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We love our volunteers and donors not just for their thoughts and support but also because of their overwhelming compassion to go above and beyond on holidays like Valentine’s Day.

Parents and children at Carpenter’s Shelter received Valentine’s Day gift bags from generous, long-time volunteer Mary Kate Holland last week. The gift bags were made by the Daisy Girl Scout Troop at Grace Episcopal School where Holland teaches. The troop painted canvas bags and gave them to Holland and she handed them out on Wednesday, Feb. 12 to parents after our weekly parenting class.

Inside the gift bags were basic toiletries and the volunteers also included Valentine’s themed stickers for the children.

It’s outstanding how much an act of kindness can effect others, especially those who need it most. Everyone wants to feel loved on Valentine’s Day, including our clients.

Our volunteers and donors provide invaluable support. Show your love for our shelter by checking out our Amazon Wish List.

We’d like to give a big thank you to the Daisies, Holland and the other Wednesday volunteers for their participation in making our clients feel loved on Valentine’s Day this year!

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The perspective that those who take initiative reap the benefits of society is nothing new. This ideal sounds good in theory but that’s just it; only in theory. Today that ideal could not be further from the truth when it comes to Americans overcome with poverty.

Education is just one of the obstacles those in poverty struggle with every day. Whether it’s youth struggling to find school supplies or an adult’s lack of modern resources, being successful comes down to education.

More often than not, adults living in poverty lack the education they need to succeed. With the ever-updating forms of technology, it’s becoming more and more expensive to acquire the necessary tools for jobs.

Nowadays most job applications are done completely online. Our clients here at the shelter are taught how to navigate the web and given the technology they need to apply for jobs. Since the shelter requires that all clients either be employed or actively looking for a job, we assist by providing life skills classes.

These classes include educating clients in the soft skills they need to succeed. In fact, we have an Education Program which focuses on achieving these goals. Part of the program is the Carpenter’s Education Fund, which has awarded over $130,000 in education funds to pay for school tuition, living stipends, books and computers for clients since 2005.

At Carpenter’s Shelter we aim to stop the cycle of poverty by getting children residing in the shelter excited for school and learning. We accept donated school supplies for our annual Back to School Night where the children can pick out their own supplies as well as enjoy fun activities.

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By Courtney Bishop, Constituent Relationship Officer

One of my heroes Rep. John Lewis of Georgia always says, “You have to stand up, to speak up, to speak out, to find a way to get in the way.” When he organized sit-ins and participated in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, those words rang true in a very literal way for him. Today, I think of his words when I see people who aren’t treated fairly and when we are not doing right by each other. This is why I decided to help when I saw a post on the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (ASPAN) Twitter page that they needed volunteers for the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count. The PIT Count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. This year’s count happened January 29. It’s a snapshot of those living on the streets and a glimpse into to someone else’s reality.

This simple call to action via social media was enough for me and I even recruited Carpenter’s Operation Manager Isaac Bell to help. Our first step was attending a three hour training at Arlington County Department of Human Services. Surveying people on the streets would be different from working at Carpenter’s and the training brought that to light for me, especially when we got to the safety portion. Training taught the importance of carrying personal identification, using flashlights instead of cell phones, and announcing yourself when approaching someone on the streets. After the training I was so excited to get started and thought about calling my grandmother to share my excitement but it makes her nervous when I go into the parking garage at Trader Joe’s… so I decided not to mention it.

The big day had finally come and it took me 30 minutes to put on all my layers for the evening. I bundled up with 3 pairs of socks, 2 pants, 4 shirts, 3 scarves, 2 hats and my long winter coat. It was exhausting and uncomfortable putting on all those layers.

I had a great team made up of two ASPAN employees, a Spanish translator who works for the Behavioral Healthcare Division at DHS, and a couple individual volunteers. We left headquarters around 9 p.m. in a van driven by ASPAN Executive Director Kathy Sibert who lead us to our first stop in South Arlington. Upon arriving at our first destination we all hopped out of the van as Kathy exclaimed, “It’s really cold out tonight so make sure you look under vehicles, behind dumpsters and shine your flashlight in cars!”

While walking around the neighborhood, Isaac and I approached a school bus with blacked out windows and knocked on the door. A young man in his twenties answered and we asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions. He asked us to step into the bus. At this point I almost turned around and headed home. I recalled all the times my parents had talked with me about strangers and going into people’s homes I didn’t know, but I knew what I signed up for and didn’t want to be the weak link in my group. When I stepped on the bus I was pleasantly surprised.

The young man had made the bus into his own home. He had laid down hard wood floors, put in a solar panel ceiling, built a closet, had a bed in the back and was generating his own electricity. Isaac and I sat down on the couch to ask our 15 questions.

In the middle of the survey he took a call on his cell phone from a friend. The friend was inviting him to dinner but he had already been to dinner that evening with his dad. He had a job, a gym membership and fantastic relationships with friends and family. His girlfriend lives on the bus with him and in April they are going to travel the country. I stepped off the bus feeling relieved that the person living inside was okay and, frankly, that I was okay too.

I know the data we collected last Wednesday is vital to ending homelessness in our region, but I don’t need any more data to tell you homelessness is a problem in our country. If one person is living on the streets, it’s one too many.

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What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not working at Carpenter’s Shelter?
I spend my free hours cooking and playing with my 6-month old son, Charlie and my boston terrier, Maggie.
I also volunteer at the Caryle House as a docent and at Computer CORE as a tutor.

What sets Carpenter’s Shelter apart from other organizations?
I think that Carpenter’s Shelter is very different from other organizations because of the way that it diversifies its funding. The fact that only 20% of our funding comes from the government when most of our counterparts receive 75-85% government funding is very impressive.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?
I love to sit pool side with a good book on vacation, and since Las Vegas has some of the best pools in the world, it is one of my favorite spots.

What aspects of your job at Carpenter’s Shelter do you find most rewarding?
I am inspired every day by the courage and accomplishments of Carpenter’s clients. I celebrate their success as they transition from crisis into a stable living situation.

What do you hope the Shelter will achieve in the near future? In the long term?
I hope that Carpenter’s Shelter will be able to raise the $250,000 that we are losing from the Freddie Mac Foundation closing. And will be able to continue to raise that money each year needed to sustain our operations.

Song most played on your ipod? Tiny Dancer- Elton John

What has been your biggest takeaway from working at Carpenter’s Shelter?
This community is amazingly generous, and I am lucky to be part of it.

Share one of your favorite Carpenter’s Shelter memories? Decorating our office door at Christmas, and cutting out 100’s of snowflakes to decorate the office for the holiday season. We even made up a little song about “Working in a Winter Wonderland.”

Describe Carpenter’s Shelter in 3 words or less. Respect, responsibility, results.

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Lilly Jones and her 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys, became residents of the shelter this past spring when the family lost their primary source of income. They had been moving from family members’ houses to friends’ houses and back, really staying with anyone that had the space and ability to take them in. Lily knew she needed some more structure for herself and her family and eventually entered Carpenter’s Shelter. The transition from living in and enjoying their own home to moving into the shelter was trying for the children. The kids had to change schools, an added disruption to an already difficult time; and their mom had to start looking for jobs that would be able to support her and her family eventually moving back into their own home. Minimum wage in this area, however, won’t get you your own place when the average cost for a 3-bedroom apartment is over $2,000 per month.

With each deposit Lilly made into her savings account, she became one step closer to being able to move her family back in to their own home. Ms. Jones along with the shelter case managers and housing staff determined a rental budget affordable to the family and a location in which this rental budget could be a reality. The next step was for our Carpenter’s Shelter housing team to recruit a landlord with a home big enough to rent to the family that was also within the family’s budget, a challenging feat in the high-priced Northern Virginia rental market.

The prospective home was a multi-level townhome that was spacious and accommodating for the large family. The Jones eagerly submitted their rental application and were initially denied. The general rule for approving renters is that they demonstrate their income is three times that of the rent. Even with Mrs. Jones’ income, it was still considered insufficient to show the landlord that there were no risks associated with renting to the family. We knew this home was one of the only options affordable to the family and as a result, Carpenter’s Shelter through our Rapid Re-Housing program along with the City of Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services provided the upfront rental costs, the security deposit and the pro-rated first month rent and second-month rent, that would have otherwise prevented the family from being able to move into the townhome; and such is the case for many families experiencing homelessness who are trying to move into a home in our community.

Carpenter’s families have encountered some bumps in the road that have ultimately led to them to experience homelessness. Carpenter’s is fortunate to have the resources and services available to move our families as quickly as possible from homelessness to their own homes, and once in the community, we continue to provide any needed support and assistance. Our Rapid Re-Housing program provided much needed help to the family and now, the Jones family has a place to call home.

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January is the perfect time to think about your goals and resolutions for 2014. This year, we are challenging our supporters, donors and volunteers to get involved in making a difference in a new and inspiring way. The idea of “52 Ways to Give” encourages people to get involved by making a difference every week of the year: 52 efforts across 52 weeks. Giving back each week, even in a small way, makes a huge difference. There are many ways you can impact your community, and Carpenter’s Shelter makes it easy to give back.

Carpenter’s Shelter has many different facets, offering a comprehensive set of services to our clients and residents. The Shelter’s various programs provide a wealth of volunteer opportunities, meaning that anyone can get involved and provide a piece to the puzzle to Carpenter’s mission to end homelessness.

Whether it is preparing and serving meals in Carpenter’s kitchen, helping maintain our facilities, reading with our young residents, or making a donation, there is an opportunity for you to give back at the Shelter.

Every Sunday morning, Carpenter’s Shelter will suggest a new way to give back, so follow us online on Facebook and Twitter. We hope the 52 Ways to Give campaign will inspire you to stay connected and involved with us in a meaningful and lasting way, and that others around you who witness your kindness will be motivated to do the same.

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2013 is almost over, and Carpenter’s is extremely grateful for the generosity our supporters and donors have shown throughout the year. With two more days left in this year, this is your last chance to give in 2013 to end the year with a good feeling. As we end 2013, we continue to sustain our mission of ending homelessness in the DC area with the help from our volunteers, donors and supporters. Thank you again for your support, and we hope you have a happy New Year.

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Each and every year, Carpenter’s Shelter makes a lasting impact on the Alexandria community. We are proud to partner with the most committed companies, faith based groups, foundations and individual donors, whose support makes our mission to end homelessness possible.

To give back to those who give so much to us, Carpenter’s outlines the Shelter’s work and impact in the community by sharing our Annual Report. You can view the report here, but here are a few highlights from 2013 at Carpenter’s Shelter.
  • This year, Carpenter’s Shelter celebrated our 25th anniversary of helping clients achieve sustainable independence, maintaining our 95% success rate for Shelter graduates.
  • Forty-seven groups completed special projects at the Shelter, including the creation of a community garden.
  • The Shelter partnered with Computer CORE to create a new Basic Computer Literacy Program with an option for continued education at NOVA. 25 of Carpenter’s Clients have successfully completed the program.
  • Carpenter’s helped 60 clients with the assistance of our Ready to Rent program.
  • Thanks to our team of volunteer doctors and nurses, the Shelter was able to offer clinic services at a value of $35,000, as well as watched 17 women benefit from our new Women’s Wellness program.David’s Place provided essential services like showers, laundry and phone access to 245 unique clients.
  • Carpenter’s empowered 379 clients to address the issues which led them to homelessness and provided the tools necessary for them to achieve lasting independence.
  • Last year, individuals and service groups provided 18,807 volunteer service hours to Carpenter’s Shelter which is equivalent to almost 9 staff members.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, strategic partners, individual and corporate donors, and everyone else who made 2013 such a successful year for Carpenter’s Shelter!

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This week, we spoke with Program Coordinator Michael Shields about his experiences working at Carpenter’s Shelter.

How long ago did you start working at Carpenter’s Shelter? What attracted you to their mission?
I began working for Carpenter’s Shelter through what is now called Winter Shelter in November of 2005. I was interested in working with Carpenter’s because I had previous experience working with Hypothermia clients, and the Shelter was close to my home. I wanted to continue making a difference with my work.

What sets Carpenter’s Shelter apart from other organizations?
Carpenter’s Shelter is different because of the way the staff interacts with residents, and clients at David’s Place and Winter Shelter. They create an atmosphere that is both professional and caring.

What are your job responsibilities?
My primary role is Program Coordinator, but my job finds me doing whatever is needed. As Program Coordinator, I perform eligibility screenings and schedule clients for shelter. My job requires that I manage phone calls concerning shelter, and direct clients to the proper service provider where necessary.

Additionally, I’m responsible for coordinating with both shelters in the city (Alexandria Community Shelter and Carpenter’s Shelter) concerning bed space availability and placement of clients into shelter, as well as inputting information into the city database, HMIS (Homeless Management Information Systems).

How did your background prepare you for this job at the Shelter?
I’ve always worked in the customer service field, so working with people came naturally to me. Working with the disadvantaged population gave me an understanding of what was necessary, but my preparation came mostly from on-the-job training. My co-workers provided me with great leadership, and helped me gain knowledge and a true understanding of what Carpenter’s mission of helping the homeless is all about.

What aspects of your job at Carpenter’s Shelter do you find most rewarding?
Getting to see clients come in from off the streets and begin to utilize the resources that Carpenter’s Shelter provides. Watching our clients move from the Shelter into permanent housing, and being able to continue on in life’s journey, is certainly inspiring.

In your opinion, what is the most important work that this organization does?
Carpenter’s Shelter is a great community resource. They remember the forgotten, help those with no voice find a voice. Carpenter’s helps Shelter clients regain hope by treating them with love, respect and dignity.

What one phrase would you use to describe Carpenter’s Shelter?
Caring is what we do!

What has been your biggest takeaway from working at Carpenter’s Shelter?
The understanding of the homeless and their needs has been a big takeaway. But mainly the teamwork and support that is demonstrated daily by the Board members, Executive Director, Deputy Director, and all the staff and volunteers and interns who make Carpenter’s Shelter one of the greatest places that I have ever worked — without a doubt.

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Warm scarves and seasonal sweaters are great gifts for your loved ones, but why not give them a gift that will make them feel warm from the inside out? Purchasing a sustainable gift is a great way to tell someone “I Love You,” without having to brave the stores or worry about selecting the wrong size. By making a donation in someone’s name, you’re really giving two gifts in one: one to the person it helps, and one to the person it honors.

Carpenter’s Shelter will be able to put your Alternative gift toward ensuring our children and families continue to receive shelter, warm beds, healthy meals, supportive case management and life-changing educational workshops necessary to help them end their struggle with homelessness. Just think of how your loved ones will feel when they realize that your gift to them is a gift to the whole community. Every donation is tax deductible.

Your gift could provide:
  • $25 – Sheets for one of our 80 beds
  • $50 – Metro card for one week of job searching
  • $100 – Fresh produce for one Community Case Managed Family
  • $500 – One month of milk for after school snacks
  • $1000 – Partial scholarship for continued education
We created a downloadable certificate for you to fill out and present to the recipient.

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The holiday season is upon us, and that means it’s time for Carpenter’s annual Holiday Open House! Carpenter’s Shelter invites the Alexandria community to join us for this special event on December 10th at 7:00 pm. The Holiday Open House is a great way to become acquainted with the Shelter and to learn more about the services we offer. You’ll get to see firsthand the impact Carpenter’s has on the community, and how essential your support is to maintaining Shelter programs.

Carpenter’s staff will guide visitors on a comprehensive tour of the facility, including our kitchen, residential area, and David’s Place. You’ll get to hear Carpenter’s stories from the clients themselves and enjoy light refreshments provided by the Shelter.

Children are welcome for this special event, but space is limited. Please RSVP here.

We look forward to seeing you on December 10th at 7:00 pm!

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Each year, many struggling families look to Carpenter’s for help with the holidays. Between planning holiday dinners and managing regular expenses, our clients—like many—can end up stretched thin. Carpenter’s Shelter would never want a family to have to choose between eating a holiday meal or paying their rent, and it is only because of the unwavering commitment from community members like you that we can ensure our clients never have to make that choice.
Carpenter’s received an incredible amount of support from the Alexandria community for our Thanksgiving Drive this year. Food donations like cranberry sauce, stuffing, veggies—and, of course, the Thanksgiving turkeys—have been arriving by the cornucopia-load! These donations make it possible for Carpenter’s to provide Thanksgiving baskets for over 100 Community Case Managed clients, who are then allowed to ‘shop’ the Shelter pantry for items to supplement their Thanksgiving dinner. A big thank you to all of our holiday and year-round donors who keep our pantry stocked and our clients from going hungry!
Carpenter’s will also serve a Thanksgiving meal for our residential clients to celebrate the occasion. Just like most of you will cook a delicious meal for your family, Carpenter’s volunteers will prepare a full spread for over 50 Shelter clients this Thursday. We look forward to having our team of volunteers come cook up some holiday cheer for Carpenter’s clients!
Carpenter’s Shelter is always busiest at the holiday season, so we are so grateful for all of our donors and volunteers who have stepped up by giving back. You are truly champions of Carpenter’s Shelter and our mission to end homelessness in Alexandria.

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Carpenter’s Shelter does not work alone in our quest to end homelessness. We align ourselves with civic minded corporations, businesses and faith-based organizations that help us accomplish our vision of being the community leader in preventing and ending homelessness. Carpenter’s Strategic Partners ensure the shelter has dedicated dollars and volunteers who work alongside Carpenter’s staff to ensure mission driven results.

In order to be considered a Strategic Partner, organizations must donate a minimum of $2,500 annually to Carpenter’s, as well as contribute 20 hours of volunteer or pro bono service, or provide an in-kind donation.

Carpenter’s Shelter is grateful to our Strategic Partners for their generosity and commitment to our cause. It is only through their support that we are able to continue to provide resources to our clients and effectively reduce homelessness.

Interested in becoming a Carpenter’s Strategic Alliance Partner? Contact Director of Development, Kelly Andreae, at 703-548-7500 x 203 or

Current strategic partners of Carpenter’s are:

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This week, Carpenter’s volunteer Jorge Astorga sat down with Mr. Farmer, a former shelter resident who participated in the 2012 Run for Shelter. We hope that his story will inspire you to join us for this year’s Run the Shelter, and to contribute to Carpenter’s mission to end homelessness.

Mr. Farmer, tell us a little about yourself.
I am a former professional boxer, so I love to stay in shape and stay healthy. I’ve always loved running. I started when I was 11 years old, and I still try to fit a run into my schedule whenever I can.

When I was 41, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and I had to stop my boxing and workouts to take care of her. I had been working as a mental health counselor, and I had to leave my job to have time to attend to her. When my mother had passed away, I no longer had a place to live. I came to Carpenter’s Shelter to save money and to get back on my feet.

I was a walk-in client, and I spent four months at the shelter. I am very grateful for the assistance I received from Carpenter’s. Living there helped me refocus. The time I spent at the shelter helped me pay off my debts and build better credit. Carpenter’s also helped me develop people skills, and introduced me to individuals in similar situations. With help from Carpenter’s services, I was able to save money and move back into the community. I now live in DC in my own apartment, and I continue to check-in with the shelter and my case manager.

What made you decide to sign up for the Run for Shelter race last year?
I decided to run after I moved out of the shelter. After everything Carpenter’s gave me, I just wanted to give back to the shelter and to thank them for helping me.

Are you going to participate in Run for Shelter again?
Yes. I will run in this year’s race. But, this time, I will be training harder. Last year was my first 5K, and I did not train. I ran it in 22 minutes, and I thought it was hard. I love to compete, and I’m looking forward to making a better time this year. I know I can do it!

Do you have any tips or tricks for others who are considering running their first race?
My advice to everyone who is running a 5K is to train hard leading up to the race. But take one step at a time. Give yourself at least a month to train. If you train, you can do it. It’s not about being first, it’s about finishing. Stamina is also important. Give yourself a week, at least, to push yourself before you run.

I believe that everyone needs to stay in shape. Exercising makes you feel good mentally. It helps you keep focus and be consistent. If you’re consistent, things will get done. Everything takes practice. Keep working at something, and you will get better at it.

What is the most positive thing you would like to share about your experience with the Shelter? I want everyone to know that starting over is not a bad thing. The whole world is not gone when something bad happens—you can get back on you feet. And that is what I got from the living at Carpenter’s Shelter. That’s why I want to continue to give back to them by participating in this year’s Run for Shelter.

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Carpenter’s Shelter would like to congratulate Seena Foster for winning Volunteer Alexandria’s Joan White Grass Roots Award! Each year, the Joan White Award is given to a volunteer who has selflessly committed time, energy and skills to help a nonprofit further its mission.

Seena is a committed volunteer and advocate for the homeless and low income individuals in Alexandria. She is involved in direct service work as well as fundraising and community engagement at the shelter. Additionally, Seena serves on Carpenter’s Major Donors and Partners Committee, where members identify potential donors and partners as well as plan and participating in fundraisers. Over the past five years, Seena has provided over 1,000 volunteer hours to the shelter. Not only does she volunteer at a committee level to support staff operations, she also volunteers at Carpenter’s Winter Shelter each year. Seena works tirelessly to ensure that the needs of the shelter and our clients are being met. Carpenter’s is grateful for her dedication to public service, and we are thrilled that Volunteer Alexandria will recognize her outstanding contributions to Carpenter’s Shelter.

Carpenter’s invites the Alexandria community to come out and celebrate Seena’s hard work. Please join us on Friday, October 25th from 6:00pm – 8:30 pm at Volunteer Alexandria’s Evening in the Heart of Alexandria. The night is a tribute to all who give from their hearts to volunteer in our city.

Carpenter’s congratulates this year’s other award recipients: Emma West for the Youth Volunteer service award, Scott Kahler also with the Joan White Grass Roots Service Award, and Allen Lomax with the Marian Van Landingham Lifetime Achievement Service Award. Read more about their achievements here.

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Everyone loves a challenge and the staff and residents at Carpenter’s Shelter are no different. From October 17, 2013 to January 24, 2014, thirty-three organizations in Virginia are participating in an ambitious initiative called the 100 Day Housing Challenge, placing as many homeless families as possible in permanent housing within 100 days.

Rapid re-housing is a proven and cost-effective strategy that has been used by communities across the country to reduce homelessness. It involves helping families move into housing as quickly as possible after they enter the shelter system, and then helping them maintain this housing through the provision of services and short-term financial assistance as needed.

Carpenter’s has pledged to place 15 families in permanent housing. Collectively the participating organizations have pledged to house 740 families across the state of Virginia. Ultimately the goal is to find housing for as many families as possible in 100 days.

Family homelessness decreased 17 percent in Virginia over the last three years, largely due to increased support for rapid re-housing programs. This year, Virginia is urging local organizations like Carpenter’s Shelter to keep this momentum going and to help even more families find permanent homes in the community.

Carpenter’s Shelter is up to the challenge and committed to providing wrap around services aimed to help clients maintain housing. Click here to follow our weekly progress.

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