Why I Volunteer: Washington School for Girls

Washington School for Girls students enjoyed National Book Festival in September.

Towards the end of my new member year, I asked Jennifer Hemingway, who was the President-Elect, for guidance on selecting a placement for my first year as an active member. She explained that serving on the Targeted Grants & Volunteer Resources (TGVR) placement is one of the best ways to understand the heart and soul of the Junior League of Washington’s mission – and she was right.

The fall of 2014 was the first time a 3-year grant was available to community partners. JLW leadership made the decision to offer a multi-year grant to create a partnership with an organization that was able to develop and execute a strategic plan. TGVR and JLW leadership emphasized at numerous meetings the importance of selecting the right grant recipient. We were about to invest $75,000 (three times more than the usual grant amount) into one organization, and the grant recipient had to align with our mission and values as well as offer volunteering opportunities.
TGVR members selected 10 out of 23 total applicants to submit full applications. I volunteered to organize the site visit for the Washington School for Girls (WSG) primarily because it was close to my home. I’d driven by the school many times and often saw the students walking in the neighborhood, but had no idea how big the impact was that the teachers and staff at this school were driving to bring not only hope, but real change in the Anacostia neighborhood in DC. WSG is a tuition-free, independent, all-girls school located in the heart of DC’s Ward 8. The school offers students in grades 3-8 the opportunity learn in an environment steeped in the rich Catholic-based education tradition. At the time of my experience, the school started in the fourth grade and had plans to expand to a year-round program for third graders for the 2015-2016 school year. The grant funds would be used to help the WSG develop the curriculum for the third grade, acquire reading materials and expand their literacy team. 
Five of us visited the campus and met the teachers and Sister Mary Bourdon, the Head of School. The five us fell in love with the girls, believed in the Sister Mary’s vision and knew that WSG was the ideal partner for this grant opportunity. The next step was to report our recommendation to TGVR leadership and schedule an interview so that the rest of the TGVR members could hear from the WSG’s leadership team. On interview day, the WSG and other finalists answered questions from TGVR members and made their case for why their organizations would be ideal partners for the three-year grant. In the end, it was the leadership team at WSG and Sister Mary’s commitment to the girls and track record of accomplishing goals that set the WSG apart from the other finalists. The final TGVR vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the WSG, and we were all excited about the next three years.
Currently, JLW and WSG are in the second year of the grant. Jennie Kronthal, who was a part of the five-person team that participated in the WSG site visit, is the JLW liaison with the school. She worked with WSG to establish ongoing volunteer opportunities during the WSG Saturday School where volunteers participate in fun activities designed by the WSG’s Reading Specialist. The activities range from reading aloud, providing homework help and other literacy-based support. JLW volunteers have also supported the school’s popular Variety Show where the students perform original poetry, dramatic skits and dance routines.
Knowing that I had an active role in the partnership between JLW and WSG is one of the proudest moments in all of my volunteering history. I am a proud DC resident and am committed to reducing the wealth, health and educational achievement gap in the city, particularly in the wards JLW primarily serves. Addressing the literacy gap in one of the foundational steps towards making DC a better place for all residents, and the WSG is an organization focused on action and results.
Having opportunities to support organizations like WSG accomplish their goals is why I joined JLW. It’s why I volunteer.