Two participants in a Shout Mouse Press program pose with a cover of their book.
Shout Mouse Press. Photo courtesy of Shout Mouse Press/CFP-DC

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As 2022 comes to an end and we pause for a day of reflection and gratitude, we’re turning our attention to the community organizations that make life a little better for residents of the greater D.C. area. In this year’s giving guide, presented in partnership with the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, you’ll find nearly 50 groups that focus on everything from improving the environment and access to food to support for those returning from periods of incarceration and students who need help outside the classroom.

Nonprofits and philanthropic organizations have stepped up in big ways in 2022. When migrants arrived on buses at Union Station with few resources, groups like CARECEN have met both their immediate and long term needs. Amid a rise in homicides and shootings involving young people, the Alliance of Concerned Men and One Common Unity have worked to reduce violence and support those who have survived it. And the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project continues to serve some of D.C.’s most vulnerable young residents by giving them (and their families) time to play.

Those are just a few of the organizations working overtime to make D.C. a healthier, safer, and better place for all residents, whether they’ve lived here for five days or five generations. Take time to read about their essential work and the ways in which they impact change. If you’re compelled to donate, now or in the future, you can do so by clicking the link over any organization’s name.

Happy Thanksgiving!

—Caroline Jones

IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES MENTAL & FAMILY HEALTH
EDUCATION & LEARNING LOSS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
JOBS & ECONOMIC JUSTICE ENVIRONMENT HOUSING
YOUTH LEADERSHIP YOUTH ARTS ACCESS & EDUCATION
FOOD JUSTICE & ACCESS

IMMIGRANTS & REFUGEES

One Journey. Photo courtesy of One Journey/CFP-DC

One Journey

One Journey builds enduring allies for refugees fleeing their home countries and facilitates human connection between them and their host communities. Its signature One Journey Festival celebrates the talents, stories, and contributions of refugees around the world, bringing people together through the shared languages of art, food, music, dance, storytelling, sports, and technology. The Take Action tent lets festival guests connect with other local nonprofits serving the refugee community. An employment mentoring workshop and career fair connect refugees with coaches, and an annual holiday market showcases artisan crafts, providing financial opportunities for artists and occasions to share their cultures with a broader audience. Film screenings on refugee and immigrant issues followed by topical discussions allow academics, community leaders, activists, and refugees to share stories and inspire action. A leader in refugee welcoming, support, and advocacy, One Journey knows the value of celebration and connection.

Tahirih Justice Center

Tahirih addresses an urgent need: serving survivors of gender-based violence, primarily immigrant women and girls, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. It provides holistic legal services, social service case management, advocacy, and education. Clients complete safety plans, set goals, develop budgets, and work with an advocate to find shelter, counseling, medical care, food, and clothing. The success rate is extraordinary: in immigration and family law cases, an astonishing 96 percent. In court and in the community, Tahirih gives a powerful voice to those who are not heard and whose needs often go unmet, training attorneys, police, judges, prosecutors, legislators, and social and medical service providers to better understand the unique concerns facing those they serve, then advocating for policies that better shield them. Each year, Tahirih seeks justice and rekindles hope for 2,000 courageous women, 1,000 of whom are members of our local community.

Centreville Immigration Forum

The Centreville Labor Resource Center was CIF’s first program and remains at its heart. It provides a safe location where day laborers and employers can meet and negotiate fair terms (at least $15/hour)—an alternative to street-side hiring that leaves members vulnerable to lower wages and wage theft. Eighty-eight percent of those served are indigenous peoples mostly from Nebaj, Quiché in Guatemala; 30 percent speak the Mayan language Ixil; most have limited formal education. ESOL classes and job and financial skills training mean participants will have access to better-paying jobs and to the critical community resources like food, medical care, and education that they need. A new Women’s Empowerment Project addresses the unmet holistic needs of women and families —because CIF is always listening to its members, organizing them, and advocating with them for their rights.

Hamkae Center

Some 25 percent of undocumented immigrants in Virginia come from Asian countries and primarily work in food or service industries; one-fifth live in linguistically isolated households. Community organizing is the key to change, so Hamkae Center fights for immigrant rights and a path to citizenship, expanding healthcare coverage, improving language access to publicly funded services (during the pandemic, few materials were available in a language other than English), and increasing the electoral participation of Asian Americans and other communities of color. A leadership development program for youth equips them with the tools to organize and community services offer assistance with naturalization applications and driver privilege cards, DACA screenings and renewals, and applications for public healthcare benefits.

Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)

One in 10 Washingtonians are Latinx, and the majority are immigrants; many have fled violence at home and seek better opportunities. They face a host of challenges, including limited English skills, unstable employment and housing, low wages, and now COVID-19 – which has not only hit this community hard but made accessing help more difficult. Legal services and consultations to resolve immigration status, secure work authorization, gain permanent residency, and prepare for tests and interviews could not be held in person. Instead, clients have been paired with volunteer tutors to accomplish what they can until CARECEN’s doors reopen. The housing program has added assistance in completing unemployment and emergency rent assistance applications, as well as the disbursement of funds to the undocumented community.

MENTAL & FAMILY HEALTH

Heart to Hand. Photo courtesy of Heart to Hand/CFP-DC

Rock Recovery

Eating disorders are tragically common: They affect 30 million Americans in their lifetimes, yet treatment options remain scarce. Rock Recovery bridges the gap, offering treatment on a sliding scale for those in need, and focusing on individuals who need more than a weekly session with a therapist, but less than full-time treatment. Clients go about their lives while accessing affordable outpatient programs—group therapy, group meals, nutrition counseling, mentoring, and optional faith-based activities. Outreach programs educate and empower individuals to find recovery for themselves or their loved ones, increasing understanding of disordered eating while reducing the stigma surrounding it. Since 2020, Rock Recovery has more than tripled client capacity to meet the huge increase in demand caused by the pandemic, creating an invaluable community network where clients feel understood and supported on their journey toward better health.

The Arc of Northern Virginia

Virginia is ranked 39th in the nation when it comes to services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, an appalling statistic for families in our region whose loved ones (some 39,000) have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, rare chromosomal disorders, and other disabilities. The Arc of Northern Virginia provides services to residents of all ages: free workshops and online resources that address critical topics like navigating the complex disability system, honing life-planning tools, and developing critical tech supports. Its advocacy work gives families a voice, a special needs trust helps families plan for a child’s future, and Transition POINTS aids them as they make decisions at key points across their loved one’s lifespan. The Arc responds to thousands of calls and emails a year on everything from therapists to jobs to housing options, and demand for services continues to grow.

Heart to Hand

Founded to address the lack of care available to Black women early in the HIV epidemic, H2H works with those living with or at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. The main population is Black adults 18 and over across the entire gender and sexual orientation spectrum who are at risk of acquiring HIV. Early Intervention ensures that persons behaviorally at risk or already living with HIV are connected to health education, testing, care navigation, and referrals for medical and social support. A medical case manager works to improve health outcomes while a non-medical case manager helps clients address barriers like limited access to food and housing that make treatment compliance difficult. Psycho-social support is also available and, of course, medical care—HIV and STI testing and treatment for all who need it.

Mission of Love Charities

Mission of Love helps people in urgent need: those living at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, are experiencing homelessness, or are at risk of becoming homeless. For many, there is simply no other means of access to food, clothing, laundry, rental and utility assistance, furniture, computers, or referrals for primary, dental, and mental health care. A new priority is a program for people who lost their jobs during or because of the pandemic. Classes include basic job skills, computer and language skills, a class on coding, and classes leading to certification as a nursing assistant or OSHA construction inspector. Students who complete the courses have little or no trouble finding a job, but demand has outstripped capacity. The Mission cultivates community partners in all of its work as it provides, trains, and advocates for its community.

Healwell

Pain, isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety make the experience of illness deeply challenging for patients and caregivers alike. But Healwell massage therapy has a significant impact on outcomes for people affected by acute, chronic, and serious illness. Using mindfulness, meditation, and other tools, it cultivates kind, skillful, self-aware practitioners and care teams who are equipped to prioritize equitable care for patients who would not otherwise have access to massage therapy—those who have been marginalized by race, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, or diagnosis. Breaking down barriers about who “deserves” to be seen and cared for with compassion, and serving some of the region’s sickest, most underserved patients—among them, adult and pediatric oncology patients, homeless clients, incarcerated individuals—these professional and lay caregivers create a collaborative experience of care that ensures equity and humanity.

EDUCATION & LEARNING LOSS

Child and Family Network Centers. Photo courtesy of Child and Family Network Centers/CFP-DC

Resources to Inspire Students and Educators

Whether it’s tutoring struggling ninth graders to help them achieve grade-level reading or prepping juniors for their Advanced Placement exams, RISE provides high-quality tutoring and educational resources to low income D.C. students, helping them graduate from high school and prepare for a successful future. RISE programs fill the gaps where D.C.’s most under-resourced schools fall short: one-on-one tutoring for students and children with learning disabilities, college and career readiness, and an intensive summer reading program to prepare students for the upcoming school year. Since 2003, RISE has raised the academic skills and performance of more than 3,000 students; 95 percent go on to graduate from high school (citywide, the average is much lower) and 90 percent of graduates enroll in college.

Child and Family Network Centers

CFNC was born when a group of mothers in public housing watched 17 of their children fail kindergarten and decided to do something about it. Annually, it serves 139 children and their families, most of whom live just slightly above the poverty line (average income for a family of four is $27,000). With an eighth grade education (at most) and English as a second language, the majority of parents face both economic and linguistic challenges. CFNC provides, at no cost, high-quality preschool education for their children, health services, and family support, onsite in Alexandria. Workshops help parents advocate for their children in school, support education at home, and help the littlest ones transition to kindergarten ready to learn and grow. This is comprehensive care that children and families need to prepare for success, in school and in life.

One Common Unity

Too many D.C. youth experience trauma and violence in their daily lives, and too few are equipped to do something about it. Using the power of the arts, OCU builds resilient, compassionate young leaders and empowers them to break the cycle of violence and become positive forces for change. Its flagship program, Fly by Light, uses an intensive, multilayered arts curriculum—including after-school workshops, weekend field trips, healing nature retreats, violence prevention events, and citywide art showcases—to build participants’ social and emotional competencies. Youth learn to express themselves creatively and nonviolently, gaining lifelong skills to better cope with trauma, peacefully resolve conflicts, and build healthy relationships. Many become “ambassadors” and organize open mic nights, performances, and workshops for their peers and for younger children.

City Kids Wilderness Project

Each year, 130 youth from D.C. communities experience life-changing adventures, build resiliency, broaden their horizons, and learn skills that will ensure success. They begin in sixth grade and progress as a cohort through seven years of activities and challenges—day and weekend excursions that acquaint them with our region’s natural wonders, from the Potomac River to the Shenandoah Mountains. The Middle School Program offers after-school tutoring, outdoor living skills, environmental education, and art and peacemaking activities, while the High School & Alumni Program provides job and leadership training, mentoring, and help with post-secondary plans. In the summer, kids head to Jackson, Wyoming, for overnight camping trips, mountain climbing, and white-water kayaking—which double as lessons in self-confidence, self-respect, and teamwork.

D.C. Special Education Cooperative

In D.C., 15 percent of all students are children with disabilities—and about half attend public charter schools. The D.C. Special Education Cooperative equips these schools with tools and support to give students with disabilities a high-quality education. Its flagship ELEVATE program helps public charter schools to design, implement, and improve special education services to meet or exceed federal standards of quality. Because few classroom teachers have formal training in special ed, the Co-op provides professional development and networks that build teachers’ capacity to teach every student effectively. Administrative services, such as securing Medicaid reimbursements, relieve logistical burdens that individual charters would struggle to bear. And direct programs for students with disabilities (career fairs, job-readiness training) boost opportunities for post-graduation employment. With 55 members, the Co-op serves 5,000 D.C. students with disabilities each year.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Photo courtesy of Collective Action for Safe Spaces/CFP-DC

Alliance of Concerned Men

When Tyrone Parker returned from prison in 1987, he founded ACM to address the systemic issues that neglected D.C. communities face—lives destroyed by drugs, unplanned teenage pregnancy, and violence. Today, managing the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ Credible Messenger program, ACM provides mentoring, job training, education, mental health, and case management to youth charged with felonies in juvenile detention. It manages a Cure the Streets program in Washington Highlands and the Conflict Resolution Youth Training Program, which teaches youth to develop and advance a culture of peace. A public safety pilot in Ward 7 aims to reduce the alarming rise in gun violence over the past year: Formerly incarcerated men and women revive the roles of elders in traditional African societies—as knowledge keepers, spiritual leaders, counselors, healers, facilitators of reconciliation—to help solve one of the District’s (and American society’s) most perplexing and persistent problems.

The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens

NRNRC’s founder entered the juvenile justice system at the age of nine and the revolving door of incarceration until his parole in 1985, so he comes at the work from a place of knowledge. The five-week job readiness and placement program prepares reentrants for employment and connects them with living-wage jobs. (Digital literacy training is up next.) Guidance and support from a yearlong mentor/navigator as well as connection with a support network helps reentrants work toward accountability, stability, and healing. Safe housing and accompanying programming address a critical need for a population that faces formidable housing barriers and needs a place to heal and rebuild. Advocacy is also key: Practiced organizers and reentrants can claim successes like the establishment of a ballot box in the D.C. jail and enfranchisement of returning citizens.

HIPS

HIPS’ harm reduction work meets community members where they are, offering support based on empathy rather than judgment. It makes drug use and sex work safer for those who have not chosen to stop or are not able to stop. The goal is to improve clients’ quality of life, health, and wellbeing, advance their rights, and uphold their dignity. HIPS’ drop-in center offers syringe exchange, condom distribution, HIV and hepatitis C care, behavioral health care, housing case management, and basic needs like food and clothing. The outreach team meets clients out in the community, providing syringe exchange, overdose response and prevention, safer sex supplies, micro-counseling, and connections and referrals six days a week. Led by those with lived experience, HIPS envisions a world where all people use their power to live healthy, self-determined lives free from stigma, violence, criminalization, and oppression.

Deaf Abused Women Network

The Deaf community experiences sexual and domestic abuse at higher rates than the hearing community and communication barriers frequently prevent Deaf survivors from seeking help. In 1999, five Deaf women founded Deaf Abused Women’s Network to address this critical issue in D.C., home to one of the largest Deaf populations in the U.S. Today, DAWN remains the only local agency providing support in American Sign Language to survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and now serves Deaf people of all gender identities. Its support is comprehensive, including safety planning, court, and hospital accompaniment, and case management where Deaf advocates ensure that survivors can access appropriate services for themselves and their children. DAWN also conducts preventive outreach education, working to end abuse in the Deaf community.

Collective Action for Safe Spaces

Dedicated to creating a safer D.C., CASS empowers communities to interrupt and eliminate public, gender-based harassment and assault, including street harassment. Its work centers on those who are disproportionately affected by street harassment (women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks), and particularly on those with multiple marginalized identities. Through bystander intervention training, participants learn that it’s up to everyone (not just the criminal legal system) to stop the harassment. The Safe Bar Collective equips bar and restaurant staff to create safer environments, while CASS simultaneously trains LGBTQIA+ people in restaurant skills and connects them to jobs at partner bars. A program with WMATA combines staff training, data collection, and awareness campaigns to address sexual harassment on public transportation. And thanks to CASS-led advocacy, D.C. passed the Street Harassment Prevention Act in 2018.

JOBS & ECONOMIC JUSTICE

Sunflower Bakery. Photo courtesy of Sunflower Bakery/CFP-DC

AfriThrive

AfriThrive pairs food with critical services that empower underserved Black immigrant and refugee families. Through its two-acre community farm and partnerships with DC Central Kitchen, Montgomery County, local grocers, and farmers markets, AfriThrive sources locally grown, culturally appropriate fresh fruits and vegetables for weekly distribution to thousands of community members. The youth engagement and life skills program offers study skills training, dropout prevention, and leadership development to youth who would otherwise be connected neither to school nor work. And because “it takes a village,” AfriThrive recruits employers, community organizations, local businesses, and training institutes to connect youth with employment opportunities. A new program trains unemployed and underemployed immigrant and refugee adults to become the next generation of hospitality/food industry leaders in African cuisine while providing an opportunity to learn—and celebrate—the stories and cultures of African people.

Juanita C. Grant Foundation

At town halls and roundtables, JCGF reframes aging, turning negative representations into positive ones of growth and achievement. A call program addresses social isolation, providing phone calls from trained volunteer ambassadors one to three times a week. Elder abuse and financial fraud prevention work brings expert panels to libraries and senior centers to educate seniors about scams that target them and to highlight the problem of potential abuse within extended families. A workforce initiative educates older adults about critical skill sets for the new hybrid work culture, the best format for successful online interviews, the way to reframe resumes to demonstrate life skills, and how to hone required computer skills. Throughout, advocacy and policy activities seek to eliminate the root causes of isolation, victimization, and economic instability and to empower elders as they embark on the next phase of their lives.

Sunflower Bakery

Sunflower provides skilled job training and employment opportunities to diverse young adults with learning differences. Pastry arts students spend 26 weeks on professional instruction, employee development (resume writing, workplace communication, interviewing), SafeServe training, and employment matching. Thanks to career guidance and an extensive network of employer partners, more than 70 percent of graduates land a job within 12 months. A 26-week hospitality program exposes students to all front-of-house skills (customer service, communication, inventory and order processing) and to soft skills (goal setting, problem solving, dealing with setbacks). Paid internships put these new skills to use and job coaching services set participants on the road to success. New on the menu? Year-round shipping of Sunflower products, and shipping and packaging as additions to the curriculum.

Urban Ed

In Anacostia, the unemployment rate is 31 percent; half of the 19,000 people out of work are young adults. This is where Urban Ed makes its home. Its Career and Workforce Development program offers 12- to 16-week courses that equip adults with competitive skills for high-demand occupations in information technology, cloud computing, software development, and digital transformation. Last year, 90 percent of graduates obtained gainful employment. Urban Ed’s TechnoAcademy reduces truancy for high school and middle school youth, requiring school attendance in exchange for lessons in popular subjects like software coding and gaming. These youth then help lead the Lil Bitties TechnoCamp, a STEM-oriented summer enrichment program for kids ages 5 to 7.

Gearin’ Up Bicycles

Multiple workforce programs address the unjust barriers to success for young black men but few target youth under 18 and none creates a pathway into the bicycle industry, a field with in-demand jobs. Youth (ages 15 to 23) begin knowing little about bicycle mechanics but learn what they need to be hired as paid interns who can advance to youth mechanic or to youth shop manager. Youth Nights act as an introduction to the workforce program: The most advanced youth teach neighborhood youth to fix tires, adjust brakes, or build (and earn) a bike from the frame up. The Youth Bicycle Force provides bike maintenance clinics at schools, parks, and community events, with the specific goal of hosting clinics in wards 5, 6, 7, and 8.

ENVIRONMENT

Potomac Riverkeeper Network. Photo courtesy of Potomac Riverkeeper Network/CFP-DC

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Six million residents live along the Potomac and Shenandoah River watershed, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. But instead of a clean and healthy river, they find swimming prohibitions and fish consumption advisories lining the banks. PRKN is a grassroots, on-the-water organization dedicated to fighting pollution and creating healthy rivers and streams. In partnership with pro bono attorneys, it works to correct violations of environmental law and promote government accountability. A network of community science monitors reports on water quality and PRKN uses their data to direct enforcement and advocacy work using the legal system to force polluters to clean up their act. Knowing that healthy rivers and healthy communities go hand-in-hand, Potomac Riverkeeper strives to ensure that all 383 miles of our river stay healthy.

Prince William Conservation Alliance

PWCA protects Prince William County’s natural resources, from tidal wetlands along the Potomac River to Bull Run Mountain, while also advocating for smart growth. The key is empowering everyday citizens in this fast-growing suburb to explore, enjoy, and become active stewards of their outdoor community. Tours, talks, festivals, and citizen science programs educate families about local environmental assets and their values. Native plant restoration projects and tree giveaways encourage people to improve wildlife habitats and reclaim the natural health of their suburban backyards. Land use workshops inspire residents actively to participate in planning and development decisions that affect their community: The work has resulted, among other things, in the creation of 40 miles of scenic byways. And PWCA’s advocacy work has resulted in more bike lanes, green spaces, protected public lands—and a higher quality of life.

EcoAction Arlington

Climate change, air and water pollution, and habitat degradation are urgent issues that require action, not only at the global but also at the local level. At EcoAction Arlington, local residents participate in stream cleanups, invasive plant removals, and storm drain markings; well over 2,000 students gain hands-on training in sustainable environmental practices; high school seniors create energy conservation activities for elementary students; Energy Masters volunteers make tangible improvements to reduce energy use/emissions in affordable housing units (a real benefit to families). The Tree Canopy Fund plants trees on private property thereby increasing Arlington’s tree canopy, and Straw Free Arlington engages restaurants in reducing the consumption of single-use plastic—a benefit to shores and sea creatures alike.

New Partners Community Solar

New Partners operates at the intersection of a critical environmental goal (combating climate change) and a critical social goal (addressing the economic needs of vulnerable populations). It produces clean, renewable energy in a variety of locations—south-facing walls, shade canopies, green roofs—partnering with nonprofit affordable housing developers, and distributing all energy benefits to families and individuals with low incomes, many of whom are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. (Respiratory illnesses like childhood asthma are aggravated by pollution and traditional energy costs make already-expensive housing even less affordable.) New Partners also promotes job training that enables residents with low incomes and returning citizens to participate in, and benefit from, the green economy.

City Wildlife

City Wildlife is the only wildlife rehabilitation organization in D.C., welcoming more than 1,800 sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals through its doors each year. Many are delivered by D.C. Animal Care and Control, but more than half—birds, turtles, rabbits, possums—are brought in by the kind people who find them and want to help. At its fully equipped Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic, a licensed wildlife veterinarian oversees the animals’ care, assisted by staff technicians and some 50 volunteers, with the goal of returning the animals to the wild. City Wildlife also serves as a critical resource to anyone hoping humanely to resolve conflicts with wild animals (like squirrels in the attic) and runs volunteer science projects (Lights Out DC and Duck Watch) to directly assist wildlife in the field.

HOUSING

Thrive DC. Photo courtesy of Thrive DC/CFP-DC

Good Shepherd Housing & Family Services

GSH is dedicated to serving Fairfax County’s “hidden homeless”—working families who struggle to pay rent at market rates and live one paycheck away from a crisis. Through its affordable housing program, it charges rent that families with low incomes can afford, while leaving them enough money to pay for food, clothing, and childcare. Individualized case management and support services (financial education and coaching, budgeting, credit skill building, connections to job fairs and training) get clients on the path to self-sufficiency. Some are weathering a medical crisis; others are seeking a better job; many are determined to give their children a better life. The Children’s Resources program gives them that chance, providing the young members of tenant families with access to summer camps, field trips, one-on-one academic tutoring, and more.

Mi Casa

Founded in 1992 to address the serious lack of affordable housing in D.C.’s predominantly Latinx neighborhoods, Mi Casa helps tenants organize and purchase their apartment buildings when they come up for sale, renovates and builds housing for families, and leases apartments at affordable rates. It also trains clients in the skills they need to keep their homes—balancing a budget, reading financial statements, hiring and supervising a property manager. One of D.C.’s most innovative developers—it recently partnered with the city to pilot a housing program serving young mothers who have aged out of foster care and seniors living on fixed incomes—Mi Casa has taken the lead in addressing one of the principle problems facing low-income residents in the District.

Nick’s Place

Nick’s Place offers what few recovery houses do: a safe, sober, and affordable home for young men who have completed an addiction treatment program and need an emotionally and physically supportive environment in which to restart their lives. It was built specifically for them (most people dealing with addiction are young men ages 20 to 26) and its 12-month stay and small population of six residents means that each client gets the time and attention he needs to make a full recovery. The cornerstones are 12-step Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous programs, and structure is essential: All residents receive job readiness counseling, maintain employment, abide by a curfew, and participate in group meetings and relapse prevention workshops. They come together for a nightly, family-style dinner to talk about their struggles, fears, goals, and successes.

Thrive DC

Thrive DC welcomes our most vulnerable neighbors: Some are homeless or jobless; some suffer from mental illness or substance abuse (or both); others are victims of sexual or domestic abuse; many live with chronic health problems. Most have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic and, until the indoor meal program can fully reopen, Thrive continues to help them via email and phone, connecting them with job training, substance abuse counseling, reentry and victim services, and shelter. It helps clients file for unemployment, offers mail services, groceries, snack foods, hygiene and personal care items, prescription assistance, stipends for workforce development clients, and connections to employment opportunities that have emerged during COVID-19 (cleaning services, retail, and warehouse jobs). Thrive offers support to clients who are struggling mentally and emotionally, reaching out to reduce isolation and help ease anxieties associated with this unprecedented crisis.

Homeless Children’s Playtime Project

Every week, at emergency shelters and transitional housing programs across D.C., some 150 volunteers give children a much-needed opportunity: the chance to play. The Playtime Project nurtures healthy child development and reduces the effects of trauma by creating playrooms where kids can be kids—playing games; exploring math, reading, and art; and eating healthy snacks. Meanwhile, parents have time to rest, run errands, and take classes. Monthly field trips introduce children to baseball games, the National Zoo, and the Smithsonian; seasonal parties give families opportunities to socialize and relax. Backpacks filled with games, books, and toys keep children engaged when they are away from the program.

YOUTH LEADERSHIP

Mikva Challenge DC. Photo courtesy of Mikva Challenge DC/CFP-DC

Posse DC

Posse identifies local public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who might otherwise be overlooked in the college admissions process and places them in multicultural teams (“posses”) of 10 that act as support systems on campus and beyond. It expands the pool from which top institutions recruit students, helps create more inclusive campus environments, and ensures that scholars (an astonishing 90 percent!) persist and graduate so they can take on leadership positions in our diverse nation. Sixty students from the D.C. area are chosen annually and full-tuition, merit-based, leadership scholarships are awarded by partner institutions (Bucknell, Lafayette, Lewis & Clark, Sewanee, University of Rochester, and UW-Madison). Precollegiate training prepares students for what lies ahead; an on-campus mentor tracks progress; a career program leads to internships and jobs.

Washington Urban Debate League

In Greater Washington, high quality debate programs (and the associated academic benefits) have traditionally been available only at private schools. WUDL focuses on equity and creates debate programs at public schools in D.C. and Prince George’s County, 75 to 80 percent of which receive Title I funding. It supports them with expert teacher-coaches, curricular resources, and monthly tournaments, all at no cost. Students develop grit and perseverance alongside skills in critical thinking, research, and effective communication; meanwhile, test scores, attendance, and graduation rates begin to climb. The most successful participants travel to regional tournaments where they display their skills and compete for college scholarships. A summer institute introduces students to the new debate topic for the coming year, boosting competitive success. Declared League of the Year by the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues, this young organization already reaches more than schools.

Mikva Challenge DC

Mikva develops the next generation of civic leaders, civil servants, and community organizers by empowering young people to drive real change in their lives. Its flagship program, Action Civics, is integrated into the curriculum of middle and high schools across the city. Classes select, research, and analyze a community issue, develop strategies, and take concrete steps to affect policy. Mikva trains teachers in the curriculum and hosts citywide “challenges” where students showcase their ideas before community judges. After school, Elections in Action gives 30 students a way directly to impact local public policy and elections, even before they are eligible to vote. A second leadership program brings together youth from across the city to work collaboratively with DCPS leaders, bringing youth-driven school policy recommendations to the table.

The Giving Square

If adults engage children in meaningful discussions about their worlds by the age of 10, they are twice as likely to become lifelong civic and philanthropic actors. TGS offers a dynamic civic experience for third through fifth graders that develops their philanthropic identity and capacity. In schools, camps, and community programs, the Kids for Kids Fund builds empathy for the needs of others, explores compassionate solutions, and puts philanthropic capacities into practice. Sessions explore the rights of all children, perspectives on the social issues affecting them (health, basic needs, disabilities, racism), and local community solutions. Each group allocates $1,000 in grant-making funds. An intergenerational fellowship program for community leaders (Generation Alpha to the Silent Generation), programs for kids and grandparents, parent/child field trips to local nonprofits, and workshops on developing a family giving plan are all designed to tap the powerful philanthropic spirit within.

Black Swan Academy

In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, BSA’s work has taken on even greater urgency. Its innovative, 36-week Civic Leadership and Engagement program enhances youth voice, builds youth power, and creates a safe space for youth of color to engage, gain advocacy skills, develop a youth-led policy agenda, and shift the culture of D.C. policymaking so that it is more inclusive of youth of color leadership. The end goal is nothing less than racial equity and systemic change. Of course, COVID-19 has forced a shift from in-person to virtual meetings and from direct action organizing to thinking strategically about what a youth-led/youth-centered digital organizing strategy might be.

YOUTH ARTS ACCESS AND EDUCATION

Life Pieces to Masterpieces. Photo courtesy of Life Pieces to Masterpieces/CFP-DC

Shout Mouse Press

Shout Mouse provides writing, book publishing, and public speaking opportunities for local young people (ages 12 and up) of marginalized identities. Story coaches lead writing workshops that engage youth from partner nonprofits in producing original children’s books, comics, novels, memoirs, and poetry collections inspired by their own lived experiences. Books are professionally edited, designed, published, and distributed in homes and classrooms across the country to engage readers of all backgrounds and foster a more just and inclusive next generation. Authors are trained in public speaking and give media interviews and author talks in schools, universities, and other community spaces, reaching over 30,000 audience members. With more than 50 titles, nine national awards, and more than 100,000 books in circulation, young authors are proving that peer voices are powerful voices, that representation matters.

Life Pieces To Masterpieces

In a world that devalues and threatens Black boys and young men, LPTM provides a refuge. Its flagship after-school program engages ward 7 and 8 elementary, middle, and high school youth in arts, education, and character development. Apprentices work on unique acrylic on sewn canvas paintings, write poetry and prose, and learn movement, music, and cinematography to break through negative self-images, tell authentic stories about their lives, build bonds of brotherhood, and become catalysts for change. Younger children get rigorous tutoring in literacy and math and older youth experience academic support, college and career readiness, Black male development, leadership training, and more, to prepare them for post-secondary success. One hundred percent of last year’s seniors went on to college, all received partial or full scholarships, and all are sewing “life pieces” into “masterpieces” through the art they create, the lives they lead, the communities they build.

East of the River Boys & Girls Steelband

The Steelband is the only non school-based instrumental music program in Ward 7, where the scarcity of music education with cultural relevancy is a crucial issue. The program provides youth with a positive outlet and safe space to develop strong values and lifelong connections to the arts. Students meet twice weekly for steelpan instruction and on Saturdays for field trips and life skills classes on substance abuse prevention, sexuality, violence prevention, and social media. Music instruction is provided in the traditional Trinidadian method—line repetition by ear, not by reading sheet music (though music theory is also taught). The fruits of the work are evident in some 25 live performances a year—from Frederick Douglass Family Day to the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.

Educational Theatre Company

In partnership with more than 40 schools and community organizations, ETC brings theater and artists directly into local classrooms. Students don’t watch from the audience: They write dialogue, paint sets, analyze, and create characters. Young children work closely with resident teaching artists to write, produce, or perform an original musical, while older students create and star in a film or experience a touring Shakespeare production in their own schools. ETC Creative Age engages senior citizens who perform scenes and write monologues about their lives. An ESOL program uses theater techniques to build vocabulary, fluency, and public speaking among English language learners. Moving online during the pandemic allowed ETC to expand its reach—a true silver lining—but live theater will remain at the core.

Project Create

Project Create offers out-of-school arts programs for some of the most vulnerable children in the District—those who have experienced hunger, witnessed violence, and lived on the streets. They get time to themselves, the dedicated attention of a caring adult, and the freedom to create—all scarce commodities amidst the stark realities of their lives. Classes in mixed media, graphic design, drawing and painting, dance, music, theater, and sculpture are small, personalized, and designed to spark creativity and confidence while improving the prospects for academic and social success. Partnerships with Community of Hope, Sasha Bruce Youthwork, and other community-based organizations make programs accessible to homeless youngsters; the new Anacostia studio means children who move always have a home base. More than 360 classes are slated for the coming year.

FOOD JUSTICE & ACCESS

Washington Youth Garden. Photo courtesy of Washington Youth Garden/CFP-DC

Common Good City Farm

Common Good combats food insecurity and nurtures the health and well-being of its community, addressing both immediate needs and long-term systemic injustices. The Pay-What-You-Can Farm Stand ensures that all visitors (some 300 families a year) walk away with fresh fruits and vegetables regardless of their ability to pay. Part of a larger effort to redistribute power to the community, Common Good will provide the space, funding, and support for a new community fridge and pantry in the Kelly Miller housing community; residents will decide how it is managed and what items they need most—free food, dry goods, household items, diapers, feminine hygiene products. Farm-based educational sessions, an after-school youth development program, a certificate program in regenerative urban agriculture, and a wide range of community events make the farm a nourishing and uplifting place where neighbors come together.

Food for Others

The 2008 recession and later the pandemic brought a huge increase in the number of people seeking emergency food. The high cost of living in Northern Virginia, along with inflation and supply chain issues, only exacerbate the problem: Some neighbors simply can’t meet their families’ basic needs. FFO is the first stop for those in crisis (including working families with children), providing emergency food to those without, bulk supplies to community partners, supplementary food at 11 neighborhood sites and nine mobile sites in underserved neighborhoods, and weekend “power packs” to 3,700 students at 43 Fairfax County public schools. Thirty-three percent of the food distributed is fresh produce and nearly 900,000 pounds comes through food recovery efforts. Volunteers logged approximately 29,000 hours last year while FFO continued to serve over 3,000 families a week.

Washington Youth Garden

In an ordinary year, WYG would offer its year-round gardening programs to 6,500 youth, partner with schools and communities on school gardens, and deliver free science and nutrition curricula to enrich learning. Instead, it has been growing and donating thousands of pounds of arugula, collard greens, turnips, onions, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, okra, and more for D.C. families in need through DC Central Kitchen and its partner schools, and 1,200 vegetable seedlings to organizations across the city. For schoolchildren, it added a food forest of edible perennials, two beehives, and grow-at-home kits. D.C. high school interns work with staff to grow food for donation and build gardens for neighbors, and school gardens have been improved so students will return to renovated outdoor classrooms. Determined to remain flexible during this crisis, WYG is sharing its resources and skills in extraordinary ways.

Shepherd’s Table

Overnight, Shepherd’s Table transformed its core meal program into a “to-go” model. Three meals a day became brunch and dinner, supplemented with afternoon sandwiches and snacks provided by community members wanting to help. A tent and picnic tables in the parking lot allow for social distancing, offer protection from the weather, and make a vital service comfortably available to those who have nowhere else to go. A new Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative has purchased food from neighboring restaurants, a win-win partnership that has brought income to struggling restaurants while ensuring guests have nutritious, hot, healthy meals. The Resource Center changed its hours but has remained open, providing critical services such as mail, toiletries, PPE, help with paying for prescription medicine, bus tokens, and more. In its 36+ year history, Shepherd’s Table has never missed a meal service and COVID-19 hasn’t stopped it.

Dreaming Out Loud

More than 34,000 D.C. residents live in “food deserts”—more than a mile from a supermarket—and many also struggle to pay for needed food. DOL combines food access with economic opportunity, building food systems that are powered by the communities they serve. Since 2008, its community farmers markets have provided 40,000 low-income customers with 300,000 pounds of healthy food. At the Farm and Food Hub (its flagship program in Ward 7), DOL grows organic produce; runs a community supported agriculture program (members pay before the growing season and farmers share the harvest); conducts school-to-farm educational programs; and offers workforce development training. Partnering with regional farms, it also serves as a hub for storing, processing, and distributing local food that it shares with area schools, small businesses, and nonprofits.