Ten Highlights of 2016

Cake.“A Million Better Tomorrows” sums up our wish for everyone as we look back at the Giving Circle of HOPE for 2016.


After years of service, many of the Guiding Circle including some Founding Members passed their batons to new hands. Happily, they continued to counsel and lend their expertise! The Guiding Circle for 2016 included: Rebecca Berntsen and Lydia Patrick (Communications), Peggy Cressy and Cyndi Shanahan (Governance), Jacquie Garland (Records), Diana Katz (Outreach), Sheila Morris and Donna Whitaker (Grants), Joy Myers (Programs), Rosemary Theurer (Finance), and Jean Wyman (Membership).

January 2016 Quarterly Meeting with speakers from Centreville Immigration Forum, OAR of Fairfax, and Grace Ministries.

January 28’s Quarterly Meeting raised our awareness and focused attention on immigration, incarceration, and data collection provided on human services. Speakers were our grantees from the Centreville Immigration Forum, OAR of Fairfax, and Grace Ministries. The impacts of our collective giving on the lives of those in need in our community became very real.


Jane Leibbrand.

Raising awareness about the close to home issue of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking: Here, There and Everywhere was the topic of the March 12 joint program sponsored by the Giving Circle of HOPE, the Herndon-Reston Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and the Reston Lion’s Youth Club. Our awareness was raised about how these cruel and dehumanizing practices exist in our local community, how predators recruit vulnerable girls and boys, and how difficult it is for those trafficked to separate from the situation.





March 2016 Quarterly Meeting with speakers from Lorton Community Action Center, Our Daily Bread, and OAR of Arlington.

March 17’s Quarterly Meeting called on three of our grantees to raise awareness and focus attention on particular areas of need locally: hunger, nutrition, and reintegration into the community following incarceration. Speakers were from Lorton Community Action Center, Our Daily Bread, and OAR of Arlington.


Serving bread.

Sharing soup and bread at 2016’s Empty Bowls.

If it’s April, it’s Empty Bowls! 2016 marked the 9th annual event to raise awareness about hunger in Northern Virginia and to raise funds for one of our nonprofit partners, Food for Others. We coordinated with donors to provide handcrafted pottery bowls, delicious soups, breads, and desserts along with entertainment, education, and advocacy. (Watch for details on the 10th annual Empty Bowls to be held April 28, 2017.)


2015 Grant Recipients of The Giving Circle of HOPE

Celebrating with our nine 2015 grant recipients.

May 13 was the celebration of our 2015 grantees’ accomplishments! Attendees heard first-hand how the lives of those served by each of the nonprofit grantees were impacted by the Giving Circle’s funding. Held in an informal setting at the Lake Anne Community Center, each nonprofit had their own table where they spoke and answered questions until the bell chimed and those listening rotated to the next nonprofit’s table. We left the event with a wealth of useful and actionable information.


Girls Inspired and Ready to Lead.

Making a $1,500 grant to Girls Inspired & Ready to Lead.

Break The Cycle Check for SOHO.

Making a $1,500 grant to Space Of Her Own.

The tenth anniversary of the Break The Cycle Endowment was celebrated by granting $1,500 each to two local nonprofits that support girls to develop positive self-esteem and a healthy attitude about their bodies. Girls Inspired & Ready to Lead (GIRL) received funding for its Pathways to Careers Program, which introduces high school girls to smart decision-making for the future through career exploration. Space Of Her Own (SOHO) was funded for its new program that promotes practical skills through carpentry and interior design, technology, and architecture, as well as fosters career aspiration and success in school.

Members at the annual picnic.

Catching up with Giving Circle of HOPE members over a picnic dinner.

Giving Circle of HOPE members came together at the August 25th Picnic and Quarterly Meeting, which was held at the Walker Nature Center. We caught up with each other and heard from the Guiding Circle about what was in store for November’s BIG GIVE. We didn’t just bring entrees, side dishes, and desserts. We also brought pajamas, toothbrushes and toothpaste for children at the shelter. Though it got dark a bit earlier than we expected, the flickering candles ensured a bright evening of fellowship.


Hearing one of the three Path Toward Tomorrow programs.

The Giving Circle of HOPE hosted three free programs on human service needs in the community. The program was called The Path Toward Tomorrow: Fairfax County Human Services Needs Assessment and the Giving Circle of HOPE Response and was replicated in Vienna, Herndon, and Reston over three evenings. Representatives from Fairfax County’s Department of Human Services highlighted areas of need identified in the assessment and a member of the Guiding Circle shared what the Giving Circle is and how it helps local nonprofits in their work with struggling residents. Vienna Mayor Laurie DiRocco, Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel, and State Delegate Ken Plum participated in the discussions, which we very much appreciated.


Crossing one million dollars in grant funding over 12 years.

The big moment arrived following months of preparation. At the November 17 gathering for members to vote on the grant recipients for 2016, approximately 120 people gathered to celebrate an amazing milestone – crossing one million dollars in grants given since the Giving Circle began in 2004. Eileen Ellsworth, President of the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia, spoke about current philanthropic efforts to address needs in the community. Then it was time for collective giving in action with three nonprofits presenting one of their projects and attendees voting on which would receive grant funding that evening. SafeSpot Children’s Advocacy Center received the largest grant with College Access and SPIRIT Open Equestrian equally sharing smaller grants. We also congratulated and bid adieu to those Guiding Circle members who are retiring. Beautiful venue at Refraction. Delicious food and drink. Memories we’ll enjoy for years. Challenge accepted to raise the next one million dollars for grants to address pressing needs in our local area.

As for the regular grant awards for 2016, eight nonprofits received funding. We look forward to sharing their progress with you in the months ahead.


Buying a gift that helps others at the Alternative Gift Market.

The Giving Circle had a table front and center at the December 5 Alternative Gift Market. We offered shoppers two gift options. One was a “first night basket” of a small soft pillow, warm socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, and activity books for a child entering the shelter. The other was a Flashes of Hope photo shoot for children with cancer and their families. It was an uplifting experience to join with a dozen other nonprofit groups; each offering holiday gifts to help those in need.

As 2016 comes to a close, we see a new chapter beginning. Diana Katz, the last of the Giving Circle of HOPE’s four founders, has retired from the Guiding Circle as have Rebecca Berntsen and Peggy Cressy, two long-term members. We look forward to 2017 and undertaking the work ahead to strengthen our local community. With your support and active participation, it will be quite a year!

If we missed one of your 2016 Giving Circle highlights, let us know by leaving a comment.

10th Anniversary of the Break The Cycle Endowment

Girls on the run racer.Through its Break The Cycle endowment, the Giving Circle of HOPE (GCH) periodically offers grant funding to local nonprofit organizations with programs that support girls to develop positive self-esteem and a healthy attitude about their bodies. The GCH established the endowment in 2006 through the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia. Awards are made every two to three years. Including the two this August, a total of seven awards have been made. Previous recipients are: Girls on the Run at the Weems Elementary School in Manassas, Facets, and the Alexandria Campaign Against Adolescent Pregnancy (ACAP).

In August 2016, two local nonprofits received $1,500 each: Girls Inspired and Ready to Lead (GIRL) and Space Of Her Own (SOHO). The grants were celebrated with each organization individually.

Girls Inspired and Ready to Lead.

$1,500 grant awarded to Girls Inspired and Ready to Lead.

On August 20, 2016, the Giving Circle of HOPE’s Guiding Circle members Sheila Morris, Jean Wyman, Lydia Patrick and Danielle Blunt Craddock, the Founder/Director of GIRL, gathered to celebrate the grant award.

The $1,500 grant is for its Pathways to Careers Program, which will introduce high school girls to smart decision-making for the future through career exploration. The program will include Saturday workshops with college student mentors who can share their experiences of studying for a career and with women from diverse career fields who can share their journeys to a successful career. It will also include a field trip to a job site and job shadowing opportunities for the girls. In addition, participants will attend GIRL’s annual career conference where middle and high school girls learn about exciting careers of the 21st century as they meet women working in a variety of career fields and attend interactive workshops.

My hope is to obtain as much experience and exposure now, while I am in high school, to be able to narrow down some of my uncertainties in which course of study I should pursue. Instead of wasting time and money in figuring out which major I should pursue, I feel that this career program will help me figure that uncertainty out. I hope to plan a career track that will introduce me to fields of entrepreneurship, leadership, business, and social media that will give me the opportunity to determine a major in Business Management and Communication. ~ participant in GIRL.

Break The Cycle Check for SOHO.

$1,500 grant awarded to Space Of Her Own.

SOHO participants and mentors.On August 27, the Giving Circle of HOPE’s Guiding Circle members Sheila Morris and Lydia Patrick joined Linda Odell, Founder/Executive Director of SOHO and SOHO participants and their mentors during a nature program event at Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County.

The $1,500 grant to SOHO will fund a new program which promotes practical skills through carpentry and interior design, technology, and architecture, as well as career aspiration and success in school. The girls create a personal space at home that conveys a sense of value and worth, plus a lasting reminder of the circle of support and care that they have received.

Linda Odell reflected on what a participant once told her. Being in SOHO was the best year of my life and finishing my space was the best day of my life.SOHO participants talk with Sheila Morris.

In talking with two of the girls ages 11 and 12, they said of their SOHO experience I like meeting my mentor, doing carpentry, seeing all the Christmas trees in the White House, bowling, and building a bird house with my family. Both had suggestions for improvements too. I would like more space in the classroom and to go on more trips to see art.

SOHO participant and her mentor.



Volunteers are needed by SOHO to be mentors. Now is the time to step up with the new school year starting. Please see their website for details and to sign-up.


The Break the Cycle endowment has funded seven grants in ten years, empowered dozens of girls living in our community, and offered service opportunities to members of the Giving Circle of HOPE. It’s a win-win for everybody.

‘When I Learn English, My Community Grows’: Literacy Council of Northern Virginia

LCNV essay contest winner.

Essay contest winner.

The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV), one of the Giving Circle of Hope’s 2015 Grantees, held their Annual Recognition Event on Tuesday, June 21 and packed the auditorium of the James Lee Community Center. The yearly event is a celebration of the organization’s learners and an opportunity to thank volunteers and community partners.

LCNV essay contest winner.

Essay contest winner.

A hallmark of the event is the opportunity to hear essay contest winners read their award-winning words in their own voice. This year’s theme, ‘When I Learn English, My Community Grows’ encouraged entrants to explore what community meant to them, how building literacy and language skills broke down barriers and enabled the confidence to participate more actively in their communities.

Among the speakers was a Colombian-born physician who no longer requires translation services at medical conferences and is opening doors for her children; a newly-minted U.S. Citizen from Vietnam who feels full of hope and gratitude for her adopted country; and a Taiwanese learner who is now paying it forward by tutoring American students in Chinese.

Delegate Mark Keam.

Delegate Mark Keam.

The highlight of the evening came when guest speaker, Delegate Mark L. Keam, delivered a rousing and inspiring speech based on his own experiences as a non-native speaker and the first Asian-born immigrant to serve in the Virginia General Assembly. Mr. Keam invoked the spirit of George Mason and stirred emotions when he implored everyone to accept that one language binds and unites us and beseeched the audience to continue their studies. The speech culminated in a standing ovation, the feeling of pride shared by all participants was palpable.


LCNV certificate recipients.

Awarding of the certificates.

All graduating adult learners were then awarded certificates, followed by volunteer service awards and the joyous crowd then gathered for a reception to toast the occasion.

LCNV 2015-2016 graduates.

2015/16 Literary Council of Northern Virginia Graduates

Celebrating with our 2015 Grant Recipients

2015 Grant Recipients of The Giving Circle of HOPE

2015 Grant Recipients of The Giving Circle of HOPE

The evening of Friday, May 13 reminded us of the needs in our community and the direct impact of what The Giving Circle of HOPE (GCH) does. Over 50 members of the GCH and their guests circulated in a “speed dating style” with the 2015 Grant Recipients at the Rose Gallery at Reston Community Center at Lake Anne.


The evening began with social time to meet new people and catch up with old friends


Such opportunities to continue strengthening our ties are always welcome!


2016 Membership Chair and 2015 Grants Chair

Cyndi Shananhan, 2015 Grants Chair, served as Mistress of Ceremonies. She reminded us of the grants process that brought us altogether and thanked those who played a part in its success. Donna Whitaker and Sheila Morris, Grants Co-Chairs for 2016, hinted at what’s to come this year. Jean Wyman, Membership Chair, encouraged those present to sign up with their $415 annual contribution to become a Voting Member to help select the 2016 Grant Recipients.

granteetalkCyndi outlined how the rest of the evening would go. There were 9 tables with 8 seats per table. Each 2015 Grant Recipient organization (and in some cases a client served by that grant) had been invited to attend, sit at their assigned table, and provide a short presentation about their grant, what it meant to their organization and clients, and answer any questions.

granteetableGCH members and guests stayed at a table for about 10 minutes until the bell sounded and we were off to the next table.

GCH’s 2015 Grant Recipients and the projects or capacity building efforts funded:

tellmemoreWe heard successes, challenges and specifics about how the services funded by GCH grants have affected individuals directly and the organizations that serve them.



It is difficult to describe precisely the feelings and thoughts that run through one’s head at the end of such an evening. Mostly, I would have to quote Dr. Seuss To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.

And that feels great!

“As we fill our bowls, let us remember those that are empty.”

Girls holding bowls.The ninth annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on April 8 was hosted by The Giving Circle of HOPE. The purpose of Empty Bowls to help fight hunger and food insecurity in our community.

Family eating.For a small donation, guests receive a simple supper of soup, bread, cake and a beverage and a handmade ceramic bowl as a reminder that there are those in the community who have empty bowls.

Hold pottery.Empty Bowls is a grassroots program designed to help end hunger in the U.S. and worldwide. It was developed by John Hartom, a Michigan art teacher who came up with the project idea in 1990-1991 when he joined a community drive to raise charitable funds.


The funds raised through The Giving Circle of HOPE’s Empty Bowls fundraiser benefit Food for Others, one of our nonprofit partners and the largest distributor in Northern Virginia of free food directly to those facing hunger and food emergencies.

For the April 8 fundraiser, almost $39,000 was raised in combined direct and in-kind contributions. Over 500 people attended and almost 700 pottery pieces were donated.

This event would not be possible without the generosity of a large cast of donors and sponsors, volunteers, the event Co-Chairs and team.  Thank you!

Woman stirring soup.

Volunteers stirred soup.

Men pouring soup.

Volunteers poured soup.

Serving cake.

Donors and sponsors cut cake.

Empty Bowls Co-chairs.

Empty Bowls 2016 Co-Chairs confer.

Hunger and poverty in Fairfax County

  • 1 of 6 people in Fairfax County is food insecure. During any given month, they will be out of money and food, and will be forced to miss meals or seek assistance.
  • 64,600 (almost 6%) Fairfax County residents live below the federal poverty threshold.
  • More than 52,000 people living within 45 minutes of your house live in poverty.
  • 1 in 20 senior citizens in Fairfax County live in poverty, which leads them to choose between food, medicine, and utilities.

Empty Bowls for 2016 is over, but food insecurity is year-round. What you can do now?


Read about the causes and solutions for food insecurity at Feeding America and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.


Support and advocate for programs and legislation that help families afford food. These include a higher minimum wage, affordable quality health care, deferral nutrition programs, and family friendly tax laws.


Donate food, time and money to support local food programs.

Serving bread.