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Homestretch, Inc. Receives Grant

Gift will be used to fund domestic violence prevention, education programs.

Homestretch, Inc., a nonprofit group in Falls Church geared toward getting homeless people off the street and turning them into self-sufficient members of society, recently received a $5,000 grant toward its domestic violence prevention program.

“The Virginia state government mandated that this trust fund be started to distribute funding throughout the state for programs that work with family violence," said Nancy Taxson, executive director of Homestretch, referring to the Family and Children’s Trust Fund (FACT), which chose Homestretch from over 108 applications.

This past year was a good year for Homestretch: in addition to this grant, the organization was also named Best Housing Program at the 2004 Virginia Housing Awards in Norfolk in November, along with being selected to be one of three Northern Virginia organizations included in the Catalogue for Philanthropy, a two-year-old organization that gave out $466,000 in donations in the greater Washington D.C. area last year, Taxson said.

“The catalogue is only mailed to homes where the income is over $400,000 per year,” she said. “We recently received a donation of $2,500 from someone in McLean and I’m pretty sure it came through this organization.”

The funding received from FACT will be used towards Homestretch’s domestic violence counseling program.

“A long time ago, we realized that between 50 to 70 percent of the families that we serve have had experience with verbal, physical or sexual abuse and that this has, to some extent, colored their lives,” Taxson said. “We have people from George Mason University and the Fairfax County Police that come and talk to our groups about stalking and personal safety and teach self-defense,” she said.

CURRENTLY, SOME FAMILIES within the Homestretch counseling program are “clearly current domestic violence families,” Taxson said, who will go through eight weeks of domestic violence group therapy in addition to some individual therapy, in order to prevent the cycle from repeating itself in the future.

“We also work with a therapist from a shelter in Vienna,” she said. “We teach domestic violence issue to children in first through eighth grade and at our mandatory teen club that meets every week.”

The focus on violence and its prevention is “very intense” during the Homestretch program, which brings in homeless families and provides financial aid and various counseling programs in order to rehabilitate the family and turn them into homeowners.

“The money we received from this grant will be used toward planning programs for the full contingent of programs we run,” Taxson said.

Currently, Homestretch is in the process of taking on two new programs: establishing a home for single homeless women without children to make them self-sufficient, and working toward buying properties to create a domestic violence shelter that will eventually become part of the Fairfax County affordable housing supply.

In addition, Homestretch is working to develop a Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS location, which would help HIV/AIDS patients straighten out their credit, find housing and stabilize their lives and medical care.

“This is counseling, not full-time housing,” Taxson said. “We can provide housing through Homestretch for up to two years for all of our clients.”

At any given time Homestretch is working with up to 67 families, including as many as 195 children, she said.

“Domestic violence often impacts families in transition from homelessness,” said Nan McKenny, a member of the governing board of FACT.

During the 2004 calendar year, FACT gave out 32 grants totaling $199,968 for organizations in Virginia that deal with “all sorts of family abuse prevention,” she said.

THE FUND RECEIVES donations from two main sources: a box located on tax forms that allows tax payers to give a portion or all of their refund to charitable organizations, to then be used as a tax write-off for the next year; and through sales of the “Kids First” license plates through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Of the additional $25 to have the special plate, $15 comes to us annually from each set of plates and we’re able to use 100 percent of that donation,” McKenny said. “The message on the plates is one that appeals to a lot of both public and private enterprises that relate to children: teachers, those in the health professions, parents, day care workers. It’s only been available for three years, but it’s been very popular.”

Homestretch had several characteristics that helped earn the grant funding. “It addresses the issue of domestic violence in a population where it is an increasingly prevalent issue,” she said. “Homestretch has community partners and we’re looking for that. Plus, they’re serving and giving counseling to women who have been victims of domestic violence and doing some education and prevention work.”

Board member Dr. Anita Jain said that, as an emergency room technician, she appreciates the work done by Homestretch for helping those who need it get re-established in society.

“I see a fair amount of homeless people or immigrants, people who don’t have the means necessary to afford medical care, and the government doesn’t have definitive resources I can point them to for help,” she said. “It’s good to know I can point people there.”

Deciding who received the funding was difficult, especially selecting the final 32 recipients out of the initial 108 applications.

“We like to see programs that work with other agencies, it’s a mark of how much they can offer to the community they serve,” she said. “They have a good model and they’re serving a population that is, really, underserved and very difficult to address.”

The Arlington Community Temporary Shelter, ECDC, Tahirih Justice Center and Northern Virginia Family Services also received $5,000 grants from FACT this year. In total, 32 grants totaling $199,968 were given out to various organizations throughout Virginia last year.

Homestretch Inc., established in 1990, serves Northern Virginia, helping provide transitional housing for homeless families. The organization also provides educational services, credit and health counseling, ESOL classes and job training in addition to financial assistance in securing housing. Within any given year, Homestretch assists over 100 families, including up to 290 children. Homestretch will provide transitional housing and services to a family for up to two years, at which time the group helps the family move into a home of their own, and has a 87 percent success rate for graduates of the two year program. All families that participate in the Homestretch program are referred to the program through county outreach services.