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.”
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.
ARC of Loudoun’s Paxton Campus Offers Safe, Accepting Community Within a Community
by Margaret Brown
When most Loudoun County residents think of Paxton Manor in Leesburg, they think of “Shocktober”, which many describe as the best haunted house in Northern Virginia. The Manor and Shocktober may be the most well-known, but they are certainly not the only thing that Paxton Campus is home to on its 16.75 acres.
Rather, Shocktober is just the biggest of hundreds of events that take place at ARC of Loudoun, which calls the Paxton Campus home, throughout the year. From educating children in three different schools and helping people with disabilities create and launch new businesses or find jobs in the community to art classes, adaptive yoga classes and training about people with disabilities for local law enforcement, ARC of Loudoun provides daily support for the disabled in our community and the community as a whole.
Jennifer Lassiter, ARC Executive Director, who gave 100WomenStrong member Kim Wagner a tour of the facility recently, shared that there is so much going on at Paxton that it is hard to keep track of it all.
In fact, the ARC of Loudoun is the only full-service organization of its kind in Loudoun County that offers an integrated, innovative and safe environment for people with disabilities to learn and grow from childhood to adulthood, becoming contributing members of society. ARC moved to Paxton in 2009 and has continually worked to renovate the 11 buildings on campus.
The first renovation was the Aurora School, ARC’s largest program of the five they offer. Aurora School is licensed by the Virginia Department of Education and provides a caring and quality educational community for individuals with special needs from elementary school through high school. With nine board certified behavior analysts for the 35 students, including speech pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and music therapists, Lassiter was Aurora’s first volunteer director and was instrumental in its development and design.
The other 10 buildings at Paxton house include: the Open Door Leaning Center preschool, an inclusive school for children of all abilities; the Paxton “Attraction,” a store run by adults with disabilities; Maggie’s Closet, a store run by adults with disabilities that offers free clothing to those in need; A Life Like Yours (ALLY) Advocacy Center, at which ongoing programs are made available for free to any member of the community to educate, inform and support those with disabilities and their families and caretakers; and STEP Up, ARC’s vocational training program for adults with disabilities.
ARC accomplishes its myriad programs through support from local neighborhoods fundraising drives, Shocktober and grants from local, regional and national funding sources. 100WomenStrong granted funds to ARC in 2010 and 2013 for its Next Chapter Book Club and for classroom and playground equipment for the schools on the property.
The Next Chapter Book Club provides adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to read, discuss books and make friends in a fun community setting, and, according to Lassiter, is the only one of its kind in Loudoun County.
Next Chapter is led by Jennifer Alves, receptionist at ARC administrative offices. Alves has survived brain cancer three times since her childhood and experiences visual and memory impairments as a result. She is a writer and artist and recently made a presentation in Chicago about Next Chapter to groups interested in replicating the book club’s success.
“We meet every other Monday night at Rust Library, and the library says that we are the strongest book club they have ever seen!” Alves shared. She said the group tries other locations, but have settled at Rust because it offers privacy.
“Our members enjoy Rust, because they have a private space where they can be goofy and not be watched,” Alves said, “where we can share stories and cry and laugh with each other.”
Next Chapter is three years old and has between eight to 15 members, “depending on whether members can get a ride to and from because a lot of us, including myself, are mobility challenged,” Alves continued.
The club used the Illustrated Classics because they are large print books with illustrations that allow non-readers to follow the story. “We have been on the high seas” for the past year and a half,” she said, “We love pirates, we love captains, we love Treasure Island.”
Lassiter and Alves said they have found that young men with disabilities are drawn to Next Chapter and other Paxton social clubs, because they offer a place to go, people to talk to and having a good time.
From Next Chapter, to Maggie’s Closet and dance, music and yoga therapy, ARC of Loudoun has a bustling community at Paxton that reaches way beyond its most popular landmark – Paxton Manor – and its boundaries into the greater Loudoun community.
HealthWorks For Northern Virginia: A Holistic Approach
By Margaret Brown
In May 2007, HealthWorks began offering core health care services to primarily low-income underinsured and uninsured individuals, regardless of age or ability to pay. Since then, more than 20,800 patients have received comprehensive quality care at HealthWorks. As a community health center, HealthWorks is supported by diverse funding sources, including local government, foundation and federal grants, as well as the generosity of the local community, accepting donations from individuals and other private organizations.
HealthWorks has received multiple grants from 100WomenStrong since 2009. These grants have fulfilled varying needs for the organization, including the purchase of a new pediatric ultrasound machine, specialized pediatric dental equipment and furniture and comprehensive dental care for low-income children and elderly who have no insurance. In addition to its full-service dental facility, HealthWorks offers primary care, gynecology, nutrition and behavioral healthcare, including psychiatry, all located on one site in Leesburg. While Medicare and Medicaid patients are accepted at HealthWorks, Medicare doesn’t cover dental care, creating a barrier for many elderly county residents.Carol Jameson, MSW, Chief Executive Officer of HealthWorks, explained that oral health is an integral part of primary healthcare. There is a correlation between oral health disease and diabetes and other ailments, which makes access to quality dental care important to those who may have a compromised physical health status. HealthWorks takes a comprehensive approach to health care. The nonprofit community health center creates one complete medical record for each patient.“Each caregiver only has to access one record to understand the overall health of the patient, what medicines he or she is taking, etc.,” she said. “Integrated healthcare is especially important when you have patients who haven’t had experience with the American healthcare system or don’t speak English well. With one record accessible to all providers, they can see what others are doing and can tell if a patient has followed up with another area of care when it is recommended.”
Offering a wide range of support in its Leesburg location makes it easier for patients who may not have transportation to see other doctors or visit the dental program when it is prescribed. “A primary care physician may realize a patient is in a situation that is impacting his or her emotional health,” Jameson explained. “We try to make it easy for therapists see the patient in the exam room at that time. We take a holistic approach.” HealthWorks is also proud to provide office space, at no charge, for one of Loudoun’s WIC (Women, Infants & Children) centers All Ages Read Together and Loudoun Literacy are able to offer their programs at Healthworks as well.
“It may not appear like it from Loudoun County neighborhoods, but there is a great deal of need here. Grants from local funding sources, such as 100WomenStrong, are vital for our ability to meet growing needs in our community. We strive to ensure that lack of financial resources is not a barrier to care for our patients.”
HealthWorks serves community residents of all ages, and its top three diagnoses are diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. “If you are working two or three jobs, the likelihood that you are going to have the time or energy to cook a lot of fresh vegetables may be slim,” Jameson explained. “We keep the financial picture – and the stresses it can create – in mind when we work with patients. We also keep the cultural picture in mind, because they may come from an area where there was no access to healthcare at all or where they took very different approaches.”
Jameson said that HealthWorks strives to work with other organizations such as Loudoun Free Clinic and Inova Loudoun Hospital to identify and remove barriers to better health for Loudoun County citizens.
“When we work with other groups, we can help create a holistic solution that will – hopefully – prepare individuals them for a better future,” she said. “What if we brought in English classes and job training? Then, over a few years, the patient improves his or her job status, goes from two jobs to one and has time for walking or cycling in the evening.
“Doing things like that, we can move beyond collaboration and have a collective impact that will better serve our community.”
100WomenStrong Surpasses $1.1 Million in Funding For Loudoun County Nonprofits With 2016 Grant Cycle
Loudoun County-based 100WomenStrong, which seeks to strategically invest in organizations and programs that enrich the lives of Loudoun County residents, has topped $1 million in giving toward food, housing, healthcare and education for thousands in just seven years. With its 2016 announcement of $221,165 in funding for 15 organizations, 100WomenStrong will have donated $1,127,502.00 since its inception. Founded by Karen G. Schaufeld in late 2008, the group started with 13 members and granted $28,600 in 2009. According to Schaufeld, the group shared a passion for giving and recognized the significant difference they could make in the community by combining financial strength and leadership skills. She championed the idea of building a lasting charitable endeavor that would be well known and active in the community for years to come.Read the full press release here.
AART And LLC Utilize 100WS Grant To Empower Families
By Margaret Brown
All Ages Read Together (AART) and Loudoun Literacy Council (LLC) have created a new program to improve the literacy of entire families in Loudoun County. Both organizations are repeat 100WomenStrong grant recipients due to their innovative approach to helping county residents solve problems in the areas of literacy and school readiness.
As the groups pointed out in their grant proposal, according to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), 16% of the county’s school-aged children are economically disadvantaged, and a long-term impact of child poverty is lower educational attainment.
To alleviate some of the issues created by the impact of poverty on children and their families, the groups created a joint program, funded by 100Women Strong, that serve the families of children participating in AART’s free pre-school readiness program held at HealthWorks.
Sandra Shihadeh, AART president and co-founder, explained that teachers and volunteers noticed how often families, particularly mothers, were staying at a location and waiting while their children participated in AART activities.
“These families are so dedicated, they will walk in the snow or rain to be here,” Shihadeh said. “Some of them had to walk so far that if they tried to go home, they would just have to turn right back around to pick up their child. As a result, we had moms, as well as younger siblings, who would wait for the program to finish.
“One of our former teachers took note, and we discussed approaching them to see if they would be interested in learning better English skills while their children were in AART. There was an overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic response,” Shihadeh said.
In stepped the LLC to provide these families with free Adult Literacy ESL classes that take place while their children participate in AART.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve the literacy of entire families, empowering them to reach their full potential within the Loudoun County community,” Leslie Mazeska, LLC Executive Director, shared. “To break the intergenerational cycle of illiteracy, it is important to serve not only the youngest children within the families, but to improve and increase literacy services for adult family members and older siblings of these children as well. Making classes as accessible as possible for parents to attend increases the likelihood that participants will stick with it and see positive results.”
The goals of the joint AART/LLC project include:
- Improving literacy skills for children and adult family members of the children in the AART program;
- Encouraging at least 60% of participants achieve at least one personal literacy related goal (e.g. obtain a driver’s license, complete a job application, etc.);
- Accomplishing a 75% increase in time reading and other literacy activities for these families, and;
- Increasing book ownership for adults and children in the program.
Shihadeh feels that AART and LLC have created a winning strategy to help solve literacy problems in our community. “We are making positive changes with our joint efforts thanks in large part to the funding support of 100WomenStrong” she said.
Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers Play Key Role In Community
by Margaret Brown
Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers (LVC) plays a vital role in the lives of those who are frail, elderly, sick or food insecure in our county by providing volunteers who take them to doctor’s appointments, visit with them or ensure they receive food on a regular basis. The four primary programs that LVC offers are free to those who receive their services. They include: 1. Food delivery – In conjunction with Loudoun Interfaith Relief, LVC helps identify those who are food insecure and need supplemental food, but cannot make it to the food pantry. Once Loudoun Interfaith Relief accepts the person(s) into the program, LVC assigns a volunteer who picks up and delivers food twice per month. From January 1 – June 30, 2015, LVC made 809 deliveries for Loudoun Interfaith Relief.
2. Grocery shopping – For those who are not food insecure, but are frail, elderly or disabled, LVC volunteers assist with grocery shopping. The volunteer either takes the care receiver shopping or does the shopping for him or her, depending on the situation.
3. Money management – LVC helps people who cannot manage their finances, primarily Social Security payments.
4. Other types of errands – From 60 to 65 percent of LVC services are transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, chemotherapy, dialysis or other appointments.“The people we serve may be lonely or isolated, so a volunteer may take the care receiver to get a haircut or to lunch,” said Susan Mandel Giblin, executive director of LVC. “The grants, such as the one from 100WomenStrong are vital to helping us to meet that need.”This year, 100WomenStrong provided $15,000 to LVC to expand delivery of food and services. Mandel Giblin said that they have used the funds to help grow the number of people they support with services from 55 per month to 63 per month.
“Our mission is to help people stay in their own homes as long as possible,” she 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 Interfaith Relief’s pantry by themselves.”
She explained that LVC tries to keep volunteer recruitment and growth at the same levels as growth in care receivers. “We currently have approximately 260 volunteers with a core group of 170 who handle the bulk of the assignments,” Mandel Giblin said. “If we bring in five new care receivers, then we want to bring in five new volunteers so we can ensure ongoing support.”
She went on to explain that the population receiving LVC support is very mobile, meaning they are not necessarily “permanent” recipients of LVC support. As she explained, recipients move, they pass away, they become too frail to live on their own or they no longer are food insecure.
“We could easily support more people if we had more volunteers,” Mandel Giblin explained “For example, over the past six months, we have helped eight different people get to chemotherapy or dialysis treatments. Those visits are three days a week for four hours each treatment, so that amounts to a lot of volunteer hours, a lot of trips and a lot of volunteer miles. We were lucky enough to have 13 volunteers supporting those eight care receivers.”
Mandel Giblin said that LVC strives to get to anyone who has need in Loudoun County, and grants make it possible for them to continue to do so.
“We don’t charge anything for the errands and other services we provide, and we want to be available to anyone in Loudoun County who may need us,” she explained.
It Takes A Community To Educate A Child
By Lena Horn
Affordable health care, ample food, pre-school, homework help, and transportation are givens for many families, but for those who do not have all these advantages, the children often pay the cost academically. Many schools do not have the financial resources to provide programs and services to tackle these needs. But without them, expect increased absenteeism, behavior issues, and lower grades. One Loudoun-based school principal, Jennifer Scott of Sterling Elementary, is well aware of these challenges and is looking for ways to address her student’s needs. Close to half of the children at Sterling Elementary are on the free or reduced lunch program, a general indicator of overall need. 100WomenStrong members recently met with Principal Scott, and parent liaison, Diana Dorman to discuss the school’s state. The main question: What are their most critical needs? Suzy Quinn, Inova Loudoun Hospital Foundation’s executive director joined the meeting to see how Mobile Health could help. And Mary Frances Forcier, communications manager of Loudoun County Public Library came prepared to discuss literacy services. Principal Scott identified reducing the achievement gap as one of their most pressing needs.Having a full belly – which the free and reduced lunch program provides during the week – greatly improves energy and attentiveness of students. And thanks to the generosity of a local sponsor, PalmerCare Chiropractic, and a matching donation from 100WomenStrong, families at Sterling Elementary are getting food for the weekends through the LCPS Backpack Coalition. But there is much more needed for these children to catch up with other students. Early on, this means pre-school. Children who don’t attend pre-school tend to have distinct disadvantages as incoming kindergarteners. Many have not acquired necessary school readiness skills. In addition, some parents may not speak English or are illiterate and thus unable to help their children to read.Another problem is a lack of health insurance. While the school provides basic vision screenings for kindergarteners and 3rd graders, parents may not have the funds to follow up with an optometrist or pay for the required glasses. Vision can also change quickly in young children; ideally they should get their eyes checked annually. This further hinders children from keeping up academically as they may not be able to read the board, take accurate notes, or be able to read a book properly. At the critical age when children first learn to read, catching these issues early can have positive long term effects, resulting in a child being able to catch up. Otherwise, they can struggle academically for years. Typically, both parents of children who attend Sterling Elementary work. Once the school day ends, many children of these families walk home with a younger sibling in tow where they don’t have access to homework help. After school programs such as the YMCA and CASA (County After School Activities) provide a well-rounded agenda of homework help, a snack, physical activities, and reading time. While the YMCA offers an after-school program at Sterling Elementary, some parents cannot afford to send their child or children. Transportation can be an issue as children must be picked up by 6 pm each evening, when parents may be working a second job.
Is there a way to address all these issues facing schools like Sterling Elementary? What can our community do to close the achievement gap in schools that need help?
LCPS Backpack Coalition Hits Milestone
In just a little over a year, the LCPS Backpack Coalition has raised more than $100,000 in monetary and food donations to help feed students in Loudoun County who are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, but do not receive food for the weekends. This donation brings to a close the $100,000 challenge grant that 100WomenStrong gave to the Coalition, comprised of Loudoun County Public Schools, the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, Loudoun Education Foundation, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Congratulations!
A Place To Be: The Same Sky Project
By Lena Horn, Outreach Coordinator
April 3, 2014
When A Place to Be, a non-profit therapeutic arts center based in Middleburg, Virginia, had the idea of launching a pilot music theater production about acceptance and abilities they were thrilled to witness the dramatic impact it had on families and community. They decided to expand the production with the help of a 100WomenStrong grant. By touring Loudoun County schools they were able to reach thousands of students, families, and school faculty. Again they received amazing results! Not only had the twenty-five students (ranging in age from 11-17) gained leaps in self-advocacy, as observed by an independent evaluator, but the audience of mostly middle and high school students learned about people with disabilities. They learned that everyone has differences, everyone has challenges, but we are united by empathy. During the shows, the audience went dead silent, no giggles, no laughter, but there were plenty of tears. Statements like, “I won’t judge others by their label”, and “If I see someone who needs someone to talk to, I will talk to them” poured in. The teens became the voice of the thousands out there like them, truly making a difference in their community.And now the show is being requested all over Loudoun, Warrenton, and Fauquier County. A Place to Be is also finding that this is not only a great tool for students, but for teachers as well and are seeking to make it a continued education for faculty.
“This show was amazing! I cried the entire time.”
“This was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.”
A Place to Be plans to continue the productions in October after some more fundraising. Until then, the teen actors must return to school, where their outlook is much different now. Amidst compliments, gaining courage and leadership skills, and having a far more understanding student body, these amazing teens have a much better view of their future. Look forward to their Summer Music Theater Camp, Best Friend, about a boy and a dog who are very different but find each other, beginning June 16th, as well as the Spring Recital at Hickory Tree Farm on Saturday May 10th.
It’s also important to mention that two of our 100WS members, Wendy Thompson-Marquez and Teresa Wheeler are collaborating to produce a documentary film called High Notes that follows several of the young students at A Place to Be. This powerful film shows in a very real way how music therapy can heal and transform lives for those dealing with traumatic brain injuries and other special needs. Look for more information on this film soon or contact Wendy Thompson at [email protected].
Find out more at www.aplacetobeva.org
The production consists of two parts:
Behind the Label by Kim Tapper: is a powerful production inspired by the students she works with who are tired of being seen as a diagnostic label. This show reminds us to look inside people and ourselves, and recognize that we are more than just labels.
How Far I’ve Come by Amy Stone: is a musical journey into the heart of a teenage girl who sees her Cerebral Palsy not as a disability, but as a gift to teach others about acceptance. Amy takes us into her dreams where she is a fluid dancer and a graceful runner. Humorous and sincere, the show makes you question, think and laugh. Amy helps us understand that we are all different but we all live beneath the same sky.
INMED Takes A Holistic Approach To Forge Links With The Community To Support Children And Families
By Margaret Brown
INMED Partnerships for Children, a 100WomenStrong grant recipient in 2014 and 2015, takes a holistic approach when serving families in Loudoun County. Its recently launched after-school program is one element of that holistic approach, involving schools, parents and children. The free program was partly funded by a $10,000 grant from 100WomenStrong and currently serves 23 children with seven in queue.
According to Maria Vasquez-Alvarez, executive director of the Family and Youth Opportunity Center in Sterling, INMED works closely with elementary schools in Loudoun County Public School District’s Sterling area to help identify students based on both economic and academic need. Children, ages 6-12, are identified by school counselors and teachers and attend the program from 4-6 p.m. every week day.
“Most days, we have a full class of children. If we don’t see a student we are expecting and that child doesn’t have an after-school sporting event or other activity, we will check in with the family,” said Vasquez-Alvarez. “We work very closely with the families to maintain consistency in the program and to make sure that everything is okay at home.”
The program is structured to help the students keep up with homework assignments while providing targeted support in areas of need.
“We start with a snack and then homework,” she said. “The children either do their homework independently or with a high school mentor/tutor who has volunteered to help them one-on-one. It’s this one-on-one time that can create greater support and is an example of the value of working with parents and teachers who let us know about areas of need.
“After homework and tutoring time, there is a structured activity, such as games or cooking or science projects,” she continued. “We also read stories to the children.”
According to Vasquez-Alvarez, the program is designed to serve 45 students at a time, and there are four targeted outcomes INMED desires:
- Homework completion
- Grade improvement
- Self-esteem improvement
INMED recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has been in Loudoun County for almost that entire time. The Family and Youth Opportunity Center in Sterling is the first time the nonprofit has had a standalone place for families and children to gather for support activities.
“Our main goal in all of our programs is to forge the links between parents and schools and make it a continuum for the kids,” said Linda Pfeiffer, PhD, president and CEO of INMED. “The Center in Sterling is something we have been planning and talking about for five years. Most existing services are concentrated in Leesburg, so there was a great need in the Sterling area.
“We had a great deal of support from partners and organizations such as 100WomenStrong to initiate the Center, which has allowed us to work even more closely with the community.
“While INMED is our original name, the ‘Partnerships for Children’ in our full name is more fitting as we have grown and changed over the years,” she continued. “It has been wonderful to have the community really embrace the center and our services. INMED has always worked toward creating wonderful things with great outcomes for families and children, and now we have a place for them to come and participate.”
For more information on INMED, please visit www.inmed.org
Loudoun Education Foundation Gives Away More Than $2.3 Million
Loudoun Education Foundation (LEF) raises private funds to enhance the quality of education for Loudoun County Public Schools. Since its formation in 1991, LEF has given away more than $2,390,000 to Loudoun students. During the 2014-2015 school year, LEF gave away more than $390,000, including $54,156 to the Backpack Coalition (thanks to 100WomenStrong!). The majority of LEF’s funding over the years has come from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation. To learn more about LEF visit http://lef-va.com/