StandUp for Kids - Washington, DC
Our Washington, DC program welcomed its new executive director this May. Taking over the reins from the incredible Josh Blum, Heather Holmes brings a wealth of experience and vision. This is the highest volunteer role one can have at the local level to help end the cycle of youth homelessness. We hope you will get to know Heather through in the following interview.
Editor: Heather, please tell us a little about yourself!
Heather: Giving back to my community has always been very important to me and I have always looked for opportunities to do that. Greater DC Cares was my first, big introduction to volunteer opportunities here in the DC area. I served as a volunteer team leader with them and learned about so many groups and the services that they provide. I have since taken on additional volunteer leadership roles in other areas. In 2017, I discovered StandUp for Kids. Having previously been a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) here in the District for several years, StandUp spoke to me on a different level than my other commitments. Through StandUp, I saw an additional resource for many youth in need of our help for different reasons, but specifically for those exiting foster care.
What do you think prepared you for this great new role?
When a leadership role became available, I thought about it for a bit and then realized how much more good could be done by expanding our chapter to do even more than it's been able to do in the past. The first step toward doing that is building a strong team. My background is varied, but the constant is management. Could I learn how to do policy advocacy or refresh my media skills or try and tackle fundraising? Yes, I could do that. Or, could I find people who are far more knowledgeable than me in those fields and ask them for help? Yes. So, that is what I did. I am so happy and excited to now have a solid team of volunteers helping me move our chapter forward.
In StandUp for Kids, we strive to be mentors and constant supports to the youth we encounter. Can you tell us about an important mentor in your life?
I have been fortunate to have so many people positively impact my life. The one who stands above the rest is Numa Snyder. I started playing the violin when I was 9. I never liked to practice and I always shunned the spotlight. Solos were definitely not for me. Where I grew up, the string community was very small. Everyone knew everyone else. The upside to that was I never had to audition for anything. The downside was the day Numa refused to sit first chair...which meant I had to sit there. For those unfamiliar, when you sit first chair in an orchestra, you have to play all your instrument's solos. We were playing in the pit orchestra for a local musical production and had 3 performances. I begged him to play the solos for me as I was just terrified to do it. He played the first two performances. Before the third, he sat me down, looked me in the eye and said, "You can do this. I know you can." Now that may not mean a lot, but Numa was a legend in our community. Everyone knew him. Everyone loved him. And, he was a BRILLIANT violinist. He had this way of making you feel like you played just as well as he did. For me, that was not the case, but that's just who he was. Numa passed away in 2008 and I miss him. I will always remember that talk. It makes me cry to this day when I think of it, but the tears are happy ones. I hope everyone, at some point in their lives, has the good fortune to have a mentor like Numa.
What are the opportunities in DC and with StandUp for Kids to help end the cycle of youth homelessness right now?
I see opportunities for StandUp for Kids to partner with a lot of existing groups here in the District. There are organizations that specialize in education, employment, housing, and so on. I would rather we expand our relationships with them--or develop new ones where needed--to give our youth every resource and opportunity this city can offer them.
What are some ways that readers can support the DC program?
We always need volunteers. While we have specific training that we require given the work that we do, it's definitely worth it when you are able to connect with our youth and help them in some way. Additionally, we welcome in-kind and/or financial donations. We are 100% volunteer-run so there is not overhead, but we do want to help as many youth as we possibly can and donations definitely help us do that. Another way is to mention us to your friends, family, and colleagues. Get the word out that we are a resource for the under-24 population here. We truly want to end youth homelessness and you can help us do that! If you have additional questions, feel free to email me from our contact page.