Many Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day, Greater Washington! While the fourteenth of February is perhaps not my favorite holiday, I couldn’t resist a brief search to see whether valentines and philanthropy shared any common news. Sure enough, I came across this in the San Francisco Chronicle — certainly not inside the Beltway, but we like to branch out sometimes:

There is more to Valentine’s Day than flowers or conversation hearts [...]

Consultant and writer Elaine Gast Fawcett of has published a list of 16 Charitable Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day at, offering alternative ways to spread the love — and generosity — on February 14th.

[...] “What I’m offering is a new take on the holiday. Rather than get caught up in all the commercialism surrounding Valentine’s Day, here are 16 ways to feel connected to others–whether you are in a romantic relationship or not.”

Reading through the list, I quite enjoyed #12: “Say It With Organic Flowers” and #11: “Be a Fair Trade Valentine.” And more than 100 new suggestions appear in the comments. But I also think that the list makes a broader point, one which certainly extends to the other 364 days of the year:

With Valentines or otherwise, giving can take myriad forms. We give back through philanthropy for certain — but also by volunteering as tutors or nature stewards, by spreading the word about the need for clothing or books, or even by spending a date night at a local non-profit gallery or theatre. We give back to our communities by being engaged in them and that can happen any day, in any number of ways. We give back by investing in where we live.

In conclusion, I also did a bit of research on the etymology of “Valentine” — which, as it happens, was the name of two saints and derives from the Latin “valentia” or “strength and capacity.” “Valence” derives from that same word, “valentia,” and refers to the “combining power of an element.” I assume that the definition primarily refers to chemicals and not communities, but we nonetheless can speculate that Valentine’s Day (perhaps) celebrates the strength inherent in teaming up, in sharing, in acting as one.

So, how would you like to celebrate the power of shared strength in Greater Washington?

Around Town: February 12-13

Welcome to Friday, Greater Washington! We’ve got great events at our non-profits coming up …

Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (545 7th Street SE)

From 5:00-7:00 PM on Saturday, Capitol Hill Arts League will host a free opening reception for its juried all-media show; the juror is Janis Goodman, arts reviewer for PBS/WETA and Professor of Fine Art at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Can’t make it on Saturday? Check out the gallery hours here.

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Question for the Day

Courtesy of Elizabeth Hampton at the Huffington Post:

It’s a rare occasion when you find someone with little to say about education. Everyone, it seems, has a finger to point, two cents to toss in [...]

This is completely understandable. Not every American can speak knowledgeably on the political backdrop catapulting unrest in the Middle East. Even fewer (some politicians included) can deftly navigate the health care debate. But if you’re a citizen of this country, you have likely spent time in a school building and therefore, when it comes to education, you’ve darn well got something to say.

Amid the cacophony of opinions, there is one set of voices I think we need to hear more from: teachers.

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In the News …

Welcome to Wednesday, Greater Washington! Here comes our weekly news round-up …

To Fight Povery, Invest in Girls — In the upcoming issue of TIME, Nancy Gibbs makes a compelling point: “sometimes freedom and opportunity slip in through the back door, when a quieter subversion of the status quo unleashes change that is just as revolutionary. This is the tantalizing idea for activists concerned with poverty, with disease, with the rise of violent extremism: if you want to change the world, invest in girls.” The numbers are also quite noteworthy: “An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10% to 20%. An extra year of secondary school adds 15% to 25% … And the World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families.” (On a related note: several of our non-profits are already doing just this!) Continue reading

7 Questions – Ruth Benker (Fairfax Pets on Wheels)

Good morning, Washington! Today on “7 Questions,” we are welcoming … Ruth Benker, Director of Communications at Fairfax Pets on Wheels! Providing therapeutic visits (and much needed-company) for nursing home patients and assisted living residents, friendly pets and trained volunteers visit 10 facilities with a total of 1,328 beds. They know never to underestimate the power of the human/animal bond!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

As the Director of Communications, I am responsible for getting the word out about our wonderful program. The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) filmed Fairfax Pets on Wheels as part of a documentary that they are doing to inspire volunteerism in South Korea. They want to show how Americans work together in order to cope with the nation’s current economic crisis and provide services in the community. Their film crew joined FPOW volunteers during a visit at one of our nursing homes in December, at one of our monthly orientations for new volunteers, and at a temperament test for potential new pet volunteers in January. We were honored to have been selected by KBS to be a part of their project.

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Around Town: February 5-6

Happy Friday, Greater Washington! We have a nice bundle of performance coming your way …

Saturday, February 5, Noon-10:30 PM

Takoma Park Middle School, Silver Spring, MD

Washington Revels celebrates nautical song and dance at the The Folklore Society of Greater Washington (FSGW) Midwinter Festival. A family-friendly extravaganza of music, dance, stories, workshops, and crafts, the Mini-Fest provides a wonderful opportunity to beat the winter blues. More info? Call (301) 587-3835.

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Question for the Day

Over at the Nonprofit Quarterly yesterday, editor Ruth McCambridge offers a note on “Jumping Off the Cliff of Social Change:”

“Over the years I have been involved in a number of movements for social change and each of them has taught me something about the patterns and rhythms of such efforts. But there was always a point at which I felt I was throwing myself off the cliff of the accepted into some cauldron of unknown forces and outcomes.”

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In The News …

Welcome to Wednesday, folks! We have a good bundle of local and non-profit news items coming your way …

CSG’s 2011 State of the Washington Region — Following the State of the Union, Greater Greater Washington has an excellent post this week from Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Laura DeSantis on the state of our community, focusing on “our top five opportunities and challenges.” She summarizes that “adopting a range of smart growth policies — from transit-oriented development to a range of housing options — will set us firmly on a course to become the most energy efficient, and environmentally and fiscally sustainable region in the nation.” I would only add that CSG’s call for more mixed-use corridors and broader housing options are particularly apt: “We must ensure every community throughout the region has a full range of affordable housing choices through mixed-use revitalization, housing trust funds, affordable housing preservation strategies, and inclusionary zoning policies.”

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7 Questions – Judith Dittman (Alternative House)

Welcome to February, Greater Washington!

And welcome to GoodWorks, Judith Dittman, Executive Director of Alternative House. Founded in 1972 as a shelter for runaway and homeless teens, Alternative House has evolved into an entire support system designed to keep kids off the streets — and is currently the only shelter for youth in Northern Virginia. Learn more about Judith and their incredible work right here:

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We started a new program called the homeless youth initiative, which provides help with rent and support for high school students who are homeless without the support of a family. It’s been phenomenally successful, but we are scrambling for funding. In June of 2009, there were 100 homeless youth in Fairfax without the support of a parent or guardian who were trying to complete high school. Almost 10% ended up in adult homeless shelters and many dropped out of school. We started our Homeless Youth Initiative in September 2009. In June of 2010, there were more than 200 homeless youth without the support of a family who were still in high school. None went to an adult homeless shelter, only one dropped out of school, and 77% of graduating seniors went to college. I am so inspired by what these kids are doing, given the chance and a roof over their heads. It’s amazing!

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