A Monarch Butterfly Spreads His Wings

Guest post by Karen Gardner, Executive Director, Reading Partners

This is the first post in a new blog series on Building A Safer, Stronger DC, featuring stories from grantees of the City Fund Safer, Stronger DC portfolio. View the full series here.


Right around this time last year, we first got to know Anthony* as a charismatic second grader who really liked to tell tales. Tall ones. One of the stories he liked to tell was about a shark in his bathtub, which included what the shark ate, how the shark got into his bathtub and even where it went when the water was drained. Anthony was an imaginative thinker who had thoughts and opinions on just about any topic. But when you asked him to read, the normally outgoing student would transform into a shy one, barely uttering a word.

Anthony found decoding and reading fluently a challenge. It caused him to daydream in class and rarely engage in reading, so his teacher recommended him for Reading Partners, a one-on-one literacy tutoring program for kids struggling with reading. Thankfully, Anthony’s school, Malcolm X Elementary in Ward 8, was one of two schools where Reading Partners’ program expanded significantly with the support of the City Fund just two years prior.

Anthony was about a year below grade level. When the site coordinator assessed him, she noticed that because he struggled to decode words, he would just skip over a word if he didn’t know it. He was quickly paired with two seasoned community tutors, Ms. Layla and Ms. Beth, who both had experience with shier students.

To help Anthony move past his shyness and gain more confidence, his tutors worked with their site coordinator to find ways to incorporate his own stories into the lessons. They figured if they could get him to talk about something he was really interested in, he might become more comfortable with them and therefore more comfortable reading aloud.

One day, Anthony was completing a normal lesson with Ms. Layla. The site coordinator was listening in on their session because they were always full of energy. After reading a book about butterflies, Anthony began asking Ms. Layla questions about the text just as she would have done. The site coordinator listened more closely and realized he was quizzing Ms. Layla specifically about the Monarch butterfly and was utilizing information from a previous session. She was so astounded at his confidence that she sat back in awe. Anthony went on to show Ms. Layla where in the text certain answers were and shared the information he previously learned.

This interaction showed that all his hard work had paid off. He was able to decode larger words, understand the text, and relate it to his own prior knowledge. This once shy student had developed into a now confident super reader that read literally everything on the walls as he walked the hallway with his site coordinator!

Reading Partners gave Anthony a place where he could move away from feeling like he might make a mistake, to where he had the courage and knowledge to correct a mistake. In the reading center, he could be himself. Now, in class, he is more inclined to raise his hand and readily speaks up. Anthony learned how to use the context clues in the text to better understand vocabulary words and no longer shies away from multisyllabic words. He is a much more fluent reader and now reads with expression.

Without Reading Partners, Anthony’s full potential might not have been realized. He would have continued to be afraid to read for fear of making a mistake and he most likely would have fallen even further behind.

If not for the literacy skills he acquired, Anthony also might not have discovered that he loves facts and that non-fiction books are his thing! And he might not have made new friends in Ms. Layla and Ms. Beth, who truly loved listening to his stories, no matter how tall. Their commitment to Anthony’s success contributed to the fact that he’s now on a path to a brighter future. I’m thrilled to share that Anthony finished the school year on grade level. He now understands that reading matters.

Reading matters because it is the foundation for all future learning. Yet nationwide, 80% of students from low-income households are not reading proficiently by fourth grade. In addition, not reading proficiently by the end of fourth grade makes students four times more likely to drop out of high school. Illiteracy in our country is an epidemic with serious consequences for our communities — but it’s a solvable problem. In fact, research shows that no one factor can so dramatically shape a person’s chance of success and well-being as learning to read.

Reading Partners is fully committed to strengthening our communities by working with students like Anthony. At Reading Partners, community tutors from all walks of life come together to share their love of reading and learning, empowering the next generation to succeed in school and in life. Anthony’s accomplishments are a great example of what can be achieved when a community comes together and encourages a child to excel.

In the words of his site coordinator, “Without Reading Partners, Anthony may not have blossomed into such a wonderful, brilliant student. He always has a tall tale and he can go on and on about these stories. I can see him writing a script for a children’s movie someday. When I think of Anthony, I think of the Monarch butterfly.”

*Names have been changed.


New Investments in Job Training to Benefit More than 100 District Residents

The Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative, an initiative of the Greater Washington Community Foundation, today announced new investments in five local community-based organizations designed to help DC residents get the skills and training they need to gain employment. The funded programs will offer training in a host of industries including hospitality, IT, healthcare, education, and the construction trades.

These investments are the result of a philanthropic partnership between the Workforce Collaborative and the developers of a new mixed-use property at 965 Florida Avenue NW in the District, a joint venture between MRP Realty, JBG Smith, and Ellis Development. As a part of the Planned Unit Development for this 10-story mixed use project, the developers have worked in partnership with The Community Foundation to establish the 965 Florida Avenue NW Job Training Grant Program, administered by the Workforce Collaborative.

The Workforce Collaborative is a partnership comprised of local foundations, philanthropists, and business. Its investments help workers acquire the skills and credentials they need to launch successful, family-sustaining careers, and help businesses attract, retain, and advance the skilled workforce they need to provide critical services to our community and remain globally competitive.

All five funded projects were asked to propose work that will specifically focus on residents living within one mile of the 965 Florida Avenue NW development.

The 965 Florida Avenue project will help prepare local residents with the workplace skills and training they need…" said MRP Realty Vice President for Development Michael Skena, "…it is this type of public-private partnership between business, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector that will provide high quality career opportunities for residents in our neighborhood."

Partnering Together for Community Benefit

The developers worked alongside The Community Foundation and the Workforce Collaborative to develop a targeted grantmaking approach to ensure residents have access to a wide-range of services and opportunities to learn new skills and launch living-wage careers in industry sectors primed for growth. The Community Foundation developed its Request for Proposals and vetted applications from local training providers in lockstep with representatives of ANC 1B, the ANC in which the 965 Florida Avenue NW development sits.

“The process that The Community Foundation developed was inclusive and took into consideration the needs of our local community,” noted James A. Turner, Chairman of ANC1B. “We are thrilled to have been able to help drive the process that has yielded grants to these five great local nonprofits.”

Funded partnerships include:

Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School will serve 25 residents of the target area through their integrated Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education and Career Pathways program. Their goal is to help each adult learner attain a high school credential and enter post-secondary workforce training or higher education. Academy of Hope focuses its efforts in the area of hospitality, healthcare and IT careers for adult literacy learners.

Community Services Agency of Metro Council AFL_CIO will provide construction pre-apprenticeship training, case management and job placement services to 20 low-income residents of the target geographic area to be served.

Literacy Lab will build capacity to recruit ten young men of color from DC public high schools in Ward 1 to participate in the Leading Men Fellowship, a program to increase workforce readiness by engaging young men of color in careers in early childhood education.

Literacy Volunteers and Advocates will create a program for 30 adults with an interest in obtaining a job in the technology field who need to improve their basic skills in order to become employment ready. The development of the AT Work! (Adults, Trained and Working) program will focus on integrating adult basic literacy skills with Information Technology skills, with a specific focus on preparing these adults for entry level administrative or help desk positions.

New Futures will provide comprehensive services to 15 low-income, first generation young adults pursuing degrees in IT and healthcare, including scholarships, post-secondary persistence and completion support, and career planning, skill-building, and preparation programs—all in service of launching high-growth careers that lead to financial stability.

A Win for Workers, Employers, and Our Community

Greater Washington is home to hundreds of thousands of working age adults who lack a post-secondary credential, most of whom currently work in front-line or entry-level jobs in every sector. Despite our region’s return to historically low unemployment rates, stubborn pockets of un- and under-employment persist. Initiatives like the 965 Florida Avenue Job Training Grant Program will target investments to those who need assistance most.

The Workforce Collaborative has a long history of supporting job training grantmaking as a component of community benefit agreements for clients including Hines, Walmart, and Trammel Crow.

“Supporting local business and employers to meet their philanthropic goals is core to our mission at the Greater Washington Community Foundation,” notes Benton Murphy, Senior Director of Community Investment at The Community Foundation. “We are proud to partner with ANC 1B, MRP Realty, JBG Smith, and Ellis Development on this project that will directly impact the lives of local residents.”

More information on the Workforce Collaborative is available online at www.gwwdc.org.  

Exploring Our Community: Site Visits in Prince George's County

The Community Foundation in Prince George’s County has launched a new initiative to strengthen relationships between local individuals, businesses, and nonprofits. Each year, our donors and other community members join us in visiting several local organizations, to celebrate, support, and learn more about the important and diverse work happening across the County. It is our hope that building strong networks between our donors and effective nonprofits serving County residents will enhance the philanthropic experience and grow positive community impact.

Highlights from Places We've Gone



Computer CORE is a job training program that offers technological and professional skill-building courses for low-income adult residents of Northern Virginia to improve their careers and transform their lives. During a site visit to one of the organizations many locations, Executive Director Lynn O’Connell and Business and Community Partnerships Director Quincy White taled to us about the program’s successes, its challenges, and invited donors to sit in on a beginners excel class and interact with students.

I’m not only learning things that will help me grow my business, but I’m also learning things to help me organize my daily life.
— Student Participant
The teachers here are really patient and truly care.
— Student Participant

Our donors gained a deeper understanding of Computer CORE’s mission and values. Many of their questions were answered and the experience promoted program advocacy in a new way.



House of Ruth Maryland is leading the fight to end domestic violence against women and their children. This local nonprofit provides victims with tools and professional resources to build appropriate safety

plans and reduce harm. Program Counselor Asjoure Brown engaged donors in a simulation activity called “In her Shoes”, introducing some of the challenges faced by victims of domestic abuse. We discovered the complexities of this type of work and the diverse way in which cases are handled.

Attributing all we learned, we can consider realistic program practices when evaluating outcomes and impact. The overall experience was rated both informative and meaningful.


The Community Foundation in Prince George’s County will begin touring other nonprofit sites starting in March 2018. Get ready to explore a variety of nonprofit organizations working on a diverse set of issues, including affordable housing, education, criminal justice, family and youth support, media projects, and much more!

If you are interested in attending one of our site visits, please contact Monique Riley at mriley@thecommunityfoundation.org or (301) 918.8480 ext. 164.

Local Youth Team Up with Law Enforcement & Build Bonds Through Athletics

“Building big league people, not just big league athletes.”
— Cal Ripken, Sr.

The Site Visit

The Community Foundation in Prince George’s County witnessed the great work that both the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Police Athletic League are doing for some of our most vulnerable youth.  Students, donors and other participants had a great time getting to know each other through fun introductions, team building exercises and trainings! The PAL Program uses mentoring, education, recreation and athletic activities to build bonds between youth and law enforcement. They have went from serving 15 to over 400 students in just 5 years.

Getting to Know the Team


Randy Acosta (far right), Senior Director of Development & National Corporate Partnerships, Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. “I grew up going to the Boys and Girls Club. The opportunity to serve and give back to these same types of organizations is my greatest accomplishment.”

Joe Rossow (far left), Executive Vice President of Operations, Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. “We are always looking to learn from the work of other foundations and in the process, form lasting partnerships.”

Corporal Kurt Schnitzenbaumer (middle), Executive Director, Prince George’s County Police Athletic League (PAL). “PAL wants to create a space for kids to call home. We want our kids to feel a sense of ownership and connectivity.”

Meet Taylor!

Taylor is a student participant from Fairmont Heights High School. “Here, we have so many different ways to express ourselves… Fairmont Heights is the hidden secret of Prince Georges. There is so much talent at my school. I’m glad that when the police came to our building, it wasn’t bad. They recognized our talent and gave us resources to achieve our goals. I have really seen the police force and my peers changing for the better.”

Hope for the Girl in the Twirling Skirt

By Andrea Powell, Founder and Executive Director, FAIR Girls

Chloe* isn’t even 12 yet, but she has run away from home more than 13 times.  She likes to draw with glitter pens and is obsessed with my pink cell phone cover. She’s a child.  Lost in her own world, she twirled around in circles in her floral skirt through the halls of the “J level” DC Superior Court, while a judge eventually ruled to have her removed from her parent’s custody. 

At 23, I founded FAIR Girls to help provide long-term therapeutic interventions, including safe housing, for exploited and trafficked young women and girls. After working with more than 1,000 girls, I have learned that many sex trafficking situations of American girls like Chloe start within 48 hours of being on the streets. In the past year, with the support of the City Fund administered by the Greater Washington Community Foundation, FAIR Girls has hired a youth case manager whose full-time job is to serve trafficked and exploited children in the nation’s capital.

Chloe continued to run away several times after I first met her that day at court. Fortunately, I was able to connect her with a dedicated FAIR Girls case manager and our partners at Sasha Bruce, a homeless shelter and safe haven for disconnected youth who are unable to return home.

 Drawing by 13 year old survivor of sex trafficking in a FAIR Girls workshop

Drawing by 13 year old survivor of sex trafficking in a FAIR Girls workshop

In March, a media outcry over the thousands of missing girls of color in DC put the District under the national spotlight. Town hall meetings were filled with the heated questions of women of color demanding to know why their daughters are not being referred to as “critical missing” but rather being labeled as “runaways,” a stigmatizing term that could result in some minors over the age of 12 not being actively searched for as aggressively by law enforcement.   

Six months later, direct service providers like FAIR Girls are working alongside city agencies including the Child and Family Services and DC Courts to implement a citywide strategy that is part of the outcome of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Task Force on Missing and Runaway Youth. This includes the implementation of the District’s citywide plan to pull missing girls and boys back into their homes and communities, including the newly opened STEP shelter managed by Sasha Bruce.

To understand what has been done and where we go from here, we need to be willing to ensure solutions are rooted in the lived experiences of girls like Chloe, whose support systems are shattered with unforeseen and unpredictable acts of life. Chloe’s father died months earlier, she was in a schoolyard fight that led to months of out-of-school suspensions, and her mother was overwhelmed with grief and loss. While on the streets, she met an older boy who gave her expensive gifts. She was flattered with the attention but still too young to understand the price of accepting these gifts. When I met her, I was determined to make sure she didn’t have to learn.

As heartbreaking as her story is, many missing girls are not as lucky as Chloe. In looking at the photos of missing girls in DC, I see the familiar faces of girls who have since been confirmed as child victims of sex trafficking.

Many people believe that sex trafficking happens in faraway countries, but more than 90% of the girls we serve are American girls of color. On average, they are 14 to 15 years old when first sold into sex trafficking and their abuse continues for four years before they receive help. Approximately 60% of the 125 to 150 young girls we serve annually are from the D.C. metropolitan area. As a repeat “runaway,” Chloe was at risk of being one of them.

Since the media storm, FAIR Girls receives an average of one to two new referrals a week of exploited and trafficked girls. While the numbers here are alarming, this is progress. Law enforcement’s focus on missing and exploited youth has resulted in girls who have been missing anywhere from two days to two years being found and connected to the care they need to recover. 

 Drawing of what human trafficking looks like, as drawn by teen girl in DC schools

Drawing of what human trafficking looks like, as drawn by teen girl in DC schools

However, there is more to be done before we can say that we are meeting needs of sexually trafficked and exploited teens in DC. A critical gap remains that there is no secure therapeutic housing program specifically for child survivors of human trafficking in the nation’s capital. This must be our next step in truly creating a safe haven for missing and exploited youth in the nation’s capital.

Chloe’s story is one of a child being pushed away by adults and institutions, time and time again. To refer to her as a “runaway” is to miss the point. In fact, the very term, “runaway,” implies blame and stigma that does not belong to Chloe or any child who finds themselves on the streets. Chloe’s leaving home was the attempt of a scared and disconnected child at regaining control of her life. Chloe wasn’t a “runaway.” She was “pushed away.”   

Our conversation must shift from “why are they running away?” to “how is our community pushing these vulnerable young girls out into the margins of society and into the hands of pimps?”

Pulling in Chloe and the thousands of other “pushed away” girls and boys of color is a critical mission for FAIR Girls and the District of Columbia.

Andrea Powell is the founder and Executive Director of FAIR Girls. To learn more, visit www.fairgirls.org, email info@fairgirls.org, or follow @FAIR_Girls.

*Names of youth in this post have been changed to protect their identity.  All facts are accurately portrayed.