Friday, August 19, 2011

Housing Scams are Alive and Thriving in Northern Virginia

AYM clients work toward having a place of their own to call home. Scam artists work toward swindling money from vulnerable people. One weekend, an AYM client contacted staff to ask for $1,600 from her escrow account to cover the deposit and first month’s rent for a house with all utilities were included. She was so excited as she described the house – a fenced in backyard for her children to play, washing machine and dryer in the basement, close to excellent schools! The “owner” had given her a tour of the property earlier that day, but he was leaving the country the next day for six years. He claimed he was looking to provide a needy family with a home, which is why the rent was so inexpensive. All the AYM client had to do was send him a money gram for $1,600 and he would send her the key and rental agreement once he received the money.

This AYM client had been in the AYM program for over a year, where she made great progress, including completing an employment training program, obtained full-time employment, had a car, and had saved money in preparation for transitioning out of the program. She was ready to live independently. Staff discussed the reality of the situation with the client and emphasized that something that seemed too good to be true probably was. Despite this conversation, the client was ready to go forward because she believed in the "owner." Luckily, staff was able to get in touch with the actual realtor and confirmed that rent was $2,700 a month, not the $800 she had been told. The realtor was aware that someone had posted a fraudulent ad offering the house for rent and was working with the police to apprehend him. The next day, the "owner" called the client five times pressuring her for the money. When she confronted him with the truth, he hung up. She was devastated, but thankful that she had gained valuable life experience without losing $1,600. AYM staff are working with her to locate an affordable living setting, as she is ready for independence.

Susie Guido, LPC
Residential Therapist
Alternative House

An Intern Shares

I have enjoyed my time interning at Alternative House. Before doing my internship here I did not know what to expect from working with kids, since this is was my first time working with teens. I have enjoyed every time I have spent with them. I feel my experience here gave me an opportunity to see another field in psychology since my major is in forensics. I will truly miss the kids and counselors.

Luisa Suisa
Graduate Student
Argosy University

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shelter Volunteer finds a position on our AYM staff

I chose to volunteer at the Alternative House due to the horrible job market and economy when I graduated from James Madison University. I had been a waitress all throughout college and on breaks so that I could pay for college, thus I did not really have that much experience in my field. It sounds cliché to say that my passion is helping people, especially troubled teens, but ever since I was young that is what I knew I wanted to do. I volunteered at the Alternative House for approximately a year and a half. I felt at home almost immediately when I entered AH, the counselors were very upbeat, refreshing and honest. The program at AH, the more I learned about it, was something I was proud to be a part of. About a month ago I was encouraged to move forward with a career, to use my degree and my experience and make a place for myself in the world. I applied for the Program Assistant position in a program under the Alternative House, called Assisting Young Mothers or AYM. The experience and mentoring I received at AH along with my strengths were perfect assets in landing me the PA position. Programs like AH and AYM are a good example of what good people and good hearts can do, and how we can make a difference in people’s lives individually, in the families, and in the community. All of the programs underneath the umbrella of the Alternative House help populations that are so often overlooked, individuals who more often than not fall through the cracks of our society without someone taking so much as glance back. I think that every person can make a difference, some of the greatest leaders and icons of our time have come from troubled backgrounds and obstacle filled pasts; you cannot make it in this world without a little encouragement or a helping hand, which is what I believe AH gives to this vital population in our society. While I was sad to leave the Shelter at the Alternative House, I have found my place in the AYM program and am proud and happy to still be a part of the AH community.

Angel Cregge
Program Assistant
AYM (Assisting Young Mothers)
Alternative House

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Alternative to Homelessness

The first young man who entered our Homeless Youth Initiative has become my “poster child” for telling people about what a difference this program makes in people’s lives.

“John” was 18 and a junior in high school when his father kicked him out of the house. His Dad had a substance abuse problem and often acted erratically. John went from friend to friend, “couch surfing” until he ran out of friends in late August; just before the start of his senior year. A social worker placed him in a small adult homeless shelter.

His very first night there John was propositioned by his roommate. The next morning, he fled the shelter and was sleeping in the bleachers of his high school football stadium because that was where he felt safest.

Alternative House has an emergency shelter for teenagers that provides a safe haven to runaway, homeless and abused young people 13-17-years old, but John was 18. We were able to get a waiver of the rules and brought John in to safety.

Working with the faith community, we located a woman who would rent a room to John. It was close to his high school, his girlfriend and his job, but John couldn’t make enough money to cover the rent and continue to attend school. Through Alternative House’s Homeless Youth Initiative, we were able to pay $325 a month towards his $500 rent. John paid the rest.

John stayed in school and graduated on time. He is working full-time as a car salesman and his employers love him. He’s also going to community college. The small investment this community made in John has resulted in a young man with a future versus a homeless high school drop-out. It also means we have a successful citizen not someone in our shelters or jail. Everyone wins here.

Judith Dittman is executive director of Alternative House, the abused and homeless children’s refuge.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I know there’s a place I can go and be safe

Alternative House is a really good place to be whenever you’re having problems at home. As soon as I walked in Alternative House, the staff treated me good. Ashley gave me a toothbrush & toothpaste – anything I needed until my mom came by and dropped off my stuff. The staff here is amazing. They’re the nicest people I’ve ever met. They show you they care about you and they discuss topics and answer questions that you have. The counselors help you and I trust them enough to open up and talk about the personal issues at home. They give the best advice and help you work on whatever things you feel you have to work on. Alternative House is one of the best places I have ever been in. I feel safe and now I am going to work on myself. I learned to listen better and whenever I’m angry I will find the best solution and never walk out whenever I get mad or not get what I want. I feel like a better person.

I am going to truly miss the counselors and the other staff because they’re like my family now. In the little time I’ve been here I can already say all of this. If I ever have a problem at home, I know there’s a place I can go and be safe. There is always room for improvement, nobody is perfect and there are people in the world that care about someone like me. Alternative House helps you solve problems you are facing at home. They make you realize what is important in life. People, such as friends come and go, but family there is only one. Think about the positive things in life and try not to think about the negatives. If you feel like you don’t have anybody there for you or feel alone and are in need of advice they have a 24 hour crisis line. Don’t ever think you are alone in life because you are not. My stay here at Alternative House has been fun and I know if I ever need advice on a personal home situation, they’re here for me. Thank you Alternative House. My stay here has been the best. I’m going to miss you guys a lot and I will visit you guys whenever I can.

Shelter Resident (age 15)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Shelter Intern from American University

As an upcoming senior Psychology major at American University,my decision to intern at Alternative House was based on a recommendation from my advisor to get involved in the psychology field hands on. I chose Alternative House because I knew I wanted to work with adolescents and I loved the warm atmosphere I experienced when I first visited the Shelter for my interview. I enjoyed working with every resident that stayed here, and loved the experience of seeing each and every one of our youths grow during their time with us. Additionally, the staff are all very warm and welcoming, allowing me to feel right at home from my very first day. I have learned so much during the few months I have interned here and will carry the knowledge I have gained through this experience as I continue my education and ultimately begin my career path.

Emily Sherer
Alternative House Intern

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Trip to the Zoo by a Shelter Resident

Wake up! As one of the staff yells to the fellow residents as the sun is rushing to show. Residents got up and out the door by 7:00 am and headed immediately to a fun adventure at the D.C animal zoo. Everyone tried to stay positive, we had to take a detour because one of our staff members got lost and drove around in circles. While that was going on, one of our residents became car sick and barfed. Staff immediate stopped the car at the nearest sidewalk, and waited for him to finish. Finally back on the road, we were jamming to our radio tunes. We were headed on our way to the zoo determined for no more detours. Arriving at the zoo, we first got breakfast sandwiches. After eating we saw the cheetahs lying still as they soaked up morning sun. Then walking around we saw pandas peeling and eating bamboo. The Lionesses and her cubs playfully fighting were also great. The aged tiger yelling helplessly at his audience, great to see how a tiger calls out. The naked mole-rats scattering around looking for breakfast; Armadillos hiding in their little ball scared of all the eyes. Starry eyed owls that often looked lost. Long stretching zebras that stayed near home around family. Lazy bears who weren’t interested in giving us a show. Watching the Gorilla family as the mother’s breast drooped to her knees. Exotic energetic monkeys who kept climbing. Beautiful underwater plants, above ground plants and many more. Residents enjoyed a mix up for group and had fun with the bond they had with Mother Nature.

Shelter Resident
16 year old, male

Friday, August 5, 2011

Young mother needs dental care

This week I had my teeth cleaned and a cavity filled. Instead of my usual dread of the dentist, I am thankful that I can afford to take care of my teeth. Dental care is a luxury for many people. One of my clients, a young mother in our AYM program, has four impacted wisdom teeth that need to be surgically removed. The wisdom teeth don’t care that she has no dental insurance or funds to pay for this surgery, they are coming in regardless. These four teeth are coming in underneath her molars and one is coming in sideways through her gum line causing extreme pain. Her insurance covers urgent care clinics and emergency rooms that are more than willing to provide pain medication, but if she takes the pain medication then she cannot function at work or take care of her toddler. A local dentist provided x-rays pro-bono and directed me to an area dental clinic that requires a referral from one of four agencies. One agency listed on their website no longer participates in the program. The two others I could get no one to return my calls. Since that initial call two weeks ago, I have talked with eight individuals, two hospitals that offer low-cost dental surgery and two local non-profits that assist with medical issues. Every phone call generated another one – I was passed from person to person, referred to different agencies with no resolution. I am frustrated with the process and can only imagine how clients feel when they are passed on without anyone listening to their dilemma. Alternative House is a referring agency for reduced dental care provided by area oral surgeons; however, 50% of the cost of impacted wisdom teeth surgery is $1,300 – and that was the least expensive provider. Payment plans are not an option. What do people do when there is an issue that requires immediate attention? Right now the only answer I know is to suffer. So far, my efforts have been ineffective, but I will continue to make calls because I do not accept the responses I have received. Society can do better.

Susie Guido, LPC
Residential Therapist
Alternative House

Thursday, August 4, 2011

From a Shelter Intern

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time working at Alternative House. Before volunteering here I did not know what type of psychology I wanted to go into or even what my different options were. I feel my experience here gave me real insight into the world of counseling and therapy and also gave me a good feel for the type of work that I wish to continue to do in the future. I had a real great experience here, so much so I still plan on volunteering even after my internship has been completed.”
Christopher Mishik
Shelter Intern
George Mason University

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wonderful Volunteer Experience with the Annandale Safe Youth Project (ASYP)

It has been my privilege to be an ASYP volunteer throughout the past two years. I enjoy working with young students and helping them realize that learning and school can be fun. So often, elementary school children think that school is not a happy place, subjects are too difficult, and reading is boring.

As a substitute teacher in the Alexandria school system and a volunteer in the ASYP program, I frequently find that students don’t understand the material they are studying, struggle with their homework, and need extra help to complete their assignments.
For me, the reward of being a volunteer with ASYP is seeing the smile on children’s faces when I teach them how to solve a math problem and, all of a sudden, they understand the method – or how to write a better composition and they find that they can do it!

It is important to help students strengthen their self-esteem and trust their abilities and help them see that, with discipline and perseverance, they can achieve their goals.
This past year, we have had an exceptional group of students. They were a real joy to be around, willing to learn and to study. They were respectful and followed directions. The kids got along with each other and the staff.

I have the utmost respect for the director of the program, Antonia Arias, and the assistant director, Jade Leedham.

Larry L. Fickau (“Mr. Lee”)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Grateful Intern Shares Her Story

Three weeks into my new job, I am so grateful for the experiences I had at Alternative House as an intern. I graduated in May with a Masters of Clinical Mental Health Counseling from George Washington University, and I was one of the few people in my program who had a great job lined up. At Alternative House, I had the opportunity to interact with key community agencies in Northern Virginia, such as Child Protective Services, Foster Care, and the Juvenile Court system, and this gave me an advantage when interviewing for positions in government counseling agencies. Additionally, I had the freedom to explore and develop new aspects of counseling, like bilingual counseling, that set me apart from the other applicants. Though interning in a crisis residential facility can be stressful, I would not trade the experience for any other.

An element that makes Alternative House so unique is the diversity of the teens. Teens from all backgrounds live together, and they feel safe to explore their differences and similarities. The staff at Alternative House facilitates respectful conversations about controversial topics, such as race and religion, that adults typically shy away from because they can be uncomfortable. The teens appreciate being able to ask questions of one another, and hopefully these teens will be leaders who help us as a society to come together despite our differences.

The most inspiring moment of my internship took place just before bedtime. Two boys were sharing a bedroom, one Muslim and one Christian. The Christian boy returned from the shower to find his roommate saying his prayers. He waited respectfully outside the bedroom door until his roommate had finished praying. The Muslim boy looked up when he had finished and invited him in. The Christian boy said, “Hey man, I didn’t know you were Muslim. I don’t really know anything about it. Can I ask you some questions?” And the Muslim boy responded, “Ask anything you want.” The two sat down and began discussing religion. It was a beautiful moment. I hope the experience sticks with them, and I hope that the staff at Alternative House continues to make it a safe place for kids to ask questions and openly discuss important themes.

Cynthia Baleskie


Monday, June 20, 2011

Culmore Graduation Celebration

What a great week we had last week. Monday started with the graduation celebration for the young people at the Annandale Safe Youth Project. Wednesday found us celebrating with the youth in Culmore. We had a joint program with the 4th, 5th and 6th graders from the Safe Youth Project and the teens at the Culmore Teen Center. The Teen Center was packed! Everyone had a great time receiving certificates of recognition for their outstanding achievements presented by our Board Member Julie Pangalinen. Alternative House Board Member Rick Holzheimer also joined us as did two members of the Bailey’s Crossroads Rotary Club, William Cook and Karey Starnes. The Baliey’s Rotary has been a long-time supporter of our programs in Culmore and it was great to see them at the celebration. The Teen Center was freshly painted by volunteers from Convergint Technologies and was perfect for the occasion. We heard poems and viewed artwork of the students and then had a great meal of Lasagne and salad prepared by the women from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in McLean. A special graduation cake finished off the event and was promptly “finished off“ by the many hungry young people in attendance!

One of the most memorable things for me that evening was the opportunity to talk with one of the graduating teens. This young woman’s family is originally from Pakistan. In addition to going to school and working at the Teen Center as a Youth Worker, she has been caring for her mother who is ill. When I spoke to her about what lay ahead after graduation, she told me she would be spending two years at Community College and then planned to transfer to either Virginia Tech or VCU to study medicine. Her ultimate goal is to open a clinic where homeless people can receive medical care free of charge. She is such a determined and focused young woman that I am looking forward to attending the grand opening of her clinic. I’m sure she’ll succeed.

Judith Dittman

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Homeless Youth Initiative Graduation

The Homeless Youth Initiative (HYI) is celebrating the end of the school year and the high school graduation of all 13 of our seniors. We could not be more proud that the program will have a 100% graduation rate this school year. High school graduation is a major accomplishment for any teenager, but particularly so for our clients who have had to pursue their education without the support of a parent or guardian. These students have not had the benefit of a parent to wake them up in the morning and ensure they go to school, a parent to drive them to school when they inevitably wake up late, or a parent to remind then that it is time to get off the computer in the evening and focus on their homework. These students have been able to find the internal drive and motivation to complete their academic course load and graduate with a high school diploma. The majority of these students are employed and living independently. Many of them support themselves financially and balance the real life challenges of being an adult, with the demands of being a high school student. Our graduates this year come from all three portions of our program: our group home, host homes and our rent voucher program. It is truly incredible for us as a staff to reflect on all these young people have accomplished, despite the turmoil and many transitions they have experienced. It has been our honor to support these students, celebrate their accomplishments and provide the occasional “tough love” moments that they have needed along the way.
Many of our seniors have elected to pursue a college education in the fall. We have five students going away to 4 year universities, three who plan to attend NOVA, one student who is enrolled in a full time nursing program and other students who continue to explore their options such as certificate programs, the military and AmeriCorps. We wish them continued success in all their endeavors!

Kristin Sorenson

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Great Kids!

What great kids! The Annandale Safe Youth Project had its graduation celebration last night and it was a blast. We had some special visitors from the community including the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman, Sharon Bulova, Alternative House Board Member, Mike Policicchio, Fairfax Partnership for Youth Board Member Frank Blechman and folks from Association Management Group, St. Barnabas’ Episcopalian Church and John Calvin Presbyterian Church. But the stars of the show were the kids. Their enthusiasm just lit up the room. These are children who are facing some big challenges in their lives. They come from families where there isn’t a lot of money and many of them are struggling in school. But this year they all made big gains in academics and you could see they supported each other. We were treated to impromptu song and dance and spontaneous cheers for summer from the young people and great food was provided by Vienna Presbyterian Church and John Calvin Presbyterian Church. It was also wonderful to see the support from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. The program is located at the church and members of the congregation volunteer to help provide activities for the young people. The Rector, Assistant Rector and lots of program volunteers joined the party to wish our young people well. Wednesday we’re going to have another celebration in our Culmore Safe Youth Project and Culmore Teen Center. I can’t wait!

Judith Dittman

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

College Scholarship for HYI Client

On Wednesday, May 18, at 7:00 pm an awards ceremony will be held at the Vienna Community Center. The Vienna Womens Club is awarding 3 special young ladies with a $1000 scholarship to a college of their choice. One of these young ladies is Jania, a client of The Alternative Houses newest program Homeless Youth Initiative.
Jania came to our program in early 2010. Although she was surrounded by family, her pervious living situation included living under very restrictive rules and guidelines that would seem unfair to most people. Because her mother could not afford to move away from those family members and into her own home, Jania continued to live in the restrictive environment until her counselor referred her to Homeless Youth Initiative.
While residing in the HYI group home Jania completed her junior year of high school and started preparing to attend college. Now a senior Jania looks forward to being a high school graduate and starting college at Northern Virginia Community College in the fall to obtain her Associates Degree. She plans to major in Business Administration and then transfer to a four year institution to complete her Bachelors Degree.
A scholarship from the Vienna Womens Club will bring her one step closer to her goal. Jania is very excited to be a recipient of this scholarship. She worked very hard on her application and essay submission and is proud to see all of her hard work pay off. We at HYI are very proud of Jania as well and know she will continue to be successful in her future endeavors.

Gege Latef
Program Coordinator
Homeless Youth Initiative

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Young Mothers need Yoga supplies for class

It is no secret that mothers rarely get the opportunity to take time for themselves – to charge their ever drained batteries. Yet, women are consistently reminded of how important it is to our health and relationships to take time for themselves and reduce stress. Articles are written about it in our favorite magazines and local newspapers; there are featured stories about it on our favorite talk shows and news programs. And everyone serves up their own tips and suggestions for busy moms to squeeze in that sacred personal time. Some mothers heed the warnings and sign up for an exercise class or women’s club while their child stays home with the child’s father or babysitter. But a low income single mother cannot afford the extra childcare costs outside of her work hours any more than she can pay for a fitness class. What can be done?

This is the question that Assisting Young Mothers (AYM) staff have been challenged with as they assist young mothers move towards independence. Staff focused their attention toward exercise related activities in early 2011 and explored realistic opportunities for the residents. While AYM staff searched for a long-term solution, they personally volunteered to exercise with residents while volunteers provided childcare. In mid April, Alternative House was approached by a yoga enthusiast who wished to share her passion with teenagers. AYM staff welcomed this opportunity. AYM will host monthly yoga sessions for their residents which will focus on stretching, poses, mediation, and stress relief. AYM residents who are pregnant will also be able to participate, doing modified positions and poses.

The first yoga class is scheduled for May 23, 2011. Before we begin, AYM needs to obtain 6 yoga mats to provide the grip and stickiness needed for the exercises. Residents would also benefit from 6 yoga straps and 6 yoga blocks, which help users build flexibility and assist with challenging poses. AYM will be happy to accept any new or used mats, straps, or blocks.
The physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga are well documented. AYM hopes that our residents will experience increased patience and model positive coping mechanisms for their children as a direct result of participating in the yoga program.

Autumn Grigg

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shelter Intern works on the Hotline

As a senior Psychology major at George Mason University, I enrolled in a service-learning course, a class that combines community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. As a student in a service-learning course, the experience is intended to focus organized community service that addresses local needs, while developing my academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community. After graduation in May, I plan to pursue a graduate program in Clinical Psychology. With this goal in mind, hands-on, relevant internships are a difficult find, but working here at Alternative House has given me more learning opportunities and experiences than I could have imagined!
I chose the Alternative House for a multitude of reasons, including the chance to work with a different population of youth than I had previously. In addition to simply observing the on-goings at a residential facility, this internship has allowed me to assist the primary counselors run group education discussions. One of my favorite experiences, facilitating “Group” ties directly to my course work at school in my Therapeutic Communication, Group Psychotherapy, and Counseling Psychology classes.
A unique aspect of working at AH has been the Hotline process- both training for and documenting. The 24-hour crisis line is not a service that all facilities provide, therefore it has been an added beneficial experience to learn and become comfortable with. Not only does it enhance my skills that can be used in the future for one-on-one counseling, but it exposes me to one more aspect of this extensive field.
The hands-on training and experience has helped me to begin narrowing down my desired career concentration. Furthermore, I have learned a great deal from simply interacting with both the youth and the staff. The opportunity to ask practiced-staff questions about their jobs, practices, and experiences has been invaluable and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. In fact, since my internship course ended in early December, I have continued to volunteer twice a week!

Teal Dye
George Mason University

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Shelter Intern Shares

As a senior Social Work major at George Mason University, interning at the Alternative House as fulfilled my graduation requirement of a 450 hour field-placement. More importantly than allowing me to graduate it has provided me with knowledge and insight into working with adolescents. Prior to this experience I wasn’t sure of the population I wanted to begin my career working with. After being given the opportunity to learn and grow at Alternative House I have cemented that this is a population I want to continue working with. In my 8 months here so far, I have had the opportunity to work on specific field-competencies, including: practice in ethics, diversity, and values research and application. I work closely with the residents, which enables me to also work on my communication and assertiveness skills. Besides the knowledge I have gained from the interactions with residents I have also learned great amounts from the wonderful staff here. They were all very willing to help, patient with me from the start, and overall a positive part of my experience thus far. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity here at Alternative House and the opportunities it has given me to broaden my horizons and pave a path for my future career goals.

Lindsay Schwartz
Alternative House Intern

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

HYI Clients help Young Mothers with babies

Last night, our Assisting Young Mothers (AYM) program was without volunteers to provide childcare while the mom's are in Life Skills group; so three residents and a staff member from the Homeless Youth Initiative (HYI) program came to AYM during the group to help out. At first, the three HYI residents were hesitant, but by the end of the evening, they were all interacting with the babies and having a great time.

If you would be interested in volunteering to help provide childcare for infants and toddlers in our facility on Monday or Tuesday nights we have some openings. This is open to adult volunteers who are willing to make a six-month or longer commitment. We do a background check on all volunteers working with children. Please contact our volunteer coordinator for more information.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month

As we take the month of April for Volunteer Appreciation, we reflect back on how important our volunteers have been to us and the contribution they make. We could not function as we do and do the things we do if it were not for the dedication, motivation and passion each volunteer brings Alternative House. You will never know how many lives you have touched in so many ways. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Safe Youth Project

When Alejandro started coming to the Safe Youth Project (SYP) after-school program as a 4th grader he was a trouble-maker. He spoke out of turn, bullied the other children, and refused to cooperate despite repeated warnings. He was so obstreperous that some of the other children stopped coming to the program. Very troubled by his behavior, our staff met with Alejandro's parents to express their concern and discuss how he acted at home with his parents and siblings. It turns out that the parents were very worried too, but they couldn't afford to seek help or treatment from a professional. Staff had to tell Alejandro's parents that he couldn't come to the program anymore because he was driving the other children away, but they did continue to help the family. They were able to get them connected with another organization, where Alejandro was tested for behavioral problems then got regular counseling to help him improve. Alejandro is now in 6th grade, and has returned to SYP a changed person-he listens to staff, treats his peers respectfully, and contributes to group activities.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Volunteers Help at AYM

Our Assisting Young Mothers program (AYM) provides counseling and support for pregnant and parenting young women ages 16-24 through residential and community-based programs. Young women receive counseling, shelter, life skills training, parenting education, and job readiness training to help them become nurturing parents and successful members of the community. AYM strives to promote self-sufficiency and nurturing parenting, and to prevent child abuse.

Angela Valerino, the program coordinator for AYM has been working with some special volunteers this week. Angela is happy to report; “This week at AYM we have a volunteer group from Saginaw Valley State University working on organizing and cleaning at the townhouses. The group is made up of 12 college students who have chosen to spend their spring break helping others. They all worked very hard today and were tired by the end of the day; but they are looking forward to continuing tomorrow and we are all optimistic about what will be accomplished this week!”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Job Requires Many Meetings

As Executive Director of Alternative House I have a very rewarding job. I get to meet people who care about the children and youth of our community. I speak often with our elected officials and those who work for our government. I serve on the Boards of several organizations and we meet to discuss ways to better serve those who need help. While very rewarding, it also means a lot of meetings! About a year ago, I decided to make time to go to some really special meetings….the weekly meetings of the people who work in Alternative House programs. I can’t make these meetings every week, but I do stop in at least once a month. It makes me wish I could do it more often. It’s very inspiring to listen to the dedicated people who help the children and youth in our programs and it’s inspiring to hear the stories of the young people themselves.

While at the Emergency Shelter for Teenagers meeting, I met a girl whose mother decided to enter a substance abuse treatment program. That would normally be a good thing, but this girl was sent from another state, where she and her mother lived, to Northern Virginia to live with her aunt and uncle. The girl didn’t know about any of this before she got here. She thought she was just coming for a week’s visit. She’s missing her boyfriend and her aunt and uncle have a different parenting style than her Mom. One thing led to another and she started having trouble in school and cutting herself. She told a school counselor she was heading out on her own and the counselor asked her to call us. As I sat in the meeting I could see how much the counselors at the shelter care about this girl and the help they provide is really amazing. They are working with the girl, her aunt and uncle and her mother to keep her safe.

I went to the staff meeting for the Homeless Youth Initiative and heard representatives from our schools heap praise on our therapist and case manager for going far beyond what’s expected to help homeless high school students who are on their own. I learned about how our therapist helped a young man leave the hospital where he was receiving treatment for severe depression and successfully move into a host home and resume attending high school. This wasn’t an easy thing for him to do and it took a lot of work on everyone’s part to make it successful. Once again, though, it was easy to see how much everyone cares.

Our Outreach counselors touch the lives of thousands of kids every year. When I go to their staff meeting I hear about young people from our Culmore Teen Center getting help with homework, putting together resumes and doing college applications. I find out how much the children in the Annandale Safe Youth Project enjoyed their first field trip to an area park after being indoors all winter. The children in the Culmore Safe Youth Project are excitedly anticipating going to see Gnomeo and Juliet thanks to the donation of movie tickets. Field trips and movies are things these children wouldn’t be able to do if we weren’t there. Our Outreach counselors also help get school supplies in the fall, warm winter coats for kids who don’t have any and meals when there is a lack of food at home. They are always there to listen and encourage when going to school seems hard and dropping out and joining a gang would be the easy thing to do.

Finally, at our Assisting Young Mothers staff meeting I saw how our counselors are working with each young mother to help her plan for a brighter future. One young woman wants to join the military and is taking courses at community college to get the educational experience she will need. Another has just found a full-time job that will pay her $12 an hour. While that isn’t a huge salary, it’s a lot more than the minimum wage employment she had previously and she is on cloud nine. Another young woman has just packed her overnight bag to go to the hospital and developed a new delivery plan. She expects her baby in 8 weeks and is looking forward to welcoming her new son. There are so many new beginnings in the program. Women moving forward towards self-sufficiency, children taking their first steps and our counselors there to help and encourage.

While almost all of the meetings I go to are important and productive, the best meetings of the month are when I get to visit our programs and learn about the amazing things that our children and youth are doing and how our staff helps make it happen.

Judith Dittman

Friday, February 11, 2011


It’s not often that I have time to sit down at work, much less to pause and reflect on providing services to over 1,000 teens, young mothers, and children in the seven years I’ve worked at Alternative House. But today is a quiet day, even though our teen shelter is full, our HYI program was featured on Channel 7 this week, and our young mothers are searching for jobs in a tough market.

I started at Alternative House just before September 11th, 2001. Working first as an overnight counselor in the teen shelter and later as a primary counselor, I worked directly with hundreds of teens who are now rapidly approaching their 30’s: the young woman who recognized me at a restaurant where she worked years later and excitedly filled me in on the years and events that had passed; the teen who had dropped out of school and stopped by the shelter a year later to say that she had re-enrolled in school nearby; the young woman who joined our Youth Advisory Council after her stay at the shelter in order to pass her knowledge and experience on to benefit others. These stories and more convinced me that obtaining a graduate degree in social work would be the best way to continue supporting at-risk youth.

I returned to Alternative House’s Assisting Young Mothers Program as program coordinator to become part of more stories: the young mother-to-be who was hired for a job only eight days after moving into our program; the toddler who learned how to speak and began to laugh after finally having a safe and stable place to live; the young mother who graduated the program and was hired by AYM as a staff member; the young woman who is still in touch with staff years after graduating, who invites me to attend her daughter’s birthday parties each year. After becoming director of residential services, I was glad to be able to maintain connections with clients while gaining additional responsibilities.

With the addition of our newest program last year, the Homeless Youth Initiative, I am sure that more memories of client successes will follow. I look forward to them!

Meghan Huebner
Director Residential Services

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alternative House Resources

Did you know that Alternative House has the highest rating awarded by Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit evaluation organization? We’ve also been awarded the “Best in America” designation from Independent Charities and provide information on our financial and program practices on Guidestar. At our last Open Door at the House, one of our guests told us how impressed he was by our excellent ratings and he was very interested to learn how much of our funding comes from the community.

Approximately half-of the resources we need to operate Alternative House come from non-government sources. About one-fourth is financial support from individuals, businesses, the faith community and private foundations and one-fourth is in donations of food, clothing, paper goods and volunteer hours. We also receive about one-fourth of our funding from the Federal Government through the Department of Health and Human Services Runaway and Homeless Youth Act. The final quarter comes in various grants and contracts with Fairfax County.

We are currently working on revising our website so that we can put all of our financial information on line. That should happen in the next month or so. Until then, if you would like a copy of our tax return or audit you can find it on-line at Guidestar or call us and we’ll send you a copy.

We work hard to make the funds invested in us by the community go as far as possible and we try to be as transparent as possible about where our funding comes from and where it goes. The excellent ratings we receive from independent evaluators verify that every dollar we receive is used wisely.

by Judith Dittman

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Police Brought Susan to Alternative House

In December the police brought Susan, a 13 year old girl to our Emergency Shelter for Teenagers. She had been on the run for five days without a safe place to stay. Susan was afraid that her mother would send her out of the country to live with relatives after she was involved in a fight at school. She ran away to prevent that. After arriving at the Shelter and meeting with Alternative House counselors, Susan realized her recent decisions would have an impact on her relationship with her mother. We helped Susan identify ways to improve her communication and decision making skills so that she could return home and improve her relationship with her family.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The many gifts of the season

Something about the holiday season and the start of a new year makes many people stop and take stock of what they have, or what they would like to have but just can’t seem to get.

In all of our residential programs at the Alternative House, homeless teens, young mothers, and small children were very thankful for the donated gifts they received this year. High school students cried when they opened a warm coat, a gift card to a supermarket, or a new pair of sneakers. Toddlers squealed with delight while playing with toy cars and baby dolls. Young mothers pampered themselves with a new makeup kit or a gift card to Target. As a staff member, I have been thankful as well: thankful that we are able to provide services to so many families and youth in need, thankful that we have dedicated staff and volunteers to support our mission, thankful that I can come to work every day and do something that I enjoy.

And then there are the things that we all hope for but seem just out of reach right now: the young mother searching for full-time employment that will allow her to support herself and her child, the high school student trying yet again to pass a final SOL test before graduation, the supervisor looking to hire relief staff to fill in while full-time staff are taking a much-needed vacation. I wish I could fulfill these wishes as easily as opening a gift. Since I cannot hand someone a gift-wrapped diploma or employment, I will continue to work to find resources to make the path to those achievements easier so that more youth can make their dreams a reality.

Meghan Huebner
Director of Residential Services

Monday, January 17, 2011

A young visitor in my office

I was working in my office, on the second floor of our Emergency Shelter for Teens. From downstairs I heard a baby crying. I knew instantly it was a very young baby. You know how their crying is different. A few minutes later Angela the program coordinator for our Assisting Young Mothers Program came upstairs. She was holding a two month old baby boy. His name is Mikeas. His mother was downstairs meeting with another staff person and Angela was caring for him. Of course we made a big fuss over him in his tiny blue pajamas. He has a full head of dark hair and his cry is very loud. But he calmed down while Angela was walking him around perched on her shoulder. What a nice break to have Mikeas and Angela visit my office. Now back to work.

Gina Cocomello

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Safe Youth Project

When Alejandro started coming to the Safe Youth Project (SYP) after-school program as a 4th grader he was a trouble-maker. He spoke out of turn, bullied the other children, and refused to cooperate despite repeated warnings. He was so obstreperous that some of the other children stopped coming to the program. Very troubled by his behavior, our staff met with Alejandro’s parents to express their concern and discuss how he acted at home with his parents and siblings. It turns out that the parents were very worried too, but they couldn’t afford to seek help or treatment from a professional. Staff had to tell Alejandro’s parents that he couldn’t come to the program anymore because he was driving the other children away, but they did continue to help the family. They were able to get them connected with another organization, where Alejandro was tested for behavioral problems then got regular counseling to help him improve. Alejandro is now in 6th grade, and has returned to SYP a changed person—he listens to staff, treats his peers respectfully, and contributes to group activities.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thank you for your Generosity by Christine Bartell

Now that The Holiday season has finally come to a close and 2011 is here I would like to reflect on how generous our volunteers were with not only the donations but their time. Everytime I turned around, someone was calling, emailing or dropping by to drop off gift donations or see if they could help in anyway. As the Office Administrator and Volunteer Coordinator, I had the job of trying to make sure all gift donations received were sorted out for each of the programs. We were completely overwhelmed with the generosity of so many people. It was incredible the various ways people gave. We even had a letter from a boy named Ethan who was abandoned by his parents, now living with his grandparents, who sent Alternative House his top 3 favorite toys to give to an AH child in our Outreach program who had very little. He wrote in his letter that he knew what it was like to be abandoned and wanted to make sure that no other kid would feel that way and that by giving his toy they would know they were loved. To see the joy in this letter from a little boy who wanted to make a difference showed me what the real meaning of Christmas is.

Our volunteers and donors may never know the difference they make outright by wrapping a gift, organizing a closet, and or sorting through a pile of used clothing, but it’s through these acts of volunteerism, coming together in support of our programs in such ways, that they are making a difference in the lives of many children. Thank you to all of you that gave monetarily, with in kind donations and most important..yourself. You are our backbone and everyone here at Alternative House is forever grateful. May you have a happy and healthy 2011!