What happens when you believe?

HolidayAppeal_dec2012_TITLEThe theme of SCAN’s year-end report this year touches on the essence of our work…

Believing in children as the hope for tomorrow;

Believing in the family as an essential fiber in the fabric of our community;

Believing that we each have a role and responsibility in supporting parents around us in order to ensure children can experience childhood as it is meant to be – a safe, nurturing time for learning, growing, and becoming.

As I reflect back on 2012, I am literally engulfed in gratitude – for the dedicated staff who lead each of SCAN’s programs; for the more than 250 volunteers whose selfless dedication touched the lives of more than 1,300 children last year; and for the many donors and community partners who sustain these valuable programs. I hope you will take a look at our Annual Report and discover what can happen when you believe!

HolidayAppeal_dec2012_REV3As we look forward to 2013, I am equally excited about the creative ideas being discussed in order to commemorate SCAN’s 25th anniversary! Our silver anniversary year means a quarter century of providing parent education, advocating for abused children, and engaging the community in public education around child abuse and the power of positive parenting. Already 46 donors have contributed more than $18,500 toward our holiday campaign goal of raising $25,000 for SCAN’s programs in 2013. What an outpouring of support!

If you are not a regular subscriber to SCAN’s Building Blocks blog, I encourage you to sign up so that we can update you throughout the coming year about the impact SCAN’s programs are having for vulnerable children and families in Northern Virginia and ways you can get involved as we celebrate 25 years of making a difference in this region.

My wish for each of you is for a safe, nurturing home of your own; opportunities to engage with one another in 2013; and the joy and peace that comes from being part of an effort that is making a real difference in our own community. Happy holidays!

Sonia Quiñónez
Executive Director
SCAN of Northern Virginia

CYP: Three little letters gearing up to make a big difference for SCAN in 2013.

Today’s guest blog comes from SCAN’s Council of Young Professionals (CYP), a group of volunteers working together to support SCAN’s mission and engage new members of the community in SCAN’s work.  To learn more about the CYP and how you can get involved, email SCAN’s Development Director Karen Price at kprice@scanva.org.

SCAN CYP Gift Sorting 2012There’s no underestimating the power of volunteerism to support SCAN’s critical work protecting and advocating for children in our community. The Council of Young Professionals (CYP), formed this past summer, provides an excellent opportunity for professionals under age 40 to support SCAN’s mission while building their personal and professional networks.

The CYP harnesses the diverse expertise of its members – hailing from fields like politics, marketing, public health, education, retail, advocacy and others– to extend SCAN’s reach in the community. With 15 members and growing, the CYP is able to enrich all areas of SCAN’s work through three core committees:

  • Program Services Committee: This committee focuses on assisting SCAN in implementing its community-based activities. This month, CYP members are helping to collect, label, organize and deliver gifts donated through BJ’s Angel Tree program (pictured above).
  • Fundraising Committee: Because financial support is critical to sustaining SCAN’s impact, the CYP has an entire committee devoted to development, including planning and implementing an annual fundraising event. In May 2013, the CYP will host SCAN’s inaugural Croquet Day. Stay tuned for more details and start practicing now!
  • Outreach Committee: The outreach committee works to identify and retain CYP members through traditional and social media as well as through social events like happy hours and group outings.  Over the coming months, SCAN supporters can expect to see Facebook and blog posts courtesy of CYP members sharing new ways to get involved and our passion for SCAN’s work.

The CYP has hit the ground running in its first few months, and we continue to grow!  We are reviewing applications from creative, enthusiastic individuals under age 40 from a variety of professional backgrounds. The current commitment is a few hours a month, including attendance at a bimonthly meeting, and members are expected to serve a term of at least one year.  If you’ve been thinking about getting more involved in SCAN’s work, or know friends and family members looking to give back to our community, please connect with the CYP today. For more information, please email SCAN’s Development Director Karen Price at kprice@scanva.org.

– CYP Members Christine Chambers, Paul Davis, Chelsey Ney, Lauren Sogor & Megan Tuttle

One decade. One volunteer. One amazing impact.

One Decade. One Volunteer. One Amazing Impact.

Ten years ago, Tyra Hunt was sworn-in as a CASA volunteer with SCAN’s Alexandria/Arlington CASA Program. Today she stops by the blog to reflect on the challenges of being a CASA, her favorite memories and why she remains committed to advocating for abused and neglected children in our local court systems (and thinks you should consider it, too!)

I was sworn-in as a CASA volunteer in 2002, but I first learned about the program while attending James Madison University. My undergrad work was in Special Education, and then graduate work focused on School Psychology, so I already knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children.

When I was working for Arlington County Parks and Recreation Department, I constantly saw children and teenagers in need of a voice. Through internships at homeless shelters, I met families living in one-bedroom apartments, struggling with unemployment and poverty. I saw the impact it had on the kids. And I knew I had a mission.

I had been wondering how I could directly support the children and teenagers already in the “system,” and someone said to me, “If you don’t want to become an attorney you could be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).”

And here I am ten years later!

I’ll be honest–sometimes being a CASA volunteer can be very challenging. It’s difficult to watch children bear the brunt of the pain caused when their parents are making negative choices in their own lives.

But there are celebrations, too. One of my CASA kids who has aged out of care since I advocated for her is now employed and living a positive life. Despite the odds of having a mother struggle with addiction and siblings move across the country, she has grown up to be a beautiful and mature young woman. What an inspiration to keep advocating for other children like her!

When someone asks me to describe the CASA Program, I’m always sure to mention that it warms my heart to know that this program exists around the country. There are so many children in need. I’m a CASA volunteer here in Alexandria and Arlington, but there are 77,000 others just like me working for children in communities across the country!

I’ve remained a CASA volunteer for 10 years because I LOVE it. And it always pleases me when parents say, “Tyra, you drove all this way and you don’t get paid to do this!?”

Here’s to 10 MORE years making a difference for children. It’s a mission I’m proud to keep working on.

~ Tyra

Thank you Tyra, for 10 years of dedication and more than 18 children’s lives changed forever! (Not to mention the many SCAN golf tournaments you’ve been a part of, too!)

Please leave YOUR congratulations and thanks to Tyra in the comment field below…

SCANStar: One Year, One Perspective

Just a year ago, Kiesha Boney stepped into her very first volunteer opportunity with SCAN’s Parent Education Program. Since then she’s volunteered 40+ hours, working alongside SCAN’s Children’s Program Coordinator and helping children learn and grow in a structured children’s program while their parents participate in weekly educational support group sessions. We asked Kiesha to share how her first year has gone at SCAN, and we’re delighted to share her thoughts with you this week:

BuildingBlocks: How long have you volunteered with SCAN, and what have you done as a volunteer?
Kiesha: I have been volunteering with SCAN since November 2011. I provide support, care and structured activities for children while their parents participate in SCAN’s Parent Education programs.

BB: Why did you decide to join SCAN as a volunteer?
Kiesha: While pursuing my dream to be a social worker, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with all different types of children and their families. Because of these experiences, I wanted to get involved with SCAN because I whole-heartedly believe in the importance and necessity of its mission to promote the well-being of children, improve parent-child relations and prevent child abuse and neglect.

BB: Describe your favorite SCAN memory.
Kiesha: My favorite SCAN memory was  completing an artistic activity with the children at a parent support group one evening. They were asked to draw an illustration of what they would like to be when they grow up. The children were very excited and used their imaginations to the fullest. It was great to watch them and be a part of their dreaming.

BB: Why have you continued volunteering with SCAN?
Kiesha: I have continued to volunteer with SCAN because the organization is dedicated to supporting, educating and appreciating children, parents AND volunteers.

BB: Has anything about being a SCAN volunteer surprised you?
Kiesha: I was surprised by how supportive the families are to one another.

BB: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you do now?
Kiesha: When I was a child I wanted to be involved in fashion when I grew up. Now I am pursuing a career in the field of social work.

BB: What was your favorite book/movie/activity when you were a child?
Kiesha: My favorite activities as a child were dance and karate.

BB: Who was a positive influence in your childhood?
Kiesha: My mother was a positive influence in my childhood and throughout my whole life.

BB:  What are your current interests/jobs/hobbies?
Kiesha: Traveling around the world.

BB: What is something most people don’t know about you?
Kiesha: I enjoy relaxing and listening to books on tape.

BB: What would you tell someone thinking about volunteering with SCAN?
Kiesha: Volunteering with SCAN is a great idea! SCAN is a strong organization truly dedicated to their mission. I’m proud to be a part of their cause.

SCANStop: Becoming a CASA…One volunteer’s experience from training to swearing-in

This week’s guest blogger is Kelly Harbitter. Kelly recently completed the Spring 2012 Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer training and was sworn in on May 22, 2012. Kelly is currently working her first CASA case.

I don’t remember when I first learned about SCAN’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program, but when I did it immediately intrigued me.

I did a little of my own investigation and interviewed several CASA volunteers. As I began to better understand CASA, I felt deep down it was right for me. I was intrigued by the idea of using my professional skills in a volunteer role that would impact my community.  A CASA advocates for the best interest of a child (or children) engaged with the legal system as a result of alleged abuse or neglect. But I had never dealt with children who were abused or neglected, and it seemed a tremendous responsibility to advocate for them.

Was it really right for me? I had to find out.

Back to School

Becoming a CASA requires training, and a good deal of it – five hours a week for six weeks, and one full day on a Saturday, to be exact. For most of the Spring on Tuesday and Thursday nights I hauled my 3-inch, 2.5-pound curriculum binder, highlighters and note pad to my evening class. After 20 years in a career, I was a student again! I met up with 10 other volunteers-in-training from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences: attorneys, parents, teachers, private industry, military, law enforcement, retirees and students.

The energetic, experienced and knowledgeable CASA staff choreographed and provided our training during the six-week program. We were also joined by a range of experts in child welfare, family support, mental health and the legal system. We learned about child development, the effects of abuse and neglect, poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence and family dynamics. We studied how to effectively interview a variety of individuals, fact-find and write strong reports. We learned sensitivity regarding the cultural issues and ethnic differences inherent in each one of our lives. But most importantly, we learned how to identify the strengths that reside in all families – even if they are not always immediately apparent.

Some of the most important experts we heard from were individuals directly impacted by the CASA program. During an all-day, rainy Saturday classroom session, a young woman who was in foster care as a child (and then adopted by her foster mom) riveted our class as she spoke about her childhood, her challenging relationship with her biological mom, dealing with the court situation, her adoption and now adulthood. On several occasions we heard from CASA volunteers who shared their experiences on cases – sometimes heart wrenching – as well as their advice, tips and thoughts.

A Courtroom Observation

As part of our training we experienced the culmination of a CASA’s work: a juvenile court hearing. Each member of our class attended a dispositional or review hearing along with our CASA staff and a veteran CASA volunteer. In the hearing I observed the judge re-read and then refer to the CASA report as a first order of business, asking the CASA volunteer responsible for the report if he had anything to add. It was enlightening to see the system in action, the real people and lives involved (and impacted), and how important the CASA’s role and report was to the judge.

The Interview

On our last day of training, we were each interviewed by a panel of experienced CASA volunteers. Daunting? A little. But it was an interesting test of the knowledge we had gained over the past six weeks. My interviewers posed various case and family scenarios and asked me how I would handle them. As I answered their questions, I was pleased with the volume of information I had absorbed, how much I had learned, and how much I had grown in my understanding of a CASA’s role and the program. I thank the CASA staff for that!

Swearing In

On May 22, 2012, my class was sworn in at the Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Four judges, two each from Alexandria and Arlington presented us with our training certificates. The judges spoke with such passion and support for the program that it made the time we had invested in training, homework and the self-reflection that goes along with it all the more worthwhile.


So is CASA right for me? Let’s see (now that I have my first case): I’m advocating on behalf of a child, working with families to hopefully help make a difference, meeting new friends in the other CASA volunteers, and working with the CASA staff, a group of people who never fail to motivate me with their energy and commitment to CASA and the children the program serves.

Yes, being a CASA is for me.

– Kelly Harbitter

SCANStar: This is what hope looks like.

“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

Kaylyn Pennock is certainly not waiting.

You know those people you can always count on to do a good job? The people who make everyone’s eyes light up? Now let me ask – are they teenagers?

In the eyes of SCAN, 16-year-old Kaylyn is one of those stellar people. She makes the SCAN team feel happy and very hopeful for the future.

A childcare volunteer at SCAN’s ABCs of Parenting Class and Parent Support Groups, Kaylyn has been through it all—from toddler tantrums to rambunctious young boys to older youth struggling with schoolwork—and in the midst of every challenging situation, Kaylyn has maintained a loving and compassionate demeanor with ALL the children around her.

So last month, when SCAN’s Parent Education Coordinator Sam Poyta nominated Kaylyn for the Connect with Kids Champion Award, we were ecstatic to hear that she was chosen out of dozens of other Northern Virginia high school students for this well-deserved honor!

Kaylyn is a junior at West Potomac High School studying Early Childhood Development. When asked to describe Kaylyn, her Childhood Development Teacher Ava Bergan said this:

“Kaylyn’s gentle, soft spoken demeanor encompasses her kindness, compassion and commitment to everyone she meets and everything she does”. WOW! We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

On April 23, Sam and AIPC Member Mary Ann Moran from the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families presented Kaylyn with her Connect with Kids Champion Award during her Childhood Development class.

Along with certain bragging rights that come with being a Connect with Kids Award Recipient, all of the spring 2012 Champions will be announced at future Arlington County Board and School Board meetings.

Congratulations just doesn’t say enough, Kaylyn. SCAN is honored to have you as a volunteer and supports you in all of the wonderful things that lie ahead for you (and the people lucky enough to be around you)!

p.s. We hope that Kaylyn’s commitment and impact inspires YOU to volunteer for SCAN! Check out all of our great volunteer opportunities here.

SCANSnapshot: Volunteers are a beautiful thing

Last night we kicked off our new session of ABCs of Parenting classes, and we can’t think of a more beautiful picture to post this morning. This is a group of Parent Education Program volunteers who supported our last round of English and Spanish parenting classes, which resulted in 24 parents (12 from each class) completing this popular program.

Want to know something especially great about this photo? See the young man in the back row, second from the left? That’s Zachary. He plays baseball for St. John’s College High School (SJC), and helps his mom coach his sister’s softball team in a Northern Virginia league where he is also a youth umpire. He’s been a Youth Teaching Assistant at the Smithsonian Institution Summer camp (a favorite among his campers). He’s also a volunteer at SCAN.

As a junior at SJC, Zachary was required to perform 40 hours of volunteer community services for the 2010 /2011 school year.  Zach’s mom (who is a volunteer with another local CASA Program), thought earning those hours working with children while their parents attend class was a perfect fit for Zachary. He’s great with kids and had relevant experience.

Zachary says he likes being a volunteer because he gets to meet interesting people, he enjoys working with kids and he likes to be a positive role model for the children.

We’re pretty sure he’s a great role model for all of us, no matter what our ages might be. Don’t you?

A SCANStar Farewell to Susan Britton

This month we bid adieu to Susan Britton, a member of SCAN’s volunteer family for more than half a decade.

Every week, Susan served as the Children’s Program Coordinator for SCAN’s Monday night Parent Support Group. This month she’ll oversee her last evening of children’s activites to allow time for other personal and professional opportunities.

“I’ll miss the wonderful dedicated staff and volunteers I have had the pleasure of working with over the years,” said Susan, “but I think I will especially miss the children. They are amazing people and have taught me so much!”

Susan’s enthusiasm for organizing developmentally-appropriate activities has been a blessing for the parents, SCAN staff and volunteers who work side-by-side with her each week.

“Susan is obviously very dedicated,” said Juliet Mason, a SCAN volunteer who appreciated how welcoming Susan was when she first started helping with the group. “I think in the year and half I’ve been working with her, she’s only missed three Mondays,” said Juliet. “She knows all the kids, even those that don’t come regularly; she remembers them and their names instantly.”

“Susan is a volunteer you can always count on,” said Shannon May, SCAN’s previous Parent Education Coordinator, who spent 4 years working alongside Susan in numerous capacities.”Her energy and flexibility to be creative and adjust to working with children and their sometimes challenging behaviors is admirable.”

Susan enjoyed giving her time and talents to support SCAN’s Parent Support Groups because, as she puts it, “Children learn how to take good care of each other by sharing a toy, inviting someone else to play or standing up when someone is being teased. That sense of responsibility for each other and caring is really refreshing and re-energizing, especially when it comes from a child who did not have or use those social skills when they first came to group”.

We will miss Susan and the wealth of knowledge she has shared with SCAN as well as the parents and children we have been privileged to serve together over the past five years. Luckily, SCAN will remain in touch with Susan professionally at the three SCAN-supported developmental playgroups she coordinates as part of her work at the Center for Alexandria’s Children.

We’re sending a special thank you to Susan this month, for the hours upon hours of expertise and care she has put towards enhancing the lives of children in the Alexandria community!

SCANStar: CASA Volunteer Vicki Strimel

Eleven years and more than 20 CASA children later, Vicki Strimel is a volunteer who continues to be an incredible advocate for children in our community. Since being sworn in as a CASA volunteer in the fall of 2000, Vicki has helped those 20+ children have safe, stable homes where they’ve been able to thrive. Her calm demeanor and willingness to go above and beyond during a case have an even greater impact because she gives parents involved the respect, support and encouragement that makes a difference for the entire family. Being a CASA volunteer can be a challenging responsibility. So how has Vicki remained so committed and effective for more than a decade? We sat down with her to find out:

BuildingBlocks: How long have you volunteered with SCAN and what have you done as a volunteer?
Vicki: I’ve been a CASA for ten years.  My focus has been on each case I have been assigned, doing whatever I could to help children to be safe and to be nurtured.

BB:  Why did you decide to join SCAN as a volunteer?
Vicki: It was hard to resist an opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of children in our community.

BB:  Describe your favorite SCAN memory.
Vicki: There have been several occasions when I was present that parents in my cases graduated from Alexandria Drug Court.  The process for them was long and involved a lot of work and personal commitment. To witness the happiness and pride of these parents, their families and the professionals who helped them along the way has been my most cherished memory.  Lots of tears of joy have been shed! [BB: Wondering what Alexandria Drug Court is? More than 10 years ago, SCAN’s CASA Program and the Alexandria Juvenile Court collaborated on a Model Court Project. As part of that project, an Alexandria Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC) was created to focus on parents entering substance abuse treatment more quickly and families being more likely to be reunited.]

BB: Why have you continued volunteering with SCAN?
Vicki: It has been a great experience for learning and emotionally rewarding for me as well.

BB: Has anything about being a SCAN volunteer surprised you?
Vicki: I have been both surprised and pleased to observe the level of commitment of those who work to help and support children and families.

BB: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  What do you do now?
Vicki: As a child, I thought about becoming a nurse, but as an adult, I became a Manager of Human Resources for a large consulting firm.  Now, I am retired from my profession but remain very active with my family, community and parish.

SCANSnapshot: Cooking up fun for families (PART 2!)

In our blog post last week we promised to let you know how we’d manage without our amazing volunteer Beth Donnelly (owner of The Regal Fig Food Co. and weekly creator of healthy meals for our Parenting Class families) while she’s out of the country for a couple of weeks. Well, we think this picture is worth a thousand words. Or perhaps worth 24 volunteers:

The generous crew from Virginia Commerce Bank24 VOLUNTEERS in total – came to our ABCs of Parenting Class on Tuesday night ready to do anything they could to help.

The moral of this 2-week story? EVERY person can make an impact. It doesn’t matter if you’re a gourmet chef or a bank employee. A high school student or a retiree. A bilingual child advocate or a yoga instructor. We’ve seen every volunteer (all 200+ over the last year alone) make a real difference for the children, parents and families touched by our programs. They’re all helping us prevent child abuse and neglect in our community.

So when do YOU want to start making a difference?