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Every summer, thousands of young people trade District classrooms for months of afternoons spent haunting city parks, community centers, and grandmas’ houses. It’s during this scorching season that D.C.’s nonprofit organizations provide vital services to the community by teaching, protecting, and mentoring children—in other words, keeping them out of trouble. But with dozens of nonprofs competing to serve all these potential troublemakers, groups have to keep an eye on their marketing—and that starts with choosing a memorable name. Not only does it have to appeal to kids and their parents, but a top-notch moniker can also mean the difference between a philanthropic machine built to rake in government grants and a one-person shoestring operation. It needs to be sexy enough to pop out of encyclopedic Combined Federal Campaign indexes but not so incomprehensible that those federal employees will think twice about forking over a few dollars of their paychecks every month. It needs to be memorable enough to stick in the minds of kids and Big Givers alike but not so obtuse as to leave them with no idea of what the organization does. Simply put, it needs to be good—but not that good. For aspiring 501(c)(3)ers, the Washington City Paper surveyed a variety of kid-friendly District nonprofits to tease out their secrets to naming success:
Facilitating Leadership in Youth (FLY)
Mission: “To support youth east of the Anacostia River. To extend in achieving education goals, developing talents, and expanding leadership roles.”
Explanation: “We basically started with the acronym,” says Executive Director Charise Van Liew.
Genesis: The American University student club that started the program “had a lot of kids that we were working with coming up with acronyms that they liked,” says Van Liew.
Mulled Alternatives: “For a while, we were called Amerikids, because we wanted to incorporate the AU name. But then the kids basically wanted their own name. They wanted to make it cooler.”
Children Having Opportunities in Changing Environments (CHOICE Inc.)
Mission: “To reach out to youth and families that are at risk,” says founder Aretha Lyles—specifically to students who are suspended from school. CHOICE picks up their homework, tutors them during school hours, and offers anger-management and crime-intervention counseling and field trips relating to the suspension.
Explanation: “I was laying across my bed when I thought about the word,” says Lyles. “I just wrote it down and circled it. It’s a really important word for me.”
Genesis: “In my trials and tribulations, I would document my choices. Even when I made bad choices. It was what got me and my kids through things.”
Mulled Alternatives: None, says Lyles. “I just stuck with that one for some reason.”
Words, Beats and Life
Mission: “To develop and support a community of young artists by providing consistent artistic instruction for DC Youth.”
Explanation: The name is adapted from A Tribe Called Quest’s album Beats, Rhymes and Life.
Genesis: “Words: acknowledging the power of the spoken word. Beat: driving forward. Life: Everything that we do to promote life is done through the elements of hiphop culture,” says Executive Director Mazi Mutafa.
Mulled Alternatives: None. “When we heard it, we were like, ‘That’s it,’” says Mutafa.
Mission: “To reach out to low-income children in Northeast Washington and to provide after-school and summer education.”
Explanation: The name comes from a well-known Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
Genesis: “We carry that theory into preparing children for a lifetime,” says the Rev. Kwasi Thornell, executive director. “But no, we don’t teach them how to fish.”
Mulled Alternatives: Not available. Thornell was not present at the group’s creation.
Mission: “Beyond Talent matches top GED graduates with current GED students in a mentoring relationship that provides the student with the insight and support necessary to endure the adversity and achieve their educational goals.”
Explanation: It’s from a James Baldwin quote: “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck—and above all, endurance.”
Genesis: “I went online, and I really wanted a quote from an African-American figure,” says Executive Director Ellie Phillips. “I went to a quote Web site and put in ‘talent,’ and it spit back a whole bunch of ’em….This was perfect.”
Mulled Alternatives: “Something to do with mentoring,” recalls Phillips. “Like Mentoring Times Two…Mentoring Squared. Something dorky like that.”
Lydia’s House in Southeast
Mission: “Grow children, strengthen families, and change neighborhoods.” Programs include youth mentoring, substance-abuse prevention, faith-based housing counseling, financial-literacy training, transitional housing, and afterschool programs for children.
Explanation: In the Acts of the Apostles, Lydia is a dye merchant in the town of Thyatira who is converted by missionaries Paul and Silas. The two are thrown in prison, and Lydia takes them in after they are released.
Genesis: “Lydia was a businesswoman, so we fancy ourselves as women in business,” says co-founder Patrice Sheppard. “We kind of have our own market niche and approach to end poverty, and that’s helping people and educating people and giving people the tools they need to survive. Which is what she did. That’s what businesspeople do.”
Mulled Alternatives: “That was really the only name that we had,” Sheppard says. “We didn’t do a market study.”
Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE)
Mission: “To help women and children find fulfillment and safety free from violence.”
Explanation: “We wanted something that was easy to say and had some imagery around it,” says co-founder Lydia Watts.
Genesis: “We went to a Starbucks. We were all drinking lots of coffee and throwing out words,” Watts says.
Mulled Alternatives: “WASP. Something like Women Achieving Safety…Personally. There was a whole bunch of them. Many of them were funny.”
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Robert Meganck.