Our CEO, Judith Dittman, has been with Second Story for 25 years as of this past July! We are so thankful for her leadership and the ways she has helped the organization grow, change, and develop to best support youth. To celebrate her anniversary Judith shared with us some reflections on the past 25 years…
On how she found Second Story:
“I began in July of 1995 as the very first Development Director for the organization. I had recently moved from San Diego and originally intended to pursue positions in communications and advocacy. In San Diego I had a consulting business and worked with nonprofits like the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse at the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego and the Utility Consumers Action Network. I found, however, that because I didn’t have the established track record that I did in California that type of work was hard to find. So I answered an ad in the Washington Post for a development position and was hired by what was then known as Alternative House. I held that position for about a year and then became Director of Administration. The then Executive Director became ill and I took over as acting Executive Director. He was unable to return from his medical leave and the Board named me Executive Director. I have now been Executive Director for about 23 years. I never wanted to come to work each day and do the same thing and that has certainly not been the case at Second Story. There is always something new happening.”
On what she finds most rewarding about this work:
“Creating programming that fills gaps in services for children, youth and families is very rewarding. When I began, we had the Emergency Shelter for Teenagers, street outreach programs in Culmore, Springfield and Gum Springs and a program for abused children between five and 12 years old called Kaleidoscope. Since then we’ve been able to add services to help young people who are homeless, a drop-in teen center in Culmore, after-school programs for disadvantaged 4th through 6th graders in three locations and operate the Culmore and Springfield Family Resource Centers for Fairfax County. Our most recent efforts are centering around neighborhood engagement and empowerment so that children have the support they need to succeed. The program is called Opportunity Neighborhoods and we are leading the efforts in the Culmore/Baileys Crossroads area.
It is also rewarding to find ways to build on what we are doing and see if there are ways to do it better. I don’t think we should ever be content to think we are doing things the best way. We should always be looking at ways to improve.”
On her team:
“The only reason we’re able to do is because of the staff people I’ve been privileged to work with. They are dedicated, hard-working and care so much about young people and the community. Also, I’ve been supported by tremendous Boards of Directors. They are volunteers and give of their time and talent because they care about young people and our community.”
On some of her best memories:
“In about 2005 or 2006, I did a fellowship with the Greater Washington Nonprofit Roundtable called Leadership Beyond the Walls. My focus was on finding out what happened to young people after they left our Emergency Shelter for Teenagers. I did research that led me to talk to many of the academics who were studying the issue in a way I did not have the ability to. What they were discovering was that youth who have been in unstable living situations when they are teenagers have a very difficult time making a successful transition to adulthood. Then we had that highlighted in our own community when the 2008 recession hit. A totally unacceptable number of youth were dropping out of high school when their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t continue to support them when they turned 18. These high school students were becoming homeless and ending up in the adult homeless shelters which are not designed to meet their needs. Working with others, we were able to secure the funding in the middle of a recession that allowed us to open the Homeless Youth Initiative. I see that program as a direct outgrowth of the work I was able to do and the tools I learned about during my year-long fellowship.”
On what has changed:
“There is far more emphasis on outcomes now that when I first started and more recognition that the problems young people face are real. We are seeing broader acceptance that young people under the age of 24 need services that are targeted to their specific developmental status – not just scaled down adult services.”
On what’s next:
“I’m eager to build on what we are doing now to provide even better support for children, youth and families in our community. I am on the Policy Advisory Committee for the National Network for Youth, and as an extension of that role have been able to have discussions with staff at HUD, HHS and the Department of Education about what we see every day at Second Story and how federal policies could better meet young people’s needs. I also sit on the Successful Children and Youth Policy Team for Fairfax County where the leadership of the county and the schools join with nonprofit and community members to try and achieve cradle to career success for the young people in our community. I hope to be able to contribute to those efforts to provide strong supports for young people.
I also look forward to continuing to build strong programs that meet gaps in services for young people. We are trying to find property to craft a campus for Second Story where we can bring several of our programs together and provide more services for youth we now cannot reach. The coronavirus pandemic has slowed those efforts but has not halted them.”