Friday, January 23, 2015

Resources for Advocacy Season

It’s that time of year again, when the Wilson Building becomes abuzz with councilmembers and advocates meeting over issue areas, testifying at hearings, and deliberating on budget priorities. The DC Budget Season is particularly exciting though, because this is a time when community members can provide valuable input into how their city spends their tax dollars.

At the same time, these next few months can be a bit confusing, so we wrote this blog to help answer any lingering questions and offer resources to understand the DC Budget Season and how you can be involved.

Can anyone testify?

You must be a resident of the District of Columbia or work for an organization within the District of Columbia to testify. 
The Committee Chair will set the time limit for testimonies at the begin of the hearing, but often times, you get 2-3 minutes to testify. Although for some hearings, if you are representing an organization, you can get up to 5 minutes. If there are two people connected to your organization signed up to testify, however, the councilmember may choose to split your allotted time. Before testifying, you can check with the councilmember's staff to determine the length of your public testimony.  
Do note though, while you may have a limited time to speak on record, your written testimony may be any length. Written testimonies are very important for the councilmember to have on record so they can refer to it when questioning agency staff and use it as a resource to propose budget marks to council colleagues. Remember to bring 15 copies of your testimony to provide to the committee chairperson and committee members for their records.

How do you sign-up to testify?

You can call the councilmember's office, email the committee staffer, or sign-up online.  
On the day of the hearing, an official agenda with the list of people testifying is published on the DC Council website. From there, you can see whether you will be testifying near the beginning, middle, or end of the hearing so you can plan your day accordingly. Just be cautious, as committee chairs can jump around the agenda when people are absent, late, or added.

How should your testimony be structured?

Some of the most compelling testimonies are from community members who share their personal stories with councilmembers. Watch this powerful testimony of a young DC mom: (skip to 7:47). 
As advocates, we have the data sets and policy recommendations to really backup personal stories with concrete solutions. To make your testimony more robust, however, we recommend adding one recommendation to the end of your story which you can find in our Advocacy Agenda of 2015.

The general structure of a testimony would be:
  • Thank the Chairperson of the committee and the other councilmember’s in the room.
  • State your name and what Ward you live in and why you are testifying. 
  • Tell a piece of your story that will capture the councilmembers’ attention.
  • Explain why one recommendation resonates with your experience. 
  • Re-thank the Chairperson for listening to your testimony. 


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Friday, January 16, 2015

5 Youth Advocacy Trends to Watch in 2015

Today, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates releases our 2015 Advocacy Agenda! Like every year, there are bureaucratic hurdles to jump and procedural barriers to break to ensure the needs of young people are properly being met. So let’s hop to it, we’ve got quite the advocacy season ahead of us!

Also, don’t forget to check out DCAYA’s full advocacy agenda for the coming year. We will need the power of your voice to truly make lasting change!

Holistic Funding to Curb Family Homelessness

One important youth area to watch in this budget season is funding around family homelessness. Nearly half of the homeless families currently in the shelter system are youth-headed. DC General and two hotel buildings are almost at capacity for sheltering families, and more families continue to enter the system daily during hypothermia season. There are several budget items that have an impact on alleviating family homelessness: a plan to close DC General, the Local Rent Supplement Program, Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Re-Housing, the Housing Production Trust Fund, year-round access to shelter, public housing, funding the Dignity Bill, and more. Overall, we will be working closely with all of our advocacy partners to ensure that every piece of the homelessness budget puzzle is put in place to help young families find and keep affordable housing.

Increasing Local Investments to Expanded Learning Programs

In 2015, DCAYA is focused on increasing local funding to expanded learning programs. Currently, the District heavily relies on federal funds, namely the 21st Century Community Learning grants, to support its afterschool programs. With a new Congress in place, there are increased concerns that the 21st Century grants will either be drastically cut or completely eliminated in the upcoming federal budget. DC must be prepared to protect its investments in education. We must begin adding local funds to ensure that the infrastructure and program implementation of critical expanded learning programs are not lost because of federal funding fluctuations.

Continued Collaboration to Amp Up Youth Workforce Development Programming

This year, DCAYA is driving home our commitment to high-quality, year round workforce development opportunities for youth across the District by co-facilitating the first-ever Youth Workforce Leaders Academy (YWLA) cohort. DCAYA and our partners are convening leaders in the youth workforce sphere in a unique peer learning environment to scale up best practices and locally-informed solutions across DC. Especially in light of the implementation of new federal youth workforce legislation this summer (the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), it’s a great time to come together as a community to discuss what’s been working and where improvements can be made, both organizationally and system-wide.

We look forward to the creative partnerships, professional networks, and increased organizational resources that will result from YWLA for years to come!

Easing Access to Youth Development Opportunities through Transportation Subsidies 

Look for a strong advocacy front around expanding the District’s transportation subsidy programs to include youth. DCAYA’s Connecting Youth to Opportunity report demonstrated that transportation proves to be a pervasive barrier to youth accessing youth development programs, school, and workforce opportunities. According to the study, over 33% of respondents reported spending over $30 a week or $120 a month on transportation. Based on reported income data, this suggests youth are spending between 15-30% of their monthly income on transportation alone.

In partnership with our colleagues at Raise DC’s Disconnected Youth Change Network, we’ll be presenting our policy recommendations to Mayor Bowser’s team and council staff during the 2015 budget season.
Increased Use of Visual Data to Break Down Wonky Policy Asks

Policy analysts and funders alike are realizing that white papers and data sets are necessary to our mission, but can leave out a large advocacy audience.

Last year, DCAYA experienced firsthand the influential power of visual tools when we invested time into creating an infographic to explain the gaps in homeless youth services. The effort paid off as councilmembers publically commended the infographic and asked the advocacy community to continue using visuals to breakdown our, at times, complicated policy asks.

Look for additional visuals this year as we delve into the issues facing young people and be sure to get involved with our advocacy campaigns via social media to continue growing our strong advocacy front.

So on that note, please follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and sign-up for our Newsletter so you are always up-to-date on what is happening in the youth advocacy community.

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, January 07, 2015

Ain't No Stopping Us Now

Photo taken at DCAYA 10 Year Anniversary Celebration by Tina Dela Rosa

Before we move forward with our 2015 advocacy agenda, let’s take a quick second to look back on our community’s accomplishments. 

2014 was a monumental year for youth advocates as we banded together to pass impactful legislation and transformative community initiatives.

As an alliance, we are making significant and positive changes for young people in our community. Check out our Top 10 Outcomes of 2014.

Top 10 Outcomes of 2014

1.) Passed LGBTQ Homeless Youth Legislation

This groundbreaking legislation is the first of its kind throughout the country that’s targeted to support homeless LGBTQ youth. Nationally, LGBTQ youth make up a disproportionately- large share of the overall homeless youth population. By increasing immediate services - such as beds - and long-term supports -like family reunification programs – DC is addressing the issue of homelessness among LGBTQ youth head-on. What makes this legislation particularly progressive, and a model for national legislation, is the cultural competency training component, that will ensure staff members interacting with LGBTQ youth are aware of and sensitive to their unique needs.

Learn more: Will You Be America’s Next Top Model?

2.) Welcomed the Creation of the Re-Engagement Center

The creation of DC’s Re-Engagement Center is a major advancement for the District’s disconnected youth population that was several years in the making. From the National League of Cities building on national best practice to conduct a Re-Engagement Center feasibility study, to DCAYA’s research and composition of a report to document the specific needs of DC’s disconnected youth. The findings behind a Re-Engagement Center were clear, DC youth need a single entry point with strong connections to trusted adults to successfully reconnect to educational opportunities. Rather than sending youth to various offices across the District to figure out their next life steps, the Re-Engagement Center is a single-door approach to help guide youth back onto a path of educational success.

Learn more: “One-Stop-Shop” to Re-Engagement

3.) Advocated to Expand the Kids Ride Free Program to SYEP Youth

How is an at-risk youth with no money able to afford their trip to work before their first pay check? For years, this has been a significant hurdle for SYEP youth seeking to gain valuable work experiences. DCAYA posed this question to then Councilmember Muriel Bowser and Councilmember Mary Cheh at the Kids Ride Free Roundtable last year. To our great appreciation, they listened. With leadership and support from DOES, the Kids Ride Free Program was expanded to SYEP youth for the three week period before youth received their first paycheck. Through this collaborative solution, youth were able to focus on doing a great job, instead of the financial stress of getting to their job.

Learn more: Jump on the Bus

4.) Passed Homeless Youth Amendment Act of 2014 with $1.3 Million in Funding

Funding towards youth- specific shelter beds and programming has declined over the years, which is why this legislation and funding mark was critically needed. With significant community support and strong council backing, the Homeless Youth Act was passed to ramp-up services which target youth between the ages of 16 -24. A significant piece of this legislation focuses on collecting and analyzing data on homeless youth to best target funding towards services that work.

View infographic: Filling the Gaps of Homeless Youth Services

5.) Published Voter Education Guide

What an election year! With so many candidates running for office across the District, how were concerned residents able to decide who was best fit for the positions? DCAYA sent out surveys to all Mayoral, Ward, and At-Large candidates asking them about their stances on pressing youth issues and received a 100% response rate. For advocates it was a win-win situation: community members became more informed about the issues, and candidates became well aware that youth advocates are very committed to holding our elected officials accountable for addressing the needs of young people.

Read more: Candidate Surveys

Watch the youth voter video: I Vote DC

6.) Simplified Afterschool Enrollment Process for Low-Income Parents

2013 was a major headache for low-income parents trying to enroll their children into free or reduced-cost afterschool programs. Through collaborating with the DC Public Schools Out-of-School Time office, DCAYA was able to suggest significant changes to the enrollment process so parents of children who need these enrichment programs most are able to access them successfully.

Learn more: Great News for Out-Of-School Time Programs & Parents

7.) Passed Child Sex Trafficking Legislation

It is a heartbreaking and truly unfortunate reality that sometimes something terrible has to happen before lawmakers will act. After DCAYA published a blog about a young person from the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project who was abducted and trafficked to California for commercial sex, policymakers and law enforcement began to listen. A comprehensive bill was drafted by trauma- informed experts to protect, rather than prosecute, victims of child sex trafficking to provide them with the services they need to successfully recover.

Learn more: Sex for Shelter

8.) Created the Youth Workforce Leadership Academy

In July, DCAYA and our partners launched the Youth Workforce Leadership Academy, a year-long learning community of youth development professionals. The Academy allows emerging leaders in the youth workforce field to discuss best practices and build strong city-wide partnerships. The monthly collaborative workshops are intended to bolster programming for young people so that DC may become a community of experts that are committed to combating poverty through a skilled youth workforce.

Learn more: DCAYA Releases Workforce Leadership Academy Application

9.) Lead Design of a Coordinated Intake System for Homeless Youth

Right now, when a young person goes to a youth shelter and there are no beds, they are often turned away and left to figure out their next steps for the night. DCAYA is working with nonprofits and government agencies to lead the creation of a coordinated intake system, so that when a shelter cannot accommodate a youth with no place to stay, that young person will be guided to a program with available space. Look out for more on this in the New Year!

Learn more: Coordinated Entry: Boot Camp and 100-Day Challenge

10.) Celebrated Ten Years of Youth Advocacy

Can you believe we’ve been doing this for 10 years? That’s right folks, as an alliance we’ve pushed for youth reforms and innovative initiatives for a decade now, getting stronger and stronger with each passing year. We can’t wait to see our advancing work impact the lives of DC’s youth in DCAYA’s next decade. It’s through the power of the 130+ youth-serving organizations behind us that DCAYA has accomplished so much for the youth of DC, and there “ain’t no stopping us now.”

If you are a youth-serving organization in DC, consider becoming part of the Alliance to grow the strength of the youth-serving community.

Become a Member

If you’re a community member, sign-up for our mailings to make sure you are always well informed of the initiatives happening in your community.

Join the E-Mail List

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, December 17, 2014

A Mother's Plea for Play

Guest blogger Kanya Shabazz is the program director for Playworks DC, one of DCAYA's newest members. 

As a mother of two African-American boys, I am deeply affected by events that have led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We have reached a tipping point….finally. For too many years, I have wondered how many lives it will take before we say enough; before we examine the institutions that make our children feel unsafe, not valued, and not heard. This goes beyond our criminal justice system.

I have worked with school districts in California, New York and now Washington, DC. In every city, I have witnessed acts of micro aggression against troubled youth within school systems. In the District, underperforming schools facing increased pressures to improve academic performance are also issuing an increased number of disciplinary referrals. In elementary schools, students are spending longer hours in academic blocks with fewer opportunities for unstructured time. When students have an opportunity for unstructured time, typically recess, students with behavioral challenges create an environment that is unsafe and exclusionary. In our toughest schools, principals may opt to forfeit recess time all together, meanwhile studies show that play is an essential part of a child’s development.

Schools partner with Playworks to transform recess and play into positive experiences that help kids and teachers get the most out of every learning opportunity. A qualified youth development professional facilitates safe, meaningful play where every kid has fun and contributes to creating an inclusive environment.

Take seven year old *Chris* for example.

When Chris came to the West Education Campus as a brand new second grader, he began acclimating himself to his new surrounding by arguing and fighting with his classmates. Chris’ teacher would often take away recess minutes as a consequence for his behavioral challenges in the classroom. Coach Bridge, a Playworks Program Coordinator, who has facilitated structured recess at West Education for two years, took this disciplinary measure as an opportunity. When Chris was restricted from play at recess, Coach Bridge would have Chris think about rules to make games more fun and fair. After recess, Coach Bridge would meet with Chris and discuss his day while also setting goals for better behavior in the classroom and during recess. Last week Chris approached Coach Bridge:
“You know Coach Bridge, I’m not getting into as many fights as usual.”
“Chris, you’re so right? What changed?”
“Recess is way more fun when I don’t fight as much.”
This is the self reflection Playworks Coaches work to cultivate in students every day.
In every Playworks school, there is a percentage of marginalized youth who have a significant history of aggressive behavior. When antisocial, aggressive behavior can become a death sentence for our youth, interventions that focus on developing pro-social skills (independent conflict resolution, positive language, and behavior and inclusion) are more important than ever. Playworks Coaches reach every child, especially those who struggle most with behavioral issues. Our evidence-based curriculum partner’s youth with young adult advocates who believe that play can bring the best out of every child.

Photo courtesy of Playworks DC

Kanya Shabazz's favorite recess games are double dutch and four square. Learn more about Playworks and how you can be involved here:

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, December 10, 2014

Support #DiplomaBound Youth

Big news for alternative education learners and GED recipients! 

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has proposed regulations that would amend current District graduation requirements. The regulations would allow local education agencies (LEAs) to offer competency based credits toward graduation with OSSE approval. OSSE also added new language to create a Superintendent’s Diploma for youth who demonstrate mastery of high school competencies by passing the General Education Development (GED), National External Diploma Program (NEDP), or achieve mastery through homeschooling. Now the State Board of Education must vote to approve these proposed regulations at their monthly meeting on December 17th.

Why is this great news?
Think about some of the barriers disconnected youth face when trying to go back to school to receive a traditional diploma.
  • A young person may be very competent in a subject matter, yet lack traditional, in-seat credits to prove it, preventing them from earning a degree in a timely manner. 
  • Traditional high schools offer less flexibility in scheduling, a particular barrier for young parents or young people who feel a financial pressure to help support their families. 
  • If youth are over 21, they can no longer attend traditional high schools, leaving them with limited educational options. 
Preparing for, and passing the GED is a critical alternative option. 
While the GED became much more rigorous in 2013, as reflected in its alignment to the Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, the test is still seen by some employers as an “easy way out” of mastering high school skills. This perception puts GED recipients at an even greater disadvantage when applying for jobs even though passing the GED and achieving a high school diploma demonstrates comparable mastery of the same core competencies. This perception has led to staggering inequities for GED students in terms of employability and earning power. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009, GED certificate holders had significantly lower earnings ($3,100 per month) than those who earned a traditional high school diploma ($4,700 per month) regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or age.

So what will the proposed regulations do for DC youth?
By allowing local education agencies to offer competency based credits, young people can prove mastery in a subject, even if they have failed the course in the past. Competency based credits are particularly important for youth nearing their 21st birthday who need to accrue credits quickly before they age out of traditional education options, as they might not have time to accrue credits based on seat-time. Competency based education is based off of a student’s actual knowledge of a subject matter rather than the number of hours they were sitting in a classroom.

By issuing a Superintendent’s Diploma upon completing the GED, students have an alternative pathway to receiving a state-issued diploma which proves their high school competency. This diploma would open doors for the over 7,500 youth (ages 16 – 24) in DC who are not currently enrolled in school or other educational programs.

And DC is not alone in this practice, 31 states provide either a traditional state diploma or an equivalency diploma upon students passing the GED. This includes our neighbor to the north, Maryland, which offers a state-issued diploma for GED attainment. As a result, District youth are currently at a disadvantage in the regional labor market. Employers considering a candidate from Maryland see a state issued diploma on their resume, while a candidate from the District may only claim GED attainment on their resume. Though both candidates have demonstrated the same mastery of the same concepts, studies show that preference is often given to the diploma holder.

How can we ensure these regulations become District policy?
On December 17th, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will vote to approve these proposed regulations, and we need your help! Here are some things you can do to ensure the SBOE supports these critical steps towards rigorous, yet flexible, educational pathways that acknowledge the unique needs of disconnected youth and adult learners: 
Tweet and/or email this blog to current board members to voice your support of the proposed regulations. 
Remember to use the hashtag #DiplomaBound so the conversation is loud and clear on Twitter.

View SBOE emails, twitter handles, and sample tweets.

Together, we can make sure DC creates educational pathways so all hard working residents can be #DiplomaBound and economically stable. Ask the SBOE to vote “YES” on OSSE’s proposed regulations to amend current District graduation requirements.

Follow our disconnected youth & youth workforce development policy analyst Amy Dudas at @amy_dudas and @DCAYA on twitter to stay updated on the progress of these proposals. 

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, December 03, 2014

Reflecting on the Past Year

Holiday Letter from the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates executive director, Maggie Riden.

The holiday season and start to a new year is a natural time of reflection, a time of pause where we recall the poignant moments of the past twelve months. Where we mourn our losses, but also celebrate our successes. As a family of passionate youth advocates, we have a little of both.

Our losses this year are still, for many, very fresh. Marion Barry was a passionate advocate. He was a powerful presence and in many ways, the original youth champion. His belief in the power of the people, and his work to give every DC resident a voice is unparalleled. The disappearance of Relisha Rudd continues to be a loss that reverberates throughout our community. It’s an echo of sadness that, for those closest to her, will never cease. The tragedy in Ferguson, the death of Michael Brown and subsequent community conflict has become a stark reminder that as a nation we have much work to do in addressing race, equity and equality. It’s important to acknowledge these moments.

It’s equally important to recognize that tragedy and crisis are fertile ground for profound and positive change.

That potential is what I think about when I think about the DCAYA family.

  • Young people like Charmia, Kyrina, Boogie and Jorge: Their willingness to speak truth to power and their belief in not only themselves, but their peers, reminds me of the power inherent in each young person when they’re given room to grow and thrive. 
  • The staff working with youth at our member organizations: The unsung heroes who are helping youth find their passion and their voice as they navigate the path to adulthood. Their commitment is a reminder of just how critical a positive role model or mentor is in nurturing the life of a young person. 
  • Our fellow advocates: Those ardent individuals who never hesitate to discuss the difficult issues, who are the first to bring a solution to the table. Their work to cultivate creative solutions and refusal to accept mediocrity reminds me each day that big picture change is always possible. 

DCAYA is the tent that brings this diverse array of voices together. We work each and every day to support those future leaders in finding their voice, to highlight the impact our member organizations have on the landscape of our city, and to provide policy makers with proven solutions. Through this collective and coordinated approach, our impact is very real. We are addressing youth and child homelessness with vigor; we are creating quality academic and enrichment opportunities for all young people; and we’ve listened to our youth and are now actively mobilizing agencies, providers and funders to address the barriers young people face when trying to reconnect to school and work.

This isn’t to say our work is done. Know that in the year to come DCAYA will continue to nurture the seeds of change our community has planted. We embrace the challenges 2015 will undoubtedly bring because as a community, as a family of passionate youth advocates, we can face them together head on.

As 2014 comes to a close, look out for an upcoming blog post on DCAYA's 2015 advocacy agenda. Together we can advocate for a truly Youth-Friendly DC.

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, November 26, 2014

To Reduce Family Homelessness, DC Needs to Focus on Young Parents

Photo taken by Tina Dela Rosa of Charmia Carolina and her child.
We end our Youth Homelessness Awareness Month blog series with a guest post from policy analyst Kate Coventry of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

According to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, 661 families applied for shelter during the FY2013 Hypothermia Season and the number is predicted to grow to 820 families during FY2015. Of those families experiencing homelessness, nearly half are headed by a parent 24 years or younger.

An increasing number of DC’s homeless families are young, with a parent 24 years old or younger. These families face unique challenges, because the parents often lack a high school diploma or GED, have limited work experience, and have never had their own home. Addressing the huge increase in family homelessness in DC will require focusing on these families.

No one knows exactly why this is happening, but a clear factor is DC’s uneven economic recovery that has left many residents, including young people, behind. Young workers face a 16 percent unemployment rate, nearly double that of older workers. And wages have fallen since 2008 for residents other than those with a college degree. These worsening job realities and DC’s increasing lack of affordable housing undoubtedly are making it difficult for young families to make ends meet.

Other cities are finding that young parents need tailored services. Like the District, Hennepin County (Minneapolis), helps most families exit shelter with Rapid Re-housing, a program that combines rental assistance and case management for generally up to 12 months. But because they found the program does not work well for youth-headed households, they are piloting a program with more intensive case management, life skills training, and education on how to support their child’s development. Additionally, young families can remain in the program for up to 24 months.

It is likely that young families in the District also need special help. Yet it is not clear what added interventions are needed, because the city has not done much to assess the circumstances of youth-headed homeless families. In April, a coalition of community organizations, including DCAYA and DCFPI, recommended that DC release data on the Rapid Re-housing outcomes for young parents, but this still has not happened.

As the District takes more steps to reduce family homelessness, we recommend the District do more to understand why so many young families are seeking shelter, and then review its assessment tool and case management services to make sure they are sensitive to the special circumstances of young families.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute conducts research and public education on budget and tax issues in the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on issues that affect low- and moderate-income residents. Kate Coventry is a DCFPI policy analyst who focuses particularly on TANF benefits, Interim Disability Assistance (IDA), and homelessness.

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