Yesterday, I sat down with one of our most consistent volunteers, Karen, to talk about her time at Thrive DC. Karen, who is originally from Alabama, moved to DC about three years ago and almost immediately started volunteering at Thrive DC. Her husband, who had moved to DC soon before her, looked up places to volunteer in the DC area and found Thrive DC. Soon after, Karen was joining him, volunteering weekly at Thrive DC.
What drew her in was hearing about the welcoming staff and the variety of different services offered to clients, and what kept her here was volunteering for the first time at our morning program. Having the opportunity to serve clients morning breakfast and chat with them brightened her day, and she knew that she wanted to keep coming back.
Karen mentioned many different highlights from her time volunteering but there was one instance in particular that jumped out at her: "I was volunteering at the coat drive last winter and there was a grandmother and granddaughter. After a bit of searching through piles, they found a coat that was perfect for her. The grandmother was so happy to have found her granddaughter the right coat that she began to cry and in turn, the little girl began to cry as well. Their tears of happiness made me realize that we have the ability to create a lasting impact on clients and it made me so happy to see how appreciate they were."
Karen also talked about the day-to-day wins at Thrive DC. She often overhears clients announcing new jobs, or a potential new housing situation, or steps forward in Thrive DC's training programs; the positive changes she overhears in the hallways make Thrive DC that much more special to her. More recently, Karen says that Thrive DC's ability to pivot and supply food to so many during the pandemic has been yet another highlight for her. With the rise in unemployment, more people are in need of food, and Thrive DC has increased their efforts to provide readily available food to the community.
Usually you can find Karen in the mailroom at Thrive DC, but her job stretches far beyond that one room: "I help out in the mailroom, I helped with grocery bag distribution last week, and I help with filling grocery bags a lot as well. I am happy to do anything that the staff needs me to do and I am always ready to help where they need me." Outside of volunteering at Thrive DC, Karen also volunteers at an outreach program with her church. Every Sunday, they help people experiencing homelessness by giving out bags to those living around Union Station.
When asked what advice she would give to someone who is interested in volunteering with us, she replied, "just come with an open mind." She continued, saying, "There are a lot of great staff, a lot of great volunteers, and a lot of great clients. It's such a great community to be a part of, so it is definitely worth joining if you're looking to join a supportive community of people."
As authorities work to address this unprecedented public health crisis, everyone is frightened and unsure in their heart. Those of us who have the security of jobs, health insurance, homes, friends, and family can rest a bit more assured knowing that these blessings can help us stay buoyed. But, imagine if your life was already in a state of chaos; if you did not have a safety net to draw upon; and you if felt things spiraling out of control as those services that were keeping you afloat began to gradually disappear.
The place where you would usually go to take a shower and do a load of laundry is now closed. The dining hall where you could have a hot meal is no longer serving food. The office where your case manager or mental health worker would normally meet with you is shut down until further notice. The place where you would collect your mail, make a phone call and use the computer now has a sign that reads, “Closed Due to Corona Virus.”
This is not fictional. This is what our clients are already experiencing across the nation’s capital and the country. As I watch the disoriented faces of our client community today, my heart aches. I see fear in their eyes as they feel the only rug under their feet is being snatched away. Some are dazed and moving around aimlessly. Others are asking a million questions that we don't have answers to. I am getting e-mails where people are saying, "I just don't know what to do!"
Several weeks ago, when things still seemed normal, a gentleman we will call Jack came into Thrive DC. He was about to lose his housing. He needed to work and wanted to work. We enrolled him in our Job Readiness program. We helped strengthen his resume and do a targeted job search. To our delight, he got two offers: one part-time job in a restaurant kitchen and one as a full-time bartender. We got him shoes, pants, and a white shirt. We provided transportation for his first few weeks until he got paid. He was thrilled to have things going in his favor. He completed his training for the full-time position last week only to find out that there is no more bar service now and that the restaurant is putting all new hires on hold. In one day, both of his job prospects were gone. They vanished. A week ago Jack’s life was full of hope, positive things were happening. Jack felt like he was finally breaking through a dark place and seeing the light. Now, through no fault of his own, he is back in the dark.
This is just one of the thousands of stories that homeless people and those with unstable housing are experiencing at the moment. As one of the most disadvantaged, overlooked, belittled and vulnerable communities, their fear and anxiety are palpable. And rightfully so. We cannot just do the right thing for the most wealthy and visible. What about those who live on the margins of society? Our current response for this incredibly vulnerable community is to herd them into shelters and wait for the worst to happen. There are no effective policies or real plans for those with the least among us. One client told me," I am just waiting, waiting for this thing to knock me over and drag me through the S*&%$. I know it is coming.” My heart sank.
Despite our best intentions, I feel like we have failed a huge segment of our society. Affordable housing has continued to diminish. At the same time, over-incarceration, unemployment, and broken systems (i.e., mental health services) have fueled a miasma of social ills that have penned people to a life of poverty that may even cost them their lives. Last month, when I felt like there was nothing else I could do for a client, at the very least I could at least offer them a hug. Now, in the era of social distancing, I can't even do that. When we come up for air and this tragic time is behind us, I hope that we can do the hard work to create a proper safety net for the most vulnerable. Our national lack of planning, resource allocation and adequate response will hopefully spur new levels of action so that we can be better prepared to protect the lives of the most vulnerable during the next crisis.
With cases of COVID-19 identified in the Washington metropolitan region, Thrive DC has been planning for ways in which our community of workers, volunteers and clients may be impacted in the coming weeks and months. At this time, we will remain open for business, operating in accordance with our regular schedule of activities. However, to minimize risks and position our organization to adequately address the needs of the community we serve, we will be implementing the following changes in our operations:
As this is an evolving situation, Thrive DC follows the lead of DC Department of Human Services, DC Department of Health, and DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management with regard to continued operations and will update you if anything changes and as soon as we can. Please follow us on our social media channels for the latest updates.
We are so thankful for the support of our entire community, their continued encouragement, hard work and good wishes. Thrive DC is committed to supporting the Washington DC community and in partnership with other service organizations we will work to make sure that the most vulnerable members of our community have the services they need during these challenging times.
* The Episcopal Diocese has decided to close all Episcopal churches in Washington DC through March 28th, 2020. This means that the sanctuary at Saint Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church and all church related operations will cease temporarily and are scheduled to re-open on March 29th. However, organizations within the annex office building--like Thrive DC--will be making decisions about their operations independently. If you have questions regarding the continued operations of a particular organization, please contact them directly or visit their website. Again, Thrive DC will remain open and operational until further notice.
The Ward 1 Non-Profit Networking Group is a way to gather, network, and bring in any service providing non-profits in the Ward 1 area. Non-profits can be headquartered in or providing services to clients in Ward 1.
Thrive DC’s Communications Coordinator Mariah sat down with Kira, Development Manager, to talk more about her vision for the group and the goals as we move forward into action planning through working groups and strengthen connects between non-profit service providers.
What are the goals of the getting non-profits together in Ward 1 and how will it build bridges between service providers?
On the surface, it’s networking and meeting people who are all working in client services in this area. It’s important for nonprofits to network in order to decrease duplication of services and learn what other people are doing to expand ideas. Meeting together helps us to make sure we see who already has a voice at the table and ensures we are actively working on bringing in groups and voices missing from the conversation. The important outcome is that it allows us to bring together a variety of expertise and experiences in a way one organization would never be able to do on their own.
What Goals do you have for the year?
Basic networking for non-profit employees and for the non-profits themselves. Professional and personal development helps decrease burnout and increase the likelihood that someone will stay in their role or bring great skills elsewhere in the nonprofit sector, which in turn helps our clients succeed.
Building shareable resources and group support of clients. We can work together to share or promote resources so that clients know what’s going on across the Ward, whether that’s a reading program or emergency food services. The group collectively decided that a main resource guide would be beneficial because it would allow all of the organizations to get their services out and accessible for clients.
Group Advocacy. Working as a group of nonprofits allows us to strengthen our voice for policy advocacy and client support. Every nonprofit shows up in some way to advocate for their clients, whether that’s through public statements about government policy or using their social media to ask for support on important issues. As a Ward 1 non-profits collective, our can voices are much stronger when voiced together.
Data collection is huge. There are ways we can identify trends and see what is happening across the Ward. I think we can get some really smart results out of simply coming together and discussing what types of data would improve our services and our ability to advocate for our clients. If we are able to work together to get a better understanding of issues across the Ward, that will begin to influence programs and services to reflect what is needed.
Tell me more about the sub committees and what they’ll be working on.
Our new subcommittees will allow people from different types of organizations to tackle some of our goals for the year, and ensure that we have a wide selection of voices on each issue. We’ll still meet quarterly as a group to check on progress and see where different subcommittees need help.
The subcommittees are currently: Professional Development/Workshops, Networking, Group Projects, and Data Collection and Analysis.
If you are a Ward 1 nonprofit, contact Kira at Kira@thrivedc.org to get more information on the Ward 1 Nonprofit Networking Group.
Participating non-profits in the Ward 1 networking Group are:
Urban Village Tenant Association
There are about 1.6 million homeless youth in the U.S., and they overwhelmingly identify as LGBT+ individuals. Less than ten percent of young people identify as LGBT+, but over 40 percent of homeless youth do, as reported from Chapin Hill.
In DC, that number is even higher at 43% of homeless youth identifying as LGBT+ which has made its way to becoming a priority of Mayor Bowser’s initiative to ensure that LGBT+ youth have access to safe affordable housing, healthcare and preventative care, case management, and support systems they can rely on when they may not have that in their biological family.
As the District dives deeper into action for the Solid Foundations DC: Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness, we recognize that the LGBT+ identifying youth in DC face barriers to success at significantly higher rates than their straight peers.
A recent article from the Washington Blade highlights the ways in which we need to further develop LGBT+ support in our social services organizations and shelters as well as feedback from listening sessions with service providers in the District.
According to service providers, additional reasons for homelessness include aging out of the foster care system, poverty, and conflict in the home. Often, it’s not one thing that causes homelessness, but a combination of many as said by the True Colors Fund.
LGBT+ people are already more likely to be targets of a hate crime than any other minority group, so being forced out of their homes due to their sexual orientation is sadly unsurprising. And this is higher among young LGBT+ parents, who are three times more likely to experience homelessness in comparison to their non-parenting peers.
While progress is slow, the action of the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Amendment Act, which the D.C. Council passed unanimously in 2014 is a step in the right direction. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and then Council member Bowser (D-Ward 4) were the co-introducers of the legislation. Among other things, the measure allocates city funds for expanding existing homeless facilities, including shelters, to include additional beds for LGBT+ identifying youth.
We will continue to show our support for more comprehensive funding for the programs in the District that benefit LGBT+ homeless youth as we move forward from Pride month into the rest of the calendar year. Read more about resources in the District and how we stack up compared to other states in the US, below.
DC Resources for LGBT+ Identifying Youth & Adults in a Housing Crisis
Casa Ruby Emergency Hotline: 202-355-5155
SMYAL: Empowering LGBTQ youth
SMYAL Contact Information: 202.546.5940
How Does DC stand comparatively to other states?
True Colors Fund has a State index on Youth Homelessness which includes information based on current: Law & Policy, Systems, and Environment. You can see how DC stacks up: Washington DC Youth Homelessness Index and see their recommendations for improvement.
We couldn't do this critical work without your help and continued support for our homeless clients. We will be sharing stories that resonate with our clients, staff, and volunteers though our Stories of Hope via e-mail and on the blog. Cayley, our Development Intern, sat down with Nick Rosenbach to learn more about why he continues to be a steadfast supporter of all things Thrive DC!
I was the breakfast program manager and also a former board member.
I think I started around the beginning of 2010.
I had been volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen and Charlie’s Place, which are both similar organizations to Thrive. It was through their network that I heard there was a staff position open here. I had been volunteering at both places for a long time and loved it so much that I thought that I should be doing this for a living.
I guess it was the clients, I was already sort of familiar with the struggles our clients already had. I had some experience in dealing with that and I thought that I could focus and as a staff member I would have more resources to assist people.
Overall, incredibly positive. I recommend to all my friends to either donate or volunteer.
Just how thoughtful and caring the staff members are and the lengths they will go to help clients.
I don’t know if I have just one. There has been a number of clients that have passed away that bothered me because they ended up dying on the street and was a horrible way to go. There is always joy when we are able to find somebody a home or apartment. The best part is when we get to take a picture of them holding up their keys. To me, that is the real success, moving people off the street.
I don’t know if I can pull out one single instance so I will give a general. Everytime I am here, or everytime I leave, I feel like I have made a difference in some small way. Whether it is helping people be fed, or helping someone fill out their SNAP form, connecting someone to housing.
We have expanded our job core program. It’s not enough just to feed people or connect them with temporary shelter, what we really need to do is get them back on their feet. That comes with a paying job. We have now some funders who are underwriting two staff members to help people with resumes and job searches. So, that is where we have expanded since I have been here.
I am repeating myself, but this a message to someone who is thinking of volunteering. If you really want to make a difference, really want to help people, really want to help improve the community; Thrive is a great place to start.
By Cayley, Development & Communications Intern at Thrive DC
Cayley is a senior at Oklahoma State University studying Agricultural Communications. She has a passion for helping others and hope her words can inspire others to feel the same.
A lot has happened in the first few months of 2018. We're helping more clients get hired than ever before, and our first New Directions class has graduated!
Despite the challenges of 2017, we're committed to helping our clients take their next steps out of homelessness. Thanks to your support real change is happening.
Below is our 2018 Spring Impact Report. Read on to see the good work you're doing!
Why do you volunteer?
We sat down with Denise Woods, one of our long-time volunteers, to see what got her involved with our homeless clients, what has been a powerful moment for her, and what she is most proud of. Read on to see her answers!
I am an activist, advocate, consultant, mother, baker, interior designer and more. Did you notice yet that I hate boxes?
A neighbor told me about Thrive DC. For a long time I had wanted to volunteer with an organization that supports people in homelessness; when I found out I could bring my kids here I thought “Bingo!”
I wanted to make sure my that daughters experienced life outside our bubble and learned empathy for the people who don’t share our economic circumstances. Ever since I noticed that their first reaction to seeing homeless people on the street was fear, it’s been my goal to humanize our neighbors living on the edge.
I felt that Thrive DC could be transformative if my girls learned their stories and understood that people are so much more than their circumstances.
Terrible. Just kidding! I have volunteered with similar organizations and couldn’t leave quickly enough. At Thrive I feel like I leave better than when I enter.
I might come to Thrive in a bad mood, worried about the world’s problems or frustrated with my family, but I leave encouraged and emboldened by the hugs I receive and the conversations I have.
The people here show me the strength of the human spirit and I know my frustrations are tiny by comparison.
Toss up between staff and clients! The clients have often given me great advice about how to handle a family situation they themselves have faced, and the staff could not make this a more welcoming place to volunteer. Seriously!
From Alicia, who is as real as an Executive Director comes, to all the staff who treat their clients like they truly matter – not only do they make what could be an embarrassing and humiliating experience for the clients enjoyable and affirming, they also make sure to know all the clients names and mine.
I walked up to Thrive recently and one of the clients who I know and admire was outside.
As I walked up he began to sing about letting go of stress and finding the blessings in life while playing air guitar, and I couldn’t help but laugh and join in!
We had a fire drill one cold day and we all ran outside without our coats – except for those who hadn’t taken them off yet – and I started talking to one of the clients and complaining about the temperatures. To my surprise she immediately opened her coat and let me get inside!
I felt like she was a mother duck sheltering her duckling, even though I was 20 years older than her. And even though she is black and I am white there was no hesitancy at all in her generosity.
Another powerful moment was when a client told me that she spends three hours a day on the bus to eat at Thrive DC every day. She told me this is the only place she knows where she will be seen and treated as a whole human being.
I was floored, and it made me realize just how significant Thrive is for her and many others.
I am so proud of all of the above and Thrive DC's capacity to connect clients with housing resources. When someone has a home it means their life can be moved from the edges to a stable foundation.
Funding for families. Funding for crisis services. Funding for affordable housing. Need I say more?
Would you also like your family to volunteer with the homeless?
Andre moved to DC last year in November from Tampa, FL. He had heard about a good job and had a friend he could stay with for a little while until he got on his feet.
But when he got here, both the job and the friend fell through.
That was hard.
Andre became homeless with no friends, no money, and no prospects for a job. He got involved with drugs while struggling to cope with his situation, but they only helped him sink further into frustration and depression.
Fortunately, it was some of those friends he was getting high with that told him about Thrive DC. Normally reserved and quiet, Andre checked out a few places before settling on Thrive DC.
He didn’t talk to anyone at first, but the hospitality of volunteers and staff drew him out bit by bit. He finally started opening up to Gabriel, the Morning Program Coordinator & Substance Abuse Counselor, and Gabriel encouraged him to come to group therapy.
It took a while for what Gabriel was saying during group to sink in. But Andre kept coming back to Thrive DC because of the encouraging staff and how helpful the services were.
This was the only place he could take a shower or do laundry.
This became the place he checked his mail.
The food here was good and plentiful.
One day Andre looked up in Gabriel’s substance abuse group and realized he didn’t want to get high anymore. He wanted to get clean, and he wanted to finish his college degree as a PC specialist!
Andre is still living in a shelter, but he’s attending school and will finish his degree next year. He’s been working on computers since he was 14; his dream is to one day own his own business and help customers with designing web pages.
He’s been clean now for four months. Andre is still coming to Thrive DC for services, and uses the computer lab to do his homework. For the first time in a long time, he’s excited about his future.
CasA Crestwood Homes Tour To Benefit Thrive DC
This Sunday, get an inside look at six stunning homes and one historic church in Washington, D.C.’s Crestwood neighborhood.
A few of the most notable sites that will be included on the tour, known as known as CasA Crestwood, is The Mathewson House, which is described as “part art museum, part home.” The architecture firm behind the property, Shinberg.Levinas, describes the white stucco abode as having dark flooring, a cantilevered open stair, and a skylight.
It was previously featured in the Washington Post for being an “ultramodern house in the trees.”
The church that will be featured is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, located at 4001 17th Street NW. Constructed in 1958, this church offers gilded domes, murals, and a four-tiered iconostasis.
The event starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $20 for tickets bought in advance and raise to $25 per person at the door. 100 percent of the proceeds from this year’s event go to Thrive D.C., a 1979-founded nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in the District.