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Founded in 1998, LifeStyles of Maryland works to increase the quality of life for individuals and their families struggling with poverty and homelessness. Guided by the idea of “service through service”, the organization works to increase the quality of life for so many through the programs and resources they provide. We caught up with the organization’s Executive Director, Sandy Washington, for this week’s Friday Focus.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.).

A: LifeStyles is a compassionate care center that provides a multitude of services for those that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. These services range from basic safety net needs like food and clothing to self-sustaining services: shelter/housing, transportation, free tax preparation, homeless prevention and re-housing services. LifeStyles believes in serving as a one-stop-shop of resources to assist those in need with what they need, or to connect them with other services that are available.

Our staff and volunteers are members of the community and serve as advocates for those that are less fortunate. Not only do we provide needed services, but we assist persons in receiving services from other agencies, and many times walking them through the process of receiving much-needed benefits.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: One of my favorite “moments” is when we had a veteran single mother of a three year old who had suffered a domestic violence incident and was brought to our office. During the time that we have worked with her, we have provided her with housing, assisted her in obtaining public service benefits, and now have received a Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing (VASH) voucher through the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration and will be transitioning into her own place. She is now receiving counseling services, and is in a more stable place to handle being on her own.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Our biggest challenge is raising sufficient financial resources to serve the growing needs of the community. The organization had to move when the building we operated from was sold. Since our move in October 2013, our new office facilities have accommodated three times the number of clients we served previously. Those that are homeless and come to receive day services (i.e., showers, mail, laundry, food, and clothing), and those that are suffering from the emergency needs of maintaining or receiving housing and transportation services would experience a significant gap if we were not here. Since our move, we have had increased operational costs to include increased rent and utility costs that have made it challenging to maintain a quality level of service. Our “Safe Nights” program has had a historically high number of participants, as high as 52 persons per night. With the increased number of participants, it has increased our fuel costs of transporting persons to and from the shelter host site, depleted our VanGO ticket inventory, and has caused a need for an increased amount of staff to be on site.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: There are multiple ways that people can get involved with our organization. We welcome volunteers to assist in the following ways: provide donations of food or gently used clothing or assist with the distribution of those items; provide “anytime meal lunches” for persons who don’t have access to cooking facilities; provide administrative support; assist as a volunteer case worker or care coordinator; serve as a volunteer tax preparer; and assist with financial donations for persons in need of homeless prevention services. They can contact Margaret Payne for more volunteer opportunities: 301-609-9900 ext. 201, or mpayne@lifestylesofmd.org.

Since 1978, the Humane Society of Charles County has worked to make a difference in the lives of our furry friends and their families. From providing vaccines and training classes to adoption services, the Society has helped countless animals live happier, better lives and even find their “forever homes”. This week, the Society’s Fundraising and Volunteer Manager, Leigha Messick, shared her thoughts on the organization’s work, the challenges they face and those special moments that make all of their hard work worth it.

Q: Tell us about your organization. Who do you serve?

A: It is the mission of the Humane Society of Charles County to provide shelter and care for homeless, injured and neglected animals through adoption, fostering, community partnerships, education and affordable spay-neuter and vaccine services. The vision of the Humane Society of Charles County is to create a community where animals are cherished and no longer need us for protection and shelter. In upholding the vision and mission of the Humane Society of Charles County we will all work with these values: to always be compassionate and caring; to foster respect and understanding of all life; to protect, rescue, adopt and care for animals; to create partnerships for animal welfare; and to educate the community on animal welfare issues.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)? 

A: It's hard to pick just one. Seeing the smiles of families reunited with their pets; watching an animal change from being frightened to being loving; watching an animal we've had for months finally leave to start a new life with its forever family. Knowing we are able to give hope to families who just need a little time or a little help to be able to keep their cherished animal brings so much joy to us. The happy stories keep us going.

Q: What is your biggest challenge? 

A: Never knowing what will happen each day. It's a roller coaster of emotions here—one minute we are elated to see an animal find a happy ending, just to have another pet brought in. One of the biggest misconceptions is that the animals at the shelter have something wrong with them—that is not the case. Usually when they are brought in, we are the last option. Most owners are devastated to be giving up their loved one, and we do everything we can to keep them safe and find them loving homes.

Q: How can people really help/get involved? 

A: Volunteer, donate and spread the word about these amazing animals!  Just the simple act of talking about the animals in our shelter to your friends or sharing a Facebook post can save a life.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to work at a non-profit?

A: Know that what you are doing makes a difference. You may not get thanks, you may not always feel like it does, but everything you do has a direct, positive impact on our community.

Q: Are there any upcoming events? 

A: Our Top Dog Dinner and Dance featuring Johnny Seaton as Elvis will be held next Friday, February 27th from 7-11pm at the Waldorf Jaycees. Call 301.645.8181 to order tickets.

Founded over 50 years ago, the Charles County Literacy Council has a long history of helping people in the community achieve their personal and professional goals. Working one-on-one with their students, each volunteer tutor puts in a significant amount of time and dedication, and the rewards are many. We spoke to Sue Lateulere, Program Coordinator for the Council, who shared some particularly heartwarming stories in this week’s Friday Focus.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The CCLC provides free, one-on-one, confidential tutoring to adults in Charles County in reading, writing, basic math, English for those who speak it as a Second Language, as well as help preparing for the GED test or the ASVAB military entrance exam. Our volunteers strive to ensure that all adults have access to the quality education needed to fully realize their potential as individuals, parents and citizens.

Our volunteer tutors have all taken a nine hour training course that teaches them how to tutor adults; anyone can do it. If you can read, you can teach another adult to read!

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: There are many favorite moments – I’m sure each tutor could share several! But here are a few:

During 2014, one of our Adult Learners was able to pass the ‘written’ driver’s license exam. This may not seem like a big accomplishment to most, but for those who cannot read, the driver’s test is a huge obstacle to furthering themselves and leading a productive life.

A young mother of two children worked with one of our tutors for many months on her math skills. The hard work paid off and she passed the GED test. With this new asset on her resume, within one month she was able to find a job near her home that would accommodate her family’s schedule.

A man in his late 50’s came to us, embarrassed that he could not read a menu at a restaurant. He had developed coping mechanisms over the years to get by: memorizing road signs, pretending to forget his glasses, feigning migraines. He has recently completed Level 3 of our “Beginning to Read” series and shed a few proud tears when presented with each of his completion certificates.

A man in his 60’s recently received his United States Citizenship after working with one of our tutors on the Citizenship requirements (reading, writing, conversing, U.S. history and social studies). When asked how he felt after taking the Oath of Allegiance, he replied, “Free”.

We have assisted many young men and women from Charles County to pass the ASVAB entrance exam and become proud members of our Armed Forces.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: As a small nonprofit, we face several challenges including the usual ones: funding and volunteer recruitment. But the challenge of most concern is getting the word out to those adults who need our services. The delicate nature of the services we offer limits the opportunities to engage and encourage prospective students in public settings. We rely heavily on recommendations from other agencies in the county to spread the word of our services. But we also need the community to spread the word. There are many people in our local area who have never heard of the Charles County Literacy Council or know what we do, and we celebrated our 50th Anniversary this year!

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Yes! Our next Volunteer Tutor Training Workshop will be held on April 11, 2015 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. in LaPlata. There are four hours of online videos and prep questions that must be completed prior to the workshop. For more information or to register, call the CCLC office at 301-934-6488, or check out our website www.charlescountyliteracy.org Fees for the upcoming Workshop have been waived.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization? 

A: Encourage a student. Become a volunteer tutor