What is Alexandria?
For visitors, it’s probably the Old and Historic District, with cobblestone streets, colonial-era homes and old churches. For residents, it’s probably the distinctness of our neighborhoods: the vibrancy of Del Ray; the neighborliness of Rosemont, Beverley Hills and Parkfairfax; the diversity of Arlandria and the West End, the walkability of Old Town.
When people think of Alexandrians, the image that likely comes to mind is that of people whose work is in some way tied to the federal government. Many of our residents are college educated, successful and thriving. They are lawyers, accountants, writers, lobbyists and business owners.
These images are accurate, if stereotypical, but they don’t tell the whole story. There are other facets to our city that are largely hidden: struggling immigrant families, the working poor, the disabled, foster children, isolated senior citizens, the mentally ill — and their caregivers.
Alexandria’s Department of Community and Human Services helps many of these unseen residents. A video just released last week by the social services advisory board called “Who We Are” spotlights some of the resources available to Alexandrians by letting residents tell how receiving, or providing, social services changed their lives.
In one segment, a girl tells how being placed in a foster family has given her a chance at a better future, while in another, a foster parent shares the insights he has gained. The video is worth the four minutes it takes to watch, and can be viewed at www.alexandriava.gov/dchs by clicking on “Watch DCHS Video Features.”
Officials hope this video will encourage more struggling Alexandrians to seek out city services, which is a worthwhile endeavor. But our hope is that it also brings those in need more to the forefront.
Alexandria is an extraordinarily generous community, as evidenced by how many people turn out for Volunteer Alexandria’s community service day, and by how many donate to ACT for Alexandria’s Spring2ACTion day of giving. And yet this generosity is mostly focused on various local organizations. The people who are in need largely remain unknown and unseen.
“Who We Are” is a terrific step toward empathy, because it lets social services recipients tell their own stories in their own voices. As they speak of troubles they’ve encountered, all of us — even the outwardly “successful” — can relate to their struggles and remember times when we also have overcome adversity.
We at the Times have occasionally told the stories of Alexandrians either in need or who have overcome hardship. This is something that moving forward we hope to do on a regular basis in a feature called “Hidden Alexandria.”
Please look for the first installment in the coming weeks, as we attempt to highlight those currently struggling or those who have overcome adversity — on their own or with help from the city or charitable organizations.
Alexandria isn’t just history, tourism and Old Town. Nor is it populated only — or even primarily — by yuppies and older intellectuals. We are a city of people with differing interests, abilities and needs, which this DCHS video helps highlight.