ALEXANDRIA, VA – On Wednesday, June 24, Marion Brunken, Executive Director of Volunteer Alexandria, answered “10 Questions” from guest host Jane Hess Collins about herself, volunteering, and how Alexandrians can get involved in our great city during our Z-TV LIVE! show. Need more? Here’s five more questions with Marion.
1. What is the homeless problem like in Alexandria? (asked by a viewer)
The City of Alexandria just released its’ Point in Time survey on June 23. The survey was conducted on January 22, 2020, and found 207 persons experiencing homelessness, which they define as unsheltered and in temporary shelter made available by homeless services providers in the City of Alexandria. That total included 32 households with adults and children (36 adults and 50 children), and 121 singles (85 men and 36 women). Eleven of them were considered unsheltered singles and 15 of them were considered chronically homeless singles.
The total number of persons identified during the 2020 Count represented a 5% increase from 2019. You can read the entire press release here.
2. Do You Volunteer Yourself?
Yes but not as much as I like. When I worked at Freddie Mac I volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate with SCAN. Unfortunately, I had to stop that when I started this executive director job. I sometimes volunteer through the Arlington Food Assistance Center because I live in Arlington and I love gardening. I also help other Alexandria nonprofits with registration and set up sometimes when they have events.
3. Did you have any training or plans ready to implement during the COVID-19 shutdown?
Yes, we have a contract with the City’s Office of Emergency Management where we are responsible to recruit and manage unspontaneous volunteers and donations in case of an emergency. Meaning, a disaster hits and the City tells us they need volunteers, we need to mobilize, train and deploy accordingly. I had the opportunity to attend a training on how to run a Volunteer Reception Center, implemented by FEMA and that was very helpful in regard to how to set up and implement the plan. Now, COVID is a bit different since it is a pandemic. The Health Department and the Medical Reserve Corps are the main entities managing this health crisis. Volunteer Alexandria’s response to COVID is support the MRC as needed as well as to support our nonprofit organizations. The nonprofits serving our most needed families knew they needed to increase their services, which found to be true. We are still serving hot meals and provide more groceries than ever.
The biggest challenge has been to remind the nonprofits we partner with to be firm in making sure the volunteers keep physical distance and wear their masks properly. The volunteers are literally risking their health when they help out by delivering food or bagging food or whatever, and they must wear their mask properly. It must cover the nose and mouth, and we need to enforce that. We’ve had over 5,000 volunteers – some are repeats – in the last three months and that’s amazing.
4. Have you had to curtail volunteer events for kids during COVID-19?
Yes, all projects for businesses were put on hold as well as our in-person service-learning program for middle and high school students. However, we have shifted and quickly created a virtual service-learning program, which was offered April and May. We took June off and will continue the virtual program in July and then in August we’ll do it in person with groups of 10 students at a time. We are also inviting students 14 and older to bag masks in our office and hopefully come September, we will be back cleaning up our parks, etc.
5. How do you unwind?
The drive home to Arlington helps, and I love to watch “Law and Order: SVU” and “Criminal Minds.” The forensics and profiling part of the shows is really interesting to me and I’ve always been interested in psychology. It’s a bit crazy that after” doing good” at work I come home and watch violent crime shows, right?
I also love to pull weeds in our garden. It’s like free therapy. I’ve pulled so many weeds during all of this COVID stuff that I have tendonitis in my elbow. And I love backyard, child-free happy hours with friends and a cold beer. I love kids but not at my happy hours. That’s not unwinding.