June is Children’s Awareness Month (May 2017)
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!
Kerrie Wilson, CEO
Increasing Local Housing Options Helps Reduce Any Additional Trauma for those Experiencing Homelessness (March 2017)
As many of you know, Cornerstones is a key partner in the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness. In 2008 this partnership, comprising local government agencies and nonprofits, set out to implement a “10-year Plan” to prevent and end homelessness in our high-cost-of-living area. Now in its ninth year of implementation, the partners have made significant strides in reducing homelessness – a 42% drop since 2008 – and have worked tirelessly to advocate for a county-wide commitment to increasing the stock of affordable housing. There has been some success in developing new housing options, such as the Bridging Affordability program which provides rental subsidy and support through a case manager for up to one year to help residents maintain stable housing. However, the fact remains: it is extremely challenging to find affordable housing for those experiencing homelessness in our community, even when they are working full-time.
And then there is recidivism – people falling back into a state of homelessness after being housed. While it is great to know that 72% of households leaving homelessness in Fairfax County are able to find housing and remain housed, 28% of households cannot seem to stay stable; a dilemma that might possibly be averted if people could get longer-term, customized support to tackle the often multiple barriers to their stability. Cornerstones already provides that support through its Community Care Management service, where clients have access to experienced social workers who can help them come up with action plans for addressing those barriers, but more needs to be done.
Last year in an attempt to find new ways to address both the dearth of affordable housing and reduce recidivism, not to mention the rapidly diminishing funding stream for homeless services, Cornerstones collaborated with the County’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (OPEH) to develop an innovative approach to addressing these interrelated problems: to encourage local landlords to offer more of their housing units to those exiting homelessness through an incentive program that guarantees follow-on care management support to rapidly rehoused clients to help them remain stably housed and become good tenants.
Increasing local housing options helps reduce any additional trauma for those experiencing homelessness related to accepting housing that is far away from their workplaces, their children’s schools, and known support networks. Moreover, by investing more intentionally in an effort to increase housing availability locally, Cornerstones and 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.
November is Homeless Awareness Month (November 2016)
The Embry Rucker Community Shelter stands as a beacon in our community – a steadfast reminder of our community’s needs as well as Reston’s collective commitment to serve those who are less fortunate. However, beyond the bricks and mortar are the men, women and children whose stories stretch beyond the weeks that they are residents of the shelter.
It can be difficult to comprehend that in Fairfax County – the second wealthiest county in the nation – there are more than 1,000 individuals who are homeless on any given night, a third of which are children. For those who are homeless, coming into the Embry Rucker Community Shelter (ERCS) is often the first step toward stability. At ERCS, Cornerstones provides safe, emergency housing for families and single men and women 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Clients build goals and find solutions with the help of Cornerstones’ care managers. Click here to read about Michael Gross, a Cornerstones Care Manager, whose brother struggled with homelessness. For Michael, helping the homeless is not just a job — it’s personal.
Our comprehensive services at ERCS include child care, medical assistance, nutritious meals, a nurse on staff and financial counseling. In addition, our in-house employment specialist helps unemployed or underemployed residents expand their skills as they prepare to look for work. For children, we offer tutoring and mentoring to help them achieve developmental and academic milestones. We also employ a full-time licensed housing broker who specializes in finding both traditional and non-traditional affordable housing options and helps our residents settle into stable housing as quickly as possible.
Needs are rarely ever isolated. Those who find themselves homeless often are facing other immediate needs like hunger or illness, as well as long-term challenges, like finding employment that pays a living wage, securing affordable childcare so that parents are able to work, and finding safe and affordable housing that will allow them to put down roots where their children can grow and thrive. For that reason, Cornerstones has adopted a model of providing wrap-around services and referrals to our network of partners to help our clients face the many challenges that stand in their way of success and stability. Click here to read about one of our clients, “Jeff”, who struggled to find solutions to his need for steady work and budget management, and how Michael Gross helped him on a path to stability.
Cornerstones’ support continues after the immediate crisis has passed, focusing on reducing poverty over the long-term. Last year Cornerstones helped 52 families and 84 individuals leave the Embry Rucker Shelter and homelessness, and nearly 70% are stably housed 6 months later. Through our financial mentoring program, 33 families who were formerly homeless have now saved $118,000 in trust accounts to reduce debt, get an education and even save to buy a home.
Moving a family out of the shelter and in to affordable housing costs about $5,000 – an investment that improves physical and psychological health, giving adults the ability to be successful at work and children the ability to succeed in school. You can support our efforts to move families out of shelter and into permanent housing by:
- Volunteering – Cornerstones is always in need of volunteers who can help us further our mission. Volunteers can support the shelter by providing childcare and tutoring, leading activities for youth, and by aiding shelter operations through landscaping, painting, repairs, etc. Contact Alger@cornerstonesva.org to learn about seasonal and ongoing volunteer opportunities at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter.
- Voting – Consider supporting Fairfax County’s new revenue-generating proposals like the Human Services and Community Development Bond, which can support programs in the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. Also on the ballot this year will be a meals tax referendum which would provide revenue support to human services programs like the ones offered at ERCS.
- Donating to Cornerstones! Cornerstones is always thrilled to receive cash or in-kind donations that can directly support our clients.
- We can accept donations of food, small home appliances, unopened toiletries and cleaning products, and new toys.
- Cornerstones is also currently collecting new and clean, gently used coats and jackets as well as new hats, gloves, scarves through November 9th for the annual Winter Coat Closet.
- The Annual Gifts for Kids Drive is also in motion! Confirm your donation commitment by November 18th by clicking here.
- And, watch for details about our Cornerstones to a Connected Community Year-End Appeal, one of our most important fund-raising initiatives. Your support plays a critical role in the services we provide to sustain lives and strengthen communities—one individual, one child, one family at a time.
To learn more about Cornerstones, attend a one-hour “Virtual Tour” of our services. Click here to see available dates!
September is “Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” (September 2016)
“Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month” is a time for everyone to reflect on the importance of balanced diets and healthy eating habits to one’s overall well-being. For Cornerstones, however, finding ways to improve access to healthy food for our low-income neighbors is a year-round endeavor.
A long-time provider of food assistance to the greater Reston-Herndon region, Cornerstones offers a full-time pantry program that provides fresh and non-perishable foods, as well as care management and wellness support to clients. Additionally, Cornerstones operates a smaller “wellness kitchen” in its Herndon community center and provides healthy cooking classes at four community-based centers in Reston. This service provides food resources to those struggling financially who might otherwise have to decide between paying rent or utilities and feeding their families.
What we have found through these services over the years is that quantity of food isn’t the only important factor in serving the needs of our community. Location of food assistance, accessibility to the pantries, and availability of nutritious food options are also equally important in addressing our client needs more holistically.
Having a pantry located where clients live or on a public transportation route improves accessibility to food resources; and operating the pantry during hours that fit within working parents’ schedules – including early morning, afternoon and some weekend hours – as well as having translation services available, improve the ease and process for clients who need this service.
The availability of wholesome, nutritious foods is another factor Cornerstones works to address. Many of the least expensive foods available in the grocery store are canned and are high in sodium. To improve access to healthier options, Cornerstones has worked with the County to facilitate the “SNAP-at-market” pilot program which allows clients to use their SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the Lake Anne Farmers Market with a matching dollar bonus, enabling clients to obtain even more healthy food.
Even though the location of Cornerstones’ food pantries makes food more accessible to clients, at times they are not accessible at all. During the record-breaking snowfall in late January of this year, which made it very difficult for many residents to leave their homes, Cornerstones and members of the Herndon Food Network – a partnership of local schools, nonprofits, faith communities, and the County which focuses on addressing youth hunger in schools in the Herndon area – worked together to deliver food to homes of some vulnerable children and youth who depend on free and reduced lunch. This new partnership is another example of the way Cornerstones is convening key stakeholders in the community for collective impact; working together to reduce student hunger, utilizing available food resources more efficiently, considering options for better food storage and transportation, and being flexible in addressing potential food shortage crises as they unfold.
You can also be part of this critical endeavor in our community. Consider donating cash or needed food items to the food pantries; sign up to volunteer with SNAP-at-market or a food bank; or simply help spread the word among your friends by liking Cornerstones’ Facebook page or tweeting about the work we and our partners do in the community.
May I wish you all a healthy eating month as you enjoy more fruits and veggies!
Recent CEO Messages
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)