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Embracing Healing as a Joyous Experience with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC

Embracing Healing as a Joyous Experience

An Interview with Kymberly Wolff, President & CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC (RMHCDC)

RMHCDC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families with a sick child stay together and close to the medical care their child needs at leading local hospitals. RMHCDC programs not only provide access to quality health care; they enable family-centered care, ensuring families are fully supported and actively involved in their child’s care. RMHCDC helps families struggling with problems like how to stay near and support a hospitalized child, how to afford to stay together in another city while a child is undergoing treatment, or even how to get basic medical care in a vulnerable community.

Below, Spur Local speaks with Kymberly Wolff, who joined RMHCDC as President & CEO in November of 2021, bringing more than 25 years of leadership experience in the global and national nonprofit sector. Her experience includes a decade of serving the global nonprofit sector and leading international development teams at Habitat for Humanity International and CARE.

Q: What led you to RMHCDC?

KW: My very first job was working at my local McDonald’s, and I had the pleasure of volunteering at a Ronald McDonald House for ten years before I accepted the incredible opportunity to lead RMHCDC as President & CEO. Informing the innovation and collaboration I bring to my current role is more than 25 years of leadership experience in the global and national nonprofit sector.

I am passionate about increasing access to family-centered healthcare and community program support; and as a mom, I have a special place in my heart for children, so it has truly been a natural and fulfilling fit.

Q: Can you share a little more about RMHCDC’s focus on family-centered care?

KW: Family-centered care is an approach to healthcare that is viewed as critically important in providing health care to children, especially those with serious medical conditions. In the family-centered care of children, the patient’s family members are fully involved with health care providers to make informed decisions about the health care and support services the child and family receive.

The McFadden family have been with us for 330 days and counting. Chloe is eight years old and staying with us while doctors treat her Farber’s disease. Her mom, Zondria, says that Chloe is 1 in 20 in the United States with this ultra-rare disease for which there is no known cure. We have been able to provide her family with the ability to be close to her as she receives treatment at a nearby hospital.

Q: How have you seen things change since RMHCDC was founded?

KW: RMHCDC started in 1980 with a single Ronald McDonald House program in Washington, DC. We have since expanded to add the Ronald McDonald House of Northern Virginia, and other programs to meet the unique needs of the communities we serve.

From 16 guest suites to 56, we continue to grow to better deliver our mission to ease the hardship of childhood illness on families and children being treated at nearby hospitals.

Q: Where do you find meaning and impact in RMHCDC’s work?

KW: We believe in building a global community that finds strength, hope and courage in embracing healing as a joyous experience. It never ceases to amaze me that most of our funding comes from individual donors giving as generously as they can to help lessen the burden and ensure thousands of families a year have the stability and resources they need, when they need it most.

When a child is facing a life-threatening diagnosis, nothing matters more than precious moments with their family. It takes a special person to comfort sick children and their families, and I am so grateful for all those in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area who show up for the families we serve. You may never meet the children and families you help, but they are so grateful for you.

The Yarsiah family wanted us to share, “We are appreciative of the lodging, staffing, and all of the services rendered to families like ours who find themselves going through some of the most trying times and yet have to be focused and strong. Thank you.”

Learn more and give at RMHCDC’s website, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. They also have a year-end Share A Night campaign that allows you to help a family stay at Ronald McDonald House while their child receives critical care.

“Mother Power” Half a Century Later, with the Mother’s Outreach Network

“Mother Power” Half a Century Later, with the Mother’s Outreach Network

On the 5th Annual Basic Income Day of Action, the Mother’s Outreach Network (MON) organized a screening of Storming Caesars Palace, kicking off their latest learning and action series around DC women and guaranteed income.

We last spoke with MON’s Executive Director, Melody Webb, ten months ago. Since then, their DC Guaranteed Income Coalition project — now in its third year — has presented its work on narrative change and building intersectional coalitions at a national guaranteed income conference; partnered with the Fair Budget Coalition to advocate for a human needs-focused FY24 DC budget; and supported the study evaluating a tax credit for families proposed at the Council-level earlier this year.

Moving into October, and ahead of their first Stand with D.C. Moms! Fundraiser, MON is focused on empowering women and mothers “to know their rights,” as Melody wrote in a Ms. Magazine op-ed, and “to tell their stories in rooms where decisions are made.”

Storming Caesars Palace shows Ruby Duncan joining a welfare rights group alongside other mothers after losing her job as a hotel worker in Las Vegas. Together, they organized a massive protest that shut down Caesars Palace in 1971, igniting “Mother Power” to demand dignity, justice, and an adequate income.

More than 50 years later, we continue to see that “mothers of color confront not only the lower-wages and restricted access to well-paying jobs but also an undersupply of affordable childcare and the additional burden of child care responsibilities.” These conditions undoubtedly affect women’s health. The Economic Security Project shows that while guaranteed income is not the sole solution, a federal guaranteed income would be a timely, critical, and necessary public health intervention.

Here in DC, 18.8% of Black women workers lost their jobs between February and April 2020 due to COVID-19. During that time, 20% of Latinx women were unemployed — and both Black and Latinx women are disproportionately essential workers who also possess disproportionately greater caregiving responsibilities. Even pre-pandemic, 35% of Black families headed by single mothers were impoverished, as were 34% of Latinx headed households, and 22% of Asian-women headed households.

In Melody’s words, “We as a society have been taught to believe that asking for support implies some sort of moral flaw. The system has somehow led us to believe that to have the bravery to ask for support to provide for your kids means you are a bad person. We at Mother’s Outreach Network say, that’s not true.”

Locally, MON is advocating for direct cash payments to all regardless of income. Support them at their fundraiser on October 11, where you can hear directly from local leaders and moms.

Can’t make the fundraiser but want to learn more? Visit their website to read about their work, support them, and sign up for upcoming meetings and get involved!

Finding Your Community with Loudoun Cares

Finding Your Community with Loudoun Cares

If you are one of the 400,000+ residents living in Loudoun County, Virginia, how do you start to find your support network? Loudoun Cares makes it simple.

For everyone who needs some help, you can call the Loudoun Cares ConnectLine to be directed to the resources you need. As a hub that can refer individuals, businesses, and nonprofits to nearly 500 local programs, the ConnectLine has helped residents access basic necessities like clothing and rental assistance, as well as more specialized support like home repairs, job coaching, and holiday toy drives.

Photo of three Loudoun Cares staff and volunteers giving bread and pastries spread out over a large table.

This July, Loudoun Cares celebrated 20 years of caring for and connecting residents — responding to between 2,000 and 2,500 ConnectLine callers each year and having helped distribute more than $1.78 million in rent and utility assistance to families since 2020.

“When I was a single mom of two children at 19 years old, it was very difficult to have to choose between things like, do I feed my children or do I pay my electric or water bill,” resident Amber Valentine shared. “It would have been amazing to have a resource like Loudoun Cares to help take part of that confusion out and send me in the right direction.”

Dozens of clear glass trophies lined up on a table, each recognizing a 2022 Loudoun Cares volunteer

Founded in 2003 to provide affordable office space for small nonprofits across the county, Loudoun Cares continues to strengthen the critical operations of local organizations. Beyond providing rent-stable physical space, we connect over 260 local nonprofits with local volunteers, onboarding and managing them through the Loudoun Cares Volunteer Center. An average of 80-100 new volunteers access the Volunteer Center each month looking for opportunities. Since 2020, Loudoun Cares has seen residents volunteer an impressive 34,000 hours of their time by participating in service opportunities with nonprofits in their neighborhoods.

Loudoun Cares Executive Director Valerie Pisierra, wearing a pair of glasses, black blazer, and red top, speaking in front of a crowd“Our volunteers are a driving force in our community supporting our nonprofits and the populations they serve. This support allows our nonprofits to serve more people and stretch the funding they have, which we all know never seems to be enough,” said Valerie Pisierra, Executive Director of Loudoun Cares.

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, roughly 30% of nonprofits cease to exist after a decade. As Valerie told Loudoun Now, “Given these statistics and the significant changes in Loudoun’s landscape in the last 20 years, we really do have reason to celebrate this milestone anniversary.”

Graphic with a purple background that highlights some impact statistics from Loudoun Cares' ConnectLine efforts in the last three years. Key stats include: over 9,470 unduplicated calls fielded, over 11,300 residents impacted, and $1.85 million total given in emergency financial assistance to families.

Want to plug in and help your neighbors? Visit Loudoun Cares’ website — they’ll give you a great place to start.

You can also support their work at the 5th Annual Loudoun Cares Art Auction on October 14, their largest annual fundraising event that features the work of local artists in the Virginia, West Virginia, DC, and Maryland regions.

A Place of Belonging with BroadFutures

A Place of Belonging

Written by BroadFutures

Since 2013, BroadFutures has worked to transform the workforce into a more equitable space for neurodivergent young people. We believe that young neurodivergent people have limitless potential and represent a significant untapped labor source for employers. By connecting young people to internships across different fields and utilizing our innovative support model, we help unlock that potential.

Photo of Christian Souvenir, a young Black man who is neurodivergent and participated in BroadFutures' internship program. He is wearing glasses, a suit and tie with a purple shirt, and is speaking into a microphone at a podium.

BroadFutures alum Christian Souvenir’s journey with us is an incredible testimony to the transformational power of our programs. Christian has ADHD and is autistic. Growing up, he also experienced other learning difficulties, including a speech delay and challenges interpreting social cues. Christian went on to earn a degree in Information Technology from Lawrence Technological University. Despite being highly qualified for a number of positions, Christian found himself unemployed after searching the job market for months. Eager to utilize the skills he cultivated during his undergraduate experience, Christian turned to BroadFutures, where he took the first step down a path towards great success.

With BroadFutures’ support, Christian was able to complete two internships. One was with American Institutes of Research (AIR) where he assisted in upgrading technology, managing systems and processes, and logging inventory. Impressed by his work ethic and adaptability, AIR offered Christian a full-time position as Management Assistant. He has now been happily employed at AIR for almost three years.

When asked about his time with BroadFutures, Christian shared, “Before I came to BroadFutures, I didn’t know about neurodiversity. As I learned more, I realized that Autism, ADHD, ADD, and others all count as neurodiversity. BroadFutures gave me a place where I belonged.”

Team photo of Christian Souvenir with his coworkers, all of whom are smiling at the camera.

Vicky Geis, Senior Human Capital Partner at AIR shared her perspective as an employer partner. “There are organizations that want to participate but don’t know how… Once you experience these young people, your company benefits. There’s no reason you wouldn’t. BroadFutures provides the entire template and schema.”

“In a world where there is a labor shortage, there is such benefit to having the perspective (…) these individuals can bring to an organization,” Geis added. Without BroadFutures, Christian said, “I would still be looking for a job and wouldn’t have the community that I do now.”

Christian and AIR’s story of convergence is a testament to the exceptional outcomes of BroadFutures’ programs for hundreds of participants. As we reflect on ten years of programming, we remain committed to our mission of ensuring accessibility and sharing stories like Christian’s.

Learn more about BroadFutures by visiting their website, where you can find information about their programs for neurodivergent young people and for employers looking to partner with them. You can also support their mission and work by joining them for their 10th Anniversary Celebration on October 21.

Quality, Accessible Health Care for the Whole Family with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC

Quality, Accessible Health Care for the Whole Family

An interview with Craig Rice, VP of Community Engagement at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC (RMHCDC)

Q: What led you to get involved with RMHCDC?

CR: As a former elected official, this truly is a full circle moment, as one of the reasons I ran for office was my family’s personal experience with long-term hospitalization and specialized treatment.

My cousin Trevor was born prematurely and received in-patient treatment at Children’s National Hospital for a year while he grew strong enough to go home. Fortunately, my family and Trevor’s mom, my Aunt Millie, lived locally. Everyone helped by taking turns staying with Trevor at the hospital, giving my aunt the time she needed to work and care for my other cousins. If my family had not been close by, the year-long treatment could have had devastating financial and psychological impacts.

A desire to ensure everyone has access to quality health care drove my role in local government and continues to fuel my passion for the mission of RMHCDC.

Q: Are there myths or narratives around care and health equity that RMHCDC is working to change? If so, what are they and how are you working to change them?

CR: There is a myth that treatment starts and ends at the hospital and only involves the patient. At RMHCDC, we know that treatment includes the whole family and ongoing support is needed where our families live and work. RMHCDC enables and facilitates family-centered care by ensuring a diverse population of familes with ill or injured children are fully supported throughout their health care journey.

“The support we received went beyond a warm meal, or a comfortable bed. Everyone saw us as the Bailey Family, not just a family with a critically ill child. Staff, families, and volunteers got to know us as individual people, not just a cancer family. It provided a sense of normalcy and strength that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.” — Alia Bailey

Our core programs help meet a family’s psychosocial and basic daily needs, so they can focus more fully on their hospitalized child and be actively involved in their child’s care. Through our Ronald McDonald House programs, we make it possible for families to be near their hospitalized child and the care they need, without the financial burden that’s often associated with traveling to be near an ill or injured child.

In line with our commitment to achieving health equity, our Ronald McDonald Care Mobile programs provide underserved communities with access to healthcare at no cost to the families. We work closely with families, ensuring that they have access to ongoing treatment as needed.

Photo of a mother posing with her three young children by the Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Washington, DC sign, all of whom are smiling at the camera

Q: How does RMHCDC define family-centered care and why does it use this framework to approach its work?

CR: Family-centered care is an approach to healthcare where the entire family is supported, engaged, and involved in the care and support services provided to their child. Families with access to Ronald McDonald House Charities programs can better participate in their child’s care and have a better hospital experience.

Q: How have things changed since RMHCDC was founded in 1980?

CR: Starting with one 16-bedroom house in 1980, we have since expanded our services to include two Ronald McDonald House programs with a total of 56 bedrooms, two Ronald McDonald Care Mobile programs serving underinsured and vulnerable children in the District, and our Hospitality Cart, “Cart with a Heart,” operating at Children’s National Medical Center and Inova Children’s Hospital, providing bedside amenities and comfort to parents and other caregivers while they remain with their hospitalized child.

In recent years, we have also removed the mileage requirement, allowing more families in our community access to our programs. Newly opened oncology treatment units and the creation of specialized disease centers at two major area hospitals have increased the number of families in need of our services annually, as well as diversifying the population we serve.

Q: How does RMHCDC collaborate with other stakeholders — individuals, organizations, etc. — to better serve its community?

CR: In pursuit of our mission to ease the hardship of children’s illness on families, community, individual, and corporate partnerships are critical to meeting the unique needs of the population we serve. From clinical service providers that deliver care in our Ronald McDonald Care Mobile programs and hospital partners that welcome our Cart with a Heart on their pediatric units, to the thousands of donors that give their time, talent, and treasure, we are truly Built by Love.

Parents posing next to their daughter by the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC sign. The daughter, Natalia, is sitting in a wheelchair and holding a chalkboard sign that reads "Natalia is going home after 83 nights."

Q: What makes you feel optimistic about your work and/or this sector?

CR: Seeing the impact that our work has made on the families we support makes all the difference to me. I’m humbled by the many individuals and organizations that come together to allow us to support these families.

Q: Is there anything you aren’t often asked about your work that you’d like to share?

CR: A question many have is about our relationship with McDonald’s. We are grateful to call McDonald’s Family Restaurants our Founding & Forever partner since 1974. The generosity of time, funds, and in-kind services provided by the entire McDonald’s community have positively impacted millions of children and their families.

Although McDonald’s is our largest corporate partner, no single individual or partner can fully support RMHCDC as a nonprofit serving thousands. We rely on the support of our entire community to help deliver our mission. Donations from individuals and other corporate partners are critical to providing the services our families need.

Q: What can interested readers do to support RMHCDC’s work?

CR: Everyone has something to offer and we have a place for you. There are numerous ways to get involved and we encourage you to visit our website to get started!

For our upcoming 13th Annual Red Shoe 5k at National Harbor on October 8th, we encourage folks to register and create a team, fundraise, sponsor, or simply help us to spread the word to friends and family. Join us to Raise Your Feet To Raise Hope For Families and help us raise critical funding that will support our mission and the families we serve.

Photo of the Ronald McDonald House building

Creating Connections and Careers through VisArts’ Center for Craft Studies

Creating Connections and Careers through VisArts’ Center for Craft Studies

Written by VisArts

At VisArts’ Center for Craft Studies, students experience the joy of creating, the thrill of discovery, and the transformative power of artistic expression — while forging meaningful connections within our artistic community and preparing themselves for careers in craft.

Since our founding in 1987, VisArts has supported craft education and craft artists as a vibrant hub for the visual arts in Rockville Town Square. We recently launched our new Center for Craft Studies, an extensive initiative that will allow us to build on our longstanding commitment to ceramics, embrace new media, cultivate the next generation of craft artists, and connect with communities throughout the region.

Designed to help fill the void left by the closure of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s School of Art and Design, which offered professional studies in the craft arts, the Center for Craft Studies includes a craft advisory council, ceramic artist residencies, master craft workshops and lectures, a craft teacher training program, and a unique certificate program that will mine the rich treasures of the Smithsonian, Renwick Gallery, Library of Congress, private craft collections, and more to survey the historical and cultural significance of craft.

A man wearing glasses and a green polo shirt is cutting out a complex geometric paper design in one of VisArts' paper-cutting workshops.

One of the Center’s most remarkable features is its broad range of offerings for students of all levels, from beginners to seasoned practitioners. Whether they’re captivated by the delicate artistry of paper crafts, the versatility of mixed media, the tactile beauty of fiber crafts, the timeless allure of book arts, the sculptural possibilities of ceramics, the mesmerizing world of glass, the intrigue of academia, or the challenge of business pursuits, there’s a creative path to explore.

Two participants at an artist work table crafting their ceramic sculptures in a VisArts workshop.The immersive experiences offered by the Center allow students to develop their skills, ignite their imagination, and tap into their creative potential. They provide a solid foundation in craft media and the creative industries, fostering a deep appreciation for the rich cultural heritage and contemporary practices within these art forms and fields.

The Center is more than just a place of artistic exploration — it’s a launchpad for careers in craft. Our programs are designed to equip students with the knowledge, proficiency, and confidence to succeed in their chosen field, whether they aspire to be a studio artist, instructor, curator, scholar, arts administrator, or industry leader. Graduates of the program are empowered to make their mark, bridging the tradition of craft with the evolving demands of the creative world.

A man wearing glasses and a striped blue shirt working on his ceramic sculpture during a VisArts workshop.

VisArts is passionate about fostering an inclusive community. We believe the arts should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or experience. Students will join a diverse network of individuals who share their love for craft and creative expression — and an environment that encourages collaboration, celebrates diversity, and nurtures artistic growth.

VisArts’ Center for Craft Studies is partially funded by Windgate Foundation, which provided a generous grant to launch the initiative. Visit our website to begin your creative journey with us — and learn about how you can help support the Center.

Powerful Stories from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Powerful Stories from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

Highlights from MAIP’s 14th Annual Awards Luncheon

Written by Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project‘s 14th Annual Awards Luncheon, held on June 28, 2023, was an amazing success! This year, our luncheon theme was “Share Your Story.” We heard moving stories from our clients, recognized the storytellers and their important work amplifying the voices of the wrongfully convicted, and celebrated our amazing supporters, without whom none of our work would be possible.

To kick off the program, MAIP clients David Boyce and Ransom Watkins opened with powerful stories. David, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years, shared how he never stopped fighting to clear his name, and Ransom recounted how his mother’s words gave him the strength to carry on during 36 long years of wrongful incarceration.

MAIP client Ransom Watkins shares his story, speaking at a podium. He is a Black man with short black and white hair, wearing glasses, a black tee, and a necklace.

Storytellers ensure that the stories of David, Ransom, and other wrongfully convicted people are brought to light. We were thrilled to honor Jason Flom, Jeff Kempler, and their company Lava for Good with the Champion of Justice award. Through Lava for Good’s podcasts, such as Wrongful Conviction, Jason and Jeff have amplified the stories of hundreds of wrongfully convicted men and women, including MAIP clients Clarence Jones, Thomas Haynesworth, and Keith Harward.

We were also proud to honor Patrice Gaines with the Defender of Innocence Award. Patrice’s brave early writing about the 8th & H case for The Washington Post garnered national attention for this miscarriage of justice and ultimately led to MAIP’s involvement. The eight men who had been wrongfully convicted in the case, including MAIP client and board member Chris Turner, presented the award to Patrice. It was incredibly moving to see Patrice reunite with the men.

One of the most impactful parts of the program was when we welcomed all of our clients in attendance to the stage. Each person stated his name and the number of years he had spent wrongfully incarcerated. Altogether, our freed clients have served more than 889 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Welcoming MAIP's clients to the stage

Finally, we recognized our outgoing board members, Julia Dahlberg and Andrew George. Without Julia’s and Andrew’s unwavering commitment to MAIP, we would never have grown into the organization that we are today.

We are grateful to everyone who joined us, and we would like to give a huge thank you to all of our sponsors, donors, and board members who made the event such a success!

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project works to prevent and correct the conviction of innocent people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. MAIP has one of the highest success rates in the country for exonerating those who have been wrongfully accused. Visit their website to learn more, stay in touch, and support their work.

Who gets to be in the room where it happens? The DC Justice Lab is changing how we make policy

Who gets to be in the room where it happens? The DC Justice Lab is changing how we make policy

For too long, policymaking in the District has excluded the voices of the people directly impacted by these laws, turning Washington, DC into an epicenter of the injustices that result from a misguided and racially-charged criminal justice system.

DC Justice Lab (DCJL) is making a positive impact to advance racial equity, democratize civic engagement, decrease our reliance on policing, prosecution, and punishment, and establish a more accurate narrative about the state of criminal justice and the changes in our nation’s capital. By the end of the 2021-22 DC Council legislative session, DCJL helped secure checks on police officers’ power, brought attention to how people are being treated in our jails, and made it easier to seal criminal records.

“DC is one of the wealthiest, best-educated cities, but still has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Why?” Patrice Sulton, Executive Director of DCJL, asked the Washington Post. “Because of bad policies. And the reason the policies are so bad is because of a lack of inclusion.”

DCJL is a team of law and policy experts that researches, organizes, and advocates for large-scale changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal legal system. DCJL advocates for community-rooted public safety reform, taking its lead from Black Washingtonians in developing smarter safety solutions that are evidence-driven, racially just, and that will tangibly improve the lives of all District residents.

In the face of recent significant budget cuts and damaging and inaccurate narratives, DCJL is doubling down on the need to democratize civic engagement and improve public education around the process and substance of lawmaking in the District. This summer, it is launching a new intensive training program for 15 residents involved in their communities, who will each be paid a stipend to learn about policymaking and add it to their skillset as local community advocates.

Over the course of one full week, these 15 community advocates will gain a thorough background on the who, what, when, where, and why of local lawmaking, developing the tools they need to effectively advocate for large-scale change — from persuasive writing and speaking skills to research and advocacy training. Experienced DCJL staff will support participants as they prepare a campaign strategy plan and educational materials, which they will share directly with lawmakers and the public at the end of the week.

“There’s a lot to do to change how policymaking is done to democratize civic engagement,” Sulton told the Washington Informer.

This city is living through a challenging moment, with its autonomy being tested by new attempts to roll back hard-won gains to make our communities safer, freer, and more equal. It is crucial to ensure that native Washingtonians and individuals who have experience with the criminal legal system are equipped to turn their expertise into thoughtful law and policy change.

As Sulton said, “Changing policy can’t happen without changing who is changing the policy.”

Attend the Community Safety Fair on July 29 to learn more about the DC Justice Lab’s Policy Training Academy and to hear from its inaugural cohort of community advocates.

If you’re interested in supporting DCJL’s ongoing work and future iterations of this program, visit their website for more information and reach out to Naike Savain.

Truth-Telling in Today’s Education System with Teaching for Change

For Truth-Telling in Today’s Education System

Written by Keesha Ceran, Teaching for Change

An orange banner with Teaching for Change's logo and a one-liner in white text below that reads, "building social justice starting in the classroom."

Teachers around the United States face the challenge of how to teach in the midst of a white supremacist backlash that is manifesting itself everywhere, from local police departments to state legislatures to the halls of Congress.

That is why we are teaching for change — Change in our systems. Change in our communities. Change for the lives of the whole person. Change in our world. At Teaching for Change, we play a central role in grassroots education reform in the DC region and nationally. We provide a carefully curated selection of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators. We coordinate campaigns to fill gaps in the curriculum.

Many teachers themselves are just learning about the history of institutionalized racism. Textbooks and the traditional curriculum are of no help. For example, despite large numbers of immigrants from Central America, there is little in the school curriculum about the region, even during Latinx Heritage Month. Therefore, Teaching for Change has a campaign to Teach Central America with lessons, books, and film recommendations, and a growing network of teachers!

In collaboration with Rethinking Schools, we co-direct the Zinn Education Project to bring the history of working people, people of color, and organized social movements into the classroom. Curricular innovation, powerful professional development for teachers, and meaningful parent engagement are now even more critical as racial bias and injustice have emerged as urgent national issues.

We believe that education should help students, parents, teachers, and administrators understand and relate to the histories, cultures, and languages of people different from themselves. But education must also be much more than that. It must be transformative. It must encourage academic excellence that embraces critical skills for progressive social change.

Teachers confronting the realities of their students’ lives and the disparities within their schools or districts are now also being made the scapegoats in political culture wars that put their lives and wellbeing at stake. In spite of legislation in many states and decisions in school boards cultivating an anti-history movement, we continue to see educators committed to teaching truth, teaching outside of the textbook, and refusing to lie to students. Teachers who have signed a pledge to teach the truth are being harassed and, in some cases, threatened with firing. They are accused of being in violation of new state laws against teaching about institutionalized racism or “divisive concepts.” (Read more: Teaching in Dangerous Times)

One devastating result of these attacks is that teachers are leaving the profession. Educators aren’t resigning because they want to. They are resigning because they are forced to — Forced to resign by a system that underappreciates and undervalues them. Forced to resign in the midst of extreme political scapegoating.

We are seeing a continued backlash and censoring of educators and a censoring of future generations’ understanding of the truths of this history and current reality. Educators aren’t being celebrated; instead, their jobs are on the line. Teachers are “first-responders,” as critical to our community as firepersons, police, doctors, and other medical responders. They are the ones who pick up the pieces; they are the ones who notice the experiences that a child is facing — abuse, malnourishment, etc. Being a teacher is a choice to serve others. Often, teachers come from a family of teachers where this tradition of service has been instilled for generations.

As an organization, we will continue our commitment to develop critical thinking that supports students to better understand problems in our society and to develop collective solutions to those problems. We are for truth-telling and uplifting the power of organizing and solidarity that move us toward a more just society.

We invite others to come alongside us to support teachers, students, and families until our work has met its goal and a more just community is actualized.

Keesha Ceran serves as the associate director of Teaching for Change, a pre-K-12 nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C.

More Than Affordable Housing: Helping Families Thrive with Good Shepherd Housing

More Than Affordable Housing: Helping Families Thrive with Good Shepherd Housing

More than we realize, many of us likely know a friend or colleague who may struggle with long-term housing instability. Increases in the cost of housing in the DC metropolitan area routinely outpace increases in wages. In Fairfax County, specifically — one of the wealthiest counties in the United States — approximately 18% of households have income levels of $50,000 or less, which is over $20,000 short of the annual income needed to afford the county’s average monthly rent.

For almost 50 years, Good Shepherd Housing (GSH) has been serving the housing needs of Northern Virginia families and individuals. Today, the organization oversees 100+ affordable housing units and, since the start of the pandemic, has distributed over $5 million in rental relief and utility assistance.

The core of their service area is Richmond Highway, where many households spend 50% or more of their monthly income on rent, leaving little money for food, transportation, childcare or healthcare needs. Enormous redevelopment has also been underway, rapidly increasing rents on both newly constructed housing and existing affordable units.

In response, GSH launched The Campaign for Colchester in 2018, its largest capital campaign to date, purchasing 30 units in the Colchester community to ensure that affordable housing units in the neighborhood remain available.

But providing physical access to affordable housing is only one component of their model. Just as there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless person or family, GSH recognizes that affordable housing by itself is not enough. Each individual experiencing homelessness has their own story and set of challenges, which means that what they need to become self-sufficient and stable in their homes is unique.

For example, Heather approached GSH because she was finding it particularly difficult to secure affordable housing that was also wheelchair-accessible for her 11-year-old daughter with disabilities. Though they were approved for a housing choice voucher that allowed them to move into such a home, Heather was not able to cover the security deposit and prorated first month’s rent on her fixed income. GSH offered them $3,000 to cover these moving costs, ensuring they can settle comfortably and safely into their new home.

Heather’s story is just one of more than 500 families and individuals GSH supports every year, 83% of whom are families with children. Including The Campaign for Colchester, they have secured 97 housing units for lower-income families over the last five years, in addition to providing residents with financial literacy and skills training, higher education planning, and other resources through partnerships with neighboring organizations.

“Our vision is to provide the support and resources they need to achieve individual success,” said Chris Reddick, a board member with GSH. “It’s been very successful.”

Still, there is much more than can be done. By one estimate, Northern Virginia needs 66,000 more housing units to address the area’s housing insecurity. Housing prices, too, aren’t staying the same. “The dollars don’t go as far as they used to,” Reddick shared, noting that GSH is trying to maintain their purchasing power.

To cover expenses related to the expansion of their housing inventory, they have a new reach goal to raise a total of $3.5 million by June 30, 2023 — $400,000 above what has already been raised. You can learn more about, and support, their work to reduce homelessness and enable self-sufficiency among working families, senior citizens, and residents with disabilities in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County.