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