Just look at the growing impact we have in the Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church communities:
2017: 28 classes, 196 non-unique adults reached (of course all adults are unique. Some of the adults we served took more than one class. You know what we mean…).
2018: 107 classes, 723 non-unique adults and youth reached (quite a jump, don’t you agree? And we added kids at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center)!
2019: 176 classes, 1,457 non-unique adults and youth reached (almost doubled our participation. We’re happy)!
2020: 207 classes, 1,617 non-unique adults and youth reached (and during the COVID-19 pandemic when all of our classes went virtual in the spring. Hey, we’re impressed)!
2021: 216 classes, 1,834 non-unique adults and youth reached (so many people need creative expression amid the isolation and confusion surrounding COVID).
2022: 229 classes, 1,999 non-unique adults and youth reached (seriously, we wanted to hit 2,000 so badly! But we sure have our goal for 2023)!
October – December 2023: Visual Art with the Arlington County Detention Facility General Population
We’re always happy when our visual arts teacher, Sharmila Karamchandani, is assiged to the Arlington County Detention Facility. Normally she is assigned with the Community Readiness Unit for 8 weeks twice a year, and this time they asked that she work with the general population. Of course she said yes, and of course they loved her! Sharmila just has that gentle, safe way about her that gives her clients the freedom to express, create, and share (if they want) in a safe environment. Her 4.78/5 rating proves that, and so do these comments from the evaluations:
“This has been an awesome class. The teacher is great at helping us express ourselves. Please bring this teacher, Ms. K., and her art class back!! We need more classes/therapy type for people that are not in ACT like me. Would love to see a song/dance class. More classes also!”
“Was very therapeutic, loved this class. I look forward to this class every week.”
“Gave a chance to express oursel[ves] in a different way. Share with our peers and also able to hear our peers out. I would love for the classes to continue.”
“Teacher is very nice and hears u out. Makes me feel heard and comfortable.”
“I love this class and want more. It relie[ves] my stress.”
“I thought this class kept me more at peace. I really enjoyed my time in art class. I hope to continue it.”
“This was awesome!”
“I enjoy the class.”
“I’m not usually into art but it was a great alternative to writing and being able to express myself through imagery and visuals. I would love to see improv as an option.”
“I think art is great – more creative classes are in order (dance, music, any art, etc.).”
October – December 2023: Public Speaking with the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center
Public speaking is scary. And, such an important skill. It can make the difference between getting that job or not. How lucky we are to have award-winning actor and producer (and public speaking teacher extraordinaire) Mike Baker lead public speaking classes (online, mind you) for twelve women at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center. These women are preparing to return to their communities, and securing that all-important job is a top priority for them. Not only did Mike help them with the confidence, he brought in a representative from Northern Virginia Community College to give them some additional preparation and tips! No wonder these women rated Mike 4.97/5! Here’s what they had to say about him:
“Mr. Baker is a great instructor and very insightful. I feel more prepared & comfortable for interviews than I ever have before.”
“Mr. Baker was amazing who got you out [of] your shell & made you feel comfortable public speaking.”
“Mr. Baker was an inspiration to me. I learned so much about interviewing.”
“Learned a lot. Very heart filled. Useful information. Thank you.”
“Mr. Baker was awesome.”
“I really enjoyed this class and am thankful I had the opportunity to participate.”
“I really enjoyed this class. Thank you.”
September – October 2023: Spoken Word with Friends of Guest House
C. Thomas has been at Friends of Guest House all year, but periodically (every two months or so) we ask the residents to complete our Heard evaluation. And they just love him! But, what are our art team rated on? Glad you asked! Our client evaluations ask our clients to answe six statements on a 1 to 5 scale, evaluating our artists on our outcomes. They are:
1. I felt comfortable expressing my creativity in class
2. The focus of the class was on me creating my art (writing, speaking, visual arts, poetry, etc.)
3. I enjoyed this class
4. I feel “heard”
5. I feel more self-aware, self-confident, and/or empathetic
6. I feel more able to make good decisions and/or able to handle conflict peacefully
We hold a space for comments, which is where we really know what our clients are thinking. In this case C.’s scored an amazing 4.93/5, and the comments below tell us how highly our clients think of them:
“Mx. Chris was so knowledgeable about all types of writing and poetry. They show a great interest in the art we create.”
“I wrote a pantoum and it made sense and flowed and I was SO dang proud of myself. It will makes me feel good a week after. 🙂 Like ecstatic!”
“The class opened me up to be my own! Individuality”
“Love the atmosphere and impact this class gives. C. Thomas is AWESOME and inspires even the most amateur writer to write their feelings creatively.”
“This class was comfortable and it allowed me to be creative and expressive. Its encouraged my writing. I loved it.”
“It has helped me by teaching me to express myself.”
“It gave me so much knowledge on how I can express myself on paper and pour out my brain with words that I was feeling in my body. Thanks to Chris [they] gave me a lot of courage that I thought I didn’t have. [THEY ARE] AWESOME”
“I stopped writing years ago & this class has helped me to be able to do that again. I really appreciate that.”
August – October 2023: Creative Writing with the Women of Winchester!
Working with our virtual partner, the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC), is one of our most rewarding experiences and one of our most challenging. Let’s face it. It’s hard to teach virtually (just ask any COVID-era teacher or student) but sometimes the only option available. And despite some technical challenges (and HUGE props to the NRADC staff for the fixes), our creative writing teacher Betsy Allen showed these women how to unleash their unheard voices. Betsy is also an adjunct English professor at George Mason University. Lucky students! The comments we received from the womens spoke volumes (not to mention Betsy’s 4.75/5 eval) about the safe space she offers.
“She was an amazing teacher. I’m not a fan of writing but with Miss Betsy she made it interesting and a pleasure to do. I am very appreciative of this and interested in writing just b/c of this amazing teacher and sad to see the class end [heart]”
“This helped me feel heard and valued. I felt like I learned so much about myself.”
“Absolutely loved Ms. Betsy as my teacher. She made it comfortable when thinkin[g] on hard promp[t]s. Loved this class.”
“I never had a class like this one in school. I have learned new ways to journal and can share that with others one day.”
“I never enjoyed writing but this class taught me how to express myself on paper without being judged or feeling inadequate.”
I really enjoyed this class! It reminded me how much I like to write!”
“This class opened me up to sharing my writing with others.”
“This instructor was very warm and never pushy. She made everything understandable and easy.”
June – August 2023: Singing and Karaoke at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center (Alexandria, Virginia)
Karaoke at a detention center? We were a little surprised by this, and a little unsure. And it was so much fun! By the end of the series, we had three regulars in our weekly class, led by our singing teacher Bharati Soman. And those guys came to sing! Two of them sang in their high school choirs, and one of them was part of a European tour in his high school days. It was joyful to listen to them sing each week, and as the classes continued and their shyness wore off, they become more confident and ready to solo. And, each week Bharati spent the first 15 minutes or so with vocal warmups, singing exercises, and other instruction that professional singing teachers offer. It was rewarding to watch them have fun, sing loudly and proudly, and reconnect with that part of themselves. And Bharati ended the series with a perfect 5/5 score.
“This class gave me time every week to unwin[d] and have fun. My singing has [definitely] improved along with my mood. I really enjoyed also working on my music skills and seeing my skills grow.”
“I love the spirit that comes along with this music arts class. I would love to continue this class. This was a great and pleasant experience. Thank you.”
“I really enjoyed this class and look forward to participating again. I felt free to sing to the best of my ability.”
July – August 2023: Creative Writing at the Arlington County Detention Facility Community Readiness Unit (CRU)
We knew when our creative writing teacher Alexa Fleming started her work at the Arlington County Detention Facility, it would be a winner! Alexa, an award-winning journalist, incorporates a journalist’s mind to her creative writing work. When you take a class from Alexa, be ready to look at issues from many perspectives, just as she does. Our writers learned the importance of detail as they interviewed each other, the value of opposing points of view when they were asked to write those about a topic they were passionate about, and so many other life skills. As you can see from the comments below, the writers appreciated the safe environment she created, the freedom to express themselves, and the new things they learned about themselves. The program manager told us that “several members of CRU spoke about how amazing the Creative Writing class was. One of the participants shared that it was one of the most meaningful classes he’s ever taken.” Now THAT makes us happy! Score? Amazing! 4.91/5! Fabulous!
“Miss Alexa was great at this class. Needs to come back.”
Alexa made my morning, caused me to think and express my thoughts and feelings on paper.”
“I’ve learned how to be more creative in my writing.”
“I have learned how to write more and express my thoughts and ideas more and to put it down on paper.”
“I enjoyed the creative process & being able to express myself in a safe environment.”
“I had an amazing time with Mrs. Alexa. She really knows how to get the creative juices flowing and made me think and write about some of the most wonderful times in my life. Thanks Mrs. Alexa.”
“I enjoyed the class & being able to write & express myself.”
“With Mrs. Alexa I’ve learned so much; expanding my vocab and expressing feelings.”
“This class was good with helping me expressing and creating my new thoughts. I felt more self confident in my writing thanks to the teacher.”
“A great class! Looked forward to it each and every week. A bit sad to see it end and Ms. Alexa will be missed.” Her energy and passion was much appreciated.”
“”This was a great class. I believe this class has [brightened] my [intelligence] level. I can now identify [in] myself and others w[h]ere [they are] coming from. Thank you I love the class!”
“How to express yourself with my writing, and think outside the box or who you identify your writing with or style.”
“This class teaches effective communication skills being creative and learning from each other.”
July – August 2023 – Spoken Word with Friends of Guest House
C. Thomas is becoming a regular at Friends of Guest House – and for very good reason! Just read what the FOGH residents said about them (below) and their perfect 5/5 score:
“Mx. Chris allows one to be their true self with a compassionate spirit to lift another to a level of living not existing despite challenges faced daily and hurdles to overcome.”
“I really enjoy class and instructor. They make class very interesting, inspiring and creative. Makes you bring out your creativity in writing, rhyming, and emotions. Love this!”
“You are the best. I love this class because we can freely express ourselves exactly the way we are our true self!”
“I love Chris. I can be myself and say what’s on my mind. No cut cards. Please don’t go. Love ya always.”
“I really enjoyed Chris. They are absolutely amazing. Their art of teaching truly touched me.”
“THE BEST! SO GENUINE”
July 20, 2023 – Creative Writing with Together We Bake – in Spanish!
We did a thing – we led our first class entirely in Spanish, with many, many thanks to Nina Sichel, one of our amazing (and bi-lingual) writing teachers. Nina enjoyed the class as much as our nine clients at Together We Bake, writing, “The women were attentive and wrote such deep and moving responses to the prepared prompts that it made for a very special and supportive experience for everyone in that room. This is exactly why I do the work I do — I believe that writing deeply, honestly, opens us up to greater self-knowledge and with that, hopefully, greater compassion and understanding of others.”
Yes, we completely agree with you Nina! And you received an amazing score: 4.89/5! Here’s what some of the women said about our class:
“I like this class very much. It’s the first time that I participate. Thank you. I experienced something very special. I am grateful.”
“The class was amazing. Show me how to get connect to myself. To know that it happened inside me on words.”“I liked it a lot, and was able to openly express my feelings.”
“I loved it because I learned how to speak and unburden (vent, release) my life.”
“It is very important to learn how to write our memories and emotions. Thank you!”
March – June 2023 – Improvisation at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center
This improvisation series was an experiment, and a peek into how Heard may move forward in the not-too-distant future. Could we – and should we – offer virtual arts classes to the incarcerated at sites where we cannot be onsite? We pondered that for a few months then reached out to the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester, Virginia. And they were on board! We were so excited! And of course we knew the right person to introduce to their 12 women in the Offender Reentry Transition Program (ORTP) was our improvisation teacher, Keely Kirk. We would try this for two months, we decided. Then two months turned into four months, and we declared victory! The women were really happy with our weekly improv program, and learned important life skills along the way that they can use and build on. Here’s a few of their comments:
“This class really helped me listen more openly & to not overthink. I also learned to explore my creative side. All smiles for miles. 🙂 Thank you!”
“I learned a lot about positive communication and supporting ideas. I can’t wait to share what I learned with my family.”
“I been here for all your class I loved them i[t] helped me open up more thanks so much.”
“I loved learning to have more communication and listening.”
“Thank you! Great job!”
May and June 2023 – Creative Writing with Friends of Guest House
We knew great things would happen when Phallon Perry agreed to teach creative writing to our Friends of Guest House residents. A children’s book author, Phallon has a unique way of gently coaxing imagination and creativity out of even the most timid of writers. Her writing series included haiku, drawing, poetry, and other interpretations of creative writing that many of our Guest House residents had not tried, or at least had not tried for decades. And congratulations Phallon for that amazing 4.8/5 score! That’s amazing! And what they said about you:
“I enjoy the teacher. She is very kind, and caring!”
“I like how she allows us to just be us!”
“I wouldn’t change anything”
“We appreciate you taking time out of ur schedule to work with us! Thank you for your time with us!”
“I appreciate the time and energy that you put in us. Take care.”
“It has helped me through writing & learning different way to help me writing poems & journaling & writing skills etc. “
“This was a good class and learning.”
“Thanks for coming to class and teaching us in the class.”
May and June 2023 – Spoken Word with Friends of Guest House
“Judgement free.” Notice a pattern here? When our C. Thomas holds their spoken word class, it’s no judgement, no pressure, no pushing. It’s all about you being you, reaching as deep as you want inside yourself, and bringing out what you want to say, need to say, and sometimes what you never knew you’d say in a safe, creative and loving space. Many of our Friends of Guest House residents came from places where they weren’t used to being seen or heard or given the space to express themselves, and they let loose here (want to read their creations? Check out our poetry page). And they love C. for giving them this freedom. The end-of-series eval scores? 5/5. Perfection.
“I felt completely seen & heard. I have always felt welcomed and wanted. Free to be “me”! Judgement Free Zone! <3″
“I love that we can come in & be ourselves and you come in as yourself & who you are & make it fun as well as learn.”
“I just love that there’s no judgement here <3”
“This is one of my favorite classes.”
“This class has gave me a platform for my thoughts, feelings, and struggles to be heard. I am able to get things off of my chest. I am learning who I am and what I am going to do from here on out. It’s OK in here to not know those things yet.”
“I really enjoy this class b/c the teacher is real, and has helped me tap in to my inner-self and shown me I’m ok as I am! I love you”
“This class allows me to express my deepest feelings. I express my inner trauma. This class is the best.”
“It’s my second time in the class, but I received a lot of strong points. It’s very theraputic and I thank you.”
“We love you!”
“It teaches one to listen and expand their imagination to self and other. It assists me in writing my poetry to pave the way for other and in expression that the class is awesome if one is open minded.”
May and June 2023 – Visual Arts with Artists at the Arlington County Detention Facility (ACDF)
We knew it was win/win when we asked Sharmila Karamchandani to teach a weekly visual arts class at that ACDF. Her gentle manner and that safe space she always creates would be perfect for the incarcerated attending the Community Readiness Unit program (a competitive program with focused life skills for those who are about to be released). It’s hard to say who got more out of the class – the artists or Sharmila. They gave her a near-perfect 4.97/5 and the comments are below – and they are fantastic! Sharmila was humbled by the <3 and we can’t wait for her to return!
“Class projects were fun, inventive and the content matched well with the CRU program objectives and values. Mrs. K was kind, welcoming, and skilled at creating an environment conducive to inspiring creativity and innovation. Overall one of my favorite classes.”
“The class was fun, well thought out, and brought out the true artist in me. It helped me to open up and express my creativity in a way that made me feel safe and understood.”
“I enjoyed having Mrs. K as an art teacher; she makes sure everyone is included and respectful.”
“This was my first class and I really had fun. I felt at peace and had no stress. The theraputic value of this type of class is priceless. I look forward to more classes like this.”
“I absolutely loved this class. Mrs. K had creative projects that are consistent w/the CRU program.”
“Very good class and, it impacted me as far as drawing and learning to put my feelings into drawing.”
“Challenged me to be more creative and think outside the box and expand my imagination.”
“Well I love art class because it will help me to share my feelings on what’s going on in my head with my drawing…”
“I love that art gets the creative juices flowing.”
“Mrs. K was a wonderful teacher. Her class agenda was well planned.”
“This class brought out the artist in me. Very nice class.”
“I have learned how to be more creative at my drawing and mind setting and would like Ms. K to come back and teach our art class.”
“This is a stress relieving class thru artistic authenticity.”
“Mrs. K is really helpful. I learned so much from her class that I’m taking home to my family but would love to have her again ASAP!”
“The best class so far really enjoyed it.”
March and April 2023 – Improvisation with the Friends of Guest House
We kept the Friends of Guest House residents busy these last few months! Not only did they learn etiquette and social skills, they learned communication and conflict resolution through our improvisation series let by nationally-known Keely Kirk. (We’ve been keeping Keely busy this spring – she’s leading improv classes with Friends of Guest House, the Arlington County Detention Center, and virtually with the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester, Virginia). Whew! Over and over, our clients tell us how fun our improv classes are and how much they learn:
“I love this class because this lady is great and I have so much fun in this course.”
“I learned that life can throw you obstacles that you can jump over.”
“[I learned] role playing strategies using body language. Make sure body language matches/conveys the emotion you want it to.”
“After you let the information sit in your mind and ponder on it for awhile you begin to start seeing where the information comes in handy and you start using it.”
March and April 2023 – Etiquette with the Friends of Guest House
We always love when Fannie Allen teaches her etiquette classes at Friends of Guest House. As the founder of The Allen Protocol & Leadership Institute, Fannie truly walks the walk when it comes to exhibiting exquisite manners which, as we learned from her, really means treating everyonw with kindness and respect. That’s what Fannie does, and does so well. And our Friends of Guest House residents thought so too. After two months of learning social skills, interview skills, and dining skills, they rated Fannie a whopping 4.97/5! And here’s what they wrote:
“Miss Fannie is very sweet, positive, encouraging, and educated! She’s a joy to have to teach!”
“I love how she teaches etiquette.”
“I enjoyed this class and learning to communicate better.”
“Helped me see what I have achieved in the work field and [what] my social skills are.”
April 2023 – Visual Arts with the Arlington County Detention Facility General Population
April was really special to us, since we were lucky enough to hold two types of art classes at the ACDF – visual arts and improvisation (see next impact statement). We knew they would love Sharmila Karamchandani and her gentle, encouraging way of guiding these artists through projects that would make them feel creative AND empowered! And love her they did! A 4.92/5 rating (woo HOO!) and by-name for her to return soon! See for yourself:
“I want to see Ms. K. more often. It helps with my mental wellness and makes me more calm.”
“Please come back! We love art & the teacher! Please bring more classes – all of them!”
“Art class is great…can you come back. Always [Allows] us to utilize our brains.”
March – April 2023 – Improvisation with the Arlington County Detention Facility Community Readiness Unit
How many corporate trainers would love the kind of feedback our Arlington County Detention Facility clients gave to our improvisation teacher Keely Kirk? Over eight weeks, our clients transformed themselves from not cooperating with each other to our final class today. They were cheering each other on, laughing, and supporting each other. They were all-in for the entire hour. They reviewed the life skills they’ve learned in the last two months like listening, making statements instead of questions, and practicing the holy grail of improvisation, the “yes-and.”
“This class has been my favorite of all – it was fun, yet empowering and transforming. It has given me communication skills that I have been able to use now – and will continue to use beyond.”
“The class was amazing the teacher showed me a different way of handlings situations. She’s great!”
“I really love what I learned, and how it helped me opened my min[d]. She was very great and had fun games and [a] positive mood!”
“I loved the class it was great to look forward to every morning.”
“I love this class you got to act out your emotion, and it was fun.”
“It always makes my mornings which leads to a great day.”
“The class was very interesting our time went b[y] thanks to a great teacher.”
“I like working with the community it feels good.”
“[I learned] Thinking on your feet.”
January – February 2023 – Spoken Word with Friends of Guest House
We love us some home runs, and we had another one when our spoken word poet C. Thomas spent his January and February Wednesdays with the Friends of Guest House residents. Our end-of-series evaluation includes a 1 – 5 rating based on our outcomes, and yes, C. scored a perfect 5! Every single response from every single participant was rated 5. You know, perfect. A high bar, but one we’ve hit before and expect to hit again. Because our art team is AWESOME!
“Wonderful class. Enjoyed it very much :-)”
“I enjoy this class a lot. I love to listen to the poetry Chris wrote and also listen to other residents’ writing prompt. I do have a hard time putting my words to paper. But I tried to and even if I couldn’t do the writing prompt, I still loved hearing what the other girls wrote.”
January – February 2023 – Creative Writing with the Arlington County Detention Facility
You have no idea how thrilled we were to be back onsite at the Arlington County Detention Facility. COVID and all of its complication kept us away from them for nearly two years. We missed them and they missed us, and our homecoming in January was one of celebration! We asked our Solveig Eggerz lead the classes. Solveig has a passion for teaching creative writing with the incarcerated, and we knew she would be our perfect artist to restart our relationship with them. Solveig was assigned to the Community Readiness Unit – a group of 15 or so, selected competitively, who are preparing for their upcoming release. This group has always been Heard enthusiasts, and they loved Solveig’s classes:
“Ms. Eggerz’s teaching style and homework assignments helped develop my writing by giving me specific points to focus on, healthier ways to express myself when I journal, write to my daughter daily, and to make my thinking legible through my words and speech….I and my classmates expressed our individual and collective desire for additional classes.”
“Creative writing has helped me deal with and see myself under a different light.”
“Great facilitator – very knowledgeable, attentive, and empathetic. I always felt heard, received positive affirmation, and was given a safe environment to express or share things which in the past, I was not. Amazing class!”
“It made me think and understand how my past impacted my future. It also made me wanna write about my everyday movements and life issues. The class is great & [so is] Ms. Eggerz.”
“I definitely enjoy this class this class was needed.”
“This class would impact on me because I would do more writing.”
November 2022 – Creative Writing with Community Lodgings
We were super-thrilled about this creative writing class with Community Lodgings’ transitional housing residents because it was the first series for our newest creative writing teacher Phallon Perry. Phallon has written several children’s books and we are thrilled to have the option of offering creative writing to kids. Phallon made quite a positive impression with her attention to detail and teaching style. We can’t wait to bring her back again!
“I really appreciate the ways to make and describe my intent in the despriptions of my writings. New and exciting information for me. I greatly appreciate the instructors attention to detail and her teaching methods were very easy to understand.”
“I enjoyed this class being a vehicle to spark a new inspiration for a hobby I had lost touch with. I now have a few new concepts to consider while writing that [will] help to expand the way I think about my characters and setting. Great class!”
September and October, 2022 – Improvisation with Friends of Guest House
So many life skills are packed into an improv class, and we love hearing from our clients when our sessions are completed. They learn so many new skills, especially centered around conflict resolution and communication, and are excited with what they know. We were thrilled to pieces about this series, and so were the Friends of Guest House residents. Here’s a few of their comments:
“I enjoyed this class. I feel like it can give people a voice in expressing their feelings, and at the same time seeing a different point of view in communication.”
“Fun and interesting way [to] learn skills of handling conflict!”
“Loved this class! Always looked forward [to] coming to this class.”
“Very good class. Teaches how to say ‘yes’ more and not shoot things down.”
August, 2022 – Spoken Word with Friends of Guest House
The Friends of Guest House women never know that treat they are in with our spoken word classes until Day 1 – and they they are hooked! Our C. Thomas was back with them in August and helped them find their voice and story, and turn into works of power. What did they think of this creative journey? Read on:
“I had no idea how deep I could look inside myself and write what I feel on paper.”
“Although this was my very first time to experience this class it was an absolute pleasure to not be the only one amongst others who wasn’t afraid to walk in their truth, to completely embrace who they are, no matter what the world thinks, feels or say[s]. The moment I saw you … sized you up, I felt a sincere sense of belonging. For the first time I didn’t feel alone in this room. Thank you for gracing me with your presence today. Stay fierce & keep slaying!”
“Mr. C. helps us to openly express ourselves, in a fun, yet soul-searching atmosphere.”
“The poetry and overall lesson is nourishing to the mind and spirit.”
“Everything said during the class left a huge impact on my heart. I heard so many things today that we said so perfectly. I want this class more.”
“C. Thomas is AWESOME! Lots of positivity, encourages participation. Loved it.”
“I loved this class! It has really brought joy into our classes! The entire experience has been uplifting! Thank you C!”
May and June 2022 – Creative Writing with ALIVE! House
I’m not a huge baseball fan (it bores the socks of me, quite honestly) but I love me a home run! And that’s what we got with the Heard evaluation for our creative writing series in May and June with the clients of ALIVE! House, a transitional housing program for women and families in emergency and transitional situations. A perfect 5.0 score, with meaningful, positive comments! Our amazing writing teachers, Betsy Allen and Nina Sichel, brought their A game as they always do, and offered our clients this creative experience. Here’s what our clients said:
“I thoroughly enjoyed the class and the creativity that was presented. Felt that I could dive in more with my writing.”
“I felt very comfortable expressing my creativity in my class, I enjoyed the class, I feel heard, I feel more self aware, express my feelings. I felt I learned how to write words of mind [mine], experience childhood great memories with this class.”
January 2022 – Spoken Word at Friends of Guest House
Another series completed, another amazing evaluation! Our C. Thomas received a 4.75/5 after his four-part spoken word series at Friends of Guest House. The first three weeks were done virtually – COVID precautions, you know. He decided to surprise the residents by showing up in person on the last day, and what a surprise it was! Yes, he was asked for an autograph! Please visit our Poetry Gallery page to read and hear some of their honest and revealing creations. We’ve included video from their last day as they performed their poetry for the rest of the group, and we couldn’t resist adding this group selfie. Here’s what the Friends of Guest House residents thought of C. and his class:
“This class gave me confidence and made [me] open up.”
“With the subjects suggested to write about I found words about myself I didn’t know I felt. I enjoyed this class.”
“I loved spoken word. It really has inspired [me] to strive to be a published author in more ways thatn one! And C. Thomas is AMAZING!”
August – October 2021 – Improvisation with the Arlington County Detention Facility Community Readiness Unit (CRU) and General Population (GP)
The CRU focuses on individualized reentry planning, work readiness and programming for substance abuse, mental health and life skills. So why not improvisation, we asked? Actually, Keely from our team has been leading improv classes at the detention facility off and on for a few years now, but this time was different. After many months of no classes at all (thanks, COVID), we began a ten week improv series with about 14 CRU and 3 GP participants, led on separate days. It was tough having to do it virtually, but all of us survived and thrived. Just look at the comments we received from the participants (and may we brag that Keely received a perfect 5/5 evaluation from the GP?):
“If there is an opportunity being incarcerated it is to improve our creative modes of expression and interaction. Great course leader – her energy and passion are a great influence. Thank you!”
“Teacher was engaging and open to input. She taught techniques to assist in writing and skit development. Thanks for a great time.”
“…[Reminded] me of important life skills that include ‘how to accept new ideas’ ‘active listening’ positive communication and open mindedness. These sessions were offered in a creative, fun, and stimulating way. Thank you…thank you! Helped prepare me to return to my life more healed.”
“Thank you so much for you[r] helping me get out of my comfort zone. I use the techniques in my conversations in here and on the phone with my family. Thank you mucho. 😊”
“The improv class has helped me not to be so dismissive of others’ thoughts and also more respectful to others while conversing. To listen is to be silent. I really enjoy most of the games.”
“Really enjoyed this class. I always enjoyed the show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway.’ The class helped me get to know the group as I was new. Thanks so much for starting our Mondays.”
“I loved this class.”
“Great energy. Uplifting. Helped me think on my toes and be better.”
“Very well teachted [taught] class. Thank you.”
September 2021 – Creative Writing with Friends of Guest House
“I really enjoy this class. We have direction but freedom also. I love that I get told “great job.” Alexa is great too!”
“Very interesting things that sparked something inside of me.”
Yes, Alexa is great! Alexa’s unique style of integrating her journalism background with creative writing brings a unique approach to this art. Her students learn the importance of detail, how to write an opposing point of view, and how to interview.
The “opposing point of view” is one of my favorite exercises and one we can all learn from. First, the Friends of Guest House residents write an opinion of something they feel strongly about, then share it aloud if they wish. Imagine their shock when they are then told to write an opposing point of view! Imagine the shock any of us would feel! It opens up all of our minds and helps to budge us all out of our comfort zone.
Many times they interview each other, learning the nuances between asking for detail and learning what are appropriate questions. The results can be hilarious when they share the stories they wrote about each other.
July 2021 – Visual arts with Friends of Guest House
We get excited every time our Heard art teacher Sharmila Karamchandani is scheduled. Her absolute love of bringing art and creative expression to those that don’t always have that opportunity, encouraging their talent, and nurturing their belief in themselves. We asked the Friends of Guest House residents what they thought, and here’s what they said:
“I personally would like Sharmila to come back ASAP to teach us more creative ways to show how we feel and to express our emotions.”
“I really enjoyed the class today.”
“BEST CLASS OF THE WEEK!”
“I like that there’s always a prompt and a main focus to express ourselves creatively and learn/reflect about ourselves.”
“Very helpful and supportive.”
June 2021 – Poetry with Friends of Guest House
Whenever our poetry teacher Wendi Kaplan teaches a poetry class, magic happens. And why not? Wendi is actually a poetry therapist. And while our role is give our clients the safe space and freedom to create – and that’s all – we also know how therapeutic self expression can be. So, every once in awhile we sneak a therapist onto our team. This poetry series was especially interesting because local poet 13 of Nazareth joined her for one of the classes and by all accounts he was amazing too! Here’s what the Friends of Guest House women had to say about our poetry series. Sounds like a win!
“I enjoyed this class a lot. It’s something different for me.”
“She was a wonderful teacher who inspired me to continue on with my personal writing. Thank you so much.”
“This class has made me feel more comfortable expressing myself & actually enjoy doing it.”
“Thank you for this class. I’ve been writing since I was young. It’s therapy for me, a great release. I’ve had a block lately but being in your class broke the dam. I loved this class and like to attend more.”
“It was great. Spoken word is a wonderful medium to express yourself through.”
“13 was great! Glad I was here to hear him share.”
“I am naturally a writer and I believe it originates from being a silenced child w/bottled frustration & sadness. Writing was my only release.”
“I’m not really into poetry. I speak my mind verbally. I say what I have to say even if I say it to myself – silent or out loud.”
April – June 2021 – Creative Writing with Computer CORE
We started a creative writing class with Computer CORE last May, just as Zoom classes and the pandemic crazy was becoming our new reality, and we’ve never looked back! Our writing teacher Nina Sichel had been bugging me for awhile (OK, years) to place her with an immigrant population. Bilingual and having grown up in Venezuela, Nina had taught writing to several immigrant groups in Florida and other places. Computer CORE was the perfect match for her, and for their students as well. Just read their feedback after our 8-series class ended:
“This course was very interesting and productive, I learned in this course, how to express my feelings how to share my opinion I also learned how to start writing, I understand the important parts of writings. I personally suggested to increase the duration of the course.”
“This is the most beautiful class l attended from long time and l feel lucky and heard very much, We are group of people with different backgrounds and cultures and faith put we connected together as human when we lessen to each other. I did discovered we are all colors put every color meant different to every one and we have to accept our different. We had questions what color you like to be l choose yellow color l would like to be sun lighting the darknesses and warm the cold days, The sunlight effect every thing with power and positivity and life and sometimes be wild, l like to be present and shine like a gold in the ground after you clean it from dirt and other particle shine , l well be like gold shine more with years. Im confidant , lm becoming what l would, l wish the happiness and successes and peace to all of you. Thank you.”
“Never late to learn, this class encouraged me to learn and made more searches.”
“From this class, I learned the similarities between the people and trees, and I noticed things that I had not thought of before.. I learned that the person is a storehouse of experiences and memories governed by several things, including religion, customs and traditions, some of which are rooted in the ground as well as roots.. And when a person moves to a new environment Its roots adapt to the new environment and transmit all its legacies, affecting and being affected. The class was an excellent opportunity to express all that is on the heart and mind and a strengthening of self-confidence. I hope to continue it and move to higher levels in writing. Thankful and grateful for the distinguished professor and writer, Nina Sichel.”
“I was able to streamline my thoughts better than before.”
March 2021 – Creative Writing with Friends of Guest House
What did we love the most about our creative writing series at Friends of Guest House in March? We were on site! Yes, we are – finally – returning to onsite classes, in fits and starts. It all depends, of course, on if our artist feels safe being onsite, and only after s/he has received the second vaccination and then waited two more weeks. Our writing teacher, Solveig Eggerz, was as ready to be back on site as the Guest House women. Teaching onsite made it so much easier for the women to open up and share their stories and experiences, encourage each other, and practice listening, empathy, and other life skills. And here’s what they had to say at the end of Solveig’s four-part creative writing class:
Made you think deeply
Solveig was very helpful in channeling my inner creativity. She helped me capture my imagination and I would love to keep going with this class!
This class let our creative side shine, thank you to the teacher for bringing us new things to do every week (with a heart, smiley, and peace emoji)
January 2021 – Memoir Writing with Computer CORE
We admit, it’s hard to get feedback when we are operating virtually. Rather than handing out our feedback form at the end of a series, we email the form to our program partner who emails it to the students, then we hope they complete the form and email it back to the program partner or us…you get the idea. So we are always thrilled when we get feedback now. Imagine how happy we were to receive this evaluation from the students of our partner Computer CORE. This nonprofit offers computer and technical training to (primarily) immigrant adults in northern Virginia. Our amazing writing teacher, Nina Sichel, has led a memoir writing class with these amazing students since May of 2020. Here’s what they told us:
In this English class, I was able to begin to write with more of my own words on tasks that the teacher told us to creatively describe what would have happened to us or what we can imagine in some circumstances of our life.
“I am [glad] to find chance like this course to help me enhance and improve my [English]. Actually my English is not perfect but I am trying to learn and hearing more with you. Thank you so much for considering me.”
“The first thing Miss Nina’s professional experience is remarkable. Second I learned how to express my feelings. I would like to add more exercises.”
It was ok class
the class wasn’t only creative but also a great great source of self enrichment.
This class was very interesting. It helps me to create my mind and keep improving myself. In the class I had a lot of chances to talk with the others.
In this class, students cross the barrier fear of writing, expressing themselves, or speaking.
December 2020 – Visual Arts with Doorways
We’re not therapists. But. We all know the power of art and creative expression, and it’s pretty hard to have one without the other. Case in point: We held our first visual arts class with our new partner Doorways, an Arlington nonprofit that offers support, shelter, and services for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. In Sharmila’s “Four Cups of Life” virtual arts class, the participants were to let go of negative words swirling inside of them – to visually pour out what no longer serves them – and then pour in positive words in replacement. Such a powerful project! And here’s what our Doorways guests said:
“Was great to be able to connect with people and do an activity/have an experience never done before through art”
“Created intentional reflection on the challenges experienced and needing to shift to a more positive perspective and began conversation on next steps towards change”
“Allowed for further conversation and reflection in individual therapy”
What do you think? We think this is pretty powerful. Take a look at all of our clients’ art work on our Gallery Page.
Do you remember that old joke about being a poet and you don’t know it? Well, eight women from Friends of Guest House discovered their poetic side after taking a month-long class from the City of Alexandria’s former poet laureate Wendi Kaplan. Did they love it? And her? You bet! Just look at these comments:
I really appreciate Ms. Wendi, she is a very kind, caring lady. I love the way she teaches the class and I’ve learned a lot from her. Expecially now to express myself through words. Ms. Wendi is great.
I’ve never expressed myself through writing. Wendy was so kind and genuine that I would not just sit with a close mind. I very so much enjoyed this opportunity to learn a new way to express my feelings and explore the world on paper. Thank you Wendy!
I loved this class and I always look forward to seeing Ms. Wendi, she is so kind and sweet. She has taught me to open us and express how I feel. I hope that she will continue to teach poetry. We all love her. She has a beautiful soul. I love you Ms. Wendi.
I love this class! Always leave feeling so motivated and learn something new every day!!!
LOVE Mrs. Wendi! & class! & poetry!
I am becoming more articulate and put words together better.
I will miss this. I will miss you.
I see how important it is that I write my words and listen.
It is important that I am more open and speak more openly.
What does it mean to be a journalist? 15 residents of the City of Alexandria’s Residential Treatment Center found out – and liked what they learned – after taking a three-part class from our writer Alexa Fleming.
I am an artist in the Northern Virginia area. Being and having a creative soul, I enjoyed this class. Journalism has always intrigued me. Thank for the pleasant surprise.
This class was great
Alexa is awesome!
Help to think outside the box and use creativity with my life experience
Very informational and refreshing
We can’t even post all of the amazing feedback we received from our improvisation series at the Arlington County Detention Center’s ACT (Addictions, Corrections, and Treatment) and re-entry units but we are posting our faves. Can you tell they LOVED it? And LEARNED important life skills?
Being incarcerated I don’t have much to be happy about however I could truly say this class is extremely enjoyable and has always put a smile on my face. P.S. Keely is Awesome!
It boosted my self-confident, self-esteem & communication skills into another level.
I loved this class! I feel more creative and it is so liberating to get out of my comfort zone!
Thank you. You bring a lot of energy and smiles to the group…Thank you for your hard work and teachings. I have learned a lot and will practice in my life.
The instructor is very positively energized. I love everything about her.
Thank you for coming and showing us different things to use.
I thank you for coming. I am always up for improvement with life.
These comments from women at the Alexandria Detention Center about our visual arts class (November – December 2019) warm our hearts:
This class was so inspiring to me. I truly love being part of this class. It’s now the end of the year, and we had an amazing 2019 class. Thank you very much for everything you did, and the skills you provided. Please don’t stop coming. Can’t wait to see you in the new year 2020!
Thank you for being part of my healing. Your investment is priceless. Please continue doing what you are truly saving lives. Thank you!
The class was very therapeutic and peaceful
Very inspirational, interesting, fun and very educational
Ms. Sharmila is a very nice lady. I loved being part of her class. She lets me express myself the way I know how
Comments from residents at Friend of Guest House about our etiquette, dance, and creative writing classes, October – December 2019:
I never know how good or how much I enjoyed writing until this class
I thoroughly enjoyed this class and am thankful for the inspirational topics offered to me. Thank you! Jennifer Watson
Enjoy. Very cool
Thank you for all your time and support
Classes that are more helpful with everyday life
I [heart} dance class!
Dancing is not my thing
She is such a lady and it is important for some women to know how to be ladylike. Overall she is very encouraging.
I enjoy your class
I feel like some of the classes was useful to me in some ways. The job interview questions was probably the most helpful in my opinion
Comments from residents at the City of Alexandria Residential Treatment Center about our visual arts class, December 2019:
|Thanks, great teacher 🙂|
|I love this class and my teacher!!!|
|This class is very good. You can really enjoy the drawing.|
|I enjoy Ms. Sharmila and more or less her creative projects. I believe it’s a stress releaving class which surely helps my anxiety.|
We held two She-Art classes in September 2019 – one with transitional housing residents at Community Lodgings, and one with the City of Alexandria LGBTQ Task Force. Here’s what they said about our empowering event:
Thanks for the invite me and looking for attend on the next class
I loved it! I hope many more people take advantage of this great opportunity
Excellent! It helped me relax and focus on myself
Amazing! Loved it! You have to come to Impacto to facilitate this workshop in Spanglish
I am not a creative person, but looking at the face and all that it does/doesn’t represent made it easier to think good thoughts about my oldest daughter.
Comments from inmates at the Arlington County Detention Center about our creative writing class, August – October 2019:
|Has opened my mind and taught me how to express myself with a pen and through a story! Thank you|
|Solveig was a great instructor who took the classes very serously. She taught me useful things abut telling my own story as well as the role of narrative|
|in lives. I really appreciate the time she took to do this for us. I feel heard.|
|I like this class. I would recommend this class to others. Thank yiou for yoru time Ms. Solveig.|
And our visual arts class, December 2019:
|I found the art instructor to [be] very expressive and professional. I would definitely recommend that the arts and crafts class continue weekly. It gave me a sense of hope|
|Keep coming back please|
|Art klass be like that!|
|Art classes in New Year!|
|Keep coming back – art is a form of mediation for me and a part of my recovery. Thank you!|
|Art really helps express different feelings that sometimes is hard to just write out and explain. Thank you & keep coming if possible!|
|Art class is the life of CRU!!! Please come back before I leave 🙂|
|I like this class, hopefully we’ll see you next year.|
Dear Heard!! I just want to say that I am part of this art class, and it is very inspiring in all aspects. It allows me to be free, and express my true feelings by creating art. This class was a[n] inspiration to me starting a book of my life. My book tells my story like my art work. It tells where I [have] been, how I got there, and what came out of it, and it shows me how I got where I am at now. I want my book to help other people like [H]eard has help[ed] me. I look forward to my art classes with [H]eard, and I truly appreciate them showing me love, and allowing me to express the inside of me. Thank you so much and keep the class going.
“I liked it. I never have time for this. It’s important for self-care.”
“I don’t consider myself a creative person but look what I did!”
“This is a great ‘caring for the caregiver’ exercise.”
I use improv all the time, especially with my boss. I need to say ‘yes, and’ more and not ‘but.’
Dear Heard! Thank you for coming and bringing the light and joy in my life during th[ese] dark moments. You help me to remember who I really am. You help me to develop my feminine side. You help me to express my feelings. You make me create and smile You help other to create and smile Continue bringing love, joy and art in to this world!
“Becoming a teaching artist for Heard has inspired my creativity and has kept me on my healing journey. Every moment I stand before a class, I am reminded why I walked away from Corporate America to pursue my dream of becoming a full time artist. Heard is the catalyst for that decision.”
July 27, 2022, at Friends of Guest House: “They were so invested in their work and at several points it was just peacefully quiet. So awesome to be a small part of the journey for these women. I’m humbled and grateful for this past month. Thank you for this opportunity to teach them! One person asked me why I get so excited about their work and I reminded them that they’re creating something never before seen in the history of the Universe. That’s powerful and I get to witness it. It honestly feels like Christmas when someone creates something new and I get to see it. I love this group!—I love working with you!
“Witnessing this transformation creativity and them using their agency is a spiritual journey for me that I truly cherish….Working with Heard and all its partner organizations has deepened my sense of purpose and has given me an inner perspective of my role in the universe on how I can serve and create an impact in the community through the arts.”
Today had to be one of the best classes I ever had a Friends of Guest House. The ladies were so engaged, and I was able to move them to [improv life skills learning exercises] and sharing stories. It was really, really amazing. They were also using what they are learning in their daily life with positive results.
Using poetry we examine various issues such as identity, dreams, pain, abuse, hope and transformation. In reading poetry these folks see they are not alone and that they too can have a voice. And that their voice may help others. Creativity is an innate gift that we all have, we just need to tap into it. With creativity we are better able to have perspective, solve problems, develop awareness and compassion and to live life!
December 2022: The Alexandria LGBTQ+ Task Force, Sexual Assault Center, and Domestic Violence Program truly appreciate our partnership with Heard. The Heard team provides art-based programs that we do not have the expertise or capacity to offer. They provide a community service and fill a gap that engages our members and clients in a creative and healing way. And everyone has a lot of fun at the same time! The Improv workshop they did at the Alexandria Pride Fair was a hit! Participants raved about the fun they had, and the workshop brought together strangers in the community to create and laugh together. Jane leads Heard with focus on supporting the community in meaningful ways. She is organized, very responsive, and also playful and joyous in her work. When our original workshop artist had to cancel, Jane quickly worked to find a fantastic replacement. We are so thankful for Heard!
December 2022: “HEARD is a wonderful program that helps us all learn how we can use Journaling as a healthy coping skill throughout our lives. Jane is very energetic and always willing to find someone available to teach whatever topic we are looking for. Thank you HEARD team for everything you do!”
December 2022: “SOHO’s girls have gained knowledge and confidence through the variety of lessons provided by HEARD, from dining etiquette, to journalism and public speaking. The were able to demonstrate their new skills during program dinners, in our Voices of Her Own magazines, and through their speeches to their families and supporters during our end-of-year promotion ceremonies.”
December 2022: I love your organization and the more we work together the more I see how comfortable the instructors are with our women and the relationships they build and especially the impact that the workshops have on the women….The ladies rave about the different ways in which HEARD empowers them to look at the world differently and be bold in their expression and or just having an opportunity to express themselves on paper. I hear how loud the laughter or how strong the mood is depending on the class, and it shows me the women are always fully engaged in each lesson. Many of the ladies have found a voice through heard workshops and others have been able to shape theirs in a way that they never thought. Each class I see how the women find the artist within them if only for a moment. I would love more classes around etiquette and lifestyle.”
October 2021: Initially, some of the CRU participants were skeptic about an improvisation class being in the line up of their re-entry program. That level of skepticism was fleeting. Buy in came quickly and even the most reserved participant was eager to participate.
The clients were able to work on communicative skill sets with Keely…voice projection, active listening and teamwork. Movement was also a big part of their improvisation classes. It was awesome to see the mind and body working together in unison.
Keely’s enthusiasm, instructions and patience came through the screen. Her virtual presence made the classes flow really well.
I can say with assurance that the majority of the CRU participants have never thought about taking an improvisation class before. It was a welcomed new experience for them.
A pivotal part of choosing the right reentry curriculum is based on assessing the inmate’s needs with the primary objective of community readiness/post release preparation.
So often we tend to overlook the arts and categorize it as lofty or secondary to other subjects/classes that have a concentration on building employment skills, or substance abuse education.
However, over the past few years we’ve learned that the arts/creativity have a substantial and positive impact on the participants (self esteem, goal building and discovery of personal skill sets). Thank you Heard for your continued partnership.
From reading some of the stories, I was able to tell the participants put a great deal of effort into the material they wanted to present. Once the competition ended, I received several requests for the program to return.
A number of inmates expressed to me how being able to express their thoughts through this format, they were able to get things off their mind that had been bothering them since being incarcerated. I also had inmates approach me, just recently, to ask if another writing program was coming back. I am just as excited to see these type of programs come to our facility as the inmates. Jane was a pleasure to work with and I look forward to her return.
We have been working with Heard since close to its inception, I believe. We were thrilled when Jane first approached us and offered to work with our residents (women coming out of jail and prison who live in our transitional housing program for six months). Heard’s teachers are professional and from many disciplines but all share the same desire to make a difference in creative and impactful ways in the lives of others. The women in our program have come to look forward to any class that is offered by Heard and the level of instruction is superior!
The improv group is a huge hit and a huge success. The youth are engaged and creative. In regards to life skills—this is a hard question—but one thing I notice the most is that they let their guard down. By tapping into their creative side, more of their personality comes out in front of others. Their laughter is true. When the residents are asking me “When is improv coming back?” or “Are we having improv today?” the residents are interested. In addition, when the residents remember a game/skill and use it on the unit or talk about a game (clap clap, bunny bunny, tick tock)—again, that is huge. The biggest compliment that I heard was from yesterday when one of the residents said, “I can’t wait to do these games on family game night” and three residents told him that was a good idea. It was an absolute pleasure working with you and Keely!!
The HEARD program is a wonderful complement to TWB’s [Together We Bake] curriculum of empowerment and life skills. Providing women an opportunity to share their stories through art is incredibly empowering. We have also had HEARD activities for our alumni team members and it has been a fun, bonding experience for all involved. The instructors are passionate about their craft and their compassion for women in need is inspiring. We are so grateful for HEARD!