Arlington Neighborhood Villages (ANV), a nonprofit helping older residents stay in their homes, is looking for volunteers and members.
Arlington Neighborhood Villages is holding an open house on Wednesday, Oct. 14 from 6-8 p.m. to inform people about the services it provides for older Arlington residents, as well as the volunteer opportunities it has.
The event will be held at National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (4301 Wilson Blvd).
“Celebrate ANV’s growth and bring your friends and neighbors to learn how they can continue to live in their homes and communities as they age,” the nonprofit, which launched a year and a half ago, said on the event page.
There will be light refreshments and a raffle. Members and volunteers can win a $25 gift card by bringing a friend who then joins ANV.
ANV helps Arlington residents, ages 55 and up, stay in their homes by providing them with social and educational outings, transportation and daily check-in calls. The organization relies on volunteers to help provide the transportation, run errands for older residents, do house check ups while people are away and perform household tasks, such as changing light bulbs or smoke detector batteries.
(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) A new Arlington-based nonprofit is looking to make the lives of female military personnel overseas more comfortable.
Spa Swag for Warriors is a women-owned charity that sends high-quality bath products — such as lavender-scented face wipes, skin creams, loofahs, shampoo, conditioner and lotion — to female service members serving abroad.
CEO and founder Lacey Chong said she started the organization after speaking with her friend Becca, a Marine Corps officer who was helping with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Marine told Chong about the limited access to bath products, which prompted Chong to collect items and send them over for Becca and other women to use “after a hard day of work serving our country.”
“Female soldiers put up with a lot overseas — unsanitary conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual assault and long hard days,” Chong said in a press release. “I think women instinctively understand that providing restorative products to deployed female service members can have an immediate impact on their morale and well-being.”
The nonprofit’s goal is to bring comfort to female service members, Chong said.
“We… aim to improve the morale and well-being of deployed female service members by providing high quality bath and body products,” she said.
The organization has mailed care packages across the world, including to countries in West Africa, East Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“The items are hand-picked from socially responsible companies,” said the press release. “So far, the organization has been successful in securing donations of most-wanted items from companies such as Cate McNabb, Tom’s of Maine, Murad and Arbonne.”
The non-profit is looking for donations of the most-wanted bath products, including dry shampoo, eye cream, makeup remover and sleep masks. Donations can be mailed to Spa Swag for Warriors at P.O. Box 17207, Arlington, VA 22216.
Photos via Spa Swag for Warriors
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was treated to a special meal when he visited La Cocina, a bilingual culinary school for the unemployed or underemployed: crickets.
Beyer visited the Hispanic-oriented culinary school in the basement of Mount Olivet Church (1500 N. Glebe Road) near Ballston yesterday, where he learned more about the school’s mission and heard from a couple of the six current students.
“This is very exciting,” Beyer told the students.
For his visit, the students, under Chef Instructor Alberto Vega, prepared a green salad with honey-crusted crickets and gluten-free chocolate chip and cricket cookies.
Crickets add protein into the people’s diets, La Cocina Executive Director Patricia Funegra said during a presentation. Crickets are also a sustainable food and La Cocina is working to encourage healthy and sustainable food into modern diets, Funegra said.
“We have to start thinking about that [sustainable food] in a very serious way,” Funegra said.
La Cocina is both a school and a food assistance program. The students prepare meals and then deliver them to residents of local affordable housing communities in a partnership with Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.
All meals prepared are made with healthy foods, in hopes of fighting obesity, which plagues the Hispanic community, Funegra said. Meals contain 50 percent fruit and vegetables and 50 percent lean proteins, according to La Cocina’s website.
Yesterday, the students prepared a salad and spaghetti and turkey meatballs for the residents. Beyer helped the students by ladling the meatballs. He then joined them in handing out the meals to families.
La Cocina has seen a lot of success with its program, Funegra said. The last class had 100 percent completion and job placement. The current class is the school’s third.
“To have 100 percent completion is something to be proud of,” she said.
The school teaches bilingual culinary skills, sanitation practices, English needed for culinary work and life, and employment skills, such as working in a team. The school does not charge tuition and provides all the materials for the students, including a travel stipend, Funegra said.
Students come from the entire D.C. area, with some coming as far as Germantown, Maryland.
The Arlington Food Assistance Center has been exploring ways to serve hungry families in Arlington by partnering with local businesses and larger corporations.
To that end, AFAC recently started Sponsor Purchased Food, a program through which corporations can buy produce, package it and donate it to AFAC as a team-building exercise.
“That helps us in a lot of different ways,” said AFAC executive director Charles Meng. “It certainly gets our name out in the public more. It engenders a donation. And it involves a lot of individuals who then tend to become donors once they find out what we do.”
Meng says the program has been “very successful,” with over 50 corporations participating in the past few months. AFAC plans to continue the program well into next year.
Currently, AFAC serves 2,100 families in the area and dispenses about 86,000 pounds of food per week at 18 distribution sites across Arlington. According to Meng, the number of people AFAC serves has doubled since 2013 and is currently increasing at a rate of about 25 families per month.
Last Friday, July 24, AFAC and Spotluck, a Bethesda company that created an app to connect people with local restaurants, worked together to put on a potluck dinner for 130 Arlington residents in need at the Gates of Ballston apartment complex (4108 4th Street N.)
Twenty-two restaurants around Arlington donated food to the potluck, including Sushi Rock, Don Tito, The Boulevard Woodgrill, Faccia Luna and Whitlow’s on Wilson.
Meng said that the event with Spotluck — documented in the video above — was a success.
“All of those restaurants [that donated] did a fantastic job, and the Spotluck people were really great to work with, and they were really enthusiastic,” said Meng. “When people actually get a chance to hand out food to somebody and see the people they’re helping, it gets the message across a lot easier and a lot more directly to the individual, so it’s really great to have a company like Spotluck working with us.”
Currently, about half of AFAC’s money and food come from individual donations. Of the remaining 50 percent, about eight percent comes from Arlington County, 10 percent come from local religious congregations and the rest come from local businesses, foundations and larger corporations.
“We’ve got tremendous support from a lot of the businesses here in Arlington,” said Meng.
Photos courtesy AFAC. Disclosure: Spotluck is an ARLnow.com advertiser.
Last week, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, announced a $5 million donation to a non-profit right here in Arlington.
The announcement came via a Facebook post to Zuckerberg’s 32.7 million followers which has reached 153,072 likes and counting.
The organization in question, TheDream.US, is a scholarship fund designed to help undocumented immigrants realize their dreams of going to college in the United States. The brainchild of Don Graham, CEO of Graham Holdings Company and former publisher of the Washington Post, the non-profit has made its home in Graham’s Rosslyn offices for the past two years.
Through his work with other education-based charities in the area, Graham says he learned that there were many such undocumented students in the D.C. metro area, particularly in Northern Virginia.
These students are commonly called DREAMers after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act that has been proposed several times since 2001 but has yet to pass in Congress. DREAMers are unable to receive federal aid to continue their education. In most states they are also not eligible for in-state tuition, which can make going to college prohibitively expensive.
“Certainly in Arlington County, almost every high school student has classmates who are DREAMers, and they quickly come to understand the unique cruelty of the situation of these students,” Graham told ARLnow.com. “They can be the valedictorian, they can be the president of the class. All the other low-income students in the class get U.S. government assistance in going on to higher education, and these students cannot.”
Graham says his organization was empowered to tackle this issue head-on after President Barack Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012. DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who had come to the United States when they were children to obtain a Social Security number, a driver’s license and temporary legal status, renewable after two years.
In the summer of 2013, Graham, program director Gaby Pacheco and Henry Muñoz III gathered people together and proposed the idea of a scholarship program to enable those who had obtained DACA status to go to college. Amanda Bennett and Carlos Gutierrez joined Graham and Muñoz in founding TheDream.US, which officially launched on Feb. 4, 2014.
TheDream.US currently partners with about 60 colleges across the U.S. Pacheco says they look for schools located in areas with high concentrations of undocumented students, where you can get a good education for around $25,000 (the scholarship amount offered by the non-profit). In Virginia, TheDream.US partners with Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University.
The fund currently has $81 million, including donations in the millions from Graham, Zuckerberg, Bill Ackman and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. TheDream.US also allows donors to specify where they want their money to go: for example, Zuckerberg’s $5 million donation was earmarked for students in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pacheco believes this ability to ask that their money be set aside for their own region attracts donors to the organization.
“People love to be able to help out in their own community,” she said. “Many affluent people have foundations in their names or their family names, so we target them and say, ‘look, we can bring a scholarship program to your area.'”
Graham says that as of now, the organization expects to see at least 3,000 students graduate college, but that he “would like to raise more money and make it at least 5,000, and possibly go from there.”
Another part of the organization’s mission is to tell these students’ stories. TheDream.US is doing this through their stories project, which spotlights the lives of notable DREAM scholars. Interns Julia Leibowitz and Sadhana Singh (a current DREAMer) are working on the project this summer in the Rosslyn office.
“For us, it’s really about leveling the field for these young people to go to college,” said Pacheco. “We’re going to allow our numbers to speak for themselves, and show that we are helping meet the gap for people needed in various fields.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) visited La Cocina VA yesterday, a nonprofit program that gives Hispanic immigrants bilingual, culinary job training in the basement of an Arlington church.
Below Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church (1500 N. Glebe Road) yesterday afternoon, Kaine — who speaks fluent Spanish after spending a year in Honduras before entering politics — met with the program’s leaders and participants, eager to learn more about the benefits it provides.
“This is an important program for a lot of reasons,” he said. His father was a welder and, when he was in Honduras, Kaine taught welding to the locals. “Teaching students in Honduras taught me a lot about technical education. People need skills you can’t get in the classroom.”
Kaine walked into the building and introduced himself to the program’s five current trainees and head chef, Diego Rojas, a U.S. Army veteran. He also met with graduates of the program, one of whom, Jose Hernandez, now works as a line cook at Le Meridien in Rosslyn.
Hernandez said when he came to Arlington and graduated high school, he was afraid to speak in English because he wasn’t as comfortable with the language as Spanish, and he was teased by classmates for his lack of proficiency.
“Now I’m more confident,” he said. “Now I’m training people in preparing salads and doing well in the kitchen.”
La Cocina not only trains its enrollees on how to work in a commercial kitchen, it also provides language skills to interact with coworkers and customers. It provides job placement services — Whole Foods has recently partnered to offer monthlong paid internships with the potential for a full-time position — and the environment Rojas and Founder/CEO Patricia Funegra cultivate generate leadership skills and confidence.
“This kitchen is like the garage Steve Jobs started in at his parents’ house,” Funegra said. “It’s one big step to get into the industry.”
While they are training, the cooks make thousands of meals provided to low-income families. La Cocina also focuses on health education, both for the trainees and the communities at large; 50 percent of every meal is made up of fruits and vegetables, Funegra said.
“This program is opening up doors I wouldn’t get anywhere else as a Hispanic woman,” one of the trainees said, according to a translator. “When we leave, we will be a voice for others.”
After a 45-minute discussion, Rojas and his trainees took Kaine to the kitchen, where they prepared meals of turkey cutlets, roasted squash and carrots made with turkey stock, plus sautéed onions, carrots and green beans.
Public Defender Decries Pay Gap — Arlington’s deputy public defenders can make up to $33,000 less than their counterparts at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Chief Public Defender Matthew Foley said the gap creates an unfair balance, one that allows the deputy Commonwealth’s attorney to grow their salaries on the job and talented public defenders — whose wages are locked in — are leaving the office. He called it “an unfair game going on with people whose liberties are at stake” at the Arlington County Board’s budget public hearing. [Connection Newspapers]
Fairfax Car Chase Result of Arlington Warrants — Updated at 1:05 p.m. — A car chase that broke out at the same time as yesterday’s manhunt was also the end result of Arlington police work. Lakisha Tracy was apprehended in Fairfax County yesterday morning after leading police on a high-speed chase that ended on Fairfax County Parkway in Lorton. Tracy was arrested on outstanding warrants for credit card and identity theft in Arlington County. [Washington Post]
Behind Arlington’s Meals on Wheels Program — Our Man in Arlington columnist Charlie Clarks goes behind the volunteers and beneficiaries of the Meals on Wheels charity, which was started in the county 44 years ago. Those receiving the meals, which are prepared by inmates at the Arlington County Detention Center, can range from the poor to, as one volunteer put it, “one four-star general dressed in a tie.” [Falls Church News-Press]
AFAC Sets 100,000 Meal Goal in April — With continuing record demand, the Arlington Food Assistance Center is hoping to receive 100,000 donated meals this month to distribute to Arlington families in need. AFAC expects to exceed its food budget by $150,000 for the second straight year, and Executive Director Charles Meng has said the nonprofit serves 100 new families a month. [InsideNova]
The Optimist Club of Arlington‘s annual Christmas tree sale started this past weekend, giving Arlington residents the chance to stop by the Wells Fargo parking lot at the corner of Lee Highway and N. Glebe Road to pick out this year’s symbolic evergreen.
This is the 67th year the Optimist Club — which sponsors “academic and sports activities designed to give Arlington’s youth a better chance to succeed in today’s world,” according to its website — has held its annual sale, which is one of its biggest fundraisers.
This year, the lot is open from 2:00 to 9:00 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, from noon to 8:00 p.m. on Fridays and from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Trees range in prices from $30 for a five-foot white pine to $230 for a 12-foot Fraser fir.
All of the trees being sold are “freshly cut” from Jefferson County, N.C., according to the Optimist Club. Garlands and wreaths are also available for purchase.
Just in case you need an excuse to dress up your dog in a costume while walking around Clarendon, there’s an event for that. Plus, it benefits two Arlington nonprofit organizations.
The Howl-O-Ween Walk runs from 9:00-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 25. Doorways for Women and Families teamed up with Homeward Trails Animal Rescue for the fundraiser, which also serves to raise awareness about domestic violence against women, children and pets.
The trick-or-treat event begins at James Hunter Park in Clarendon with coffee, bagels and a kickoff ceremony. Walkers and their pets will follow a one mile route, picking up treats at selected businesses along the way. Festivities continue back at the park with snacks, doggy goodie bags, a demonstration by the Arlington County Police K-9 Unit and a doggy costume contest.
Online registration is $30 for adults and $20 for children under 16. This year, people also can create an online fundraising page in their pet’s honor. The top fundraisers can win prizes including hotel stays and gift cards.
Sue Bell, executive director of Homeward Trails, said domestic violence victims and their pets will have something new to celebrate at this year’s event: the enactment of a pet protective order law in Virginia.
“This bill allows companion animals (dogs and cats) to be added to protective orders in the case of domestic violence… something that in the past has resulted in victims staying in a dangerous situation longer in order to protect their pets from harm,” Bell said via email. “We will be having Del. Patrick Hope and [state] Sen. Barbara Favola speak on this at the kick-off of the walk. It’s a huge victory for both human and canine/feline victims of domestic abuse!”
(Updated at 6:00 p.m) A walk-in studio art facility for veterans and active-duty service members plans to open Oct. 15 in Crystal City.
Alexandria-based The 296 Project launched a Kickstarter on July 24 with a $30,000 goal to fund the 1,100-square-foot space, which it calls “A Combat Veteran’s Healing Place.” The studio will be located in a retail space at the Shops at 2100 Crystal Drive.
Kickstarter proceeds will go toward renovation materials, art supplies and equipment for the facility, which will cater to service members with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to a press release.
“When the suffering is so strong words can barely describe it, when no one understands, when there’s no support system, this new facility allows our men and women in uniform to tell their stories with a paintbrush, clay, pen and pencil, chalk, through music, digital design, 3D design, spoken word or through poetry,” Scott Gordon, executive director of The 296 Project, told ARLnow.com in an email.
The project plans to give service members a place to explore art as well as socialize. It plans to provide art therapists with a space for seminars, art classes and group therapy sessions, although it will not be a therapy-providing entity, according to The 296 Project spokesperson Rebekah Wiseman.
The general public will be allowed in, according to the organization, so it can learn more about the community of service members with PTSD and TBI who are helped by art and expressive therapies.
“With or without a PTS/TBI diagnosis, our facility, our seminars, workshops, etc., will be therapeutic,” Wiseman wrote.
Service members will have to provide records to prove that they are or were members of the military, said Wiseman. The facility plans to be open six days of the week, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
“We believe we can save thousands of lives in the Northern Virginia area alone,” Gordon said. “This is just too important not to support.”
The Kickstarter will accept contributions until Sept. 22. Currently, the project has six backers and has raised $710.
Images courtesy The 296 Project
The “Space of Her Own” art-based mentoring program will partner with two Arlington elementary schools for the 2014-2015 school year to give fifth grade girls an open ear and a creative outlet.
SOHO will provide Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Randolph Elementary students from low-income homes with mentors, who will guide them through art projects like creating a mosaic mirror and refurbishing a desk, Mentoring Coordinator Ashley Snyder told ARLnow.com today. The mentors will then team up with the girls and their families to personalize their at-home study areas with the finished projects during a “renovation weekend” at the end of the yearlong program.
“That’s a very powerful tool we think, giving each girl a space where she can feel confident and comfortable,” Snyder said. “And we’ve empowered her to create that space for herself.”
SOHO’s Arlington program will operate like its predecessors in Alexandria, Snyder said. Twelve girls, selected from Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Randolph Elementary, will have a “life-skills session” at the beginning of each meeting to discuss problems they encounter in school or at home. Afterward, they will journal about the session with their mentor before eating dinner and beginning an art project.
During some meetings, girls may also engage in community service with projects like clearing litter from the Potomac River or making no-sew blankets for the homeless.
During SOHO’s past years in Alexandria, mentors tasked the girls with creating a “dream board” collage of their future aspirations. The dream board is important for the students because it forces them to “map out their future in a way they haven’t before,” Snyder said.
The goal of the program, which started in Alexandria in 2003 and gained 501(c)3 status in 2010, is not only to foster girls’ creativity and confidence, but also to pair them with someone that they can build a lasting bond with, Snyder said.
“This program gives them the opportunity to have a mentor to help them with their goals,” Snyder said. “It’s building a really strong foundation for these girls and their mentors.”
SOHO hopes to recruit 12 female volunteer mentors, and will also recruit male and female volunteers to give art demonstrations and help set up before the meetings, Snyder said. Meetings will be at Hoffman-Boston Elementary every Thursday, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Informational sessions for potential volunteers will be held Thursday, July 24 and Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Hoffman-Boston Elementary. SOHO asks that attendees register in advance.
Photos courtesy Ashley Snyder
Wakefield Advances to Regional Title Game — Wakefield High School’s boys basketball team defeated Broad Run last night 85-80, advancing the Warriors to the regional title game of the 5A North Region Tournament. Senior Re’Quan Hopson scored 29 points during the game. [Sun Gazette]
Police Look for Witnesses to Fatal Crash — Arlington County Police are seeking witnesses to the Feb. 24 crash that killed 39-year-old Jennifer Lawson. Lawson was struck by a dump truck on Little Falls Road after volunteering at Nottingham Elementary School. Detectives believe two vehicles were behind the truck and would like to interview the drivers. [Arlington County]
United Way Donates $260K to Arlington Nonprofits — The United Way has donated nearly $260,000 to 20 Arlington nonprofits. The list of nonprofits receiving grants includes the Arlington Pediatric Center, Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, Arlington Thrive and others. [Sun Gazette]
John Youngs Dies — John Youngs, a past president of the Arlington Bar Association and former head of the Arlington public defenders office, has died after a long battle with brain cancer. Youngs was 69. “John fought the good fight and he is now at peace,” the bar association said in an email to its members.
Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
We read often about how many wealthy people live in Arlington, but perhaps not often enough about the needs of others who live here too.
Today, let’s look at Arlington Thrive.
Arlington Thrive provides emergency financial assistance to county residents who experience sudden financial crises such as temporary unemployment or illness. Most clients are the working poor, elderly and disabled people on a fixed income, and the homeless and formerly homeless. In many cases, Arlington Thrive’s assistance prevents homelessness. Last year, 630 households that had received eviction notices were saved from becoming homeless.
Arlington Thrive’s clients are among Arlington County’s most vulnerable residents. Families with children are given the highest priority, and one-third of the individuals served by Arlington Thrive are children.
Arlington Thrive’s Daily Emergency Financial Assistance program employs trained volunteers who fulfill requests from Arlington County and private social service caseworkers on behalf of their clients. Some of the private organizations are Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), Doorways for Women and Children, the Alexandria-Arlington Coalition for the Homeless (AACH), and Northern Virginia Family Services. Arlington Thrive’s Carter-Jenkinson Housing Assistance program is used exclusively to prevent the eviction of families and individuals.
“Sharon” [not her real name] is an example of a client recently helped by Arlington Thrive. Sharon is a 57-year-old, single Arlington resident who had been economically self-sufficient all her adult life. When her company downsized, she was laid off after 19 years at her job. She is working with the Arlington Employment Center to find a new job, but has been unable to keep up with her bills while job-seeking.
When Sharon received disconnect notices for both her gas and electric services, Arlington Thrive paid these bills to keep her utilities connected. She can now focus on finding employment and getting back on her feet.
You, or I, or someone we know could find ourselves in a situation like Sharon’s. If you can, please contribute to an organization that helps those in need.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
A plan to build a new headquarters for Phoenix Bikes has picked up some neighborhood opposition.
Phoenix Bikes is a nonprofit focused on empowering youths by teaching them bicycle repair and entrepreneurship. The organization wants to move from its present cinder block building in Barcroft Park to a new location on county-owned land adjacent to the W&OD Trail, near the intersection of Walter Reed Drive and Four Mile Run Drive.
The new facility will feature education space, public restrooms, a drinking fountain, a water bottle refill station and an air pump.
A second public hearing on the proposal will be held tomorrow, Dec. 4, at the Park Operations conference room (2700 S. Taylor Street). Fliers sent to condo associations around the neighborhood suggest that some residents will be attending to voice opposition to the plan.
“Arlington County plans to remove trees… to build a replacement facility in what is now a wooded area for the nonprofit Phoenix Bikes, which will be used for training teens in bicycle repair,” the flier says. “The facility will provide only 3 parking places and thus its visitors will be parking on streets near your homes. The facility will be lighted until 9:00 p.m. and may provide public bathrooms attractive to drunks.”
Susan Kalish, spokeswoman for the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation, says it’s too early to determine how many trees would have to be cut down to make way for the facility. She said any trees that are removed will be replaced per county policy.
“It’s way too preliminary to know how many trees are impacted because the exact location of the building, its size or the size of an associated parking lot have not been determined,” she said. “That said, when the building plans are finalized the County will use its standard tree replacement formula.”
The flier makes reference to County Board member Libby Garvey, who sits on the board of Phoenix Bikes. It also accuses Arlington County of not giving enough notice to residents about the first public meeting.
Phoenix Bikes is currently raising money for the new headquarters, which is projected to cost $1 million. As announced today, proceeds from next year’s Crystal City Diamond Derby will be used to help fund the headquarters.
The text of the full opposition flyer, after the jump.
The Arlington Mercury, a non-profit news website covering Arlington, is going on haitus for the rest of the year.
The site has been inactive since June 18, but editor Steve Thurston has an explanation: the Mercury just received 501(c)(3) status and is taking a break to secure funding to come back stronger in 2014.
Thurston, a full-time professor at Montgomery College in Maryland, said he plans to spend the rest of the year fundraising — be it through private donors, organizations or grants — with hopes of restarting the website with the start of the new year.
“We’re taking a break on the editorial side,” Thurston told ARLnow.com. “We made the decision that we were going to go on a hiatus and figure out how to get a little more money into the group now that we’ve got this [nonprofit] status.”
When the website starts again, he will start teaching only part time, devoting more of his time to the “Merc,” as he calls it. Thurston says he has meetings set up all over the county to try to court funding. He says it’s nearly impossible to fundraise effectively without 501(c)(3) status, since organizations that aren’t loyal readers don’t have assurances that the corporation is legitimate.
“It lets everyone who might want to give you money know that you’re a little nonprofit and not a thief,” he said.
The certification process with the Internal Revenue Service took 22 months and was incredibly time-consuming, Thurston said. Thurston said he formed the corporation in June 2011, applied for nonprofit status that August and launched the website in September 2011.
By the end of the school year with his full-time teaching schedule, it became clear there wasn’t enough time in the day to put forth an effective fundraising effort if he was still going to maintain the site. He declined to say how much he has raised so far.
Since Thurston started the site, he hasn’t paid himself or any of his writers a dollar, Thurston said, but, depending on the strength of the donations, that’s about to change. He plans to start taking home some pay and hopes to pay his writers.
“I’m hoping it will buy us more consistent reporting,” he said. “When you’re working with all volunteers, including me, it’s tough to be able to look at somebody and say ‘we need this by Tuesday at 2.’ If you start paying people, you’re able to say ‘you’ve got to find some time to do this job since we’re paying you.'”
Part of the IRS’ requirements for 501(c)(3) organizations is to incorporate an educational component, which shouldn’t be difficult for the Montgomery College faculty member. Just what to do is still to be determined, however, as is much of the Merc’s future.
“I don’t know what the Merc will look like into the future,” Thurston said. “The news industry is changing a bunch, and who the hell knows what’s going to happen… I feel like we’ve gotten off the ground. We’ve done a lot, we’ve broken a number of stories, given some great analysis, but now it’s the time for people to give and for us to go out and say ‘we really need the money. If you like the site, help contribute.’”