Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Makayla's Letter from Camp

Summer learning is often thought of as an “extra,” something nice, but not necessary.  However, more and more research shows that summer learning is critical in a child’s development.

Summer learning prevents the “summer slide”- when kids lose up to three months of what they learned in the previous school year, especially in math.  It allows kids to explore their interests, enhance their skills, and discover alternative ways of learning.

But enough of us policy wonks talking. Reports and research may statistically show why summer learning is important, but 7th grader Makayla says it best as she takes us through her day at Kid Power, Inc in her Letter from Camp:

Letter from Camp

Hello my name is Makayla and I am a camper at Kid Power summer camp. I am 11 years old and I am going to the 7th grade. I am going to tell you what Kid Power is all about!

In the morning we sign in and have the choice of going to the gym or going downstairs to eat breakfast. We have three main classes: Math, ELA, and VeggieTime.

In math we use baseball statistics to go over skills like fractions and division. The teams that I follow are the Angles, the Nationals, the Pirates, and the Yankees. Go Nationals!

ELA is also called film class. In film class we watch movies and fill out a storyboard so we can understand the movies better. The storyboards include main characters, supporting characters, setting, and plot.

In VeggieTime, we either tend to our garden or exercise in “VeggieTime Moves”. In the garden we water the plants, identify what’s growing, weeds, and harvest crops. We even got to paint signs, fences, and decorations to make it look beautiful. 

VeggieTime Moves is when we go outside or in the gym and exercise. For example, recently we did “Kid Power Cardio,” which is like Zumba, in the gym. It was a lot of fun!

After the three classes, we go downstairs for lunch. We eat and have some free time during recess. Every Tuesday, the Middle School Camp goes to the pool. The afternoons we don’t go to the pool, we have enrichment. The classes are tennis, cooking, and the Hot Sauce Challenge.

Tennis class is a lot of fun. We go outside to the tennis courts and learn skills like serving, backhands, forehands, and volleys. I played my counselors Miss Katie and Mr. Wendall, but I don’t remember who won. (Probably me!)

During cooking we use plants from the garden to make healthy snacks. In one class we made homemade ranch dressing using sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and parsley we had grown ourselves.

The Hot Sauce Challenge is where every class makes their own hot sauce to sell. The money that we make selling it is going to be donated to a charity of our choice. We made our own recipe and will market it with our own logo and slogan!

Ever Friday, Middle School Camp goes on a field trip. Some of our recent field trips have been to the beach, a scavenger hunt around the community, and a field day with volunteers from Hanover Research. This Friday we are going to American University for a campus tour and later in camp we are also going to Splash Down Water Park!

In conclusion, I would like to thank all the staff, coordinators, and supporters of Kid Power. I think Kid Power is a very fun and exciting summer camp. I think all kids should join! I will definitely be back next year! 

Kid Power is an expanded learning member of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. Kid Power specializes in youth development by promoting academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in underserved communities throughout the District. Find out about other expanded and summer learning programs in the DC area by visiting the DCAYA website at 

For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

Friday, July 11, 2014

D.C.’s Second Chance System

With the establishment of D.C.’s first Re-Engagement Center approaching this fall, DCAYA and our community partners have a growing interest in the need to align a robust re-engagement system to the frontline work of the Center.   A few weeks ago, DCAYA and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region brought together national experts in youth re-engagement for a virtual, interactive Vonvo discussion with D.C. community providers.  The experts were Andrew Moore, Robert Sainz, and DC’s own Celine Fejeran.  The discussion highlighted three main takeaways.

Trusting Relationships

All of our guest experts touched upon the importance of trusting relationships in the success of strategies to reconnect youth to educational, workforce, and wrap-around service opportunities.  Echoing the findings of our 2013 Connecting Youth to Opportunities Report,   Robert Sainz emphasized the importance of approaching reconnection efforts by first recognizing that each young person has a story and a particular set of needs.  When adults invest in those individual youth stories through mentorship, coaching, or case management, both parties benefit.  Adults gain a clearer understanding of which packages of services will best fit that young person’s goals, skills, and needs.  Youth gain a trusted resource of support through challenges, guidance in setting goals, and a safety net in the case they veer off-track.  In considering national best practice, the exact model of this adult:youth relationship can vary, but the panel of experts stressed that it remains key to successful re-engagement.

Second Chance Systems

Our Vonvo conversation also underscored the practice of building second chance systems around the needs and demands of youth, which necessitates cross-sector collaboration and diverse stakeholders.  While a young person might be most strongly motivated to seek support in order to attain employment to support themselves and their families, in many instances they lack the levels of educational achievement to find self- and family-sustaining work. In response to the simultaneous needs for youth to learn and earn, Celine Fejeran spoke of the decision within the District to house our first Youth Re-engagement Center at the Department of Employment Services in order to streamline youth access to work opportunities and educational re-engagement.  Another critical advantage of cross-sector collaboration is the ability to gather data across various agencies to gain clarity on the specific circumstances of each young person’s experience that stymie sustained engagement.  As Andrew Moore mentioned in our conversation, this shared data about which young people have left school is also the best starting point from which to launch youth outreach efforts to connect them back to opportunity.

Community Connections

Our last key takeaway was focused on the need to encourage a symbiotic relationship between re-engagement centers and the communities they serve.  This applies to the ability of a re-engagement center’s youth outreach specialists to simultaneously build relationships with youth and strong connections to a wide array of wrap-around services.  Los Angeles and Denver are excellent examples of where this has been done well. On the flip side of this relationship is the opportunity for the influence of the re-engagement center to reach the youth’s friends, families, and caregivers.  If a re-engagement center can build these relationships as well, then the success of the re-engaged youth will have ripple effects throughout their communities.

Overall, the national experts and community providers agreed that this is an incredibly exciting and critical time for re-engagement efforts in D.C.  We all must stay invested and involved in the upcoming implementation of D.C.’s first ever re-engagement center.  We may not get a second chance.

Watch our Vonvo discussion here:

Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. She’ll be meeting with youth providers this summer to discuss how to best link their programming with the District’s citywide plans to re-engage youth.  If you’re interested in these meetings, please contact her at

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Services - Not Prosecutions - For Victims of Child Sex Trafficking

Last year, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates published a blog by Jamila Larson, the Executive Director of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project: “MISSING: The Will to Find & Protect Our Exploited Youth”. A young girl who Jamila had worked with in the past, Shawna, had been missing for months. While searching for Shawna with the girl’s family, Jamila found many holes in the safety net meant to keep vulnerable, unstably-housed children safe. In the end, social workers found Shawna across the country, being pimped out for commercial sex. Shawna was only 14 years old. Read the full story.

    Right now, DC’s current policy and procedures toward child sex trafficking victims only worsens the exploitation of young people. As policy stands:

    • A minor, like Shawna, who cannot even consent to sex due to her age, can be arrested and charged for being pimped out or engaging in survival sex. 
    • When a young person in the child welfare system (CFSA) or the juvenile justice system (DYRS) is trafficked for commercial sex across the country, that child is considered to be “absconding” or a “placement violation.” The young person is not considered “missing.” 
    • Service providers who work most closely with at-risk minors may not file a missing persons report, even if they know a minor is missing and has possibly been trafficked. 

    On July 10th the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety is holding a public hearing on the “Sex Trafficking of Minors Prevention Amendment Act,” a bill which aims to overhaul these policies.

    Overall, the bill focuses on common sense approaches to minors who are sexually exploited for commercial gain. By following a rights-based framework that values service provisions over arrests and detention, the bill aligns DC law with federal law and works to identify minors who are being trafficked or are at-risk of being trafficked.

    There are still relatively minor provisions within the bill that DCAYA recommends changing, but overall it is an excellent bill.   You can find the full outline of the “Sex Trafficking of Minors Prevention Amendment Act” here.

    The advocates, policy organizations, direct service providers, law firms, and government agencies behind the “Sex Trafficking of Minors Prevention Act,” realize that DC needs to immediately improve how victims of child sex trafficking are treated. On July 10th Shawna’s cry for help will finally be listened to.

    If you would like to testify at the hearing with DCAYA and supporters please contact Katie Dunn at

    DCAYA brought together many local and national organizations specialized in addressing cases of child sex trafficking to craft the legislation including: Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, Fair Girls, Sasha Bruce, HIPS, and Courtney’s House, Polaris Project, Rights 4 Girls, the Renewal Forum, Amara Legal Center, The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Center, and members of the Human Trafficking Taskforce of the DMV. The bill was written and vetted by the offices of Councilmembers McDuffie, Grosso, Wells, and Cheh-- and tweaked through feedback from the Metropolitan Police Department, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the Child and Family Services Agency and the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Justice.

    Thursday, June 26, 2014

    SPECIAL EDITION: Youth Advocacy Budget Wins

    Tuesday was the final Council vote on the budget, meaning the FY15 DC budget season is officially over:

    excited animated GIF

    DCAYA is pleased to report that the budget includes a number of smart investments in children, youth, and families:

    Youth Homelessness
    • The Ending Youth Homelessness Amendment Act passed. It mandates and funds a drop-in center, coordinated intake, 15 new youth beds, an annual homeless youth census and a street outreach program. Total: $1.3 million
    • More social workers were funded to focus on families experiencing homelessness. Total: $600,000.
    • The permanent supportive housing program received more funding. Total: $2.3 million.
    • The local rent subsidy program, which facilitates a number of families getting out of shelter and into homes, saw an increase in funding. Total: $3.0 million.

    • The Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) budget includes funding to increase capacity and quality of the early childhood education division. Total: $9 million.
    • The Healthy Tots Act, which promotes early childhood nutrition, was implemented. Total: $3.3 million.
    • A new weight for at-risk students was added in the school funding formula. Total: $81 million (including summer school). 
    • Six new school-based mental health clinicians were funded. Total: $470,000.
    • Two additional full-time positions were added to OSSE in order to provide outreach and basic services to support homeless children and youth. Total: $200,000
    • There was a modest increase in the DCPS Out-of-School Time Program to support afterschool and summer programming. Total: $8.4 million.
    • Funding to support community based organizations providing expanded learning programming was held stable. Totals:
      • Federal 21st Century Learning Center Grants. Total: $10 million
      • Children & Youth Investment Trust Corporation. Total: $3 million
    • The community schools initiative received support. Total: $1 million 
    • Peer health education program received investments. Total: $100,000

    Workforce and Disconnected Youth
    • The youth re-engagement center was approved. This will serve as a central point of re-connection to education and workforce development programming. Total: $473,000 and $349,000 of in-kind resources.
    • A Career Pathways Coordinator was created and the Adult Career Pathways Task Force was funded. These initiatives will better connect and coordinate adult education and workforce development services. Total: $175,000
    • Participants in SYEP will now be able to access free transportation for the first three weeks of the program (that is, until they receive their first pay check). Total: $731,000.
    • While the Alternative Schools Subtitle does not include specifically appropriated funding, the change in policy amends the process of alternative school designation, thus allowing OSSE more flexibility in awarding alternative school statuses. This ends a policy that left many high-quality education programs undesignated and underfunded.
    • Council restored a number of significant cuts to funding and services. Total: $300,000 to year-round youth employment services; $1.2 million to adult job training; $6 million to TANF job training services. 

    While this list certainly is not comprehensive, it gives a pretty good rundown of where we can expect to see some increased services and supports across multiple agencies, as well as some modest changes in policy that will have positive impacts on youth and their providers. While all of our advocacy asks were not met, DC councilmembers and their staff know our issue areas well, setting us up for continued advocacy in the future.

    Our member organizations and partners have been invaluable in this process. You have organized rallies, signed petitions, testified at hearings, and tweeted to your councilmembers. We cannot thank you enough! So take a second to absorb the wins that we all worked hard to accomplish.

    modern family animated GIF

    Ok. Now back to work. FY16 Budget here we come!

    The DCAYA staff would like to sincerely thank all of the organizations, community members, direct service professionals, and advocates who worked so hard this past budget season to help see these wins through. Thanks to your advocacy and direct service, young people in DC have a fighting chance to live healthy and productive adult lives. 

    For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

    Great News for Out-Of-School Time Programs & Parents!

    The DCPS Office of Out-of-School Time Programs (DCPS-OSTP) has some exciting news for thousands of families: enrolling in an afterschool program next year will be far, far easier. It will be online, AND most students will not have to provide burdensome paperwork!

    In the past, families had to provide complex income and residency documentation in order to enroll. Now, thanks to creative thinking and effective data sharing between DCPS and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, schools that have at least 70% of their students eligible for free and reduced lunches can take advantage of a much simpler online process (only 8 DCPS schools do not qualify). Here is the DCPS website with full details.

    This new, online enrollment process makes 3 important improvements:

    1.)  Removes barriers to enrollment for many families.
    Last year, DCAYA cited serious concerns with DCPS’ approach to enrollment. We were apprehensive that the decision to move to a central enrollment fair at a single location would have a number of unintended consequences for economically insecure families. The additional financial and opportunity costs of navigating enrollment, created a burden for those students and families who benefit the most from expanded learning opportunities.

    By moving enrollment online, parents can now enroll their child at a time and place that is doable for them. They will not need to take time off work or travel far in order to produce proof of income, proof of relationship, and proof of residency documentation. School computers will be available for families who do not have access to computers.

    2.)  Guarantees each enrolled student is placed in an afterschool program 
    If the student is enrolled between now and July 11th, DCPS will guarantee them a seat in an afterschool program. The second enrollment period is July 21st-August 20th, but student placement, at that point, will depend on the availability of space. 

    3.)  Eliminates major paperwork burdens for the DCPS-OSTP staff.

    In the last few years, local funding for afterschool programming has declined. This has left DCPS-OSTP almost entirely funded by federal TANF dollars. TANF funding comes with restrictions on how the money can be used; in the past, schools had to prove compliance to the TANF requirements when serving low-income children in afterschool programs. This was extremely complicated and time-intensive, but was required in order to keep the TANF funding. To make matters worse, the budget cuts which made programs reliant on TANF funding, also cut the staff capacity of the DCPS-OSTP office, leaving fewer people to manage the intensive reporting requirements.

    This year, through thoughtful collaboration, DCPS-OSTP and OSSE were able to develop a much simpler mechanism to demonstrate the funds were indeed serving the target population by using the data already being collected and reported on the number of students eligible for free lunches. By eliminating the burdensome documentation collection at the majority of schools, DCPS-OSTP staff will spend less time chasing down paperwork and more time focusing on quality programming.

    Last year, DCPS-OSTP listened to our community’s concerns and worked with us on a creative solution to meet the needs of all parties involved. Such cross-sector collaboration, feedback, and implementation is a resounding feat which ultimately benefits the population DCPS-OSTP and the DCAYA community works to serve – the youth.

    Please pass this information onto parents and youth in your programs so they may use the online platform to place their child into an afterschool enrichment program, ensuring all youth have access to these critical development opportunities.

    DCAYA would like to thank Daniela Grigioni, Manager of External Relations for Afterschool Programs for DCPS, and all those who worked with her in this process. You were a great listener and have worked hard to make online enrollment possible. Thank you!

    For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook,SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Help DCAYA Change the Statistics

    Do More 24 is an online giving campaign that only lasts 24 hours and is geared towards nonprofits in the DC metropolitan area. DCAYA is taking on the Do More 24 challenge. Please DONATE BELOW.

    “It's not just about being able to write a check. It's being able to touch somebody's life.” Oprah Winfrey 

    Often times policy and advocacy work deals with numbers: 9,000 DC youth are disconnected, 4,043 students are homeless, only 3 out of 10 at-risk youth are enrolled in expanded learning programs – but these numbers only give us a glimpse of the reality.

    Charmia Carolina is a mom, a Sasha Bruce Youthwork grad, and a GED recipient. She is a powerful young woman who opens up in front of councilmembers and shares her story because she knows her life and the lives of her friends matter.

    At 19, Charmia found herself homeless with two children and another on the way. She thought to herself, “how could this happen again.” The first time she was put out, she was only 14 and having problems at home. It is easy for her to admit now that she wasn’t mature enough then to know what was in her best interest. Having aged out of foster care and with little supports to turn to, Charmia was left to fend for herself on the streets, while her little girls lived in their grandmother’s cramped apartment. Not having a high school diploma, and knowing things needed to change, Charmia applied to a homeless services program for youth that would provide her with a GED and a workforce readiness skill in carpentry. Over 352 young people applied to that same program. It only had 35 slots. Despite the odds, Charmia was accepted into the program, while 317 youth were left to find another option.

    DC Alliance of Youth Advocates wants to change these statistics. This year alone, we worked to pass legislation geared towards homeless youth like Charmia. The youth-focused legislation provided funding for more beds, drop-in shelters, street outreach, family reunification programs, and funding for community organizations that provide education and workforce training.

    And the youth homelessness legislation is just a piece of what DCAYA works on. By focusing on the spectrum of services geared towards young people – afterschool learning, high school credentialing programs, and re-engagement opportunities – DCAYA works to make sure youth are getting the resources they need to blossom into self-sustaining adults.

    Charmia is just one example; there is a story behind every statistic. We work to change these statistics because we know the youth behind the numbers. You can change the lives of DC youth by contributing to DCAYA on June 19th at Young people like Charmia are proven examples of what can happen when a community chooses to Do More.

    PictureAngela Massino is the communications manager at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. She collects stories of DC youth, program providers, and community advocates to convey the resilience, passion, and needs of the DC youth serving community. If you or your program youth have a story to share with Angela, please contact her at

    For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    I Care 100% about Homeless DC Youth

    Revised On 5/29/2014 with a message from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates Executive Director Maggie Riden:

    On March 28th, 2014 the DC Council voted to invest $1.3 million into the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act. While it is not the funding mark we advocates pushed for, it is a 15% increase to homeless youth resources from the FY’14 budget, which is a significant step in the right direction.

    More importantly though, we still have an opportunity to increase this investment.

    In June, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer will release an updated revenue forecast for 2015 and there is a high level of confidence that this forecast will be higher than anticipated. When this happens, Council will come back to the table to decide how this additional funding will be spent in the 2015 budget. This means that between now through June we need your help in making sure Councilmembers understand the importance of the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act and that it stays high on the list of funding priorities.

    Please continue to ask your councilmembers through emails, personal calls, direct tweets, and creative activism to fully fund the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act. It is through our collective power that we influenced millions in funding already, and with this final push and cohesive call to action we can make sure every young person in DC has a safe place to call home. Thank you for your ardent activism over the past few months as we’ve worked together to ensure funding for our city’s most vulnerable, yet resilient youth.  

    -         -  Maggie Riden


    The DC council votes on the final budget today and only 1.3 million is allotted for the Homeless Youth Act. 

    1.3 million is only 13% of the funding needed to provide services to not only house youth, but make sure they become self sustaining adults. 

    Tell the DC Council you care 100% about our city’s homeless youth! 

    What happens if DC only cares 13%? 

    Less Beds = youth will still be turned away during their most desperate time of need

    No Family Re-Unification Program = interventions that could mend broken families and reunite children and parents will not exist 

    Limited Street Outreach = hungry, tired, desperate young people still won’t have caring adults coming to them and saying “We can help you. Here is some food. Here is some water. Here is where you can find a safe place to sleep.”  

    No Fully Developed Drop-In Center = youth don’t know where to turn to for help and now, they still won’t know where to go 

    Today is your last day to really make your voice matter! Please tell each and every councilmember that you care 100%. And so should they.

    Tweet at Your Councilmember


    Testimonies from the End Youth Homelessness Amendment Act Hearing

    DC Alliance of Youth Advocates is committed to ensuring all DC youth have access to the resources they need to be successful, self-sustaining adults. To learn more about our mission and issue areas visit:

    For more on youth issues in DC you can FOLLOW us on Twitter, LIKE us on Facebook, SUBSCRIBE to this blog and VISIT us at