(Dec. 3, 2018) Catherine Read interviews several members of the Northern Virginia Family Service leadership team to talk about the wide array of services that they deliver to families throughout the region. For the past 95 years, NVFS has delivered support to the most vulnerable families in Northern Virginia. The organization was recently selected by Jeff and McKenzie Bezos to be a recipient of a $2.5 million grant from their Day 1 Families Fund to help end family homelessness in our region.
In the first segment, Catherine speaks with Andrea Eck, Executive Vice President of Programs at NVFS. Andrea points out that the programs offered to families range from workforce training to housing assistance to hunger relief to early childhood development and support. The unique thing about NVFS is that all of their programs are integrated with one another, and are designed to support the families they serve in a holistic manner, with the goal of moving the family toward self-sufficiency.
Eck notes that NVFS works collaboratively with partners throughout the region to help deliver necessary services, so that resources can be used wisely and efforts are not duplicated. She is confident that their excellent track record is what led to the grant from the Day 1 Families Fund. The grant money will be used to fight family homelessness in Northern Virginia. Specifically, they will be enhancing their housing locator service, improving their career navigation center, and enhancing the availability of mental health services in order to get people healthy so that they can support themselves and contribute to society.
Multi-Cultural Center and Youth Initiatives
In the second segment Catherine talks to Meredith McKeen, Director of the Multi-Cultural Center and Youth Initiatives. On the multi-cultural center side, her job is to oversee the array of services designed to help people recover from exposure to trauma and violence. Her department utilizes case management to navigate the issues, and services are delivered in 7 different languages to meet the needs of the community. Many families have suffered trauma throughout the immigration process, and McKeen’s department is designed to assist families with immigration legal aid, as well as assist them in finding the support services that they need within the community.
Under the youth umbrella, NVFS runs a gang prevention program to help keep kids safe and out of trouble. Additionally, for young people who have witnessed or been exposed to violence, her department is tasked with helping them find and access mental health services. Getting young people access to these critical programs is so important, because the sooner they can deal with the trauma that they have experienced, the sooner they can get back to school and be able to move their lives forward.
Another important aspect of McKeen’s department is the family reunification program. Many times, immigrant families are separated from one another for many years, with some parents being separated from their children for up to a decade. Reunification is always the goal, but with it comes its own set of challenges. First off, parents and children need to get to know one another again. Additionally, the children may have endured an arduous journey to make it to America, and they may have residual trauma from their travels. This program is aimed to get ahead of these challenges and address issues up front in order to keep everyone safe. It has been shown to help avoid child abuse, future foster care placement and potential mental health problems down the road. It is an investment in the family today that can have a lasting impact into the future. Families are resilient, but they need the right tools in order to be healthy and happy.
In the third segment of the show Catherine speaks with Julie Mullen, Director of Workforce Development about how NVFS is working toward customized career training for its clients. This new approach is aimed at helping their clients identify their goals, attain the necessary skills and ultimately find a sustainable wage job. The One on One Navigator program is one of the areas that will greatly benefit from the grant give by the Day 1 Families Fund. A job with sustainable wages is the best way to keep a family out of homelessness, so this program will be critical to meeting their goals.
The One on One program will allow career counselors to help clients tap into their talents, then connect them with the partners in the community who can help them build the skills that they need to succeed. Money from the grant will be able to help pay for certifications or English classes, even assist with the costs of opening a new business like an in-home childcare center. The career navigators can assist with understanding the regulations and the paperwork needed to get a business started. Removing these barriers and hurdles are critical to helping clients move forward.
This winter NVFS is launching their “Team Up” imitative in the hospitality, manufacturing and healthcare space. They will be co-locating in space with their business partners to help deliver services and make sure that workers have the tools that they need to be successful and productive. For example, now that Medicaid has expanded in Virginia, NVFS will have people available to help workers understand that they are eligible for benefits, and assist them in learning how to apply.
Health Access and Nutrition Services
In the final segment of the show, Catherine interviews Ondrea McIntyre-Hall, Director of Health Access and Nutrition Services at NVFS. Her department oversees the Hunger Resource Center, located in Prince William County. The center serves 600-700 families a month, and processes approximately 3.3 million pounds of food a year. There is a growing community of food insecure families in our region, and NVFS is looking at creative ways to help stem the tide of hunger by providing food support and nutrition services. Their resource center includes cooking classes and demonstrations, in order to teach families how to make the best use of the ingredients that they have access to. Additionally, there is no limit on the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that families can take when visiting their facility.
Thanks to generous donations from local farmers markets, grocery stores and the USDA the Hunger Resource Center receives a great deal of fresh, perishable food. Therefore, they partner with other smaller food pantries in the area so that the food can get better distributed in a timely manner. Many families cannot access the center in Prince William, so this gives the smaller, more local pantries an opportunity to get fresh fruit and vegetables distributed to their clients.
Currently, NVFS is launching an exciting pilot program with Mason and Partners (through George Mason University) that will give clients a “prescription card” for certain fruits and vegetables that clients need to maintain their health. Clients will then be able to redeems these cards at participating vendors – food pantries, Farmer’s Markets, stores where the cards are accepted. This innovative approach to providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables recognizes that what we eat can greatly contribute to supporting a healthy lifestyle.