Springtime Celebration Gives Homeless Women Sense of Safety, Normalcy

As part of the Leadership Awards public vote (underway now), each organization up for the $5,000 award has been offered an opportunity to use The Women’s Foundation blog to state their case.  Today, Thrive DC discusses the sense of renewal and normalcy women felt while participating in a Springtime Celebration.  Read what these organizations have to say, then head over to our online poll and vote.  It might be the easiest $5,000 you’ll ever give to a great cause.  — The Women’s Foundation

Thrive Spring PhotoThrive DC, formerly the Dinner Program for Homeless Women, provides comprehensive support for DC’s homeless and low-income residents.  Our “Dinner Program” provides services that are specifically designed to meet the special needs of women and children, particularly during vulnerable evening hours when women are most at risk of sexual-assault and violence.

One way in which Thrive DC works to build a sense of community and create important relationships between staff and individuals who have been marginalized from society and often times isolated from family and friends is through holding special celebrations and holiday parties.

Just last week, Thrive DC welcomed new beginnings and growth for all people through our Springtime Celebration.  During the celebration, each woman who attended our “Dinner Program” was greeted with a special meal, participated in a spring clothing fashion show, and received a small take-away gift made possible through the generosity of our supporters.

One woman commented, “The holiday parties they [Thrive DC] have remind me of a world I used to know.  I feel safe within the walls of Thrive DC.”

As each woman departed that evening, they were given a special gift that included a new scented bar of soap, washcloth, and pair of sandals.  These warm-weather essentials will ensure that the women who attend our programs are able to take care of themselves, make healthy choices, and remain comfortable even outdoors in the sweltering months to come.  Often providing the only sense of stability and support in participants’ lives, Thrive DC meets individuals’ most basic needs and enables women to concentrate on accessing onsite services needed to overcome their homelessness and increase self-sufficiency.

Help Thrive DC to provide renewed hope and opportunity for all women in the District of Columbia by voting for us today in the Leadership Awards online vote.  For more information on getting involved with Thrive DC, please find more information at www.ThriveDC.org or contact us directly at development@thrivedc.org.

Click here to vote in the Leadership Awards online vote!

An Encounter With Sexism

As part of the Leadership Awards public vote (underway now), each organization up for the $5,000 award has been offered an opportunity to use The Women’s Foundation blog to state their case.  Today, Jordana, a 14-year-old student who is in the City at Peace DC program, describes a frightening encounter with sexism.  City at Peace is a youth development organization that uses the performing arts to teach and promote cross-cultural understanding and non-violent conflict resolution.  Read what these organizations have to say, then head over to our online poll and vote.  It might be the easiest $5,000 you’ll ever give to a great cause.  — The Women’s Foundation

Jordana [capdc]croppedUp until recently I didn’t realize just how much sexism hurt me.  Of course I see and personally experience sexism all the time, but I thought I had gotten above it all; I thought I had learned to brush it off.

A few days ago I was walking to my bus stop in the morning.  It was particularly dark that morning so I already had my guard up, and not without reason.  An older man who I had never seen before started hollering things at me and shouting things about me that made me feel extremely uncomfortable.  I tried to breathe slowly, I had been hollered at before, it’s just it was so dark that morning and I was all alone.  I put my head down and attempted to make myself look as unappealing as possible; I pushed out my stomach, made my hair look stringy, and sort of stared at the ground.  The man was several feet away from me and he took a step towards me.  I don’t think he was actually going to come at me but in that moment all I knew was that I had to get away.  I ran, and ran, forgetting that half of my papers were flying out my hands.  I was so scared.

What would have happened if he had come closer towards me?  I felt so completely powerless; I could have done almost nothing to protect myself from this man.  At that moment I hated myself for being so small, for wearing something one day that actually made me feel pretty, for walking with my head held high.  Because I was running so fast I had a few minutes alone at the bus stop. My breathing was heavy, my heart was pounding.  At that moment I felt so utterly alone.

It makes me so angry that I can’t even walk a few feet to my bus stop without being afraid that a man might do something to me or say something to me.  I hate that feeling that I get, that feeling of being ashamed to feel pretty.  I want to be able to walk out in something that makes me feel beautiful.  That morning I had, and then this man ruined it.  Thinking back on it now, I realize that this man was probably taught from a young age that the way he spoke to me, with very sexual words and rude tones, was an acceptable way to talk to women.  Probably many of the men that he looked up to spoke and acted to women the way he acted towards me.  It’s this system, this cycle of acting in certain ways towards women.  If this man has a son, then his son might do the same thing because it is all he knows, and throughout his life it has been okay to act like that.  It hurts the way I am treated, it hurts a lot, but it does help to understand.

Jordana is a freshman at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. This is her second year at City at Peace and her first year on the production team. She says: “it may sound really cheesy but City at Peace has completely changed my life. There are a lot of confusing changes going on outside and within myself and it is really hard to deal with them all alone. City at Peace has been an amazing place to be able to talk about the things I am dealing with and it has sort of taught me the language of the oppressions and issues that are going on today. I love to read, write, dance, and cook (and OF COURSE go to City at Peace). When I grow I’m not sure exactly what I want to be but I know that it will definitely involve writing and the arts. I really, really love cats, chocolate (72% cocoa to be precise), and traveling.”

Click here to vote in the Leadership Awards online vote!

Real Change Starts With Relationships

Womens Circle SmallAs part of the Leadership Awards public vote (underway now), each organization up for the $5,000 award has been offered an opportunity to use The Women’s Foundation blog to state their case.  Today, IMPACT Silver Spring kicks things off by explaining how the power of relationships can change a community for the better.  Read what these organizations have to say, then head over to our online poll and vote.  It might be the easiest $5,000 you’ll ever give to a great cause.

So, why vote for IMPACT Silver Spring in The Women’s Foundation’s online vote?

If you’re a woman — or a guy who gets it, as The Foundation likes to say — you know that the essence of life is relationships.  Every day when you wake up, you think of yourself in relation to others around you: you’re a partner, a parent, a neighbor, a book club member, a social activist, a comforting hug after a long day, or a smile after a small success…  All of these identities point to a clear relationship with others.

But how far do these relationships go?  If you’re like me — a nice white girl from a comfortable, middle-class home — a quick analysis of your and my social circles might not be so exciting: my friends and closest acquaintances look like me, act like me, have had similar experiences as me, and know my talents and my struggles.  When I need one more egg for my recipe, I know who to call.  When I want to borrow a good book, I know who to call.  When I need help paying this month’s rent, I know who to call.

I live in a unique part of Montgomery County — Silver Spring — where apartment buildings with 30 different culture groups are on the same streets as single-family homes owned primarily by white families.  Where neighbors living in comfort are steps away from neighbors living in near poverty.  So many of my neighbors don’t know who to call.  They live in isolation, and they have vastly different experiences from me, which makes them hard to reach out to.  But when my social circle connects with theirs, it’s easier for us to swap eggs and to find solutions about this month’s rent — and it’s easier for us to build communities that work for everyone, not just for the few who are connected.  Ultimately, these new networks can make it easier for us to know what we collectively need to thrive, even across the deep divides of race, class, and culture.

All this is to say that relationships are the spark for change in neighborhoods like mine.  At IMPACT Silver Spring, we are weaving together the lives and destinies of neighbors because we know that we can achieve more together.  The power of relationships becomes apparent when you have seen a property manager and a renter talk as equals about an issue they face in their complex.  It becomes apparent when the Director of Montgomery County’s Department of Health & Human Services sits down with our staff and network members to make changes to her system that will better serve thousands of residents.  It becomes apparent when an African-American teacher visits the home of a Latino student and begins to see how her classroom and the school can shepherd all students toward success.  It becomes apparent when a strong-willed, white civic association leader has his Ethiopian neighbor over for dinner and they begin to design welcoming neighborhood meetings that everyone wants to attend.

So, what will you do to build the relationships needed for change?  Vote today for IMPACT Silver Spring.

Read more about IMPACT Silver Spring and check out our blog.

Lianna Levine Reisner is the Resource Development Director at IMPACT Silver Spring.

Photo credit: IMPACT Silver Spring: Neighbors in Takoma Park formed a women’s circle for support, learning, and neighborhood change.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

LeadershipAward ThumbnailIn today’s rundown: Vote and help one organization get $5,000 right here on our website!  |  Nominations are open for National Capital Philanthropy Day.

— The Women’s Foundation’s 2010 Leadership Awards online vote is now open.  The online vote gives the public the opportunity to choose which of the 10 Leadership Awardees should earn an additional $5,000.  Click here to check out these 10 outstanding organizations and vote.

— Award nomination forms are currently being accepted for National Capital Philanthropy Day 2010.  Click here to nominate a person, organization or corporation for their outstanding work. Forms are due by April 30th.

Grants for Organizations That Help Those Who are "Between the Cracks & at the Intersections"

Racism, classism, homophobia, oppression…diversity, cultural competency, inclusion, awareness…these are heady topics that have challenged (and frustrated) us as individuals, organizations, and a society for a very long time.  While many in our country could never have imagined they would live to see the day when an African-American man would be President, systems of oppression and marginalization abound.  We have come a long way in so many regards.  But we don’t need to look very far to see that we still have a long way to go

The Problem of Invisibility
“A Structural Analysis of Oppression,” a 2006 article by Sandra Hinson and Alexa Bradley, determined that as members of certain social groups, people usually experience oppression as one or more of the following conditions:

  1. Exploitation
  2. Marginalization
  3. Powerlessness
  4. Cultural Dominance
  5. Violence

The piece, though a few years old, is an interesting, clear and concise way of framing these issues.  You can read it here, and I recommend it for anyone interested in understanding these terms and concepts better.

Unfortunately, the stories of the women (and men) most adversely affected by issues of exploitation discrimination, oppression, and marginalization are buried between the pages of the newspaper, if they are reported at all – invisibility is the insult to this injury.  Yet, there are organizations in our community working to do all they can to catch those that would otherwise fall through the cracks of “the system.” 

Shine a Light On the Solution
This year, the Leadership Awards program wants to identify those organizations working tirelessly to continue moving the needle on these issues, shine a light on the critical work they do, and make these organizations and their work “front page news!”  10 organizations will win $10,000 each!

The 2010 Leadership Awards program invites you to help us shine a light on these champions within our community.  Help us identify innovative or under-recognized  non-profit organizations in Washington, D.C., City of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax Counties, VA; or Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, MD working to positively impact the lives of women and girls from under-resourced, oppressed or marginalized communities (communities of women that all too often fall “through the cracks”), or through innovative work at the intersection of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability, etc. in their communities.  If you want to learn more about how to nominate, click here for a copy of the nomination guidelines.  Nomination forms are also available by clicking hereThe deadline for nominations is November 3rd, so act now!

Between the Cracks & At the Intersections… a seemingly simple expression for very complex and important work.

Nicole Cozier is the Philanthropic Education Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

D.C. Government Slashes Funding for Some of the City's Most Vulnerable Women

Days after the District made the shocking announcement that $20 million had been cut from the homeless services budget for the 2010 fiscal year, advocates and organizations that provide shelter for the homeless are still reeling. One of The Women’s Foundation grantee partners is reaching out for help – as winter approaches and the organizations that assist the homeless face a crisis.

Calvary Women’s Services was notified Monday, September 28, by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) that contract funding for Calvary would be cut by nearly $75,000 beginning October 1st.  These funds support safe housing and other services for 150 homeless women each year.  TCP is an independent, non-profit corporation that coordinates DC’s Continuum of Care homeless services.

Calvary is one of many social service providers notified of cuts to their existing contracts. Emergency, transitional and supported permanent housing programs were all targeted as the city attempted to close an ever-widening budget gap.  The impact of these cuts on the overall homeless services system is going to be severe, with some housing programs reducing their services and others likely closing programs. 

Although these cuts may provide some immediate relief to the city’s budget problems, the real impact of the cuts will be felt by those in need of safe housing and support services.  Women who have already lost their jobs in this economic crisis will have fewer services and housing options available to them. These cuts will make women who are already at-risk much more likely to end up living on the streets or in unsafe situations.

The women who come to programs like Calvary are survivors of violence, women struggling with mental illness, and women working to overcome addictions.  At Calvary we make sure they have access to all of the services they need to address these challenges – in addition to providing a safe place to live.

We know that programs like ours work.  Every five days a woman moves out of Calvary and into her own home.

We have always relied on the support of both public funding and private donations to make our programs possible.  In the past, supporters have helped us close gaps like this one, and I am hopeful that the community will step up once again.  But I am also concerned that this gap may be too wide for our generous donors to close.

The coming months will be challenging ones for organizations like Calvary, as we try to find ways to continue to provide women in this community with critical, life changing services.  More so, they will be challenging months for women who need services like ours, as they face closed doors and reduced services at programs across the city.

 You can make a difference.  Support Calvary – or another agency facing these cuts – today. 

 Volunteer, donate or learn more at www.calvaryservices.org.

Kris Thompson is the Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services, recognized as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more about them on their Web site or on Facebook.

Calvary Women's Services: When you're serious about making a change.

Irene, a woman who lives at Calvary Women’s Shelter, recently said, “Calvary’s where you go when you’re serious about making a change.”

Irene credits her own new direction in life to the support she has received at Calvary. “Now, I do what I have to do. I just work on changing from the inside out.”

The J. Jill Compassion Fund was created to help women like Irene.  Each year it awards grants to organizations that help low-income and homeless women become self-sufficient. Calvary Women’s Services was selected as one of 28 organizations across the country to receive a $10,000 grant from the Compassion Fund. This grant helps us continue to provide homeless women in Washington, D.C. with “a safe, caring place for tonight; support, hope and change for tomorrow.”

Each year, we support 150 women as they journey from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Many of the women in our programs have experienced both drug addiction and mental health problems.  Many are survivors of domestic violence.

And all of them have known what it’s like to be without a safe, stable place to live.

Our programs work with women as individuals to empower them to take control of their own lives—helping them not only find permanent housing, but also to address some of the reasons they became homeless. Because our programs are small, our staff can provide personalized support to each woman as she works to become self-sufficient.

Each year, 60 percent of the women who come to Calvary move into their own homes. Many others take positive steps to prepare for independent living.

Earlier this year, The Women’s Foundation recognized Calvary’s work with a Leadership Award in recognition of our work with low-income women and their families.  In addition, they have been providing support for our communications and marketing efforts as part of their technical assistance "beyond the check."     

Kris Thompson is the Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services, recognized as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more about them on their Web site or on Facebook.

Fair Fund: Leadership Award meant far more than $15,000!

The following is an excerpt from the speech Caroline Tower-Morris gave as a representative of Fair Fund, to congratulate the newest Leadership Awardees and welcome them to The Women’s Foundation’s community.

In 2007, Fair Fund was a Leadership Award recipient, and winner of the on-line vote.  I am proud to be here this evening representing FAIR Fund, as well as honored to be able to pass the torch to the new class of award recipients, including Polaris Project, winner of the 2009 on-line vote.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Washington Area Women’s Foundation on behalf of FAIR Fund for everything, and we look forward to a continuing fruitful partnership.

Over the past year, I discovered how truly fortunate FAIR Fund was to have received the 2007 Leadership Award and to have won the online vote. The Leadership Award and online vote meant more to us than $15,000, which, of course, was also extremely helpful.

On a deeper level, the Leadership Award helped to position FAIR Fund’s presence in the women’s and girl’s advocacy and service community.  Prior to the award, FAIR Fund had been working inside D.C. schools and youth centers to reach out to and assist teens, in particular girls, who were at high risk toward sexual violence and even commercial sexual exploitation, but this award helped us to deepen our level of commitment and service.

When my Executive Director, Andrea Powell, told me that up to 70 percent of teens in classes reported knowing another teen involved in some form of commercial sex, I was truly shocked and realized that the need to provide comprehensive community support and outreach was greater than possibly imagined.

With the support and community connectionsThe Women’s Foundation offered to FAIR Fund last year, we were able to reach out to a broader D.C. community.

For example, we were offered a chance to work with The Hatcher Group on our media strategy, resulting in multiple press coverage opportunities, including the Washington Post and Salon.com.

The Women’s Foundation believed in FAIR Fund as we sought to educate the community and build support for young women and men trapped by pimps and traffickers, who often trick their victims by pretending to be a boyfriend or friend, then demand that they have sex with others to keep that relationship, and often even just to keep their own lives.

These young women and men deserve to be heard, and The Women’s Foundation helped strengthen FAIR Fund’s voice.

Starting last year at this very Leadership Awards ceremony, FAIR Fund began to form new partnerships with other Leadership Award recipients in order to deepen our community connections to other women’s programs. We formed special relationships with agencies that are now our partners is assisting exploited and neglected girls. Together, we are addressing the myriad of challenges that small nonprofits face as colleagues.  We are also there to help facilitate outreach in new communities in D.C. and provide assistance to identified exploited girls.

This past fall, the support from The Women’s Foundation continued to strengthen FAIR Fund’s role in the D.C. women’s and girl’s advocacy community when we partnered at our first annual Youth Ally Awards and Pathways event to raise D.C. community awareness of the plight of commercially sexually exploited teens.  During that evening in November, The Women’s Foundation supported FAIR Fund as we shared findings from a two-year federally funded study of 60 teens in D.C. and Boston who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation. Many of our colleagues from The Women’s Foundations were there, as were many of our own partners in the community, including Polaris Project–a Leadership Awardee this year and winner of the online vote!

The resources the award offered to FAIR Fund over the course of the year have helped give a small organization such as ours a leg up in many areas. In this uncertain economic climate, giving to others does not, or cannot, always take precedence, and The Women’s Foundation through their award and numerous priceless resources, has insured that the plight of many women and girls in Washington, DC does not go unnoticed.

FAIR Fund plans to continue the work for which The Women’s Foundation has honored us, and we are inspired to strive for even higher goals.

FAIR Fund is proud to stand alongside The Women’s Foundation today as we recognize the 2009 Leadership Awardees and the winner of the public online vote, Polaris Project.

FAIR Fund and the Polaris Project are strong partners in building a D.C. that is safer for young women and girls. 

Recently, FAIR Fund and Polaris Project staff worked together to rescue a young woman who was a victim of human trafficking.  As our two agencies worked tirelessly through the night, it reinforced the idea that no one agency can do everything.  However, this one night and the following days of assisting this young woman proved that together we were able to help her escape her abuser and begin to access services and shelter, and finally to re-build her life.

Caroline Tower-Morris is co-founder and chair of the board of directors of Fair Fund, a 2007 Leadership Awardee of The Women’s Foundation.  This post is an excerpt of the speech she gave on April 7, 2009, at the ceremony to honor the 2009 Leadership Awardees and to welcome them to The Women’s Foundation’s community.

Congratulations to Polaris Project, winner of the online vote!

Last night, The Women’s Foundation hosted what is my favorite event of the year–the Leadership Awards Reception–where we presented each of our 10 amazing awardees this year with their certificates and announced the winner of this year’s online vote.

This year’s vote–the second we’ve done–was incredible.  Last year, we brought in 1,187 votes total

This year, the vote’s winner, Polaris Project, brought in 2,715 votes themselves, with a total of 8,538 votes being cast overall.

Polaris Project was selected as a 2009 Leadership Awardee for their DC Trafficking Intervention Program (DC TIP), which has combatted human trafficking in the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Southern Maryland Launched since 2002 by working to create an effective community-based response to curb local human trafficking network activity.  DC TIP provides comprehensive services to foreign national and U.S. citizen victims in the Washington metro area and works towards long-term, systemic change.

At the reception last night, Amb. Mark P. Lagan, Executive Director of Polaris Project, explained that Polaris Project is named after the North Star, otherwise known as Polaris, which guided slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.  Today, Polaris Project helps victims of all kinds of trafficking throughout the world to escape and rebuild their lives with dignity and hope. 

The Women’s Foundation congratulations Polaris Project for their outstanding work mobilizing support for the vote, and all of our 2009 Leadership Awardees for their awards and for the outstanding work they did to mobilize support for the vote and awareness of the transformational work they’re doing throughout our community to change the lives of women and girls. 

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.

New Leadership Awardee, Family PASS, cited as CNN Hero!

Here at The Women’s Foundation, we consider all of our Grantee Partners heroes.

But it’s still exciting to see one formally recognized for it!  Like when we learned that one of our new 2009 Leadership Awardees, Family Preservation and Strengthening Services (Family PASS), and its founder, Suezette Steinhardt, has just been named as a CNN Hero!

You can check out the article, and a video of Suezette discussing her work, here.

Congrats, Suezette, on this honor from all of us at The Women’s Foundation.  We’re proud to have you as part of our community of outstanding Grantee Partners working every day to change the lives of our region’s women and girls. 

And thank you for all that you do for low-income families in Virginia!

Learn more about Family PASS here.

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications.