The House: A Place for Youth to Call Home

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By Helena Tavares Kennedy, Contributing Writer – Photos Courtesy of The House

The House takes students on field trip to Washington DCFounded by Helen and Ron McCormick and their son Todd in November 2005, The House, Inc., takes a whole-person approach to helping students achieve success in school, at home and in the community. The mission of the organization, located in Woodbridge, is to “give direction to students that will protect their future and influence.”

The organization has garnered numerous awards, including being named “one of the best small charities in the Washington, D.C., region” for 2013-2014 by Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater  Washington.

“The House provides a safe place for those who might otherwise be home or on community streets, unsupervised,” said Sheri Warren, who serves on the organization’s board. Warren is the director of grant programs for Potomac Health Foundation, a private, independent health organization in Woodbridge and one of The House’s sponsors.

“[The House’s] programs make the time spent together constructive time where students are growing mentally, physically [and]emotionally. While students are the primary focus, they also effectively involve the parents … and community members as volunteers or on their Board of Believers,” Warren said.

The organization offers fourth through 12th graders opportunities to attend before- and after-school programs on The House’s campus and to participate in weekend, evening and summer day camps, according to Todd McCormick, executive director.

“The House is a different choice and [provides]a different quality by incorporating a variety of approaches to meet and address the adversity and complexity of youth and families,” McCormick said, adding that more than 150 students and their families participate in various activities each week at the organization, centrally located off Prince William Parkway at 14000 Crown Court.

Students have access to a multitude of programs and services framed around academic improvement, leadership and enrichment, physical and mental health, life skills and college and career preparation. They can also let loose, enjoying campus features such as the turf dodgeball field, pool and ping-pong tables and air hockey.

“What happens during out-of-school time is the most important factor in determining pre-teen and teen success, both in school and in life,” McCormick said.

The House reaches beyond the walls of its educational and recreational facility with such events as the annual “A Cinderella Ball,” a prom for students with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. The ball is held at the The Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., near the White House.

A virtual school is also available, giving middle and high school students who have been suspended or expelled from school an opportunity to make up coursework online.

In developing The House’s curriculum and programs, founders consulted a network of corporate executives, investors, military personnel and middle and high school decision-makers, McCormick said. “[We] put our energies together to redefine what out-of-school programs should look like in Prince William  County. At its creation and continued implementation, the programs meet youth where they are and ensure that all young people graduate from high school with college access,” he said.

McCormick said that The House relies on its network of sponsors, volunteers and corporate partners to help its staff not only nurture the success of area children, but to help them thrive and blossom.

“While a degree from Prince William County Schools is undeniably an enticement for a student, that is not the only thing that matters. We have to look at the whole person,” he said.

With that concept in mind, The House partnered with Potomac Health Foundation, which awarded The House a grant in September 2011 to develop ways to encourage youth to learn and practice healthier habits, Warren said. One initiative: A teen- specific health program called “Fitting In.”

“The project has been a great success, teaching kids how to grow and prepare fresh foods [and]encouraging them to try various types of exercise,” Warren said. “In the first year, ‘Fitting In’ [participants]realized a 25 percent improved BMI [body mass index]. That is incredible. Even for young people it is difficult to move a BMI in such a short amount of time.”

Potomac Health Foundation is also a partner in The House’s “EmpowerMEnt” program, established in 2012 to address the mental health of youths. Warren explained that many students enrolled have experienced trauma, reside in foster homes and are all too familiar with crisis.

“What [the children]don’t always have are the tools to work through these issues and ultimately overcome their circumstances,” she said. “The House engaged George Mason [University] social workers for this effort. True to form, [The House staff] address the needs through innovative means—using recreation as the venue for counseling sessions.”

THe House also has “EmpowerMEnt Student Leadership Summits,” designed to encourage students from underserved populations to develop into leaders. These day-long conferences feature speakers such as Ted Leonsis, owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment (majority owner of teams such as the Washington Capitals).

Montclair resident Diane Burnette is among parents whose children have benefitted from programs at The House. She enrolled her daughters Brooke and Victoria, as well as several children she fostered, she said.

“[The organization] gave a $1,000 scholarship to my first foster teen, and it encouraged her to enroll and graduate from nursing assistant school,” said Burnette. “When she started [at]The House, she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to graduate; someone had already convinced her that she wasn’t smart enough. …The House wouldn’t let her quit. So she didn’t quit.”

“Having friends and adult mentors at The House made me feel important and valued,” said Burnette’s daughter, Brooke, a Forest Park High School junior. “I am now an ‘Advanced Placement’ honor student. I run track, and I am a varsity cheerleader. … I was very shy before attending The House, and my confidence grew there. I was exposed to so much. It really is a place to learn about being a leader.”

The House welcomes contributions. “Every donation will aid in the current and future lives of the youth The House reaches. That will provide a long-term positive impact,” McCormick said.

For more information about The House, Inc., visit www.thehouseinc.com.

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A nonprofit marketing director, Helena Tavares Kennedy also enjoys freelance writing in her spare time. She has lived in Manassas with her husband and two children for 12 years and can be reached at hkennedy@princewilliamliving.com.

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