effective philanthropy blog
VOAVolunteers of America Chesapeake is a faith based non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire self-reliance, dignity, and hope through health and human services. Through our 31 programs we offer a safety net to our veterans, seniors suffering from intellectual disability, the homeless, those seeking affordable housing options, and many more.

Founded in 1896 in Baltimore, MD Volunteers of America Chesapeake was one of the first branches of Volunteers of America – one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive human services organizations. Through a dedicated and committed team of management, staff and volunteers and guided by our Core Values: Caring, Respect, Faith, Quality, and Trust – VOA Chesapeake helps thousands of people each year throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

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Serving TogetherWe’ve all been there—waiting on hold to talk to a ‘customer service representative,’ endlessly navigating Google for answers to questions we haven’t formed yet, and getting frustrated and tired getting the run around when all we want is someone to listen. Like veterans across the country, Northern Virginia veterans deal with these inefficiencies all the time when trying to access healthcare, benefits, or employment services that, frankly, I feel they have earned. 

Oftentimes communities think that all veterans can and do utilize federal healthcare and benefits. In reality, many do not for a variety of reasons.  Since 2011, my team and I have been working to create an improved resource system for military, veterans and their families through a project called Serving Together.  If you’ve read this far, you’re likely thinking, “Great. But what does that really mean?”  It means that we are working with existing programs and organizations in our communities—where we live, work and play—to make sure those who have ever served in the Armed Forces are familiar with and know how to contact local programs.

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GEMS Club 2Thanks to the Innovation Fund of the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia and the Moore Family Foundation, Nova Labs partnered recently with the Girls Excelling in Math & Science (GEMS) Club to host a popular hands-on program called “Take Apart Day.”

So…. What’s a Take Apart Day? Nova Lab volunteers collect non-functioning computers, scanners, and copiers to show the girls—and the larger Nova Lab community—what makes it all tick.

Being able to use tools safely is the first step.  It’s key to opening up these devices and learning about their mechanisms and how they work.

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Chris Faessen  beesWolf Trap Foundation is known for presenting amazing performances in one of the most unique performing arts venues in the country, but many are unaware of Wolf Trap’s strong commitment to the environment and sustainability. This summer, Wolf Trap Foundation is doubling down on that passion with the expansion of its beekeeping program led by Chris Faessen, Executive Chef.

Located at the Center for Education, the beekeeping program started three years ago with only a handful of hives as a supplement to Wolf Trap Foundation’s vegetable garden. Today, the program has grown to exciting new levels, with a total of nine strong hives buzzing along thanks in part to a recent grant from the Barkdull Fund for Animal Welfare from the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia specifically for the bees. The bees can reach as far as six miles in their never-ending quest for nectar, ensuring the forests of the National Park as well as Meadowlark Botanical Gardens are pollinated. While it may seem like the bees do most of the work while buzzing around the park, Chris and his staff work extremely hard to ensure the bees remain healthy, happy, and disease-free.

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IMCC photo2As the Executive Director of the only dementia specific adult day health and resource center in Northern Virginia, I was thrilled to see the aging report published earlier this year by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. The Northern Virginia population will have extensive challenges in the future with the number of older individuals projected to grow 76% between 2010 and 2030. The increase of older adults in our area will have a wide spread social and economic impact on our community, an impact we have already started to feel at our center. 

Insight Memory Care Center (IMCC) is celebrating 30 years of care this year, and we continue to face an increased demand for our programs and services. This demand has led us to pursue plans to expand our center in 2015 where we will be tripling our space, so that we are able to serve more in need.  Despite our space limitations, over the past year we have already added two additional support groups, a new early stage program called Reconnections (partnering with local churches to provide space), and educational workshops to provide a more in-depth look at popular topics.

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aging2We bet everyone remembers how exciting it was when we first got our driver’s license!  It is an amazing “rite of passage” and one of the first steps to independence for a teen ager.  But we sure do not want to think about the other end of the lifespan, when perhaps driving is no longer possible due to age related conditions.  The independence that started with our driver’s license in our teen years becomes  jeopardized and for too many older adults, it means an isolated life - stranded at home.

The good news is that there are community organizations that care about this and have created volunteer driver programs to take seniors who do not drive where they want and need to go.

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GursahaneyDoing well in the stock market and worried about the taxes that come with capital gains?  Well, that was our problem when we saw our modest investment in Apple stock soar over the past few years.  While it is always great to make money with your investments, we were concerned that our good fortune was going to come at a high price when we finally sold our stock. 

Balancing that concern with our desire to contribute to the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, our financial advisor provided us with the perfect solution!  He suggested that we donate our stock to the Community Foundation so we could take advantage of an obscure tax loophole.  It seems that when you donate stock to a charitable organization, you get a tax donation credit for the current value of the stock and not the value of the stock when you purchased it.   More importantly, when the charitable organization sells the stock to support a worthy cause, they don’t have to pay capital gains. 

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Cycle23Grad2-500There are three great barriers to the American Dream: affordable housing, affordable childcare and skills for a livable wage. Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) is dedicated to finding answers in all three areas, and I encourage you to learn more about our programs. In March, our agency celebrated the graduation of the 23rd cohort from Training Futures, NVFS’ comprehensive job training program that has helped prepare 1,800 graduates for new careers.  The program has been lifting people above the poverty line since 1996.

Training Futures is a half-year commitment that includes classroom instruction on basic office skills and soft skills like networking and ethics; academic credit thanks to Northern Virginia Community College; and internships offering real-world experience. This core curriculum is supplemented by mentors and volunteers who are invested in helping our students prepare to enter the workforce and succeed.

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Maker Faire 2A community team started by Nova Labs recently hosted the inaugural Nova Mini Maker Faire, a family- and kid-friendly event highlighting innovative and creative people in Northern Virginia.  Nova Mini Maker Faire was a grassroots event run by and with an entirely volunteer force. It was held at the complex of South Lakes High and Langston Hughes Middle Schools in Reston, VA.

Nova Labs is a makerspace - a community workshop – which is a collaborative place where entrepreneurs, hobbyists, tinkerers and artists – “makers” - have access to many more tools and expertise than they'd ever have in their own garages or studios.

Maker Faires are billed as the greatest show and tell on earth, and are a friendly collision of science and art.  The first Maker Faire began in California and these days attracts upwards of 125,000 attendees to see exhibits ranging from fire-breathing sculpture to the explosive reaction of Coke+Mentos. The larger events have expanded to New York, Kansas City, and Detroit, with others in Europe and Asia.  Maker Media curates the overall events and highlights in Make magazine the problem-solving hobbyists, artists, inventors, and  tinkerers who have created homebuilt projects of all kinds and are willing to share what they've learned.  Our Northern Virginia Maker Faire is considered 'mini' because of its size and regional focus.  However, we had about 3200 people and over 100 makers, so it was hardly a mini effort.

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Blender BikeOn Sunday, I attended a real happening – the inaugural Mini Maker Faire in Northern Virginia at both South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes Middle School (because the event was so big). Think of several thousand people at an adult Science Fair and you'd have a pretty good idea of what a Maker Faire is like.  I particularly loved the “Blender Bike”

Led by Sari Raskin (Community Foundation staff) and Brian Jacoby, a longtime donor at the MakersCommunity Foundation and President of Nova Labs, the Faire came together with over 300 volunteers (directing traffic, taking tickets, etc.) and somewhere between 3,000-5,000 attendees!  It was an amazing event focused on STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. And this was sponsored by, and the ideas cultivated through, the leadership of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.

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