(April 10, 2019) Catherine Read sits down with Kathy Jackson, President, and Cindy Burgess, Strategic Planning Chair, from the Assistance League of Northern Virginia. Their mission is to have their volunteers transform the lives of children through community programs.
Prominent women in the Los Angeles area founded the Assistance League in the 1890’s. It was the first nonpolitical, nonsectarian nonprofit founded in the west that was dedicated to recognizing the potential of volunteers in making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. By 1935, the National Assistance League was incorporated with the focus of promoting effective volunteerism though leadership and training. Today, there are 120 chapters nationwide, in 26 states, with 22,000 members. Their goal is to establish chapters in all 50 states.
The Assistance League of Northern Virginia was chartered in 2004. Today they serve children at 11 Title One Schools in Fairfax and Prince William Counties, as well as the City of Alexandria. They run two signature programs, Operation School Bell and Operation Hugs, aimed at improving the lives of the children in these communities.
Operation School Bell
Operation School Bell has three components. Volunteers with the Weekend Food for Kids program pack 1600 bags of food each month, which then gets delivered to 6 schools within their network. The groceries go home with children from food insecure households. The Assistance League brings together volunteers from across the community to pack the bags on the 3rd Thursday of every month. An assembly line is setup, and it takes approximately an hour to complete the work. They partner with Dominion Energy, which provides a location for the food packing and whose drivers deliver the food packs to the schools for distribution to the children.
In addition to the weekend food program, the Assistance League also provides new clothing for children in need. The organization works closely with the school counselors in order to identify specific needs, such as coats or shoes. By working to get information about specific children, they can be sure to provide the proper sizes and items for those in need. For some of these children, it might be the only new item of clothing that they receive for the entire year.
The last component of Operation School Bell is the Literacy for Kids program. Volunteers from the Assistance League are paired with children who need extra help to improve their reading and comprehension skills. They visit the children at school on a regular basis, to help improve their reading skills and to form a relationship. At one local school, they put on a program aimed at collecting books so that children can bring a book home and start creating their own library.
The other primary program that the Assistance League runs is called Operation Hugs. This is the original program that was established when the organization was founded back in 2004. There are women in the Dumbarton Oaks community who sew heart-shaped pillows that have a pocket for a small toy, that are delivered to a health clinic for underprivileged children in Falls Church. These pillows are designed to give the children some comfort, and help keep them stay calm, when undergoing procedures. They are very proud of this long-running program, and the children love receiving the pillows.
Jackson and Burgess are always looking for more volunteers, both men and women, to help carry out their mission. All are welcome to their spring fundraiser on April 26th at the Country Club of Fairfax, held from 11am-2pm. They also open their doors to volunteers who want to come pack food or volunteer at the local schools. To learn more, visit their website.