Event Summaries for AAWGT events for the past year are maintained on this site. All events are summarized in the Full Circle News, the bimonthly newsletter of Anne Arundel Women Giving Together. The full newsletter archive is available here.
Click on the boxes below to read summaries of AAWGT events held in 2019 and 2020.
Keynote Speaker, Dr. Brenda Jones Harden, set the stage for a powerful conversation about the critical needs of an infant, and the long-lasting effects of neglect. Her dynamic presentation before 141 attendees, described research demonstrating that brain growth starts prenatally, with peak development from two months to three years of age. She shared brain PET scans, comparing scans from a baby with a dependable caretaker, who regularly speaks, hugs, and interacts with the baby against the scans for a baby who did not have those benefits. The difference is striking. Neglected children suffer from long-lasting decreases in cognitive, language and social skills for the rest of their lives. Evidence-based interventions for parent and child through private home visits, Early Head Start, Judy Centers, can make a difference—and the earlier the intervention, the more successful. Shockingly, the U.S. lags behind other countries in quality earlychildcare. Tatiana Klein provided statistics from AA County. Tamira Dunn presented the wide range of services provided by the Judy Center program.
Find Dr. Harden’s presentation and more on this important subject here.
Dr. Celeste Chavis, Associate Professor in Transportation and Urban Infrastructure Studies at Morgan State University, used maps to illustrate the inherent inequity in current public transportation systems in Baltimore City. One example is the long commute to school facing many lower income children who must use public transportation. Dr. Chavis also defined several types of equity that can impact public planning, including procedural equity, which asks whether residents who have been historically excluded from planning are authentically included when a proposed policy change or new project is considered.
Dr. Pamela Brown, Executive Director of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children Youth and Families, also provided maps to demonstrate the need for improved public transportation in Anne Arundel County. She reported that transportation has ranked among the three highest every year that Poverty Amidst Plenty, a county needs assessment report, has been produced.
The final speaker of the program was Steuart Pittman, County Executive for Anne Arundel County. Pittman recognized his Transportation Officer, Ramond Robinson, who has worked tirelessly to make incremental changes that make a real difference, as highlighted by Pam Brown's presentation. Pittman thanked Anne Arundel Women Giving Together for convening the discussion, and thanked the group for its commitment to the issues of lower-income residents of Anne Arundel County.
Executive Director Kathryn Philliben briefed the group on arrival and introduced her staff, all of whom have been at Sarah’s House for at least 12 years. Kathryn explained that incoming clients are initially placed in emergency shelter so that case managers, program assistants, and training staff can identify the type of assistance needed. Each individual or family is given their own room with a door that locks, and as many clients have not experienced such security and safety in the past they are thrilled to have some privacy. Residents’ meals are donated by churches, volunteer organizations and businesses. Stays in the emergency shelter are limited to 90 days after which clients move either to one of the apartments at Sarah’s House or somewhere in the county, where they are given financial help with rent for up to a year.
Kelly Anderson, Manager of Client Services, explained how the staff is organized to help clients with multiple issues. Case managers specialize in one area, making them more efficient in obtaining assistance, whether with legal matters, mental and behavioral health issues or employment and financial needs. Staff seeks to listen and help solve problems while also instilling self-reliance. Regarding employment, Eileen Meagher, Manager of Housing and Employment Services, explained her staff seeks first to identify client interests, as the more interested in the job being pursued, the more likely the client is to stay with the program. AAWGT grant funds were used in the past year to fund many of these training and certification classes.
Sarah’s House is always open to volunteer assistance and can use donations of twin bedding, both new and gently used. Pillows must be new. If you are interested in helping, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, Eileen Cortese, Chair of the Post-Grants Evaluation Committee, asked representatives from each of the seven 2018 grantees to describe how AAWGT’s total of $105,136 in grants were put to work over the last grant year, concluding June 30, 2019. The grantees were: Anne Arundel County CASA, Anne Arundel County Public Library Foundation, Inc., Arundel Child Care Connections, Associated Catholic Charities, Inc., Sarah’s House, Seeds 4 Success, Inc., and STAIR—Annapolis, Inc. Speakers shared their thanks and described multiple uplifting success stories. Highlights included library customers being able to conduct job interviews by video, using AAWGT-funded computers; a family whose father doubled his wages through job training paid for with AAWGT funds, allowing them move out of emergency shelter into independent housing; and almost 100 second grade students whose reading level rose from under-performing to at-grade-level due to the efforts of their tutors. A memorable moment occurred when speaker Najiba Hlemi, Executive Director of Seeds 4 Success, shared that she herself had been a “CASA kid” in her youth, a background she has in common with many of the children she helps today. Her story illustrates how local non-profits are working together to make life better for county residents, sometimes without knowing it!
Also introduced during the program were the seven grantee organizations chosen to receive a total of $112,778 in grants for the 2019 grant year, beginning July 1. They are: Creating Communities, Light House, Inc., Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County, Inc., Rebuilding Together Anne Arundel County, Inc., STAIR-Annapolis, Inc., Tahirih Justice Center, and Touchstones Discussion Project. Attendees were able to visit the organization’s information tables to learn more about their mission and programs, and it will be exciting to hear their stories next year.
Sue Pitchford closed the evening by announcing an exciting initiative to raise $20,000 in donations to AAWGT’s grant fund by the end of 2019 to fund an extra grant in 2020. Details on how to donate to this fund can be found on this site.
Karen Bassarab, Senior Program Officer at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and Christine Melendez Ashley, Deputy Director for Government Relations at Bread for the World, began by reviewing the root causes of chronic food insecurity. Governmental policies, food advertising and societal norms were identified as factors in poor nutrition practices, along with more individually- based barriers to good nutrition such as lack of nutrition knowledge and unhealthy lifestyles. Limited access to healthy food due to urban “food deserts” was also identified. The overall result is that compared to white Americans, Latino families are two and a half times more likely and African American and Indigenous families are up to three times more likely to be food insecure. It also was reported that regardless of race, 30% of female-headed households are food insecure.
While causes vary, food insecurity universally creates a vicious long-term cycle of decline among affected populations. Inadequate nutrition from conception to 24 months negatively affects a child’s ability to succeed throughout life. This pattern continues through youth and adulthood, as an ongoing diet of non-nutritious, calorie-dense foods causes obesity and associated chronic diseases, ultimately leading to increased healthcare costs and decreasing the financial resources needed to purchase nutritious food.
In looking towards solutions, it was heartening to learn of recently formed county/school partnerships to combat food insecurity locally, as presented by Ann Heiser Buzzelli, RD, LDN, Community Education, Anne Arundel County Department of Health and Jodi Risse, RD., Supervisor, Food & Nutrition Services, Anne Arundel County Public Schools. After surveying the Brooklyn Park Community, Ann & Jodi encouraged a local farmer and other partners to set up the Brooklyn Park Farmers Market featuring foods with a rainbow of colors, enticing attendees to taste new foods. Jodi also applies the rainbow of colors approach to nutritious eating in school cafeterias, where students may serve themselves an unlimited number of fruits and vegetables.
The final speaker of the program was Michael Wierzbicki, a North County teacher who has pioneered a STEM education program for underserved students to combat food insecurity. Mike provides hands-on classes in growing nutritious food in urban gardens, farming tilapia, and tending honey-producing bee hives. Through these activities he teaches lessons in environmental science, nutrition, and general science, as well as principles of business. His students have started packaging their foods under the Cohort Brand, and several samples were displayed. At the completion of the program, Mike and his student assistants shared product tastings with the audience.
As volunteers helped calculate the final tally for 12 organizations, members also learned more about the ongoing research that guides AAWGT in identifying the most critical needs in the community. Guest speaker Mary Spencer, recently appointed President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, provided an overview of the foundation and its bi-annual publication of “Poverty Amidst Plenty” which surveys major social needs among area families. She pointed out that philanthropy can do much to help low-income women and their families overcome inequalities in health care, education and opportunity-disadvantages that can trap them in poverty.
Following her presentation, the results of the balloting were announced. Six organizations serving Anne Arundel women and families will receive a total of $92,778 through grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, for programs beginning after July 1, 2019. We also awarded $20,000 to STAIR for the second year of the Momentum Grant. Names of the organizations and details about the funded programs can be found below.
The Grant Voting Meeting on May 8 selected six 2019 Grantees as described below. The total amount of grants to be awarded though the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County is $112,778. The Grantees included the second year for our two-year Momentum Grant to STAIR-Annapolis for $20,000 following their demonstration of successful progress toward program/project objectives, plus six additional grantees whose efforts are described below.
Momentum Grant—Two-year grant for $20,000 each year
STAIR–Annapolis: Start The Adventure In Reading - $20,000/$20,000
Providing cost-free tutoring for second graders in low-income areas so that 75% of them are reading at or above grade level by school-year’s end. A summer Reader’s Theater program for 6-to-12-year-old children that is designed to maintain skills operates at two community centers. In 2019, STAIR plans to increase the number served from 78 children to 90 to 100 at 12 sites. This is the second year of this grant.
Creating Communities: Youth Programs - $20,000
Offering arts experiences for 850 low-income children after school and in the summer and supporting teachers to add more art approaches for their students. Four programs will be partially funded — (1) Arts Mentorship Academy; (2) Arts Ambassadors for students from Georgetown East Elementary School; (3) Tuesday Afternoon Learning Experience (TALE) and Wednesday After-School Arts Club; and (4) In-School Residencies to allow artists to collaborate with teachers in public schools county-wide.
Light House, Inc.: Family Assistance Program - $20,000
Providing emergency shelter, transitional housing and education for 18-26 adults as they rebuild their lives with compassion as they move toward employment and self-sufficiency. Assistance is focused on effective parenting, financial literacy, employment readiness and counseling is also offered as necessary.
Organization of Hispanic/Latin Americans of Anne Arundel County (no website): Bridge the Gap - $5,000
Partially funding an Office Manager position to supervise volunteers. This office provides pro-bono services to help Hispanic immigrants as they apply for various programs (such as food stamps and medical care) and with various legal issues (such as landlord-tenant issues). Translation services are also offered.
Rebuilding Together Anne Arundel County, Inc.: Urgent Home Renovations for Women and Children in Anne Arundel County - $20,000
Providing free home repairs for single low-income elderly women so that they can remain safely in their homes and communities. Our last $20,00 grant to Rebuilding Together made it possible to complete $143,000 worth of repairs.
Tahirih Justice Center: Protecting Courageous Immigrant Women and Girls Fleeing Violence - $7,778
Offering social and legal services for immigrant Anne Arundel County survivors who have fled or been a victim of domestic violence. The Center is headquartered in Baltimore; transportation may also be provided when necessary.
Touchstone Discussion Project: Building Women’s Life and Leadership Skills for Post-Incarceration Success - $20,000
Delivering 42 weeks of discussion-based educational programming for 200 women incarcerated in the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Anne Arundel County. Program develops life and work skills and promotes healthy decision-making and parenting that reduce recidivism.
Members and guests then broke into small groups and considered two questions:
These lively discussions generated new ideas that will be put to good use going forward.
Lesley shared several personal experiences, including being invited with other recognized luminaries as a speaker at a powerful Aspen Institute conference, and then being questioned in the airport “Are you the gospel choir?” On another occasion she was told with great surprise, following her presentation, “You spoke so well”. She then shared that it’s been important to her to “stop collecting evidence”, to stop counting insults, and to move forward instead. In her former role as a teacher she worked extensively with young people from 6th to 12th grade at SEED’s D.C. boarding school, encouraging them to find and use their own voices. She believes this approach, coupled with a strong academic foundation, gives students their own start to leadership.
Lesley ended by sharing that she has learned to become a bridge builder, noting that relationship-building in personal settings, such as a small group dinner, helps us appreciate our differences, and understand the racial inequities that exist. She fervently believes that it is everyone’s job not only to speak their own voice, but also to protect the rights of others to be heard. She reminded us of those in our community who for generations have remained invisible — those who ask, “Do you not see me?” She closed with a rousing final message to the audience: “Let’s be the change, together!”
Lt. General Flora D. Darpino, USA (Ret.), the first female to serve as the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General, discussed her current work as trustee and Secretary of the Service Women's Action Network, tackling longstanding gender disparity in health services for women veterans. Research on women soldiers' experience with quality and accessibility of VA health services was presented by Laura Pinnock whose firm, ALTARUM, conducted the research on behalf of the Veterans Administration. In addition, Dee Loftus, a psychotherapist with Arundel Lodge Behavioral Health Center, and Army veteran Patricia A. Craig, Chairperson for the Mental Health Advisory Council for the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center, shared their moving experiences from decades of treating post-military veterans.
Returning service women often face issues similar to those of returning male veterans - PTSD, depression, and relationship problems with children and with spouses. Unlike male veterans, however, women veterans are much more likely to have been the victims of military sexual trauma and are three to four times more likely to become homeless. One of the greatest barriers to women accessing VA medical benefits, including mental health services, is that many don't understand they are eligible. Fear of stigma, lack of child care, and long lead times for appointments are other barriers for women in need of mental health care. Despite the stories of hardships and the constant struggle to win respect and recognition of women as veterans, it was a hopeful evening, led by four strong women who are working and advocating to better the experience for active and veteran military women.