserved and isolated families in Loudoun County;
- Make supports and services more accessible to parents;
- Improve and increase reporting of children in danger of abuse or neglect; and
- Increase funding and support for Loudoun County human service providers.
County’s Healthy Status May Mask Needs
Children who experience hunger before age 4 lag behind their peers for years
A recent study on hunger shows that a hungry child suffers for years after experiencing the hunger. It also suggests that children who experience food insecurity early in life are more likely to lag behind in social, emotional and to some degree, cognitive skills when they begin kindergarten. In fact, the younger the children were when the family struggled with hunger, the stronger the effect on their performance once they started school. For example, children who suffer food insecurity at 9 months old were more likely to have lower reading and math scores in kindergarten than 9-month-olds who didn’t experience food insecurity. Published in the recent Child Development journal, the study reinforces prior research that has shown that children who enter kindergarten behind, stay behind and do not catch up. Food insecurity affects an estimated 13.1 million children live across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The effect of food insecurity lasts a lifetime.
Homelessness A Reality for Many Community College Students
Homelessness and hunger among college students is widespread. It exists in all regions of the country and is not isolated to urban or high-poverty areas, according to a new study of more than 33,000 students at 70 community colleges across the country. The researchers found that 14 percent of respondents were homeless, and one in three were going hungry while pursuing a degree. To make it worse, they found that nearly a third of the students who were going without food or shelter did hold jobs and/or received financial aid. In tandem, many school administrators and policymakers presume that because community colleges cost a fraction of most four-year universities, the costs are easily covered.
Faces of Loudoun Campaign Seeks to Raise Awareness
The Community Foundation’s (CF) “Faces of Loudoun” campaign kicked off recently, and 100WomenStrong, a grantor to and partner of CF, is proud to support it. The idea came from a study that showed that Loudoun residents donate under 2 percent of their discretionary income to charity – less than in neighboring counties and the rest of the United States. This may seem surprising as Loudoun is one of our nation’s wealthiest counties, but often people who don’t regularly encounter those who are struggling may not understand the extent of need within their community or realize that local non-profits need help addressing those needs. Faces of Loudoun hopes to raise awareness of the real people who are experiencing real need while living and working in Loudoun County and to encourage our more fortunate residents to donate funds to, and volunteer with, our local non-profits.
Why Pre-K Education Could Be One of the Best Ways to Reduce Crime
The return on investment in high-quality early-childhood education has as much as a 13-percent return in terms of better education, health and social and economic outcomes for the children who receive it, according to the Heckman Equation’s Lifecyle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program study. According to their findings, the biggest “chunk of the return on investment” is a reduction in crime, especially for males. Learn more about the ROI of early childhood education here.
Robin Hood Restaurant Charges for Breakfast & Lunch to Feed the Needy Dinner for Free
In Madrid, the most sought-after lunch reservation is at the city’s Robin Hood restaurant, at which proceeds from both lunch and breakfast are used to serve dinner to more than 100 homeless people, free of charge, every night. It is so popular that lunches are fully booked for months in advance! In addition to feeling great about helping the dinner guests, who are still suffering from the country’s recent recession and high unemployment rates, those who pay for lunch and breakfast enjoy meals made by celebrity chefs, who contribute their culinary fare once each week. The restaurant was started by a priest, who opened it to give homeless in Madrid the opportunity to “… eat with the same dignity as any other customer and with the same quality, with glasses made of crystal, not plastic, and in an atmosphere of friendship and conversation.” Read the full article here.
Impoverished Children Often Grow into Adulthood with Both Physical and Psychological Problems
Research shows that poor children grow up to have a host of physical and psychological problems as adults, according to research from Cornell University and others. Cornell’s study – which lasted for 15 years – showed that impoverished children in the study had more antisocial conduct such as aggression and bullying, and increased feeling of helplessness, than kids from middle-income backgrounds. However, early intervention to prevent some issues associated with poverty could help. Read the full article, including some potential solutions from Cornell’s researchers, here.
Blue Ridge Area Food Bank Needs Your Vote
Former 100WomenStrong grant recipient Blue Ridge Area Food Bank could use an assist from Loudoun County residents to win $100,000 (which equals 400,000 meals!). Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has been chosen as a recipient charity in the 2017 Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge by UVA Men’s Basketball Coach, Tony Bennett. If he gets the winning number of votes, our area food bank and residents win too! Vote for Coach Bennett at www.espn.com/Infiniti and help #solvehunger in Loudoun County!
NAMI Northern Virginia Creating Safe Places for Area Residents to Discuss Mental Health Conditions
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million adults in America experience mental illness in a given year. For many chronic sufferers, onset begins by the age of 14. Here in Loudoun County, mental illness and the resulting addictive behaviors and teen suicides has become an alarming, urgent and growing problem.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness, many sufferers feel uncomfortable discussing it and may fear seeking treatment because of stigma attached to it. The NAMI Northern Virginia chapter is working hard to change that through its peer-to-peer mental health education programs for youth and high-school aged children, as well as its Connection recovery support group and Ending the Silence presentations.
NAMI programs are designed to reach every resident of Loudoun who may be living with a mental health condition, according to NAMI Northern Virginia President & CEO Jeanne Comeau. The nonprofit received a 2016 grant from 100WomenStrong for a series of its 10-week-long peer-to-peer classes specifically for Loudoun County locations. The classes are led by presenters who are living with a mental health condition and/or have been through the experience of hospitalization. Attendees often are coming out of a hospitalization, and the sessions are a follow up to in-patient treatment. The 100WomenStrong grant also supported the training of additional leaders and expanding the program in Loudoun County.
“During the programs, our presenters share, ‘Here’s where I started. I was in a very dark place; maybe even in the hospital like you. I recognized my condition and got treatment, developed some coping strategies. Here are my successes, hopes and dreams,’” Comeau explained.
“For someone who lives with a mental health condition, it can be a hopeful and inspiring experience to hear from others. Honestly, many think, ‘I am never going to be able to do what I want to do,’ but they hear otherwise from our presenters.”
Comeau said that raising awareness is critical because so many have preconceived notions of what mental illness looks like.
“Our programs are designed to give people a window into someone’s life, to help normalize mental health conditions and help people feel more comfortable,” she explained. “We hope our participants come away realizing, ‘Oh, you can have live with a mental health condition and still be working or go to college.’ Wherever you are, you can move toward wellness.”
The power behind the NAMI programs is that people are sharing personal stories and there is an opportunity for the audience to ask questions afterward to feel like they understand that experience a little better.
“Peer-to-peer classes are very welcoming and feel like a safe space,” Comeau explained. “Participants call it a powerful experience, because during the 10-week session, they grow and bond with the group. People who were formerly very isolated and didn’t have a community at all suddenly have peer support, are learning real, tangible recovery skills, and have learned how to build a recovery plan /crisis plan.
“They then can build on their recovery,” she explained. “The grant is more powerful because when we identify new leaders, we train them and then they are able to reach another 20 people. This helps us reach more people in Loudoun County with education, ongoing engagement and support.”
Comeau also shared a testimony from a Peer-to-Peer leader who had experienced the program after a hospitalization.
“The leaders inspired me to believe again that it is possible to live a full and meaningful life while having a mental health diagnosis. I learned so much from the recovery process and found support from my peers, who also took the class.
“I became certified to lead group classes and have shared my story dozens of times, including at the high school I graduated from. My proudest moment was standing up and speaking at the same hospital where I was a victim inpatient. It’s hard to express what the experience meant for my own recovery and also to the patients who heard my story.”
NAMI Northern Virginia is a place where “individuals living with a mental health condition … and the Northern Virginia community find education, support and HOPE!”, Comeau says, adding that the 100WomenStrong grant helped them further these efforts and helped them to provide a “nice safety net” for Loudoun County residents.