Letter from the Publisher

Get Involved

I was around 6 or 7 years old when I first encountered a homeless person. My family was touring Philadelphia’s historic district. As we strolled along taking in the sights, we passed a man panhandling on a street corner. I don’t remember what he looked like or what he was wearing, but I do recall that I gave him money and the experience was upsetting to me. My parents must have explained that he didn’t have a home and slept outside or in a shelter, but I kept asking questions: How did he end up without a house? Doesn’t he have a family? Can’t he get a job and
make money to buy a house? It made a lasting impression on me.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s, living and working in D.C., that I encountered homeless people on a regular basis. A few were memorable, like the Compliment Man (“I like your shoes, pretty lady”) and Blelvis (which stood for Black Elvis; he could croon any Elvis tune upon request), but for the most part, the homeless were just part of the D.C. streetscape of the 1990s. There, but invisible. That visceral feeling I first had as a boy faded into a general unease and feelings of guilt when I passed them by. At some point, I stopped giving them money because I had read they would just spend it on alcohol or drugs. (In all honesty, I probably felt relieved to be off the hook.) I gave back in other ways and to other causes during those years, but I didn’t pursue opportunities to help the homeless.

I’m older now and thankful that others have taken up this cause. In Arlington, there’s been a coordinated 10-year effort to eliminate homelessness. With leadership from nonprofi ts like A-SPAN, Doorways for Women and Families, Bridges to Independence and Volunteers of America-Chesapeake, along with our local government, great strides have been made to move homeless people off the streets, into permanent housing, and to get them help. Our story “Close to Home,” by Tamara Lytle, explores the efforts of the dedicated people and organizations that are leading the charge to address this important issue.

Rounding out our features, “Teaching Kids to Care,” by Ellen Ryan, provides helpful guidance on how to instill empathy and altruism in our children through volunteerism. And our biennial “Guide to Giving” offers snapshots of nearly 40 local nonprofits, with an overview of each organization’s mission, volunteer opportunities and how donations are spent. Special thanks to writer Lia Tabackman for compiling the guide, and to the Arlington Community
Foundation for its assistance.

I hope you find our Philanthropy issue useful and informative. I also hope that it helps you discover a local organization or cause that inspires you to get involved and give back to our wonderful community. Please feel free to send me your thoughts at greg.hamilton@arlingtonmagazine.com.

Greg Hamilton, Publisher