Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Happy International Day of the Girl

Did you know it's International Day of the Girl?

"In 2011, as the result of youth advocacy around the world, the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. Its mission is “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” It’s a day when activist groups come together under the same goal to highlight, discuss, and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere."

Check out the video below.


And find out more information here.

What does Freedom for Girls mean for you?

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Happy Afterschool Awareness Month

As you may know, October is Afterschool Awareness Month. And we thought we'd highlight Lights on Afterschool, an Afterschool Alliance project that has been that has been celebrated annually since 2000, to highlight the importance of and need for afterschool programs.
In America today, 11.3 million children are alone and unsupervised after school. Afterschool programs keep kids safe, help working families and inspire learning. They provide opportunities to help young people develop into successful adults. [LOA History]
Throughout the month you can follow the conversation and see what's happening around the country, by following the #LightsOnAfterschool hashtag on Twitter.

And if you and your organization are interested in and plan on joining the celebration, make sure to let Afterschool Alliance know by registering your event as an official Lights on Afterschool event!

You can:

Whatever you do, let us know in a comment or by tagging us on Twitter!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Child Care Testimony from today's Hearing from Maggie Riden

Today, the Committees on Education & Health held a hearing on B22-203, the Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act & B22-355, the Bolstering Early Growth Investment Amendment Act. Maggie Riden, Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, provided testimony.


Good Morning Chairman Grosso, Chairman Gray, and Chairman Evans, fellow Councilmembers and committee staff. My name is Maggie Riden, and I am the Executive Director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA), a coalition of over 130 youth-serving organizations operating here in the District of Columbia. Thank you for the opportunity to provide our feedback and recommendations on two bills seeking to improve early childhood care and development through increased coordination and thoughtful resource allocation.

I’d like to begin my remarks with appreciation for the Council’s attention to the holistic needs of the District’s youngest residents, their families and caregivers, as well as the systems and services that center around a critical point in a young person’s brain development. While the bulk of DCAYA’s work focuses on the needs of youth later in their development, we recognize that gaps in opportunity, achievement and enrichment often begin with stretched resources and insufficient support at birth. We appreciate that both bills under consideration today incorporate strategies to coordinate the health and education that are intrinsically linked to the needs of infants, toddlers and their families. With broad support for the health-specific approaches to early childhood development under the Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act, our vantage point on the spectrum of youth needs over time orients the bulk of our feedback today on the educational aspects of both bills.

We also appreciate the formidable complexity and necessary urgency underpinning today’s conversation about improving access to quality early childhood education opportunities, especially for the many families in the District with high needs for support and few resources to turn to within their communities. Specifically for youth ages 16-24 who are not in school and not working, the need for child care is acute and resources especially limited. According to our organization’s 2013 Connecting Youth to Opportunity report, 32% of the 481 disconnected youth surveyed were pregnant or parenting and 68% reported living in Wards 7 and 8. Furthermore, when we asked these young people about their barriers to re-engaging in education, 12% identified a lack of child care and 23% said that a need to work full-time or the cost of an educational program would be a barrier to completion.

With this baseline understanding of the child care needs of re-engaging youth, our work with government agencies, fellow advocates and providers of alternative education over the years has revealed the need for child care options that are geographically convenient to alternative schools and programs, operated within extended hours to accommodate the flexible hours of alternative learners, and affordable to young DC families. Rising to meet the needs of their students, a number of alternative schools have created on-site child care centers. We appreciate the licensing flexibility extended by OSSE that made this expanded child care capacity for some adult and alternative students possible.

The bills before us today offer promising progress in addressing the child care needs of the District’s families, toddlers and infants. Along with our colleagues in the Birth-To-Three Policy Alliance, we support the addition of language to expand the cost of care model to include family child care and Quality Improvement Network sites to ensure subsidy reimbursements are right-sized and incentivize quality improvement over time. We know that the current rates are insufficient toward funding high-quality programs, keeping child care businesses open, giving low-income families buying power, and compensating teachers for their work and demonstrated expertise. In addition to compelling higher reimbursement rates through the legislation before us today, we also call on the Council to commit $10 million in FY19 to fund this critical component to quality and accessible care for the District’s most vulnerable families. As these funds are identified and dispersed, we urge the Council, agency stakeholders and fellow advocates to consider investments in programs that operate during extended hours to increase the capacity of child care that aligns with the flexible schedules required by alternative and adult students.

Moreover, we do echo the concerns of our colleagues in the potential duplication or lack of coordination between these bills and urge the Council to consider a consolidation of the legislation and thoughtful prioritization of their provisions. Considering the complexity of the early childhood development landscape and the scope of work that lies ahead, clear, concise, and aligned legislative directives will set the strongest foundation for future improvements. It is also unclear at this point if the creation of an Office of Early Childhood Development could be successful in streamlining licensing issues or if it would instead create an additional agency-level agenda to square with the broader questions of capacity and quality improvement. Instead, we recommend that OSSE, DCRA, other appropriate agencies, and providers engage collaboratively to define goals, roles and responsibilities in child development licensing.

As a final word, we welcome the work ahead to align the complexity of the District’s approach to child care policy and funding to the immediate needs of child development and quality care across the city. We look forward to working with advocacy groups, the Council and Committee staff, and DC’s child care agency stakeholders to ensure a holistic, effective and timely approach to addressing the District’s child care challenges. And as these policies are considered, please keep in mind the success of the District’s re-engaging youth and young adult parents who rely on quality care while they pursue their passions and meet critical benchmarks of lifelong success. Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

DCAYA Federal Budget Impacts on DC

This document is intended to provide an evolving picture of how the 2018 Federal Budget could impact DC children, youth, families and the organizations that serve them.

As you review the following chart, keep in mind that due to the federal funding cycle, any decisions made in the FY2018 Federal Budget will not - generally - impact DC funding until FY2019.

We will continue to update this document as information is made available and decisions are made. For the most up to date version, make sure to bookmark this link

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Introducing Ramina Davidson, DCAYA's new Senior Policy Analyst

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Ramina Davidson to the DCAYA team.

As a Senior Policy Analyst, Ms. Davidson works to support the development of policy, advocacy, and budgetary recommendations on Expanded Learning and Youth Homelessness through high quality research and analysis.

Prior to joining DCAYA, Ms. Davidson worked at HIPS, a D.C. non-profit, to build and implement the a housing navigation program to serve individuals impacted by sexual exchange and drug use, individuals identifying as LGBTQ, and people living with HIV.
“It’s clear that a lot of LGBT youth have experienced a lot of trauma either in their families or on the street,” Davidson said during a panel discussion... (Coleman, Justine. "New Plan for D.C Homeless Youth." Street Sense, 1 June 2017.)
While at HIPS, she also worked to address the gap between DC organizations providing services for youth and adults experiencing homelessness and housing instability.
She holds a juris doctor from Georgetown and a bachelor's degree in mathematics from UCLA.

We are thrilled to have her on board and invite you to join us in welcoming her to the DCAYA family!

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Youth Job Fair on September 20

In August 2015, a coalition of employers launched the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative and has formed the nation’s largest employer-led coalition committed to creating meaningful pathways and hiring opportunities for at least 100,000 youth by 2018.

With thousands of youth in the DC-metropolitan area out of school and not working, the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is committed to investing in the region.   As a first step, this employer-led coalition is partnering with the District of Columbia and other key partners to host the sixth Opportunity Fair on September 20, 2017 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It will be an inspirational day of connection and empowerment to more than 20 leading companies and a full suite of services, workshops, and inspiration to help break down barriers for youth. Check out this video from a recent Opportunity Fair to learn more.

We Need Your Help
Help us impact as many Opportunity Youth as possible at the Opportunity Fair on September 20th:

  1. Reach out to youth directly in your programs, email and text lists, and networks broadly to encourage them to register, schedule interviews, and attend;
  2. Helping make sure youth are ready to take advantage of the day, that could mean one-on-one support through the registration process or even hosting pre-workshops if you think that will be valuable for the youth you serve
  3. Leverage your network to ensure other community leaders know about the event through direct     contact or social media

Event Information
What: Opportunity Fair with job for youth between the ages of 16 to 24 featuring interviews and on-the-spot offers, mock interviews, resume and application computers, clothing assistance, training resources, mentorship, food, and much more!

When:    September 20, 2017 - 9 am to 3 pm; come for the whole day or just a few hours!
Where:   Walter E. Washington Convention Center DC
Who:   Targeting Opportunity Youth (16-24 year olds not working or in school)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Youth Voice: Calling My Peers- Let's Get Civically Engaged

This week, we're sharing the perspective of Tavian Southall, a youth participant in Mikva Challenge DC who has spent the summer interning at the DC Council. We thank Tavian and Mikva Challenge DC for their contribution to this blog!

I am a college student! I just graduated from high school, and now I am on my way to change the world. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I told myself that I wanted to complete as many challenges in an efficient and timely manner. I wanted to be engaged in and out of school. I participated in my school’s Student Government Association as the 12th Grade Representative. I advocated to the Executive Director of the school to partner with an organization named Reach Inc. I was a tutor for Reach Inc. for two years as an underclassmen at my old high school, so as I came to my new school for eleventh (and twelfth) grade, I made sure Reach Inc. was a program that was coming with me. Consequently, when I began twelfth grade, Reach Inc. was at my new school! From there, I led the ninth and tenth graders in the program with tutoring second and third graders in reading and writing. I soon joined the State Board of Education’s Student Advisory Committee -- advocating and discussing issues we faced at our respective schools. I also continued to work with the SBOE Representatives to ensure that the upcoming committee members are more productive and action-based. And of course, I joined Mikva Challenge DC, an organization focused on youth civic engagement in a variety of ways. Now, I want to fuse youth engagement and education into one organization and call it my own.

In the District of Columbia, there are many opportunities for youth to become civically engaged in their communities. I participated in a few of them this past year, and would encourage all youth in DC to learn more about the opportunities available to them!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Late to class? Go straight to jail.

Do not pass go.

Do not go to class.

Do not go home.

Mic's Jack Smith IV wrote a piece this week about a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice, We still put children in jail for being late to class.

Now you might remember that several weeks ago, we stood in solidarity with the Every Student, Every Day Coalition regarding under reported suspensions at some DC high schools. And this report is the other side of that coin.

Here is an excerpt from Smith's article.
Across the country, thousands of kids are still thrown in juvenile detention for violations known as “status offenses” — offenses that wouldn’t be considered crimes if not for the age of the offender. A new report by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that 100,100 kids were locked up this way in 2014 alone, the most recent year the data is available. They’re the kind of offenses that child psychologists will say are a natural part of growing up. But if you’re black, poor, LGBTQ or female, you often don’t get the benefit of the doubt: You get jail.
Too often we see youth in DC stumble into and sometimes from systemic and institutional barriers that keep them from being able to catch up with their peers, or even simply move forward at their own pace. To paraphrase what one colleague said at our Youth Advocacy for Action Summit in the Spring, "youth challenges are commonly adult issues". And as adults who value and do our best to raise up youth voice, part of our work often involves understanding youth development.

While the bulk of our work is rooted in policy research, community meetings, and legislative advocacy, part of it also has to do with informing and changing perspectives we have as adults of our young people. You may have heard the term adultism, which Wikipedia defines as "prejudice and accompanying systematic discrimination against young people".

One of the recommendations which the Vera report makes to decriminalize adolescent behavior certainly addresses adultism, in that it calls on adults that work in systems of care to "approach all misbehaviors with an understanding of youth development and needs":
Whether it is a teacher reacting to an outburst in the classroom, an officer responding to an incident in the home, or a case manager determining a service plan, adults cannot properly respond to kids’ misbehaviors—either in the moment or procedurally—if they do not appreciate the context in which behaviors occur. Adults who work with or make decisions for kids must be trained to understand youth development and needs, as well as how those factors shape behaviors. This includes knowledge of the effect and signs of mental health problems and trauma, as well as an understanding of how culture, systemic bias, intersecting identities (including gender and gender expression, race, and sexual orientation), and their own personal biases influence dynamics with kids. 
We recommend checking out both the Mic article for a brief overview, as well as the full report. And please share with your family, friends, and colleagues. Also, let us know what you think about the report in the comments!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

My Summer Employment Experience, in Three Acts

Photo credit: GW Hatchet
This is part of a special series focused on summer employment experiences of adults in our network. Kicking us of is DCAYA's own Communications and Development Manager, JR Russ.

My first summer job was right before my freshman year at the George Washington University. I applied for and was hired part-time working in GWU's bookstore in 1999. Honestly, 18 years later, my time there is a bit of a blur. But I remember learning a bunch of soft skills for the first time, as it related both to inventory management as well as customer service, which often competed with each other.

See as we received shipments of books for the fall semester, while we'd be stocking and organizing the shelves, we would have to be able to also field questions and address issues which students brought to us mid-task. In meant learning how to juggle different priorities, while maintaining a professional demeanor in front of whomever we were helping at the time. And although I didn't quite know what I wanted to do when I finished college, I could also check working in a bookstore off of my list. This isn't to say I thought my time was wasted there. I simply learned what I could in the time that I was there.

Photo Credit: GWU Facebook's page.
The following summer, I would find myself employed as part of GWU's Freshman and Transfer student orientation crew AKA the Colonial Cabinet. The application was an UBER-competitive process, with just about 30 rising sophomores through seniors being selected from an applicant pool of hundreds. I mean, with summer housing being just one of the perks, you can imagine the demand to be a Cabinet member was high. Oh yes, that's me being held up in the back row.

And there was so much I loved about this, both in what I brought to the table and what I learned. Having been co-president of the drama club in high school, working on skits to dramatize what college life can be like was a blast. But there were a lot of team building and collaborative exercises which also taught me how to work with others outside of a theatrical endeavor. I didn't realize it at the point, but one of the things I think I truly valued about the role was being an ambassador of the community on campus, and doing our best to acculturate new students to the university. In a way, it was also the first time I got to be a mentor, in this case to the incoming freshmen assigned to me.

Photo Credit: HRC
I have to tell you, though. I would actually end up leaving GWU after the fall of my sophomore year, for various personal reasons, and take a year off. The Spring of 2001, I had secured a spring internship at the Human Rights Campaign. I worked in the membership department, primarily assisting with preparing materials for and managing the intake of new and prospective donors.

I know this started out as a blog focused on summer employment experiences. But this HRC internship was the next professional environment I found myself in, as a young person turning 20 at this point. I should add a caveat that I can honestly say I knew this internship was not going to be directly related to my eventual path. I would eventually return to the arts, but that's a story for another blog. So I simply continued to develop those skills, particularly in time management and learning & adapting to yet another workplace culture, which would leave my nimble and responsive in any work environment I found myself in.

Photo Credit: George Byron Griffiths 
Years later it has often been those soft skills, like communicating efficiently and effectively, which have landed me opportunities that my resume alone did not. All this is to say that sometimes the benefit of various summer or gap year employment isn't what shows up on paper, but what shows up in person. So as you and your young people explore various career paths, I can only strongly encourage everyone to learn what they can, find the joy in each moment, and trust yourself to be able to move on to what's next, when needed.

You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

DCAYA stands with the Every Student, Every Day Coalition

Monday evening the Washington Post released an article, Some D.C. High Schools Are Reporting Only a Fraction of Suspensions, detailing the practice at various DCPS high schools of placing students on “do not admit” lists without properly documenting the suspension and without properly marking the student’s absence as excused. In short, actively denying students their right to a free public education. Tuesday morning, The Post released a supplemental article detailing their methodology.

DCAYA stands with the Every Student, Every Day Coalition in condemning this practice.

"The below members of the Every Student, Every Day Coalition condemn the pervasive use of undocumented suspensions and fraudulent attendance record-keeping practices at several DC Public Schools (DCPS) high schools.  Last night, the Washington Post released an article, Some D.C. High Schools Are Reporting Only a Fraction of Suspensions (Matos & Brown, July 17, 2017), detailing the practice at various DCPS high schools of placing students on “do not admit” lists without properly documenting the suspension and without properly marking the student’s absence as excused."

Read the rest of the statement here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

🎶 Summertime, and the city’s steamy…

But that’s not stopping thousands of 14-24 year olds from participating in the District’s 2017 Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program.

Summer jobs have been a hot topic on the national scene this year, as research shows that they are in sharp decline. According to a recent piece in the Atlantic by Derek Thompson, “In the summer of 1978, 60 percent of teens were working or looking for work. Last summer, just 35 percent were.” Thompson quickly debunks a knee-jerk explanation: “kids are lazier these days!” In fact, data shows the number of youth in the US who are disconnected from education, employment or training has remained remarkably flat—meaning through one or more of these activities, youth are keeping busy. More likely (and obvious to those familiar with youth development) is a confluence of factors including increasing competition for entry-level and lower-skill work, greater pressure for youth to utilize summer months to get ahead or keep pace in their studies, the heavy reliance on unpaid internships for early work experience, and a national decline in federally funded summer jobs.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A Fourth of July recap!

With such a short week, we thought we'd do a round-up of Independence Day highlights from DCAYA member organizations, for a 2nd year in a row.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Teen Summer Programs at DC Public Library

This month, with summer now in full gear, we have a guest blog post from Jennifer Thompson, Teen Programs & Partnerships Coordinator at DC Public Library.

Teens come to the library for many reasons. Many of us (me included) have fond memories of using our library as a teen. Granted, I mostly used the library to play poker with my friends, but while I was there, I ended up learning much more than to how to tell when someone is bluffing.

I learned that the librarians and other library staff were great resources for not just book recommendations. They would help me reserve rooms in the library for study groups, they would guide me to online resources when I had homework-related questions, and they would take time out of their busy schedules to chat with me about my day. Today, teens use the library in similar ways. They enjoy checking out books and getting recommendations from our staff, hanging out and chatting with their friends, using our computers, learning about other opportunities in their community, and expressing themselves in the programs we offer to them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Advancing Progress Toward Ending Youth Homelessness in the District

Last week, Maggie Riden, our Executive Director, had an opportunity to write a guest post for the Department of Human Services.

Here is an excerpt:

Last year, we got a call from a partner organization. They were working with a young mom of one year-old twins.

She’d connected with them to get help finding a GED and workforce program. Despite a lot of clear challenges, this was a young woman they described as highly motivated. She had a sense of agency and determination. She was thrilled when not only was she able to get into a GED program, but they could also help her access the childcare she’d need to make it possible to attend the classes.

At first, things were okay, but over the course of a few weeks things began to deteriorate very quickly. Attendance at school was slipping. Her twins weren’t making it to child care consistently. Things hit a tipping point, and she revealed to her education coach that she had been placed in one of the emergency motel rooms here in the District.

Read the rest of the post here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Top Ten Reasons to be a DCAYA Member

As budget season has come to an end, we thought we'd spend this time highlighting some of the reasons to join our DCAYA family, or renew your membership if you're already a member.

So here are our top ten reasons your organization should be a DCAYA member

Being a member saves you time. In fact, DCAYA was partially found because a number of youth-serving organization realized that individually they didn't have the time or resources to dig into the policy and legislative work needed because you're operating at capacity just supporting the programs and services to your youth. So where you don't have the time, we do.

So how do we save you time? We make legislation and legislators accessible. We take the time to breakdown legislation to make it and its consequences easily digestible. We understand the roles and relationships our elected and appointed representatives at the Council, the Mayor's Office, and various agencies have to the work you do.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Big Wins for Youth and Families in the FY18 Budget

The second FY18 budget vote will occur on June 13th at 11am (watch here:, and the final legislative vote will follow shortly after. But in the meantime, we wanted to share the progress we’ve made in elevating the needs of the District’s youth and families through the Council’s first vote.

To highlight the fruits of your labor throughout this budget season, read on for more about the Council’s budget decisions impacting our four issue areas: Expanded Learning, Disconnected Youth, Youth Homelessness, and Youth Workforce Development. 
Expanded Learning: $4.9 Million to OST*
Office of Youth Outcomes (Deputy Mayor for Education): While significant progress has been made to build the new Office of Youth Outcomes on a solid foundation, the Committee on Education maintained flat funding at $4.9 million for community-based afterschool opportunities for District youth. In this budget season, the Committee on Education prioritized identifying funds to reach the recommended increase of 3.5% in per-pupil funding, yet *Chairman David Grosso did commit to allocate an additional $2 million to the OST system in the likely chance of a budget surplus this summer. As the system continues to strengthen, DCAYA is committed to restoring OST funds to the historic $10 million mark to ensure demand for these critical youth development programs are met.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

When the School Day Ends, Hunger Persists

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted our third Intersectional Happy Hour at Satellite Room. For our most recent one, we looked at the relationship between food security and expanded learning programs.

We were especially thrilled to co-host this event with D.C. Hunger Solutions and we welcomed their Director, Beverly Wheeler who shared a bit about the work they do to  end hunger in the nation's capital. We are also grateful to feature her as this week's guest blogger.

Can you remember what you did when you got out of school at the end of each day?

I would go in search of an afterschool snack. Lunch had been at least three, maybe four hours ago and I was hungry. Times haven’t changed that much — students are still hungry at the end of the school day. However, what has changed is what we can do to address the needs of thousands of children from food-insecure households once school is out.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The release of Solid Foundations DC and our latest Youth Homelessness Issue Brief

On Monday of this week, we joined community partners at the Hill Center for the release of Solid Foundations DC, a Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness in the Distrcit by 2022.

We were thrilled to help provide logistics support for this joint event, presented by the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region and the District Interagency Council on Homelessness. The event was kicked off by remarks from Bruce McNamer, President and CEO of the Community Foundation, and HyeSook Chung, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.

Kristy Greenwalt, Director of the District ICH, then walked us through highlights from the plan, from the research that informed it to the strategies developed to execute it. She reiterated that this plan was the culmination of an inter sector collaborative effort and data-driven priorities.

Director Greenwalt's presentation was followed by a panel with Maggie Riden, DCAYA's Executive Director, moderating. The panel included both youth served by and providers working at the Department of Human ServicesCasa RubyHIPS DC, the Latin American Youth Center, and Sasha Bruce Youthworks.

The event was well attended with many individuals across various sectors who are all invested in ending youth homelessness in the District. And we look forward to supporting the work of the plan, by doing what we do best and ensuring that legislation, policy, and funding over the next 5 years keeps our youth a priority, particularly those experiecning homelesness, in adequately and appropriately implementing this plan.

Today at noon, Council held a joint Public Oversight Roundtable on Solid Foundations DC. Today, we've also released our latest Youth Homelessness Issue Brief. We hope you check it out and share it, and continue to join us in making sure youth homelesness is a rare occurence by 2022.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Empowering the youth of DC

This month, as the school year winds down and summer is just around the corner, we have a guest blog post from Laura Irene, a board member and overall rock star volunteer with Girls Rock! DC.

The youth have a lot to teach us, it’s up to us as adults to listen and figure out ways to give them the tools they need to realize their power.  At Girls Rock! DC (GR!DC) that is exactly what we aim to do.  As a board member, events coordinator and dj instructor/coach for GR!DC I have been given an opportunity to create, build and support our youth by building positive outlets and encouraging creative spaces for youth.  With a base in music education, Girls Rock! DC aims to create a supportive, inclusive, and creative space for girls, and non-binary, and trans youth of varying racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds; abilities; identities; and experiences to develop their self-confidence, build community, stand up, and rock out!

I first discovered GR!DC as a journalist with The Vinyl District. I visited the camp during the 2013 summer and interviewed some of the instructors and the youth.  It was in that experience that I really fell in love with the organization and yearned to be a part of it.  I joined leadership a year later and feel that I have been able to add my unique voice as a women of color to the table alongside those that started the organization 10 years ago.  Which speaking of, this year is our 10th anniversary! While I have not been with GR!DC for all ten years, I am grateful to those that came before me that laid the groundwork for this organization to exist in DC.  We meet every other week throughout the year, which can be a thankless and laborious task as it takes a lot to keep such an organization alive.  None of us would dedicate our time to this organization if we didn’t feel it was worth it, and what is worth it, are the youth we serve.  They are the most amazing little and semi-big humans on this planet! We keep going for them.

I have the honor of getting to know our campers as they develop their instrumental abilities, which is always exciting.  As a dj coach and instructor, it is really funny when the campers discover a vinyl record.  One the first day of camp we take a trip to the record store and have them shop for a couple of records to use in their sets.  We take a while in the store as they try out their records.  One of my favorite memories of shopping at the record store was with my youngest camper, an eight year old.  She would listen to a record (mind you, she just discovered what a record was) and in a matter of seconds decide whether or not she liked it.  When she didn’t like one, her facial expression told us all it would go in the NO WAY pile.  She ended up playing all of the records at the fastest speed, which really hyped her and her fellow djs up. I love how their sense of music and how they like it played comes out as they prepare their sets.  It was so exciting to see this 8 year old hang and keep up with the older kids, she was just as capable.  That’s the amazing part, no matter your age, you have the ability to rise to any level you want if you put in the work.

The accumulation of their hard work is seen at the showcase at the 9:30 Club every year, which is such an exciting time for everyone involved.  Our campers are nervous in the day leading up to their showcase but once they get there and are on stage they are literally professionals.  As a dj coach, it is really special to see the djs entertain the crowd with their new skills.  I feel like a proud mom on the sidelines! Haha, and every year I cry at their talent. But most of all seeing them become fierce and unafraid is so special.  Not only have they mastered their techniques but their self-confidence beams from their faces as they perform. It’s the best experience to see them all feel like stars on the stage and see what everyone else sees in them every day.

While this is a music camp, we also make sure to have workshops that will hopefully get the youth to think more about their roles on this planet. Last year we had a workshop on the School to Prison pipeline given by OnRae LaTeal of Aflocentric. During her talk with our teen youth, she asked everyone to step in the middle of the room if they felt safe at their schools.  Only 2 of the youth stepped forward.  She then she asked them to step in the middle of the room if they felt safe at camp and all of them stepped forward.  That was chilling moment for me.  It’s hard for me to know that so many of our youth feel unsafe in their schools. at the same time, it was extremely moving to know that we create a safe space for them during that week of camp.  It makes me emotional to think about it.  That’s why no matter how hard the administrative and planning can get, it is always worth it.  It’s not about us it is only about the youth.

A brief history of Girls Rock! DC, following in the footsteps of girls rock camps across the United States, Girls Rock! DC was founded in October 2007 by an all-volunteer collective of DC metro area musicians, teachers, artists and community organizers.  We build upon our diverse musical backgrounds, connections to local youth, and approaches to grassroots organizing to create a week-long day camp for Washington, D.C. area youth ages 8-18.  During the week, campers receive small-group instruction on electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, turntables, digital music, or vocals; form bands, and collaborate to write an original song or DJ set, which they perform at a showcase at the end of the week.  This year our summer camp runs from June 26 – Friday, June 30 with our FANTASTIC Camper Showcase on Saturday, July 1st! Please be on the lookout for the announcement on our facebook page and website.

A really cool addition to our summer camp and one that I am not sure a lot of people know of is our afterschool program called GR!ASP (Girls Rock! After School Program).  It is as equally amazing as our summer camp and there are a few volunteers who basically run it year round.  It is typically run at a DC school that hosts it and we then bring our gear and instructors to their school to run it.   The GRASP showcase is another tear jerker! June 4th is the date for that showcase at Comet Ping Pong, which we hope to sell out! Our GRASP campers recently had the opportunity to open for the band Diet Cig at the Rock and Roll Hotel last month, so they are more than ready to rock the stage in a couple of weeks!

Laura Irene board member, events coordinator and dj instructor/coach for GR!DC. She can be reached at

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The DC Budget Squeeze, a post from DC Fiscal Policy Institute

This week, we are featuring a blog post from DC Fiscal Policy Institute, with their permission. While we've spent the past month highlighting various FY2018 Budget asks that are backed by sound research and community input, we wanted to raise up what could be a quintessential piece of the funding pie, regarding tax cuts whose postponement could be key to insuring we make the investments we need to, so that we continue to make progress on supporting some of our most underserved.

The DC Budget Squeeze: Tax Cuts and Key Spending Demands Left No Room for Other Progress

May 3rd, 2017

The District is enjoying tremendous prosperity, yet there isn’t enough money in the proposed DC budget to support schools adequately or to make meaningful progress on ending chronic homelessness. In fact, funding for most parts of the budget will be smaller next year than this year.

How can that be?

One factor is beyond DC policymakers’ control: A lot of money will be sucked up next year by rising school enrollment, Metro’s woes, and a few other needs. But the other factor is something Mayor Bowser and the Council fully control: tax cuts. The proposed budget allows $100 million in tax cuts to go forward—triggered by a policy set three years ago—which left no room for things that matter a lot to DC residents and our economy.

With the budget now in the hands of the DC Council, they can choose to hold off on tax cuts so that badly needed investments can be made. In particular, the Council should reconsider plans to eliminate taxes on estates worth $5.5 million and to cut taxes on business benefiting from DC’s prosperity. Both the estate tax and business income tax have already been cut in recent years, by the way.

Read the rest of this blog by Ed Lazere here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

DCAYA Budget Advocacy Day on May 11

The District's proposed FY2018 budget leaves significant funding gaps for a number of key programs that could better address the needs of the children and youth we serve every day.

Call to Action: we invite all our members and youth-serving organizations from throughout the District to join us at the Wilson Building on Thursday, May 11 to meet with Councilmembers and staff to advocate for a more youth-friendly District budget for FY2018!

Council markup on the mayor's proposed budget is scheduled for May 16-18, so May 11 is a critical time to reach out to members and remind them of the importance of our budget asks for DC's youth, which include:

  • Transportation: $2 million to extend transportation subsidies to adult and alternative learners through the School Transit Subsidy Program
  • Youth Homelessness: Up to $3.3 million more to fully fund the Year One objectives of the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness
  • Expanded Learning: An additional $5.1 million to fund the new Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and better meet the need for quality youth development programming
  • Youth Workforce Development: A comprehensive implementation plan for coordinating and funding youth workforce development initiatives to build on the progress of DC’s WIOA State Plan
  • Per-Pupil Funding: A 3.5% increase in per-pupil funding in the FY18 budget to bring DCPS closer to an adequate standard for education funding next school year
  • Proposed Tax Cuts: Ensure revenue is available to fund these and other critical priorities by delaying the $40 million in estate tax and business tax cuts slated for 2018

On Advocacy Day, we'll walk around the Wilson Building and visit Councilmember offices in teams. A DCAYA staff member will join each team to help support messaging and follow-up.

In order to make the most of your time as we reach out to Council staff, we ask that you RSVP for multiple time slots throughout the day on DCAYA Budget Advocacy Day. After you RSVP, you will also receive an invite to join us on an optional strategy call at 11am on Tuesday, May 9.

Thank you for all you do and we hope to see you on May 11!

And in case you missed it, check out our Actions for Budget Advocacy - Week 4 email.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#DCFY18 Budget Advocacy: Up to $5.7 million Toward Ending Youth Homelessness

Throughout budget season, we’ll be sharing talking points around the #DCFY18 Budget as it relates to our asks of Council and the Mayor for DCAYA’s key issue areas, which have included spotlights on Expanded Learning and Disconnected Youth. We conclude this week with Youth Homelessness.

THE ASK: Up to $3.3 million in additional funding to fully fund Year 1 of the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness

The DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) approved the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness in December 2016, and the plan includes a five-year projection for scaling services to youth experiencing homelessness. The plan proposes expanding existing services (transitional housing, crisis beds, PSH) as well as bringing new services for youth online (youth rapid re-housing, aftercare) in the first year, the cost of which we estimate to be $5.7 million.

Funding in the mayor's proposed budget for FY18 falls short of that mark, at just $2.4 million, meaning we'll need to work through Council to get to the investment we know is needed if we are serious about ensuring that by the end of 2022, homelessness among people age 24 is a rare, brief and non-recurring experience.

NOW: What are the needed program enhancements and what can be accomplished in the next year?

  • Aftercare and Prevention Services: We presently do not have an aftercare support system in place for youth who have experienced homelessness, meaning that a key service for preventing returns to homelessness is not being met. While the Plan calls for an upfront and full-scale investment to fund more than 60 aftercare slots in its first year, the budget as proposed only funds 20 of these slots.
  • Youth Shelter Beds: While it is understood that a bed in a shelter setting is not an acceptable replacement for a home, the annual census of youth experiencing homelessness reveals a present and persistent need for more safe and low-barrier access to beds for young people in crisis. The Plan calls for increasing our present capacity by 32 beds in its first year and then adding steadily and as needed in future years, but the budget as proposed funds just 20 additional beds.
  • Transitional Housing: Transitional living programs remain a vital intervention in the current system, and those that serve youth in a developmentally appropriate and culturally competent setting are all the more important given the need. They offer a more structured placement than shelter beds, and the Plan calls for 15 new units in its first year with a steady increase in future years to reach full scale by year five; the budget as proposed funds 10 additional units.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing: There are relatively few PSH units set aside for youth in the current system, and as we scale up other housing intervention programs for youth, it is important that PSH keeps pace to ensure that young people in those programs who are found to need ongoing case management and mental health supports have a place to go. The Plan calls for 16 new units in its first year; the budget as proposed funds 10 additional units.
  • Rapid Re-Housing for Youth: Beginning in FY18, DC will bring online a rent-subsidized housing program specifically for youth. While this is an exciting development, and the Plan calls for an ambitious scale in its first and future years, we also recognize that Youth Rapid Re-Housing programs are an option among a diverse array of programs in the District which will need to grow and evolve with our young people. With that in mind, we see the 20 units as proposed in the budget as a good start, and would encourage DHS to pursue efficiency and frequent program evaluation to maximize the impact of funding allotted for this program in its initial year.

Current performance indicates that DHS is poised to work with youth providers to meet the objectives of Year 1 of the Plan by deploying the funds for launching and enhancing the above programs.

For the current fiscal year, $2.3 million in new investments were committed in the FY17 budget to serve more youth experiencing homelessness. With those funds, DHS has to date:

  • Funded a new LGBTQ transitional housing site-based program at SMYAL (8 beds)
  • Funded a new LGBTQ transitional housing apartment-based program at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) (6 beds)
  • Extended low-barrier crisis beds at Casa Ruby beyond hypothermia season through the end of this fiscal year (14 beds)
  • Supported additional staff at youth drop-in centers at Sasha Bruce Youthwork and LAYC
  • Increased youth street outreach support at Friendship Place
  • Set up a 6-person youth homelessness prevention team at DHS

HOW: Help advocate for funding toward ending youth homelessness in the #DCFY18 Budget

  • Please sign up to testify at the Budget Hearing for the Department of Human Services on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 10 am in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • To sign up to testify, you can email, or call the Committee on Human Services at 202-724-8170.

NEXT: Please sign up for updates from DCAYA to stay informed about our budget advocacy and our upcoming Youth Advocacy Day on May 11!

And in case you missed it, check out our Actions for Budget Advocacy - Week 3 email.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#DCFY18 Budget Advocacy: $2M in Transportation Subsidies for Nontraditional Students

Throughout budget season, we’ll be sharing talking points around the #DCFY18 Budget as it relates to our asks of Council and the Mayor for DCAYA’s key issue areas. You can reference our previous spotlight on Expanded Learning here. We’ll continue this week with Disconnected Youth.

THE ASK: $2 million to expand the unlimited bus and rail component of the School Transit Subsidy program (i.e., Kids Ride Free) to all District residents enrolled in publicly funded adult education programs.

While the Council has made progress towards expanding the program by introducing the Adult Learners Transit Subsidy Amendment Act of 2017, our ask needs to be funded in this budget cycle to ensure adult learners and re-engaging youth receive transportation support in the next year. We are requesting that the expansion is legislated through this year’s Budget Support Act to ensure the program is adequately legislated and funded.

NOW: Why additional transportation funding matters to youth, and why we believe it is a sound investment in FY18
  • Significant Financial Burden: Re-engaging youth and adult learners balance many competing demands to prioritize their return to school. Unlike students under age 22—who have free Metro and bus transportation through Kids Ride Free—students aged 22+ pay the full price. In 2016, a DCAYA survey of re-engaging youth ages 22-24 found that 83% of respondents were spending approximately one-fifth or more of their income getting to and from their programs. Such high spending on transportation means there’s less money available for students to keep themselves and their families financially stable.
  • Undermines DC’s second-chance system: Expanding the program with $2 million stands to leverage the District’s current investment of over $80 million in local and federal dollars to support educational instruction for adult learners. If students cannot afford to get to class, they can’t fully benefit from these investments in their success. DCAYA’s survey also found 21% of surveyed youth 22-24 missed class 3 or more times a month due to insufficient transportation funds. Most programs are less than 40 weeks long, so these youth missed 13% of their program’s total class time because they could not afford to get there.
  • The Problem Will Get Worse: Metro will move forward with a fare hike in July. Currently, taking the bus to class can cost a student $70 per month. The $0.25 bus fare hike will add $10 to that monthly expense. With many DC households living on less than $10,000 a year, transportation costs for just one person could consume 10 percent of a family’s limited income.
  • The Expansion Leverages Existing Policy: Through Kids Ride Free, DDOT and WMATA have negotiated a contractually-bound daily rate for each pupil of $0.65. Therefore, the cost of providing transportation assistance through Kids Ride Free is likely to be much more cost effective than other ways of funding such a program. 
HOW: Help advocate for transportation funding in the #DCFY18 Budget
  • Please sign up to testify at the Budget Hearing for the District Department of Transportation on Monday, April 24, 2017 at 11 am in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • To sign up to testify, please email Aukima Benjamin at or call 202-724-8062.
  • Whether or not you can testify at the hearing, please email, call, and/or tweet your Councilmember(s) in support of our ask using the hashtag #KeepStudentsOnTrack. For sample tweets, scripts and Council contact information, check these out: Transportation Email, Call, & Tweet Scripts
NEXT: Please check back here next week for more on our Youth Homelessness #DCFY18 budget ask.

And in case you missed it, here's our Actions for Budget Advocacy - Week 2 email for more ways to get involved this budget season!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

#DCFY18 Budget Advocacy: $10 million for Expanded Learning

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing talking points around the #DCFY18 Budget as it relates to our asks of Council and the Mayor for DCAYA’s key issue areas. We begin this week with Expanded Learning.

THE ASK: $5.1 million in additional funding to the Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes

Funding for out-of-school time (OST) in the Mayor's proposed budget was kept flat at $4.9 million, meaning we'll need to work collaboratively with Council to get to the full $10 million dollar investment we know is needed.

NOW: Why additional OST funding matters to youth, and why we believe it is a sound investment in FY18
  • Impact on Kids: Quality programs with a youth development focus show positive impacts on kids’ academic gains, participation in school, social and emotional development, and overall health, and research shows that the greatest gains from these outcomes are shown to be for youth who are considered “at risk” of academic failure due to poverty; declining funding means fewer of these outcomes for District youth.
  • Declining Funding and Access: Local funding for community-based OST programs has declined by 60% since 2010, resulting today in only a quarter of the locally-funded slots for community-based afterschool and summer learning that were there for kids just six years ago (from close to 10,000 in 2010 to under 2,500 in 2016). Much of this decline happened as funds were administered through the DC Trust, and reluctance to invest over the years has been understandable given the Trust’s mismanagement over that time period. 
  • New Youth Office, New Opportunity to Invest in Kids: With the Trust’s dissolution and the creation of the new Youth Office, we have a structure for OST to be led with accountability and authority; the Commission offers community-based governance and strong potential for cross-sector and family and youth collaboration, and an in-government entity can better ensure access to student-level data to yield shared, measurable outcomes.
  • Turning the Trend: We see an opportunity ahead in FY2018 to scale up locally-funded afterschool programs in the District to better meet the OST needs of youth and their communities. We are convinced the time is right to inform and influence the re-creation of the youth development system here in the District with the strongest investment in expanded learning we’ve seen in years. This year, we support an initial $10 million dollar investment in expanded learning programs through the new Youth Office in the FY18 budget. This funding will support community-based OST providers to better meet the needs of some 6,000 additional children and youth.
  • Leading Locally in Face of Federal Threats: All of this will also serve to counter potential loss of federal funds; The proposed elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program (which provides before- and after-school enrichment, tutoring and other services) would mean $1.2 billion eliminated from the expanded learning space nationally; DC’s share of this federal funding in FY16 was approximately $6.3 million, with an FY17 allocation closer to $5 million.

HOW: Help advocate for OST funding in the #DCFY18 Budget
  • Please sign up to testify at the Budget Hearing for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 am in Room 123 of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • You can sign up to testify at this link or by calling the Committee on Education at 202-724-8061.

NEXT: Please check back here next week for more on our Youth Workforce Development and Disconnected Youth #DCFY18 budget asks, and the following week for Youth Homelessness.

And in case you missed it, check out our Actions for Budget Advocacy - Week 1 email.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The FY2018 Budget Sells Our Youth Short

As you may have heard the Mayor's proposed FY18 budget, DC Values in Action, was released Tuesday. While we've only done an initial analysis a few things stood out.

First, we're thrilled to see that the proposed budget comes close to maintaining recommended TANF benefits for the over 10,000 children who were at risk of losing assistance this year.

Other areas of the budget are less positive:
  • Funding for Out-of-School Time was kept flat at $4.9 million meaning we'll need to work collaboratively with council to get the full $10 million dollar investment we know we need.
  • The homelessness budget increases youth housing services by $2.4 million; $3.3 million lower than anticipated. One bright note, the PASS and ACE diversion programs both saw modest boosts for next year.
  • School funding only saw a 1.5% increase; 2 percentage points less than recommended by the per-pupil funding formula task force.
  • Our modest transportation ask - $2 million to reduce a major barrier for adult and reconnecting learners- was NOT funded. 
We joined DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Bread for the City, Children's Law Center, Jews United for Justice and Miriam's Kitchen in a Press Release that was issued earlier today which breaks down other areas of the budget.  We strongly recommend reading it.

We'll continue to dig into the budget this week and will be sending out our April Newsletter (filled with some key opportunities to get involved) tomorrow. Equally exciting we'll be launching a new budget advocacy tool for members on Monday. So keep an eye out!

In the meantime, here are Budget Hearing dates. All hearings are held at the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. If you wish to testify, you may sign up here or directly contact the committee staff persons listed below. Some of these agency hearings are held concurrently with other agencies under the committee jurisdiction. Please note that dates & times subject to change. Check the Council website for updated schedule: And you can watch hearings live here.

To testify: sign up here or call 202-724-8061

Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education
Budget Hearing: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 am in Room 123

Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)
Budget Hearing: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 11 am in Room 120

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) - Public Witnesses Only
Budget Hearing: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10 am in Room 500

District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL)
Budget Hearing: Monday, May 1, 2017 at 11 am in Room 412

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) – Government Witnesses Only
Budget Hearing: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 10 am in Room 412

Public Charter School Board
Budget Hearing: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 10 am in Room 412

State Board of Education
Budget Hearing: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 10 am in Room 412

To testify contact: Sarina Loy, or 202-724-8058

Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Budget Hearing: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 10 am in Room 123

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
Budget Hearing: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 10 am in Room 123

To testify: email or call 202-724-8170

Department of Disability Services and Office of Disability Rights
Budget Hearing: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at Noon in Room 500

Child and Family Services Agency
Budget Hearing: Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 10 am in Room 412

Department of Human Services
Budget Hearing: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 10 am in Room 500

Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
Budget Hearing: Thursday, May 9, 2017 at 10 am in Room 412

To testify contact: Charnisa Royster, or 202-724-7772

Department of Employment Services
Budget Hearing: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 10 am in Room 500

Workforce Investment Council
Budget Hearing: Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 10 am in Room 500

To testify contact: Aukima Benjamin, or 202-724-8062

District Department of Transportation
Budget Hearing: Monday, April 24, 2017 at 11 am in Room 500

Department of Parks and Recreation
Budget Hearing: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at 10 am in Room 412

To testify: email or call 202-724-8196

University of the District of Columbia
Budget Hearing: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 11 am in Room 123