Virginia shows commitment to making the grade in early care and education.

The State of Preschool 2008, released by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), ranks all 50 states on the percentage of children served and spending per child for 2007-2008.  It also compares the number of quality benchmarks met.

The Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) met seven out of 10 NIEER quality standards benchmarks and recent advances will have a positive impact on the other benchmarks.

For example, during 2008, Voices for Virginia’s Children co-led the campaign to foster public and legislative support for the governor’s expansion of VPI.  In response to effective advocacy, legislators allocated $23 million so that an additional 7,000 low-income four year olds (2,000 in Northern Virginia) now have access to quality preschool.  During the current governor’s administration, the number of slots has increased by 34 percent and state funding has increased by 40 percent.

During the 2009 General Assembly session, officials demonstrated further commitment to the program.  Despite needing to make severe budget cuts, the General Assembly supported the governor’s request to preserve current VPI spending.

Given the strong public and legislative consensus in Virginia that pre-k for low-income four-year-olds is a sound investment, further expansion is likely once the state’s revenue picture improves.

Kathy May is Director of the Northern Virginia Office of Voices for Virginia’s Children, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation through the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative.

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. 

Why you should vote for Friends of Guest House in the online vote!

Friends of Guesthouse is the only program of its kind in all of Northern Virginia. 

We provide support and resources to formerly incarcerated women convicted of non-violent crimes, so that they may more successfully integrate back into their communities. The women work hard to progress through the program and work hard on improving themselves.

Guesthouse is a one-of-a-kind leader in the community, working with women that are on their  way to becoming leaders themselves.

You can learn more about our work at our Web site or our blog.


Jocelyn McKinley is a case manager at Friends of Guest House, a 2009 Leadership Awardee and Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation since 2000, when they won their first Leadership Award.

Link to The Women's Funding Network and The Women's Foundation on CNN!

Earlier today, I wrote about how The Women’s Foundation and The Women’s Funding Network were featured on a story on CNN about how investing in women is one the best strategies for fostering economic recovery.

As promised, here is the link to the CNN clip of Linda’s Butler sharing her amazing story of how a jobs training program at Northern Virginia Family Services, which is supported by The Women’s Foundation, changed her life.

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

Focusing on not being able to afford a $15 martini? What about workers earning $15,000/year?

I have a few story ideas to pitch to the Washington Post, which has devoted scarce front-page inches in the last week to articles about how the recession is affecting the dating lives of men in their 20s and 30s who are active in the local bar scene and extreme text messaging among teenagers.

I think The Post needs help in understanding the true dimensions of what is happening in our region, particularly how the economy is affecting women and families who never had the resources to afford $15 specialty drinks and expensive cell phone plans.

Here is what keeps me up at night:

Our Grantee Partners are experiencing significant increases in demand for social and health services.
One of our Northern Virginia Grantee Partners reports that nonprofits there are seeing a 30 percent increase in requests for housing assistance and a 50 percent increase in requests for health assistance.  Of the overall increase in demand, about 25 percent of it is from people who have never asked for help before.

Another one of our Northern Virginia Grantee Partners notes that participants in its shelter program are needing to stay longer (up to two to four months longer) because of reductions in other local programs providing for next-step housing and basic needs.

Our Grantee Partners are facing increasing challenges in placing their graduates in good jobs.
One of our District of Columbia Grantee Partners preparing women for jobs in medical and office administration and building maintenance reports that graduates have lower job placement rates this year because, as a result of the economy, they are competing with higher-skilled individuals for the same entry-level positions.

Our Grantee Partners involved in preparing women for jobs in construction report that fewer jobs are available for their graduates because of layoffs and attrition. One program has told us that it is paying increasing attention to helping participants develop a “Plan B” for alternative employment until hiring picks up again.

Many of our Grantee Partners face serious challenges to raising the funds they need to provide their current levels of services – let alone expand them to meet growing need.
State and local government budget shortfalls are part of the problem. Fairfax County, for example, has a $650 million deficit this year.

Local (and national) foundations supporting these nonprofits have seen their endowments decline 30-50 percent.  Because many base their giving decisions on three-year-rolling averages, 2009 grant-making is down, but 2010 (and now also probably 2011) will be even worse because more bad years will be included in the averaging.

Local foundations, including The Women’s Foundation, have begun doing staff lay-offs. This is to do everything they can to maintain or increase their current level of grantmaking in a difficult environment.  But it may be a sign of more to come, if the economy does not turn around.

The unanswered question of what will happen to Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac’s charitable giving is an additional threat in our community.

There are many, many more stories – and many, many women, children and families who are part of these stories.

Washington Post: If you need any help learning more about these issues so you can cover them, please call The Women’s Foundation. We know these issues all too well and would love to connect you to them to increase their visibility in our community.

Gwen Rubinstein is a program officer at The Women’s Foundation.

A look at the recession through the eyes of Northern Virginia's children.

A new study, "Predicting Poverty in the Commonwealth,” released by The Commonwealth Institute and Voices for Virginia’s Children forecasts that children will be hardest hit by the current economic recession and rising unemployment rates.

As unemployment worsens in the state, there will be a significant increase in the number of children living in poverty.  Unemployment could push an additional 122,000 to 218,000 Virginians into poverty this year, with children accounting for between 44,000 and 73,000 of this increase. 

This would represent up to a 30 percent increase in the child poverty rate in the state. The poverty threshold for a family of four in Virginia is a yearly income of just over $21,000.

Though the effects of the current economic downturn and rising poverty will be felt more deeply in regions already troubled by chronically high unemployment and poverty, additional families pushed into poverty will further strain local economies in our current safety net system across the state.

Northern Virginia hasn’t experienced the high unemployment rates that other regions have.  January 2009 unemployment in the region is a relatively low 3.9 percent. 

However, of the 250,000 children already living in poverty statewide, nearly 28,000 (or 13 percent) of them live in Northern Virginia.  As unemployment rates rise, another 6,000 to 9,000 children in the region will join their ranks. (Northern Virginia is composed of Alexandria City and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties).

Living in poverty exposes children to multiple risks to healthy adjustment. 

Evidence indicates that children pushed into poverty by a recession are likely to remain poor for at least several years after the recovery starts.  The cumulative impact across time often has harmful impacts on child development, reducing the prospect the child will reach full potential and causing higher rates of many social, behavioral, educational and occupational problems.

Studies have shown that the long-term impacts of child poverty show up most strikingly in three areas: lower educational attainment, occupational status and earnings; poorer health status; and, higher rates of criminal behavior.

In addition to the human toll exacted by childhood poverty, the economic toll is substantial: diminished human capital and higher rates of costly social problems limit economic growth and future prosperity.

The report notes that increases in food stamp caseloads, food bank demands, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid enrollment are early indicators of economic vulnerability.

During 2008, the first year of the recession, food stamp caseloads in Virginia increased sharply.  In Northern Virginia, caseloads rose by 12 percent over the previous year.

This is important to note because food stamps are a reliable early indicator of increasing economic distress and poverty. The impact on Virginia’s children is substantial, as 57 percent of Virginia households receiving food stamps include children.

During the same period, TANF caseloads in Virginia increased by 8 percent.  The increase in Northern Virginia was 5 percent. 

Based on this early rise in caseloads, and on the percentage increase in TANF cases during the relatively mild 2001 recession (10 percent), we can expect TANF cases in this recession to increase by more than 10 percent, and for that increase to persist for several years beyond the start of the recovery.

Enrollment in Medicaid and Virginia’s children’s health program, Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS), has increased by 4.8 percent from December 2007 to December 2008.

Kathy May is director of Voices for Virginia’s Children Nothern Virginia office.  Voices for Virginia’s Children is a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Quality pre-school for low-income families: A story 25 years in the making.

In their September issue, Real Simple magazine highlights the story of Barbara Mason’s 25 year journey helping thousands of children living in poverty and the one board member, Dagobert Soergel, who has been with her from the start.

In fact, Soergel, a University of Maryland professor, not only has been a board member from day one, he also wrote the newspaper ad that Mason answered nearly 25 years ago that offered a chance to make a difference in the life of a child.

The piece features a conversation between Mason and Soergel that illuminates the pivotal role Soergel played behind the scenes in helping The Child and Family Network Centers (CFNC), a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, develop into a nationally accredited organization that now provides nearly 200 children from low-income families with free preschool every year.

At one point during the interview, Soergel reveals a secret: “In CFNC’s second year, there was a workshop through High/Scope, an educational research foundation renowned for its preschool approach. I knew Barbara wanted to go, but CFNC didn’t have the money. I found an organization to pay for half. And Barbara doesn’t know this, but I contributed the other half.”

The article appears on page 90 of the September issue of Real Simple, which just hit newsstands.  Or you can see it online here.

Ryan Patrick Smith is manager of grants and major gifts at The Child and Family Network Centers, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Celebrating bright futures with Training Futures and the 1K Club!

One of the many things I appreciate about The Women’s Foundation is how deliberately it works to bring people together–both donors and Grantee Partners–to build community. For example, as a member of the 1K Club, I’m occasionally invited to special events that showcase Grantee Partners and their outstanding work.

Last Thursday, I attended such an event: the graduation ceremony for the latest class of the Training Futures program. This group of 48 women and men had completed a 25-week office skills training program for underemployed and unemployed workers.

Their graduation was held at the Gannett headquarters in McLean.  As students were called up to receive their diplomas, they were each complimented in a special way and challenged to move forward to continued success.

The pride in each of the graduates was palpable. Each graduate had been trained and given skills to become productive workers. They also developed ties to a nurturing community and support group that will be there for them when they need it.

This class represented more than 20 different nationalities and a variety of skill levels. We were told that the program creates an office simulation for trainees. Students are taught a full-range of current computer office programs, keyboarding, business English and math, filing, how to use a calculator, and customer service. They also are expected to dress professionally, arrive on time, complete office assignments, and interact professionally with their fellow classmates as well as their teachers.

In the process, Training Futures creates a community of support for their trainees who learn they are not alone, that others do care about them and want to see them succeed. They also work in internships and can earn up to 17 college credits from Northern Virginia Community College during their six months of training.

Obviously, this was a triumphant experience on many levels. Training Futures was able to show what they do and how effective they are (more than half of the 48 graduates have already found jobs and the others are interviewing), and thank the funders who continue to support them.

I look forward to celebrating the successes of other Grantee Partners in the years to come as The Women’s Foundation continues to both build and invest in our community.

Laura Forman is a member of the 1K Club and serves on the Open Door Capacity Fund Committee.  She is president of Laura Forman Communications LLC.

Training Futures is a program of Northern Virginia Family Services, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Kids' class project parallels grown-up challenges facing families living in poverty.

With only two weeks left in the school year, yesterday my daughter’s third grade class in Fairfax County began week one of their Cities program.  Now, you might be wondering what the Cities program is. 

I asked myself that same question when my daughter began excitedly telling me about it.  The more I learned, the more intrigued I became.

Essentially, each third grade class is turned into a “city” for a few hours a day.  My daughter now resides in “Cougar County” and was both thrilled and concerned to learn that she would receive a 100 Zapper (equivalent to the dollar) loan from the mayor to begin her residency in Cougar County, but would have to pay back the loan at the end of the two weeks.  She received a check book and quickly learned how to write checks, make deposits in the Green Place Bank, and balance her checkbook.

There were many decisions that needed to be made.

First, which job would she apply for? She carefully weighed her options: mayor’s assistant, banker, police officer, maintenance, newspaper editor, government, or private sector. She opted for the private sector and decided she wanted to be an entrepreneur (much to the chagrin of her dad, a lifelong bureaucrat).

Her second decision: how much to charge for her products? As an entrepreneur, she was required to submit a project proposal to be approved by the mayor. She carefully calculated her supply fees (20 Zappers per week) and rental fees (10 Zappers per week) to assist her in determining the price of her products (homemade clay animals and friendship rings—absolutely worth every Zapper if you ask her very unbiased mom).

Third decision: should she purchase the optional health insurance and optional business insurance at 10 Zappers per policy per week? 

This is where she hit her stumbling block.

The mayor informed the citizens that each day a medical disaster or a business disaster would randomly hit one citizen.  The cost if you were not insured—250 Zappers.

Lengthy discussions ensued as she weighed the decision.  What if she couldn’t sell enough of her products to pay for the supply and rental fees?  Would she have any Zappers to shop in Cougar County?  Could she repay the 100 Zapper loan?  How could she afford the insurance if her products didn’t sell?  How could she afford to pay 250 Zappers if she was uninsured and hit by a disaster?

While the scenario my daughter faces in Cougar County is merely a third grade lesson plan, unfortunately, it is a stark reality for thousands of women and their families in the Washington metropolitan area.

According to The Portrait Project, low-income, women-headed families are the most economically vulnerable population in the Washington metropolitan area–57 percent of families living in poverty in the region are women-headed households. 

They are living one paycheck, one car repair, or one medical crisis away from disaster.

A recent report from the Urban Institute stated, “Savings and assets can cushion families against sudden income loss, increase economic independence, and bolster long-term economic gains.”  And yet, 24 percent of low-income families do not hold bank accounts, 35 percent do not own cars, 90 percent have no retirement account, and 60 percent do not own homes, leaving them with nothing to fall back on when hard times hit.

We’ve all seen the recent headlines, “Rising Prices Hit Home for Food Stamp Recipients,” “Jobless Claims Jump 25 Percent from ’07 in N. Va,” “Economic Troubles Multiply Requests for Help in DC Area.”

Gas and food are at record prices. Foreclosures are increasing. Unemployment rates have reached new highs. By all accounts, hard times are here.

So then, what does it mean to be one step away from a financial crisis?

To get a better sense of what it takes to truly survive economically in the Washington metropolitan area, I consulted the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency (FESS) Standard, a tool created by one of our Grantee Partners, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW).  The standard “estimates the level of income necessary for a given family type—whether working now or making the transition to work—to be independent of welfare and/or other public and private subsidies.”

You might be surprised to learn that according to WOW, the 2005 self-sufficiency standard for a single mother with an infant and a preschooler living in D.C. was $53,634. That’s what it would take to cover the family’s basic needs (housing, child care, transportation, food, health care, miscellaneous expenses, and taxes). 

Compare that to the federal poverty guidelines, which calculate the poverty level for a family of three at $16,090. If that same mother works full-time making minimum wage in Washington, DC, she would earn just $19,322.

If you earn 36 percent of what is necessary to provide for your family’s basic needs, what exactly constitutes “hard times”?  Aren’t you already there?

As my daughter struggled to make her decisions about Cities, I asked her think about this reality.

What would it be like to come home from school to discover she had to move out of the only home she’s ever known and not be sure where she’s going?  What would it be like to live on $1 per meal per day?  What if she had no health insurance and the three trips to the pediatrician that we’ve made in the last two weeks for her bronchitis threw our family into debt?

She had no answers to my questions.

And so when my daughter came home last night, I was anxiously awaiting her final decision. Did she purchase the insurance or did she decide it was simply too expensive?

In the end, she opted to purchase both the health and business insurance.  But, concerned that she wouldn’t be able to pay back her Zappers loan, she stayed up late to make additional clay animals to sell the next morning.

Yes, it’s a simple third grade lesson plan, but imagine if it were real.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is a Program Officer at The Women’s Foundation

The challenge of living on $1 a meal in the Washington metropolitan area.

Last year, a number of staff here at The Women’s Foundation participated in the Food Stamp Challenge–living for a week on the food budget allocated to individuals on food stamps–generally about $1 per meal per person. 

A year ago, our staffers and others participating in the challenge found it extremely, well, challenging.  (For more of our staff blogs on the challenge, click here.)

Almost a full year later, though, the challenge of living on food stamps has become even more difficult, as Chris Jenkins outlines in yesterday’s Washington Post article, "Rising Prices Hit Home for Food Stamp Recipients."

It’s no surprise that the woman interviewed in the article is a working single mother–a divorced mother of two.  She had her salary cut in half when she was laid off as a receptionist and had to take a job as home health aid.  She says in the Post, "Our life has changed…My kids notice the changes, there’s no doubt about it.  There are things I can’t buy anymore, little things like desserts, or if I say we have to be careful how much we eat. It’s not just them; we all feel it. We all notice."

Earlier this month, CNN documented a similar story about another local woman who skimps on her own food to feed her young daughter.

The rising costs are a national issue, but in the Washington metropolitan region, families are feeling it even more than in most places around the country.  The article explains that food prices in this region are eight percent higher than the national average.  For example, a pound of ground beef averaged $3.33 for a Washington area shopper, compared with $2.64 nationally. That’s a difference of 26 percent. A dozen eggs were 10 percent higher, while a 10-pound bag of potatoes cost 40 percent more.

As costs rise and food stamp allocations fail to keep up, more families face the consequences of food insecurity–poor nutrition, a decreasing ability to focus at school, work and other activities, and overall poorer health–not to mention the added mental stress of worrying and calculating to try to get the family food budget to stretch as far as possible. 

And who is affected? 

According to Capital Area Food Bank, half of all households in Washington, D.C. receiving food stamps report at least one working adult in the household.  In 2005, 50 percent of all participants in the food stamp program were children, and 65 percent of them lived in single-parent households.  Thirty-four percent of households with children were headed by a single parent, the overwhelming majority of whom were women.  Forty-six percent of participants were white, 31 percent were African-American and 13 percent were Hispanic.  The average gross monthly income per food stamp household is $648. 

However the stats break down though, the reality remains the same, that food insecurity is becoming an increasing issue in our region and nation as prices climb and families find wages dropping or face job loss. 

Last year, staff member Sherell Fuller took an international lens to her experience on the food stamp challenge

An interesting lens when one considers that there are an estimated one in three people in the world living below the poverty line–defined as living on less than $1 a day. 

In the United States currently, one in 11 Americans receives food stamps of about $1 per meal.

In either scenario, that’s a lot to ask of $1.