By Helena Tavares Kennedy
From its beginnings in 1924 as a small group of volunteers on a mission to relieve poverty, Northern Virginia Family Service has grown to 476 staff and 4,745 volunteers today, who serve more than 34,798 individuals and families across Northern Virginia. Originally called United Charities of Alexandria, NVFS has changed quite a bit over the last 93 years and grown beyond the original idea of giving coats to children and coal to families, who didn’t have any to heat their homes during the cold winters.
As communities have changed in Northern Virginia, NVFS has adapted as well over the years. The organization has provided a wide range of family support services, such as:
- Rent and utility assistance;
- Health care and prescription medications;
- Mental health services;
- Child care and food assistance for school-aged children during its early decades of operation;
- Case management;
- Foster care; and
- Early childhood development and workforce development.
NVFS services are now categorized into four main areas that are key for lifting families out of poverty: (1) emergency shelter and affordable housing, (2) health services and nutrition, (3) early education and developmental opportunities, and (4) workforce development.
Families need food to eat for the day and support for getting out of their cycle of poverty, including more long-term solutions, such as job training and housing.
Whitney Richardson, NVFS’s director of agency communications, said: “The programs that serve the greatest number of clients are our anti-hunger programs (food assistance, SNAP and nutrition education) and our health access programs, which connect people in need with free or low-cost medications as well as reduced-fee medical and dental care. The importance of these programs is that they are able to connect clients with much needed, reduced-cost resources so that clients don’t have to choose between paying for groceries, rent, utilities or life-altering medications, and they can focus on improving their health and well-being.”
Changing as the Community Changes
“Throughout its history, NVFS has been able to readily identify the needs of the community and provide the support and develop partnerships to help meet those needs,” said Richardson. “Many people may not realize how many of our neighbors are battling poverty, but 95 percent of our clients live on less than $48,600 a year for a family of four. As we work to address the challenges of systemic poverty on the community, we rely on the support of our volunteers, our donors and our corporate, government and philanthropic partners to help meet these needs. And we continue to look for new partnerships or service opportunities to address the evolving needs of the community as well as new locations where our services are in need.”
Specifically in the Greater Prince William area, NVFS has made some recent additions to its services, including the new Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center in Woodbridge, the operation of two Early Head Start locations in Woodbridge and access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through their Hunger Resource Center in Manassas.
“Our early childhood development work in this area has also been recently highlighted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Georgetown South location) and the Virginia Home Visiting Consortium as a 2016 Program Champion,” Richardson said.
“NVFS has a great reputation in the community for the work that it does, in large part because of the people who work here,” said Richardson. “I’m honored to work among so many passionate individuals devoted to strengthening our community and providing families with the tools and resources they need to not just survive, but thrive. They believe in the work that they do, and it shows in the impact they are able to make in the lives of our clients.”
NVFS is always looking for people to join its efforts as the organization expands to serve the growing community. In the Prince William region alone, NVFS has 104 staff members and 3,225 volunteers and has served 9,654 individuals in 5,944 families.
Current opportunities to help NVFS in the Prince William area include:
- Food recovery drivers to pick up food donations around the Manassas area specifically;
- Life skills trainers for shelter residents at their SERVE Campus in Manassas;
- Children’s activity specialists to lead activities for younger shelter residents at the SERVE Campus;
- Shelter meal donations (especially around the holidays); and
- Food delivery drivers to deliver packages to elderly and disabled individuals in the Manassas area.
Richardson recommends that “those who are interested in volunteering can find a full list of activities, including times, days and requirements, at nvfs.org/volunteernow.”
Helena Tavares Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org), a longtime Prince William County resident, is a freelance writer and communications consultant and can also be reached at htkmarketingservices.com and livinggreendaybyday.com.