FSFSC staff provide hot meals to Ward 8 residents during the citywide shutdown. (Lindiwe Vilakazi/The Washington Informer)
FSFSC staff provide hot meals to Ward 8 residents during the citywide shutdown. (Lindiwe Vilakazi/The Washington Informer)

As families across the country adjust to the daily lifestyle changes forced upon them during the COVID-19 pandemic, a family-focused organization aiming to help Ward 8 residents weather the storm.

The Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC), a longtime fixture in the community, has served as a beacon for many during the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, providing hot meals and financial assistance as the city and nation slow to an economic standstill.

“We’re going to meet the financial need — that’s what we do,” said Dionne Reeder, the organization’s executive director. “So those families who are in jeopardy of losing their place of living, and those families who’ve lost their employment — we’re working with them as well.”

Reeder is a key component in the organization’s execution of social work and engagement. The group hosts a bevy of family support centers in Ward 8, largely working to combat high rates of child abuse in the city.

“Yes, children were being abused — they were being neglected physically and mentally,” she said. “But the biggest piece for Ward 8 at that time [of the organization’s founding], which is still the issue today, is that families were neglected because of poverty. Children weren’t just being abused for the sake of being abused — families were poor.”

FSFSC’s “credible messengers” team has partnered with Progressive Life and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, which hires returning citizens to mentor city youth who have already been exposed to the juvenile justice system.

Their violence-interruption team also works closely with young adults in the communities who need mentoring and guidance.

“All of our programs primarily are under our family services division, because we want to make sure we have a critical component dealing with the trauma, and the psychology of it all.” Reeder said.

The group serves 13 schools through its case management program, working heavily in communities entrenched in violence and poverty. Within these schools, FSFSC has selected 50 families to work with, aiming to ensure they are equipped with daily needs to nurture their children’s education and the family’s standard of living.

The organization continues to engage its community members despite physical limitations of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

“We are being very innovative doing FaceTime with a lot of our families who actually have devices allowing them to do FaceTime, [Google] Hangout, whatever it is where we can see the family and the children,” Reeder said. “So that’s how we’ve been engaging the family we currently serve.”

The organization continues to serve families that still have needs beyond schooling, such as meal assistance, transportation and other services.

“We are also the managers of the Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center, so we’re open and providing hot meals for lunch and those seniors that we do not want to come out — we’re delivering their food to them,” Reeder said. “We are set up through the Department of Aging, where those families can actually receive hot meals seven days a week.”

Operating for 23 years, FSFSC fuels their unique operations strictly through grant funding.

Prior to Mayor Muriel Bowser announcing a citywide shutdown, FSFSC partnered with Humanities United, a foundation that gifted the organization with 50 laptops for their students. The contribution was timely, as the shutdown has pushed them to work virtually with their students and families.

Students are able to work from home with laptops, attending three virtual class lessons a day with FSFSC’s staff of 25 teachers who instruct through Zoom video-conferencing rooms in different subjects. Educators’ efforts with the Zoom interaction classes focus on where they see the greatest impact, which they say is currently third, fifth and seventh grade students.

“The scope of this work that we do is always to help families,” Reeder said. “It’s always to build families — whatever that family looks like.”

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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