More than 58,000 people live in poverty in Fairfax County. To help break the cycle of poverty, FACETS, a community agency where I have been director since 2009, organizes 3,000 volunteers to help our neighbors in need.
Each day our donors and volunteers help us meet the immediate needs of thousands of people. They are also ambassadors, helping engage and educate our community in providing long-term solutions and resources to help suburban families climb out of these tough circumstances.
We are always looking for more ambassadors, but especially for ones of color and from diverse cultures that reflect our diverse client base. It helps us make a stronger connection with our clients. Also, those we serve benefit from knowing that others have broken down and climbed over the barriers that keep people from being successful.
I witnessed a specific example of this one day as a young African American volunteer attending nearby George Mason University spent time with girls in one of three affordable housing communities we serve. People living in these communities have limited financial resources, with the average income for a family of four at approximately $18,000.
Programs for youth take place after school and in the evenings and focus on academics, building self-esteem, substance abuse prevention, healthy relationships and college or career planning.
Carmen, an intern and volunteer, spent weeks teaching several girls about dance and relating to them as a recent immigrant. In the end, these girls who once lacked self-esteem had the confidence to perform in front of crowds.
As we take students on college tours and some await acceptance letters, I know having an example of someone who was realizing their dream of higher education will make all the difference.
Volunteers are the front line in the effort to end poverty. That’s why as Carmen’s efforts demonstrate, having a volunteer base that reflects those we serve is also important to our efforts succeeding.
However, at FACETS, less than 2 percent of our volunteers are racial or ethnic minorities. That’s not bad until one considers that nearly 6 percent of the county’s residents live below the poverty line — but twice that percentage are minorities. Also given that 36 percent of Fairfax’s population are minorities, our volunteer base clearly needs to be more reflective of our community.
Indeed, when I think of this dedication to service, it reminds me of my favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr: “Everybody can be great ...because anybody can serve.”
King’s legacy was not just about racial justice; he was equally as focused on serving people in poverty. So, in the spirit of his vision around service, I encourage more people — especially those of color — to reach beyond themselves and find ways to serve.
A simple generous gesture from a stranger can be all a person needs to change their life. At FACETS, we look forward to welcoming more volunteers — of all races and religions — to help realize King’s dream by achieving FACETS’s vision: a day when everyone in Fairfax County has access to adequate and affordable housing and nobody is homeless.
Amanda Andere is executive director of of FACETS, a nonprofit serving individuals and families suffering the effects of poverty in Fairfax County.
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