As the first chapter in the Mid-Atlantic Region, the Northern Virginia Assistance League has spent more time helping others than they have celebrating their recent chapter appointment.
"It was our next step," said Cindy Burgess, president of the Assistance League of Northern Virginia about the recent chapter status. "We can now be creative and go out and really seek more members ... I think our chapter members are excited for the philanthropic efforts."
The Assistance League of Northern Virginia was recently named the 113th chapter of the National Assistance League, a non-profit organization founded in the early 1890s that promotes volunteerism through leadership training and education.
"We're the orphan child on the East Coast," joked Burgess of the chapter, adding that there are other guilds in the D.C., Maryland area, but no other chapters.
Burgess said the focus of their chapter is to promote the well-being, self-esteem and education of at-risk youth and adults living in the Northern Virginia communities.
"Ideally, it would be wonderful to have one in Loudoun County and Fairfax County because there's a need out there," said Burgess. "But, because we are in such an affluent society, you just don't see that need as easily."
SINCE 1999, members of the Northern Virginia chapter have given more than 17,000 service hours and contributed more than $45,000 to its four philanthropic projects.
"Through a non-profit such as yours," said Susie Hurlbut, president of the National Assistance League at the chartering ceremony, "you have been able to reach out with compassion to serve with that volunteer spirit."
From 2003 to 2004, the Northern Virginia chapter was able to assist 1,397 individuals with its four dedicated philanthropic projects.
The four projects include Operation Hugs, Operation School Bell, Operation LIFT [Love is Forming Ties] and Operation Discovery Room.
These four "operations" addressed and assisted the needs of elementary school children dealing with illiteracy, victims of sexual abuse and assault, homeless men, women and children and young visitors to a local history museum.
"Without you guys," said Sue Brown, Inova Farifax Hospital's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, director at the ceremony, " there's just nothing we could do in relation to giving back to our patients."
Brown explained the pillows the league makes through its Operation Hugs program for young children who have been physically and sexually abused and the Assault Survivor Kits it puts together with sweats and personal hygiene items for women and men who have been sexually assaulted to wear, restores some of the dignity that has been taken from their patients.
"In the old days, when we were done with the exam we would have to take the clothing from the victims because it was evidence," said Brown. "We would have to send them home in a patient gown that opens in the back, now we have sweats and toiletries that they are sent home with."
Last year, the league created 416 heart-shaped, pocketed pillows filled with age-appropriate items for the young victims served by SANE, as well as 120 Assault Survivor Kits. Total they have donated 2,220 hours of service since 1999 with the Operation Hugs project.
Burgess explained that the recent chapter status will allow the Northern Virginia League to now narrow down its focus to the areas they see need the most help.
"There is a huge percentage of disadvantaged women who come in and give birth and go home with nothing," said Burgess of one group that needs their assistance. "I think, in order to define ourselves ... we need to narrow our scope to literacy and female assault victims."
Burgess explained the newest philanthropic project the league has taken on is their Project Lullaby.
THE LEAGUE hopes to raise $4,000 this year to purchase layette items, which will include 12 diapers, two receiving blankets, one gown, one undershirt, one bottle, one pacifier, a pair of socks, a brochure entitled "Can your baby hear?" and a pamphlet on safe sleeping positions for babies, per bundle.
The items, which the volunteers will knit some of and put together themselves, cost about $10 per bundle and will be given to the Inova Fairfax Hospital Ob/Gyn Clinic to give to patients that are in need financially of such support.
"About 1,500 [bundles] are needed for the layette project," said Burgess. "We're shooting for 400 [bundles] this first year because they do cost $10 a layette [bundle]."
Burgess said her hope for the new chapter is to establish a relationship with the area communities, so they know that the organization is there to help those in need, and so that those who want to contribute either their time or a donation will help the league accomplish its mission of serving women and children in need.
She added that the league is different from other non-profits because it imposes membership dues on those who volunteer their time, but she added it's a commitment that the league wants to make sure its members are up to and that it wants to make sure they are passionate about their cause.
"We like to be as flexible as possible, because we are in such a busy area," said Burgess, adding the league hopes now that it is a chapter that can attract more members, as well as gain more attention from the community.
"As time goes on, hopefully, people will want to help subsidize this with donations," said Burgess. "We just want people to know that we're here, we want to work and just to use us."