Each year Second Story sends a holiday letter from our Board President to our community to review the past year and let you know how you can support us over the holiday season. If you would like to receive this letter to your home next year, please contact our Communications Manager and we will add you to our mailing list. Happy holidays!
On behalf of Second Story’s board of directors, our CEO, Judith Dittman, and our staff, I sincerely hope you and your family are safe and well and experiencing moments of gratitude and peace this season.
It was clear to me in 2013, when I was first introduced to Second Story, that our work is essential, and it has become even more clear to me in this past year. Homelessness, abuse, and poverty do not take breaks for pandemics – on the contrary, the ones experiencing crises such as these are affected most severely. So even while the world changes around us, Second Story’s mission has remained steadfast: to provide safety and opportunities at critical moments to youth and families.
Second Story for Homeless Youth provides long-term housing, resources, and support for youth like “Gerard.” This year 73% of youth in our residential programs either lost their jobs or had their hours cut so severely that they could not pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gerard was living in a homeless shelter when he heard about Second Story. After entering our program Gerard got a job, began receiving rent support, and started to save money. Then, in February, Gerard was laid off and became unable to pay his bills. So, Second Story for Homeless Youth stepped in and began paying 100% of the rent for Gerard and others who had lost their jobs. We also brought Gerard food and other supplies like toilet paper and frequently called him to check in, talking through ways to manage the anxiety and isolation he was feeling. Gerard and most of the youth in our programs resumed work later this year, and because of our rent support they were able to keep their housing even when their situations felt desperate. Now that they’re working again, they’re able to resume their pursuit of self-sufficiency.
Second Story for Teens in Crisis provides safety and counseling for 13 to 17-year-olds like “Isabel.” Isabel had endured many years of trauma as a child, and suffered with anxiety and depression as a teenager. Isabel struggled to live with her parents, and once they began self-quarantining together things got much worse. After a big late-night fight, Isabel and her family decided to reach out to Second Story for Teens in Crisis for more support. Our staff worked with Isabel on how to cope with the unrest at home and had family counseling sessions with Isabel and her parents. Isabel acclimated well to the new rules at Second Story for Teens in Crisis, wearing a mask without complaint, and using Zoom for family counseling sessions. We also connected her with other resources for counseling and mental health support. When we followed up with Isabel we heard that she and her family were doing better than they had in a long time – even in quarantine! There was more growing to do, but they felt more hopeful than ever before.
Second Story for Young Mothers provides long-term housing, resources, and support for pregnant and parenting young women like “Ayanna,” some of whom were isolated at home with abusers. From the start of Virginia’s stay-at-home order, the Fairfax County police department saw an uptick in domestic violence calls from women like Ayanna. She and her daughters were living with Ayanna’s boyfriend when he began abusing her. She was faced with a terrible decision: stay and continue living in abuse? Or leave him without a plan for what to do next? Ayanna chose to run to a domestic violence shelter. Staying at the shelter put Ayanna more at-risk for contracting COVID-19, so she was relieved to find out about Second Story for Young Mothers. Ayanna quarantined for two weeks upon arriving to the townhome while we supplied her and her daughters with food and other basic necessities. After quarantine, Ayanna was quick to begin pursuing her goals: she earned her GED, updated her resume, and started applying for jobs. She’s hoping someday to buy her own home for her family.
Second Story in the Community offers after-school programs and neighborhood-based support to youth and families in need. Our support is critical for youth like “Leo” as he and others in his community risk becoming even more disconnected because of the pandemic. Even under the best of circumstances, “Leo” needed extra encouragement from the Safe Youth Project to do his schoolwork. He simply wasn’t confident in his ability to do well in school or learn new things. When schools and our Safe Youth Projects became virtual, the program coordinator was nervous for Leo. He already struggled in school – how would he fare now? So the program coordinator began reading and practicing creative writing with Leo over Zoom, as well as calling to make sure he was finishing his homework. To her surprise, Leo began to flourish. He realized he enjoyed learning, and once he found things he was good at – like writing poetry – his confidence soared. Leo could have fallen far behind, but with the support of the Safe Youth Project this has been a transformative time of growth for Leo. To meet the increasing needs of families like Leo’s we also have been distributing food in Culmore, Annandale, and Springfield to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We distribute food up to three times a week, serving hundreds of families each day.
Though our programs have experienced change this year, our essential support for youth like Isabel, Ayanna, Gerard, and Leo has not been interrupted. With 48 years of experience supporting youth, we have had many opportunities to practice learning and growing through hard times. This year, in addition to navigating COVID-19, we have also examined systemic racism and and its relationship to the youth we serve. We remain committed to the people at the heart of our mission – the ones who are most vulnerable to crisis situations like these.
We are now in the second year of our Together, We Do More campaign, and we need to raise $1.3 million dollars by the end of June to stay on track. If you are one of the hundreds of people who gave financially, donated food or other items, or gave of your time this year, thank you. We hope you will consider sharing this letter with someone who may be interested in learning more about our mission.
If you are in a position to give generously, we need your support more than ever. If your capacity has been affected this year, smaller gifts are no less important. Even $100 supplies food for three weeks for a young mother and her child in Second Story for Young Mothers. And if you are inspired to help ensure our sustainability even further, please consider joining our Beacon of Hope society by pledging to give at least $1,000 a year for the next five years.
We are so grateful for your support this past year, and your partnership going forward is more important now than it ever has been. Will you step in at this critical moment for young people by partnering with Second Story this year?
P.S. We would love to hear from you. If you want to connect with us to learn more about the challenges and goals mentioned in this letter, please contact our Vice President of Development, Jade Leedham