Monday, June 28, 2010

Rewarding Break

Have you ever wished during a long day at the office that you could get up and have a fun break? Well, basically that was exactly what I did yesterday; I volunteered to help transport children from our program Culmore Safe Youth Project to a field trip at Ultra Zone Laser Tag in Falls Church, Virginia. What a terrific afternoon! The children were so eager to start the game and once we were given the orientation it turned out I got to play too! The giggles were everywhere; Alternative House was the red team, we went up, down, across and even though our team lost, all you were able to hear was the giggles and the laughter. We were only able to offer this outing thanks to a generous donation from the owner of Ultra Zone Laser Tag. For most of the kids that attended it was their first time playing laser tag. It was one afternoon where they were able to just be kids and did not have to face their routine of living in “Culmore” with limited resources, crowded spaces and lack of supervision. Personally, I definitely enjoyed my break and loved hearing the children say this was the best field trip ever!

In the Community Outreach program of Alternative House we constantly try to offer the youth we serve a safe, fun and productive option, whether it be at the teen center, the Safe Youth Project, the Girl World or the Boys Program. In our programs we try to offer a substantial recreational component in addition to the academic and preventive piece. For the mental health and well being of these children they need to be exposed to what is positive out there away from their current situation so they understand that there is much more to life than conflict and struggle. We are very fortunate to receive donations that make these outings possible.

Nandred Navarro
Director, Community Outreach

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mr. Gonzales Has the Right Formula for Volunteering

By Susan Blalock

Alternative House is proud to announce that Jose Gonzales who is a volunteer at our Culmore Teen Center was nominated and won a volunteer award. He was awarded the Norbert Grabowski Founder’s Award by the Optimists Club of Central Fairfax on Tuesday, June 23, 2010.

Mr. Gonzales first began to come to Alternative House’s drop-in Teen Center in Falls Church to pick up his daughter who was employed as one of our Youth Workers. While waiting for his daughter to complete her work, he noticed that many of the teens in the program were working on homework and that some were really struggling with their math assignments. He took it upon himself to speak with the staff to see if the teens could use a tutor for their work. It has been very difficult for us to get tutors, especially in math, for this program and the staff were so happy that Mr. Gonzales was willing to help out. He has now been coming to the Teen Center on a weekly basis to help teens with their Algebra and Geometry work for about seven months. During this time, Mr. Gonzales’ relationship with the teens has changed from being just a tutor to also being a mentor and a role model. As the teens learned more about him, they really came to respect and look up to him. Mr. Gonzales immigrated to the United States from Peru when he was young and struggled to learn English, assimilate into the American culture, and despite his own personal economic struggles he continued to pursue his education. Many of the youth at the Teen Center struggle with these same issues and Mr. Gonzales has been a source of hope and inspiration for them. In addition to making a difference for these young people academically and on a personal level, Mr. Gonzales serves as a positive role model to the teens by giving back to his community. As a construction worker Mr. Gonzales has the opportunity to work additional hours to support his family, but he has made sure to leave his schedule open on Wednesday afternoons so that he can work with the teens. A perfect example of the respect that the teens have for Mr. Gonzales occurred about a week ago, Mr. Gonzales arrived at the Teen Center to work with one particular teen and the young man did not have his school materials. He said that he had forgotten about tutoring and would run home to get his books. As soon as the teen left, the staff thought that he would not return and that he had used forgetting his books as an excuse to get out of tutoring. A few minutes later, the teen returned to the Teen Center with all of his school materials and worked with Mr. Gonzales for a couple of hours. Many of the teens have seen that working with Mr. Gonzales helps them with their school work and jump at the chance to get math help from him. For many of these teens, there is no one at home who can help them with their school work so working with Mr. Gonzales prevents them from getting frustrated and lost in their school work which has helped some teens bring up their grades. Not only has Mr. Gonzales inspired some of the teens to do better and given them the tools they need to succeed, but he has also helped youth stay in school. The youth that the Teen Center serves all come from low-income families that struggle financially even during good economic times. Some of these teens have been put in a position where their families want them to leave school in order to get jobs to financially help support the family. Mr. Gonzales has worked with a couple of these teens to help them find a good compromise that will allow them to stay in school and work outside of school to help the finances of their family.

Congratulations Mr. Gonzales and thank you for all of your hard work to help the youth in our program.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Our Programs Support Teens by Meghan Huebner

One of the great things about Alternative House is the variety of programs that we run. This allows us to serve youth and families in multiple ways, and this past month we were able to assist one teen in particular through multiple programs.

“Miranda” came to our teen crisis shelter after leaving her guardian’s home due to alleged physical abuse. A senior in high school, she was weeks away from graduation when she had to leave her home. Miranda had been staying with several friends prior to coming to Alternative House, but this was not a permanent solution. She came into our teen shelter, where she stayed for almost a week while working part-time and attending school. This time was used to find appropriate, stable, longer-term housing for Miranda, who then moved into our HYI program for homeless youth trying to graduate from Fairfax County Public Schools.

Miranda was able to use her time in both programs to maintain her attendance at school and work, and to have a stable living space until graduation. Miranda’s long-term plan is to join the armed forces, where she has already been accepted. During her time at HYI, she was able to reunite with family members and will join them for a permanent living situation after graduation.

Monday, June 14, 2010

We Rocked the House by Gina Cocomello

On June 13 Alternative House hosted our 14th Annual Rock the House 8K Race. We have been working for months to get ready for this event. On race morning the weather was hot and muggy but no thunderstorms. The morning starts early I arrived before 6:00am bringing in supplies and setting up registration. Soon volunteers started arriving. We needed to get ready for the runners. Over 50 volunteers turned out to support this event. Volunteers registered the runners, handed out T-shirts and bibs. They were stationed on the route as course marshals to cheer the runners on and to serve water. Two volunteers were out on bikes riding the route to help organize the volunteers and watch for the runners. We wanted everyone in place before the race started. Almost 300 runners registered for the race. The runners were getting ready, stretching, doing short sprints, and pinning on their bibs. There was a group stretch and warm up. The DJ was playing Bruce Springsteen songs right before the start. The runners were lining up. We even had a few runners with jogging strollers lined up in the back of the pack. Then they were off. While they were gone we got ready for their return opening cases of bottled water and sports drinks, cutting up fruit and organizing the prizes. It didn’t seem like very long before the first runners were crossing the finish line. One or two at first then more and more, as they crossed the finish line there was lots of cheering, finally the last runner, more stretching and lots of water. Prizes were awarded for best in category and even random prizes so everyone had a chance to win something.

The Rock the House 8K Race is our largest fundraising event of the year. We couldn’t do it without the support from our sponsors, Board, volunteers, staff and runners. I personally want to thank everyone involved in this event. The proceeds from this race go to support our programs and services for homeless and at-risk youth and teens. Thank you.