Alexandria Column: Building Strong Children at Community Lodgings

Alexandria Column: Building Strong Children at Community Lodgings

Commentary–Community Lodgings

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” This quote by the great orator and statesman Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), perfectly describes Community Lodgings’ work. With our mission of lifting families from homelessness and instability to independence and self-sufficiency, we know that offering the kids in our Youth Education Program the education, support, encouragement and role models they need allows them to grow into strong, independent adults.

We have nearly 150 kids in our year-round youth education programs, and a waiting list for all three of our after school/summer enrichment program sites (two in Arlandria and one at the Brent Place Apartment in Alexandria’s West End). All of these kids have challenges and many have several. Their families may be low-income, immigrant, single-parent, non-English speaking, unemployed, involved in gangs and drugs, or some combination.

Still, our kids thrive. Our staff, most of whom are bilingual, work regularly with the Alexandria Public School teachers and accompany our kids and parents to parent/teacher conferences, making sure each child’s academic progress is communicated to the parents. We reinforce what they learned in school in our after school program, praise them when they succeed and encourage them when we know they can perform better. And, knowing that no one learns on an empty stomach, we provide them with hot meals each day of after school and summer through our partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank.

Education is critical to an independent adult life but it is not all-encompassing. We reinforce good behavior in our kids through example, written standards displayed on the classroom walls and “behavior bucks” — cash-like rewards for good behavior that the kids can exchange for holiday gifts for their families. Our mentor program allows the kids in grades 6 - 12 to set leadership goals for themselves and hold themselves accountable. Our summer enrichment program offers field trips to the White House, National Zoo, Luray Caverns and other important sites that many of these kids have never seen, all the while re-enforcing what they learned in school to minimize any summer learning loss.

The common denominator that I have noticed among our kid is their eagerness to be with us. They rush into our learning centers after school, greeting our staff and volunteer tutors and sharing what is important to them that day.

They know they are loved. And that, I think, is the key to building strong kids.

To volunteer as a Community Lodgings after school tutor, contact Jane Collins at jcollins@community-lodgings.or or call 703-549-4407.