The majority of people without homes in our community are children and working families. (September 2017)
Many of us returned to school or work today after enjoying a long Labor Day weekend, celebrating at barbecues, picnics and parades with families and friends.
On Labor Day, we may not have been thinking about those experiencing homelessness. What’s the association between homelessness and Labor Day, a day “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers”?
Did you know… the majority of people without homes in our community are children and working families? 66% percent of adults in families that are homeless are employed.
The real challenge in Northern Virginia is that it takes an average household income of $70,560 to cover the basics of housing, transportation, food and clothing, without even thinking about other extras.
Low incomes and expensive housing are the main reasons for homelessness in our community. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is more than $1,700. Thousands of individuals and families in Fairfax County spend more than half of their income each month on housing costs.
For example, a teacher with a starting annual salary of $47,046 would need to work 11 years before earning enough to rent the average one bedroom apartment, a police officer with a starting salary of $50,264 would need to work 5 years, a public health nurse would need to work 6 years before earning enough to rent the average one bedroom unit. For an individual earning minimum wage, it is impossible to pay for an apartment — even if you work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.
Cornerstones reached a milestone in 2015 when it doubled its stock of local, affordable housing, but we would need to double that again year after year to meet the projected 3,000 new households with extremely low- and very low incomes who will be working and living in the greater Reston-Herndon area over the next 15 years.
What can be done?
By investing more intentionally in an effort to increase housing availability locally, Cornerstones and Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (OPEH) seek to uphold and support the “One Fairfax” resolution that speaks to the County’s commitment to create the conditions for all residents to “live, learn, work, and play” and have equitable access to opportunities that enable them to participate and prosper in Fairfax County.
The Path of Totality (August 2017)
Earlier this week, the youth at Cornerstones’ Laurel Learning Center gathered in a park near our childcare center with their safety glasses and appropriately chosen snack of “Moon Pies” to watch the total solar eclipse. This first in a lifetime experience made summer learning a breeze as children, youth and adults alike eagerly planned for the moment the moon would pass over the sun in rare and perfect alignment. Teachers, counselors and parents – we all recognized this unique opportunity to be part of the conversation by creating a safe space for observation and learning.
So why then in 2017, when history and data are in plain view do we still find it so hard to talk about race and structural inequity?
How do we as teachers create safe spaces for our children to talk about Charlottesville, or honor without rationalizing through our own lens the lived experiences of those who grapple daily with the moments when the “isms” – race, ethnicity, religion, birthplace, age, gender, identity – make you the target of someone’s bigotry or hatred? How do we come to terms with the impact of our own biases, or our own place in “privilege” politics as described by Richard Reeves in Dream Hoarders?
While these conversations may be hard, I know that I have personally let too many moments pass, eclipsed by the fear that my words will not do justice to these issues, that I might (continue to) offend, or that we are not ready as an organization for the sharp scrutiny of an equity lens.
The moment is now. Cornerstones’ board and staff have acknowledged the need to act, to do more to confront the systemic barriers that keep people from securing stable housing, finding meaningful work and seeing their children succeed. Above all, we must put community members at the center of those conversations and check our need to help and feel good about our “charity” against the work that will drive justice and change.
Cornerstones has been deeply engaged in leading and shaping conversations for decades – our mission grounded in the inclusive language and equity principles of Reston’s founder Robert E. Simon. Will those principles be in evidence as Reston considers the redevelopment of the Reston Town Center and its mandate to rebuild the Embry Rucker homeless our community demanded to meet needs 30 years ago?
As a proud contributor to the Fairfax County Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness, we have reduced homelessness by 42% since 2008, but have fallen short in how we will answer the question of disproportionality. African Americans are just 9.6% of the total population of Fairfax County, but represent 43% of singles and 58% of families who are homeless today. That means reversing decades of policies or practice and making the commitment to bring new housing and employment opportunities to people who have had doors slammed shut.
Cornerstones reached a milestone in 2015 when it doubled its own stock of local, affordable housing, but we would need to double that again year after year to meet the projected 3,000 new households with extremely low- and very low incomes who will be working and living in the greater Reston-Herndon area over the next 15 years. Will we make room?
Despite a thriving local economy and school system ranked at the top nationally in terms of overall achievement Fairfax County’s Equity Profile and the Child Opportunity Index tell us the same story of glaring disparities that divide among racial/ethnic and geographic lines. The good news is that Fairfax County is doing something about that with the One Fairfax Initiative, and Cornerstones is a leader in redefining our community’s commitment to help every child succeed through the Opportunity Neighborhoods collaborative and the Connections for Hope Partnership of government and nonprofit partners in Herndon.
Reston’s Opportunity Neighborhood or RestON brings together residents, students, business and sector partners to create well-being for all children and youth by addressing barriers to their success, increasing opportunities and building the resiliency of their families.
Whether it is in the areas of health, early childhood development, school and job readiness, safety, community engagement or advocacy, an Opportunity Neighborhood is about communities identifying priorities and working together toward positive change.
That work is being informed by community members, with leadership from Neighborhood Ambassadors, and support from a diverse group of allies. The Ambassador program engages community members as volunteers to reach out to other parents, guardians and youth on a one-to-one basis, particularly at neighborhood–based venues such as community centers, schools, houses of worship and civic associations.
In addition to having a hand in creating a safe, prosperous and inspiring environment for all children, youth and families, Ambassadors will receive a modest stipend and know the joy of developing new skills and building new friendships. To apply or learn more about the Neighborhood Ambassador Program, visit www.cornerstonesva.org/rest-on.
As we look to our future, it is with the sure knowledge that Cornerstones is standing with its community in the “path of totality” where everything is perfectly aligned for the conversations that are long overdue.
Kerrie B. Wilson
Equity is Opportunity Plus Access (June 2017)
June is Children’s Awareness Month
As school-age kids wind down their academic year and prepare for summer, we are reminded that some of the best learning can happen outside the classroom. Recreational time, team sports, and programs that stimulate a child’s imagination through art, music or other creative endeavors can inspire kids and prepare them for success in and outside of the classroom and beyond. While Northern Virginia is fortunate to have many summer programs available for youth, Cornerstones is working with its partners to ensure that there are not economic, transportation or other barriers preventing children in our community from taking advantage of these summer programs and camps.
This is just one of the questions being addressed as part of a new initiative in Reston known as “Opportunity Neighborhood: Reston” or RestON, that brings stakeholders together to champion community priorities that improve the lives of children, youth and families.
As Supervisor Hudgins explained at the launch of RestON: “Equity is opportunity plus access.” In a planned community like Reston, we are fortunate to have bountiful opportunities with terrific schools, beautiful public spaces, and countless activities and amenities to enjoy. It isn’t the lack of opportunities that we struggle with – it’s ensuring all residents have access to them. RestON’s overarching goal is to ensure that all children have access to the resources they need to succeed.
The sheer number of partners on the RestON organizing team demonstrates our community’s commitment to achieving this goal. At the table are parents, youth, businesses, nonprofits, residents, health care providers, faith community leaders, civic groups and government partners, all who share this goal.
You will begin to see the manifestations of the RestON initiative starting this summer. The RestON team is working to connect interested youth-who may not otherwise have access-to a wide variety of programs, camps and academic / continuous learning initiatives. Cornerstones’ program coordinators and RestON partners like Reston Community Center, Reston Association and the YMCA-Reston will be working to creatively and intentionally reach kids who may have barriers to finding and enrolling in these summer programs.
Additionally, community program advocates will be hosting outreach events in target “opportunity” communities, hosting events and game nights to engage families, help them find out about resources, and meet their community advocates.
If you are interested in getting involved in RestON, consider joining a Resident Engagement Team. These neighborhood-based teams guide the initiative by providing local perspective on issues that affect children. Membership is still open! Contact Amanda.Caughran@cornerstonesva.org for more information.
Additionally, you can help some of our children in need by volunteering or donating to the annual “Back to School Bash” resource fair. Attendees at the fair can access a range of services, including sign-ups for afterschool sports, bus passes, and other information. Families across the cultural and socio-economic spectrum will attend. Volunteers and donated school supplies are always welcome!
Kerrie Wilson, CEO
Volunteers are our Cornerstones (April 2017)
As CEO of Cornerstones, I am blessed to work with an organization that tirelessly works to serve the most vulnerable Dulles Corridor residents through housing, support services and advocacy. But one of the things that makes our impact possible is the work of our 6,013 dedicated volunteers who together provided 34,282 hours of service (valued at $916,531) this past year. Cornerstones’ volunteers tutor children, plan fundraising events, answer phones, stock the food pantry, and refurbish homes for future tenants among many other things. Cornerstones is honored to welcome all gifts, skills and ideas to further our mission of helping our neighbors take steps toward healthy, stable lives.
In fact, it is the innate desire of its residents to give back that makes the greater Reston-Herndon community a place that is welcoming to all, regardless of race, gender, income, or religion. At Cornerstones, we are fortunate to witness that spirit of our community through our volunteers. I want to take this time to specially recognize just a few of our many everyday heroes:
Leidos has partnered with Cornerstones since they moved their headquarters to Reston in 2014. Since that time, Leidos has contributed funds, helped promote the mission of Cornerstones, and has volunteered time to serve meals and collect and organize donations.
Ginny Pyster volunteers her time in a number of capacities, including tutoring West Glade neighborhood’s children, lending a hand at the food pantry, and leading the volunteer efforts for the annual Gifts for Kids Drive. As was so eloquently explained by Cornerstones Program Manager, Minnie Orozco, “We can’t build the future for our children…but Ginny has the commitment to help build our children for the future…”
Carolina Calderon has been a faithful volunteer for Cornerstones since she learned about the organization at a time when she was in need. Since then, she has volunteered countless hours assisting at the food pantry and the ESL classes at the Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center. Without her own transportation, Carolina walks 20 miles a week (regardless of the weather) to ensure that Cornerstones’ programs run smoothly.
Vince Sescoe has been a volunteer teacher for Cornerstones’ job readiness class since 2014. Vince makes clients of all backgrounds feel welcomed and supported as they build skills to lead to better employment opportunities. He gives all the extra time and attention needed to ensure that each client receives the support they need to be successful in the program and beyond.
Leading Effort 4 Poverty (LE4P) engages kids to help fundraise and organize “snack packs” for homeless and low-income children. This year, LE4P made 1,250 snack packs and prepared and donated 250 meals for individuals at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. Along the way, LE4P gives elementary, middle, and high school students the opportunity to gain experience in leadership, team building and communication while also instilling the desire to serve others in the next generation.
Our Front Desk Volunteers are vital to the operations of Embry Rucker Community Shelter. Staff and clients rely on them each and every day to provide assistance to all who come through our doors. Be they the most affluent looking to serve or the most desperate in search of a warm place for the night, all are greeted with kindness, understanding and respect thanks largely to our Front Desk Volunteers. This group of dedicated volunteers represent the culture and diversity of our community and prove Reston to be the inclusive, caring home to people of every nationality, religion, culture, station or circumstance of life.
And finally, as CEO, I know the value of our strong Board of Directors—each a volunteer—that often goes un-sung. I want to thank the Boards of Directors of Cornerstones and Cornerstones Housing Corporation. Your leadership has helped us through difficult times and will help us now as we respond to evolving community need and opportunity to serve.
Cornerstones’ volunteers strengthen our community by providing Hope for Tomorrow Today!
Recent CEO Messages
November is Homeless Awareness Month (November 2016)
September is “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” (September 2016)
The State of Homelessness In Our Community (March 2016)
Our Impact FY 2015 (February 2016)
A Place Called Reston (September 2015)
You can make a difference in the lives of children (August 2015)
National Children’s Awareness Month (June 2015)
We applaud our Volunteers! (April 2015)
Investing in families strengthens our community, FairfaxTimes.com, March 16, 2015
Connecting to End Homelessness: Letter to the Editor, Kerrie Wilson and Sara Leonard, Fairfax Connection, September 25 – October 1, 2014, Page 8.
Housing Values On the Rise; Opinion article, Cornerstones’ CEO, Kerrie Wilson, Reston Connection, October 8-14, 2014, Page 6.
On Health and Community (February 2015)
Reflections – Stu Rakoff (January 2014)
Homelessness in Perspective (November 2013)