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Nonprofit organizations are an industry unto themselves in D.C., providing careers for many and directing services to thousands of individuals across the region. Big-budget nonprofits may get a bigger share of the glory (and the donations), but City Paper’s attention often drifts toward smaller organizations doing direct outreach. Perhaps it’s because we share similar underdog qualities.
On any given week, City Paper reporters speak with advocates and nonprofit leaders for stories about everything from homelessness and housing insecurity to education and food access. And once a year, through our partnership with the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, we direct readers’ attention to nonprofits that deserve special attention and donations as well. The CFP staff vets each organization to ensure they’re in good standing and won’t take a cut of your donation. Every dollar you give goes directly to the cause you want to support. On Nov. 30, you can join others across the region and participate in CFP’s Give Local Together challenge.
The organizations you’ll read about below allow our community to thrive in good times and bum times. Despite the many difficulties the past two years, they’re still here, offering support to those who need it most. Please consider helping them continue that work. —Caroline Jones
Live It Learn It
Students at DCPS Title I schools rarely experience the enriching, out-of-classroom learning enjoyed by their more affluent peers. LILI believes this injustice—the “experience gap”—contributes greatly to the achievement gap between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. In response, the nonprofit ignites student potential through field trips to D.C.’s historical, cultural, and natural resources. Students investigate the effects of erosion along the Anacostia River; get inspired while exploring Frederick Douglass’ former home; and analyze the challenges of the Great Migration while contemplating the paintings of Jacob Lawrence. LILI provides materials, arranges transportation, and facilitates instruction, including pre- and post-trip lessons. A professional development program builds teachers’ capacity to lead experience-driven lessons in the classroom. Your support makes history, science, art, and culture come alive for more than 2,100 children each year—and generates a priceless love of learning.
Community Youth Advance
Committed to closing the achievement gap for students of color (a gap that grows to 30+ points for children categorized as economically disadvantaged), CYA’s weekly tutoring, high-quality instruction, hands-on learning, and problem-solving builds strong academic skills for Prince George’s County students. The curriculum reinforces what students learn in school and exposes them to entirely new topics—health, arts, cooking, entrepreneurship, financial literacy—and to college- and career-preparation programs. CYA combines education with mentoring to promote interaction, growth, and character building. Weekly group activities include separate boys’ and girls’ groups, and one-on-one mentoring when available. Case management for academically disengaged students, which started in partnership with PGCPS, is a response to the disengagement of thousands of kids during distance learning: increased family support and referral services are all designed to reconnect students with learning and with their futures.
One World Education
Two-thirds of D.C. students write at a basic or below basic level; college instructors estimate that half are unprepared for college-level writing. OWE leads the District’s largest writing program, annually serving 5,000 students, equipping educators to teach critical thinking, and empowering students to write about issues that matter to them. They learn to create strong hooks, gather and cite hard evidence, and write with clarity and purpose—basics they will need in college and the workplace. Select students get direct support from teachers and performance artists to build essays into persuasive oral presentations for community leaders and family members. Over the next three years, a Pandemic Rebuilding Plan will expand programs to impact 20,000 students and re-engage those set back by the pandemic. OWE is cultivating a generation of critical thinkers, persuasive writers, and social justice advocates. Our world needs them.
The vision is that children from historically marginalized communities will be prepared to compete in a global economy, grow as leaders, and have a brighter future. ASAS brings this vision to life for nearly 500 of the District’s youth, providing free, comprehensive after-school programming at six Title I middle schools: academic support, arts, health and fitness, high school readiness, and career exploration. To address an achievement gap that was accelerated by the pandemic, ASAS has embraced a high-intensity tutoring initiative and expanded basic needs and mental health supports for students and families. New workshops keep parents connected too, while cultural conversations and mentoring provide an outlet for student voices in the wake of a challenging year that also included a public reckoning with racial justice. Kids connect with caring adults who represent different cultures, backgrounds, and viewpoints and who believe in their potential for greatness.
Recreation Wish List Committee
RWLC combines academics, cultural enrichment, technology, and tennis to challenge and inspire young people. Grounded in the principles of project-based learning, its academic support programs offer three and a half hours of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics daily. In partnership with Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, RWLC’s Blacks in Wax Creative Arts program chronicles African American history with a new original stage production each year. RWLC also sponsors field trips, entrepreneurship opportunities, and tennis tournaments, a rich assortment of community-enhancing programs. Over the years, it has outfitted tennis courts with ample and safe equipment, provided vans for transporting children to events, resurfaced basketball courts and baseball fields, funded computer labs, renovated outdoor amphitheaters, built playgrounds, supported tennis, mentoring, and education programs, all with the goal of making available to children and families, primarily in Wards 7 and 8, the resources they deserve.
So What Else
Nearly one in four children in Maryland and D.C. are lost in the after-school-time abyss. So at eighteen sites in Maryland and one in D.C., SWE reaches some 3,500 kids with more than 100 free programs and 24 free summer and school break camps, offering everything from expressive arts and healthy cooking to STEM and sports all interwoven with service learning. In March 2020, together with its partners and teams of volunteers, SWE launched a program to respond to the hunger emergency in historically marginalized communities hit hard by the pandemic. Now a core initiative, it delivers food to affordable housing complexes, homeless shelters, churches, and community spaces. A walk-up food pantry serves thousands of meals each day and stocks baby goods, clothing, books, snacks, toys, and educational materials for children. Serve kids, serve the community, and help kids serve the community: light the spark.
Mentoring and College Prep
Wilderness, Leadership & Learning
For students in WILL, the natural and cultural worlds of Greater Washington are their holistic, transformative, positive youth development classrooms. On Saturdays, school holidays, and summer breaks, youth from underserved D.C. neighborhoods learn and explore: day trips on the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers; a scavenger hunt on the National Mall; a seven-day backpacking journey on the Appalachian trail; a forum on college admissions; workshops on inclusion and diversity, financial literacy, resume writing and interview skills—all are designed to develop their inherent strengths, decision-making, leadership, goal-setting, and life skills. Service-learning projects teach the critical importance of giving back. Annually, some 40 students make the full 335-hour commitment to explore and grow. The result is that 100 percent of those who complete the program have graduated from high school or are on track to do so. That’s transformation.
BUILD Metro D.C.
“We want to start a business.” These words first inspired BUILD’s founder, who agreed to help four young entrepreneurs on the condition that they finish high school. Now in five locations across the country, including D.C., where more than 300 students participate annually, BUILD runs a comprehensive four-year business and academic program that immerses students in entrepreneurship training, teaches critical thinking and problem solving, and propels them toward college. BUILD Metro D.C. begins in 9th grade with a credit-bearing course at six D.C. schools and then shifts to an after-school program. Students craft business plans, make pitches for venture capital, build a small business, and “cash out”; in the third year, they focus intensively on college readiness. The profit is clear: 98 percent of students graduate on time; 97 percent are accepted into postsecondary institutions and 75 percent into four-year colleges.
Alfred Street Baptist Church Foundation
Founded in 1803 in Old Town Alexandria, the Alfred Street Baptist Church launched a foundation in 2002 to make college scholarships for high-achieving, financially challenged students possible because education may be the great equalizer, but only if it is financially accessible. The predominantly African American board approaches this educational effort with a special sense of purpose. Applicants must have a low expected contribution from their families and high academic achievement. Many recipients attend historically Black colleges or universities. Because the same obstacles also exist in immigrant populations, the Foundation reaches out to diverse ethnic populations as well. Since its inception, it has awarded $1.7 million in scholarships ($1000 to $20,000) to more than 400 students and offers mentoring to support them on their educational journey. Demand is greater than capacity: your support expands the outreach of this critical effort.
Collegiate Directions Inc.
Low-income and first-generation students face difficult odds on the path to earning a college degree, with a graduation rate of just 16 percent nationwide. CDI provides 270 first-generation high schoolers with the wraparound support they need from 10th grade through college graduation. It provides comprehensive college advising, individualized test prep, support in identifying “best-fit” schools, negotiation of aid packages, and one-on-one assistance through college that includes wellness counseling. When students are ready to graduate, the Career Mentoring Initiative provides coaching, access to workforce opportunities, and connections to accomplished professionals in their chosen fields. Additionally, the School Support program provides coaching that improves college advising for 3,000 students in Maryland and D.C. Each year, 100 percent of CDI scholars are admitted to selective four-year schools with average grants and scholarships of $36,000 and a 97 percent graduation rate.
Although she searched for financial aid to support her college education, Yasmine Arrington couldn’t find a scholarship program for a student like her—a teen with an incarcerated parent. Therefore, she created ScholarCHIPS, which today supports some 30 motivated young people each year. High school guidance counselors help identify applicants and selected scholars receive annual support—renewable $2,500 scholarships and $250 book awards for up to four years if they maintain good academic standing. ScholarCHIPS also provides one-on-one mentoring, professional development workshops, and a support network designed to help scholars persist in school and graduate. Remarkably, at least 90 percent of them do, overcoming the financial barriers and social stigma that so many children of incarcerated parents experience. Your support gives these scholars a fighting chance at going to and succeeding in college—and at the lifelong benefits that brings.
Rainbow Place Shelter
Despite broad community commitment to end homelessness in Montgomery County, the cost of housing continues to rise and with it the number of working poor. Many who come to Rainbow would otherwise be sleeping in store doorways, parks, bus stations, or cars, and the number is expected to rise. Rainbow Place provides adult women with extra support during the hypothermia season. They thrive in the small setting: enjoying dinner and conversation, doing laundry, accessing case management services, and relaxing after a long day. A vital part of Montgomery County’s continuum of care, Rainbow collaborates with the county and local providers to eliminate duplication of services and best serve guests. During the pandemic, it expanded from an overnight to a 24-hour shelter, and the hope is to resume this more expansive support next season because every person is worthy of respect.
New Endeavors by Women
New Endeavors by Women provides more than 150 women and children in seven housing programs with a safe place to stay every year. Unhoused for a variety of reasons, the women (single or with families) come to NEW when they are ready to make big changes in their lives. Independent living skills, academic retooling, employment counseling, strategies for obtaining and maintaining affordable housing, support groups, and therapy all help them regain control of their lives. Drug recovery assistance is critical because many residents have a history of substance abuse. Importantly, they learn how to afford places of their own: many put a portion of their income into an escrow account and work diligently with staff to identify potential housing. NEW women who become self-sufficient stay that way: more than 80 percent of the 3,000 who have completed the program are no longer homeless.
Well over 1,000 individuals (a third are children) experience homelessness in affluent Fairfax County. Most have limited education and work skills, chronic illness or addiction, histories of eviction, and/or language challenges. Many need rigorously tailored services to succeed, which Homestretch provides for 70 families annually: two years of housing, case management, employment assistance, scholarships for training and education, money management and debt reduction, life skills, parenting, computer, and ESOL classes, therapy for survivors of violence, and services for children, including a licensed preschool. Homestretch has a 90 percent retention rate and a full 95 percent of graduates remain permanently housed. Adults who were unhoused and in crisis become nurses, accountants, teachers, plumbers, chefs, social workers, restaurant owners, while many children go on to college. The array of intensive services is costly but has a significant payoff when previously unhoused families begin to see the results.
Community Family Life Services
At the intersection of incarceration, poverty, homelessness, and trauma, there is much work to be done, so CFLS addresses the needs of recently released individuals and their families, with a special focus on women. Short-term crisis assistance (food and clothing) provides an emergency safety net, while long-term assistance (housing support, employment services, mentoring and parenting programs, legal aid, financial literacy training) gives families the opportunity to transform their lives. For women returning home after incarceration (many of whom are single mothers), intensive case management begins three to four months before release and continues as they rejoin the community meeting basic needs, helping them secure employment and housing, and offering parenting classes, mentoring, and medical case management, including substance abuse treatment. Some arrive at CFLS with a single plastic bag holding their possessions and leave with a new beginning.
Calvary Women’s Services
The women who come to Calvary have always been among the most vulnerable members of the D.C. community—survivors of trauma, in recovery from addiction, living with mental illness, or suffering from chronic health conditions. In the age of COVID, they are more vulnerable than ever. Calvary helps them find comprehensive care: permanent and transitional housing, mental health and addiction recovery services, healthy meals, education, job readiness programs, life skills classes, and a community of support. But the pandemic has proved challenging: a spike in cases of domestic violence will likely increase homelessness and job loss threatens progress. Looking ahead means keeping housing safe and helping women whose progress was derailed get back on track. With hygiene practices in place, Calvary continues to provide a safe place for unhoused women: you can ensure that it will do so tomorrow.
For 30 years, Charlie’s Place has served breakfast to everyone who walks through its doors, providing more than 350,000 meals to its homeless and working poor neighbors in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan. To observe social-distancing guidelines, some services, such as art therapy and yoga, were paused on March 17, 2020: sit-down breakfasts became hot meals to go or bagged lunches containing bottled water, fruit, nutritious snacks, masks, personal products, and sanitizer. (Sit-down meals will re-emerge when possible.) Housing, employment, and medical referrals are still available, and a physician is on-site on Wednesdays. Clothing donations are up, and guests have access to restroom facilities and phone charging. Neighbors who have fallen on hard times receive bagged groceries and every Tuesday Charlie’s Place passes out bagged lunches and clothing in Franklin Park. Here, hardship is met with generosity, fellowship, and compassion.
Supporting 200 small family farmers and food producers from the mid-Atlantic region, FRESHFARM educates the public about food and the environment, helps create a sustainable local food economy, and works to ensure access to bread, meat, dairy, and locally grown products. Offering a match for those using federal nutrition benefits such as SNAP, WIC, or Senior Nutrition Coupons, each market also partners with a neighborhood emergency provider to donate leftover food for use in their daily menus. The FoodPrints program helps students develop a preference for healthier foods by growing, harvesting, cooking, and enjoying seasonal produce in hands-on lessons, and parents and caregivers are invited into the classroom to volunteer and learn with their children. The Pop-Up Food Hub works with nearly 70 community organizations to provide more than 6,000 children, families, and seniors with fresh, local food.
Community Support Systems
In the rural tier of Prince George’s County—home to farms, industrial interests, and families, individuals, and seniors of low and moderate income—there is no public transportation and the nearest supermarket is five to ten miles away. CSS is the only social service agency in the area. It operates “healthy choice” pantries where clients “shop” for the foods they choose—both high-quality fresh foods and nonperishable foodstuffs. The pantries also provide blood pressure and blood glucose screenings, information on other community services, a Back-to-School book bag and supplies program, and an Adopt-An-Angel holiday gift program for kids. The Client Assistance Program (and its advocacy component) helps stabilize housing as well, providing emergency cash assistance to avert evictions, prevent foreclosures, and halt the termination of utilities. CSS stands with its community because independence and quality of life matter.
Food Recovery Network
FRN was born when several University of Maryland students noticed that campus dining halls were wasting nutritious food while community members were going hungry. So when campuses suddenly closed last spring, the food warriors didn’t stop. Recovering surplus food (nationally, more than four million pounds) and donating it to nonprofits is critically important, especially when food insecurity escalates. So FRN began working in other areas of the food system: it contacted farmers to support getting fresh food to those in need—without student leaders as hands on the ground. Companies with canceled events (and there were many) reached out to learn how they could do the right thing and donate unused food to hunger-fighting nonprofits. Pilot programs and partnerships launched in the fall to keep students engaged in the work: There is no wavering passion for food recovery despite the tremendous uncertainty.
Thousands of Washingtonians living in Wards 5, 7, and 8 have acutely limited access to the resources necessary for daily life—including affordable, healthy food. DC Greens places racial justice and health equity at the center of its mission to create a strong and resilient food system in our city. It is the lead implementer of Produce Plus, which provides close to 30,000 low-income D.C. residents with healthy farmers market produce annually, and the Produce Prescription program, which enables physicians to write prescriptions for free fresh fruits and vegetables to patients struggling with chronic diseases. A farm-to-school program fosters healthier school environments through school gardens, equips teachers to put food education on the classroom menu, and engages 20,000 District schoolchildren in health and food-system education each year.
DC Affordable Law Firm
When it comes to seeking justice, nine out of ten low-income D.C. residents are on their own and one in five are ineligible for free legal aid. Together with Legal Aid and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, DCALF launched the Family Law Assistance Network to link them with same-day legal advice and short-term representation in family court. Most live in Wards 5, 7, and 8, and are caregivers and noncustodial parents gravely concerned for children living in unsafe households—a problem greatly intensified by the pandemic. DCALF has also seen an increase in demand for wills, immigration protections, and custody agreements (from parents fearing that children may be left behind if they perish), visitation rights (complicated by shelter-in-place orders), and child support (hard to enforce when jobs are in jeopardy). In times of crisis, DCALF’s experts meet the need.
Open City Advocates
Open City Advocates works with youth whom the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services has removed from their families: most have been in the child welfare system, and 100 percent are youth of color at risk of being jailed, harmed, or killed by street violence. Trapped and often lost in the system, these kids rarely receive the trauma-informed care and reentry services they deserve. Open City is their zealous advocate. Working with youth in the deepest end of the juvenile system, staff and mentor-advocates visit weekly, develop a relationship of trust and goals for reentry, and represent clients in disciplinary hearings. Open City also spearheads systemic reform efforts to end the revolving door of the juvenile and criminal legal systems, safeguards and expands due process protections, and encourages the individualized, trauma-responsive services that court-involved youth both need and deserve.
Advocates for Justice and Education
More than 14,000 children in the District require special education and related services, and while federal law requires states to provide a free and appropriate public education, the District has struggled to do so. These children, often students of color, face unfair discipline and exclusion from school and unacceptable delay or denial of services. A parent-led organization, AJE works to ensure that they receive what they need. The focus is on families who live in poverty, have limited English proficiency, experience homelessness, and have children with disabilities and special health care needs. Advice, counsel, and direct legal representation address families’ immediate issues while training programs educate parents about their rights and empower them to advocate for their children and be peer advocates who can support other parents. Building community power to advocate for children is something we all can support.
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
When the 2021 Point-in-Time Count survey lists 5,111 D.C. residents as homeless, there is work to be done. Staff lawyers and 150 legal intake, litigation, and outreach volunteers at WLCH meet, both in person and virtually, with individuals and families experiencing homelessness or severe housing instability, offering direct legal representation at no cost and helping them achieve permanent, affordable housing. WLCH also strives to ensure that housing agencies respect clients’ rights, shelters are well-maintained and accessible to people with disabilities, homeless services provide a safety net during financial crises, and shelter residents are educated about their rights under the law. WLCH typically serves 900+ individuals and, though numbers were lower during the pandemic (thanks to a moratorium on evictions), they are expected to surge. You can amplify the call for housing justice in court and in the community.
In 2017, the total US household debt hit an all-time high. Countless families are struggling, but when it comes to predatory lenders and debt collectors, communities of color are disproportionately targeted. Tzedek addresses the injustice, safeguarding the rights of low-income and working-class D.C. residents, primarily African American and Latino households, facing debt-related crises. Staff and partner lawyers provide free legal counsel and direct representation, helping to negotiate affordable payment plans, secure debt forgiveness, and obtain dismissals in cases of identity theft. Preventative education encourages residents to address financial problems head-on instead of fearing the system. And in partnership with legal aid and anti-poverty groups, Tzedek fights systemic injustice, working to reform local policy. A worthy investment indeed.
Turning the Page
TTP recruits public school parents from under-resourced schools and helps them become active and effective participants in their children’s education. Community Nights bring everyone together for parent workshops, student mentoring, book giveaways, and visits from popular authors who make reading come alive. New workshops and online educational resources designed to address pandemic-related learning slides provide parents with concrete steps to support learning at home, foster collaboration with teachers, and identify valuable community resources. Sessions that focus on reading (selecting high-quality books, effectively reading at home, supporting reading progress) and social-emotional learning have been adapted to be most relevant during the difficult transition back to school. Sponsoring a summer program, more than 100 trips, 125,000 books, and 1,000 Community Nights: What’s more gratifying than seeing families develop their love of learning?
First Shift Justice Project
Lack of respect for caregivers in the workplace often leads to job loss and extended periods of unemployment. It affects caregivers across all income levels but has a disproportionate impact on women of color in low-wage jobs, the majority of whom are primary breadwinners for their families. First Shift works with them to assert their rights, stay employed, and maintain their health by fighting discrimination, obtaining workplace accommodations, accessing job-protected leave and D.C. paid-leave insurance. From Know Your Rights workshops and legal representation to training and advice for medical providers about employment laws relevant to patient care and legislative advocacy, First Shift is at ground zero for COVID recovery in D.C., supporting mothers in exercising workplace rights that help them meet both work and caregiving obligations as they return to employment and get their families back on track to economic stability.
DC Justice Lab
Nearly every facet of the criminal legal system reveals the impact of racial bias: 93 percent of people sentenced in D.C. are Black; more than 90 percent of searches are for Black people; child and adult corrections facilities are almost entirely Black. Locally, the ripple effects from decades of aggressive policing and mass incarceration, social oppression, erosion of constitutional rights, stagnation or decline in economic mobility, dissolution of family structure, neighborhood decay, and multigenerational trauma have largely been borne by D.C.’s Black residents. So DC Justice Lab takes a forward-thinking approach, focusing on writing model laws that will create fair and racially balanced reforms in policing, prisons, and the judicial process. Forging policies that center the interests, concerns, and capacities of native Black Washingtonians also creates opportunities for residents to participate meaningfully, not just in policymaking but across our shared public life.
Tenants and Workers United
Tenants and Workers United first organized in the mid-1980s in response to the scheduled evictions of thousands of renters in the Arlandria/Chirilagua neighborhood of Alexandria. Developers assumed residents would simply make way for gentrification but instead they stayed, studied, and organized. A nearly decade-long campaign succeeded: the limited-equity Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative is owned and democratically controlled by residents, most with low incomes. Organizing work includes housing justice, health equity (increasing access to culturally sensitive health care), education justice (ending the school-to-prison pipeline), immigrants’ rights (ending local collaboration with authorities), and police accountability. The goal is to advance social and racial justice through community power building. When the pandemic hit, TWU worked overtime to meet the dire needs of its community, and in partnership with others expanded its work to include direct services that will continue long after the pandemic ends.
Black working-class residents have been disproportionately affected by chronic unemployment, gentrification, displacement, and poor public health services. ONE DC is fighting to change this. Its flagship Black Workers & Wellness Center incubates worker cooperatives, advocates for labor-friendly policy reforms, and champions structural solutions to the city’s Black unemployment crisis. The Right to Income Committee fights for D.C. residents’ right to good work and stable income: Through work-sharing programs and in collaboration with DC Mutual Aid, the goal during the pandemic was to see that people didn’t lose their jobs. The Right to Housing Committee focuses on building a strong citywide, tenant organizing movement and combating displacement. Rent cancellation has been a key focus and remains the only solution for survival. Affordable housing, sustaining work, and wellness are critical to a fair and healthy D.C., and must be available to all.
DC Strings Workshop
DC Strings regularly performs its diverse repertoire in spaces and communities where live music is rarely heard—at museums and libraries, on riverbanks and street corners. In a typical year, it hosts eight orchestra concerts, 20 community events, and dozens of workshops, classes, and master classes. Teaching artists serve more than 300 schoolchildren annually at little or no cost. Programs prominently feature women and BIPOC community members and are powerful ways for students of color to see people who look like them excelling and being passionate about music and performance. While live and online programming during the pandemic was robust (and included a group therapy element for students who experienced trauma), the new year brings new possibilities. The Workshop showcases the great talent of community members who are rarely heard and shares music with youth and families who deserve full access to great music.
In the polarized climate in which we live, with levels of discrimination and vilification of “the other” on the rise, autobiographical storytelling is a powerful reminder that we are all human. Story District creates the platform and provides the tools for everyday Washingtonians to reflect on their life experiences and tell their stories in meaningful and memorable ways. Rigorous coaching helps participants identify and craft their narratives and connect authentically with an audience. The process can be transformative, requiring self-reflection, promoting self-awareness, and helping people find meaning in their lives. And Story District creates an environment that is welcoming to all ages, races, cultures, abilities, and sexual and gender identities. Performances are opportunities to speak and to share. It’s hard to dehumanize someone or disregard the reality of our common humanity when we hear a personal story that is told with power.
The PEN/Faulkner Foundation
Working with teachers to identify texts that feature diverse characters and relevant narratives, PEN/Faulkner’s flagship Writers in Schools program connects young people with authors (and their books) for dynamic conversations. Writing Workshops deepen the work as teaching artists help students learn about and practice their own writing through engaging skill-building sessions. In a new long-term residency, students will work directly with an expert writer to develop a sustained relationship and writing project. Together We Read brings authors and students from different schools into cross-cultural dialogue about books, while Nuestras Voces offers Latinx- and Hispanic-centric education programs that address systemic diversity challenges. Finally, Literary Conversations bring together highly acclaimed writers from across the country to discuss the urgent issues that surround their work and let literature serve as a springboard for much-needed civil discourse.
Girls Rock! DC
Girls Rock! DC was founded by D.C. musicians and music fans who didn’t see themselves—women, nonbinary, transgender, and gender-expansive folks—represented in the music they loved. They set out to create a supportive and inclusive program where kids could learn about music and culture that is relevant to them from role models who come from their own community. Participants represent a wide range of economic experiences, ethnic and gender identities, and neighborhoods. Youth of color make up the majority and more than half of participants receive financial aid (no one is turned away). They enjoy private concerts from local musicians and workshops from local educators. After school and in summer camps, they receive instrument instruction, form bands, and compose original music. Every year, Girls Rock! serves more than 100 youth (and 20 adults) who rise up and rock out!
CE trains historically marginalized D.C. youth of color to harness the power of photography and their own voices. It develops their capacity to shape narratives about themselves and their communities and to drive concrete changes in school environments by mounting youth-led campaigns that work toward education equity and that close the opportunity gap. Since 2004, CE has provided experiential learning and leadership opportunities to more than 2,700 Black and Brown youth (140 a year), who have used their photos and narratives to fight for restorative justice programs, find solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline, protect visual and performing arts requirements, advocate for financial literacy education standards, and win funding for new school facilities. Elevating the voices of youth and developing their leadership skills means they control the narrative and create meaningful spaces where they can shape decisions that impact them and their worlds.
Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse
For 18 years, the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse has educated the Greater Washington community about power-based violence, while providing life-changing support to more than 1,800 survivors of trauma and abuse. Programs are free, culturally and faith-sensitive, and available to all–regardless of faith, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Wraparound services (a confidential help line, counseling and therapy, safety planning) and legal support empower victims to live safely. An education program equips community members, particularly lay leaders, with the knowledge and tools to spot the warning signs of abuse within their networks and respond appropriately. And AWARE, JCADA’s prevention initiative, gives youth the language and skills to help themselves or assist a friend who may be affected by abuse, breaking the cycle of violence for future generations. Today, more victims are coming forward than ever before, and JCADA helps their voices get heard.
The Safe Sisters Circle
The Safe Sisters Circle was founded by a Black woman who saw a cultural disconnect between those providing and those receiving services for domestic violence and sexual abuse. The only organization that focuses on the needs of Black women survivors in Wards 7 and 8, Safe Sisters provides culturally specific, trauma-informed legal representation in civil protection, family law, and criminal court cases. It also explores non-carceral alternatives for survivors who want safety but favor help and accountability, not jail, for their loved ones. Education is key, with a special focus on young girls and the importance of healthy relationships and the meaning of consent. Embedded in the community, Safe Sisters arranges referrals for therapeutic services, educational/career assistance, and even clothing and food needs. The long-term vision is to change the culture of intimate violence in Wards 7 and 8 through culturally specific representation and prevention.
FAIR Girls’ Vida Home is the first-ever safe, empowering, transitional home in D.C. exclusively for 18- to 28-year-old female-identifying survivors of human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation. Clients have access to food, clothing, and other essentials, case management, structured programming and support, and resource materials to work on their goals. FAIR Girls also addresses the cycle of youth victimization, criminalization, and incarceration by intervening when youth first become engaged in the juvenile justice system. Prevention education and advocacy efforts (both local and national) are key. In the wake of the pandemic, FAIR Girls expects increased demand as the impact of economic instability, social isolation, and the increased presence of youth online comes to light. No one wants to think that human trafficking is a problem here; FAIR Girls faces it head-on, centering the needs of survivors in everything it does.
Network for Victim Recovery of DC
In the aftermath of a crime, victims often feel helpless—unsure of who to trust and where to turn. NVRDC answers the call, offering free, holistic case management, advocacy, and legal support to victims of all types of crimes. It runs the advocacy portion of D.C.’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, supporting a coordinated community response for survivors including hotline services, transportation to and from the hospital, entry into therapeutic services, hospital advocacy, and referrals to legal services. Staff attorneys provide legal advice and representation for survivors in criminal cases, civil protection orders, and Title IX and Clery Act (campus violence) cases. Focused on survivor-defined justice, NVRDC has walked alongside more than 5,000 crime victims since 2012, empowering them to pursue their goals for recovery and redress. As one survivor put it, “NVRDC has been, and continues to be, my saving grace.”
For more than 26 years, Safe Shores’ child-friendly approach has ensured that children traumatized by abuse have a safe and welcoming space where their voices are heard and their needs come first. It provides a compassionate, comprehensive approach to child victims: sensitive forensic interviews and evaluations, a supervised playroom for kids awaiting interviews, new clothes and toiletries, meals, and funds for emergency needs. The model also includes training for partner agencies and volunteers, prevention training for adults, and mental health assessment and treatment. During the pandemic, an untold number of children spent months in isolation with their abusers. While reports of suspected abuse fell dramatically, parental stress and economic instability increased the risk factors. Now, Safe Shores anticipates a spike in reports of youth who have experienced long-term exposure to abuse and may require longer, more intensive support. No child should go through this alone.
An 8.5-mile-long tidal river within a 176-square-mile watershed, the Anacostia River is home to nearly one million people who live either directly on it or on one of its many connected streams. Working toward a clean, healthy, swimmable, fishable river means enforcing existing environmental laws, working on better ones, building public awareness of environmental and health issues, and creating programs that focus on pollution prevention and cleanup. Friday Night Fishing, educational boat tours, service opportunities that foster ownership in the river for watershed residents, citizen water quality monitoring, and opportunities for residents to weigh in on important policy matters that will impact the future—all are framed around questions of equitable access to the river, equal representation in watershed issues for marginalized communities, and ensuring that the health of the river works for the health of its communities.
From its inception, ecoLatinos was designed to encourage more members of the region’s fast-growing Hispanic community to take action to protect the environment and improve local green spaces. It specializes in effective, culturally sensitive work with the Spanish-speaking residents of the Chesapeake Bay region and builds a bridge that unites Hispanics with other environmentalists. Latino consulting services, customized Spanish educational campaigns, culturally appropriate bilingual field outreach teams, and access to a vast network of Latino-led organizations, businesses, churches, and community leaders forge a powerful alliance for environmental justice and stewardship. Working with the Hispanic community, ecoLatinos encourages members to enjoy nature while keeping waterways free of trash. Its green career-training program offers an early introduction to best management practices. The vision is social and environmental justice through engagement, education, and activism across the Chesapeake Bay.
For centuries, the Potomac has been an anchor for our region’s identity and the source of 90 percent of its drinking water. The wildest river running through an urban area, it is home to more than 200 rare species and natural communities. But rapid population growth and associated urban sprawl has led to an increase in river and stream pollution. Potomac Conservancy provides effective, long-term conservation solutions: permanently protecting land from development (thereby preventing future pollution), and building a coalition of advocates for smart urban growth and river-friendly policies. Thousands of volunteers in its Community Conservation program engage in hands-on restoration, raise awareness, inspire action, and encourage their friends and family to get involved. Tree plantings, river cleanups, seed collections, and other hands-on activities improve the local environment and empower individuals to leave a healthier, cleaner legacy for generations to come.
City Blossoms cultivates the well-being of local communities through creative programming in kid-driven gardens. It collaborates with schools, early childhood centers, neighborhood groups, and community-based organizations to connect underserved communities to safe green space and garden-based programming, taking unused or underused land and creating urban gardens where children and youth use their creativity, intellect, and energy in new ways. Offering free and affordable in-school, after-school, and summer programming at 32 active sites for children (toddlers to teens) who would otherwise have little access to green spaces, the focus is healthy living skills, artistic expression, environmental stewardship, and community development. Dozens of neighborhood organizations, thousands of volunteers, and more than 100 schools are part of the greening effort, fostering healthy communities by developing creative, kid-driven green spaces and innovative resources. Green thumb or not, you can help them grow.