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. Continue Reading…
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.” Continue Reading…
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. Continue Reading…
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.”
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. Continue Reading…
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. Continue Reading…
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. Continue Reading…
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. Continue Reading…
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: Continue Reading…
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. Continue Reading…
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.
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. Continue Reading…
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.”
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.
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.