‘Who We Are’ sheds light on unseen residents

‘Who We Are’ sheds light on unseen residents

By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale

In just four and a half minutes, the faces of numerous city residents come on screen, sharing their stories of interacting with and being helped by the city’s department of community and human services.

One interviewee describes how helpful being in foster care was for her, while another talks about how, in serving as a foster parent, he has found a calling in life. More talk about how helpful it has been to receive financial help to buy food with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and how Medicaid has allowed them to pay for vital medical expenses.

And finally, people describe how the city’s workforce development center helped them not only get a job, but also prepared them for the workforce and sup- ported them through their job search.

All these interviews are combined in a new video by the city’s social services advisory board to give a snapshot of the services available to residents. The board unveiled their work last Tuesday evening at the headquarters of the department of community and human services on Mount Vernon Avenue.

Board chairman Carter Batey said the idea behind producing the video was to show just some of the myriad of city services available, and to show the diversity of residents being helped.

“We are much more than just one section of town or one race or one income level,” he said. “We are all a united people working towards a common end.”

Billed by the board as “a four-minute glimpse into how the department touches the lives of our families, friends and neighbors in Alexandria,” former chairman Jason Dechant said it took approximately two years of planning before the final product came to fruition.

Dechant said the idea came up during a board meeting, when the members discussed the question of who makes up Alexandria as a community. Members and city staffers then talked to clients, friends and neighbors to learn more.
A detailed script was developed after those conversations, Dechant said. But it was scrapped after a day of interviews that shed better light on the services people use.

“The best decision we made was to throw it out and let the stories speak for themselves,” said Batey.

That day of interviews resulted in about four hours of raw footage that Dechant said could be made available for viewing in the future. He said that while it is not a comprehensive look by any means, it should give more people an idea of what is available.

“It’s a glimpse or a win- dow into the department, and a glimpse or a window into the city,” Dechant said.

Throughout the video, interviewees emphasize how helpful the services they receive have been, not only in making life easier but also making them appreciate the work of others too.

“I know I probably would not have even thought about going to college if I wasn’t placed in the foster system and given the tools and support,” said one interviewee.

“Before being a foster parent, I didn’t have kids,” another said. “But now I can say I’m a parent, and these kids teach you different things in life that, when you’re not a parent, you don’t understand.”

“Today, I am a more informed parent because of having Medicaid,” said a third. “It made me aware of what kinds of medical needs my children might have.”

Kate Garvey, the city’s director of community and human services, said the video offered a telling look not only at neighbors and friends, but also something more than a list of available city services.

“This video gives you an insight into the strength, the hopes, the aspirations of the citizens,” she said.

Mayor Allison Silberberg said such diversity should be celebrated in Alexandria, especially as it highlights its citizens and their wide range of experiences.

“There’s so much that makes our incredible, historic city a special place to live in,” she said. “[It’s] the people that make up the fabric of what makes our city so great.”

Garvey said the department does much more good work beyond what was spotlighted in the video, and she hopes that more and more residents take advantage of what is available to them.

“This is the tip of the iceberg here for us,” she said. “There’s so much more we can keep sharing.”

Silberberg said other residents might be more inclined to seek help from city services after seeing the video, especially when they realize that there are others in a similar situation as themselves.

“You’re bringing light to these issues, and that’s important because you’re going to be giving courage to others,” she said.

The video can be viewed online at www.alexandriava.gov/ dchs, under the section “Watch DCHS Video Features.” Batey said it will be released to the wider community by the department in as many forums as possible.

(Disclosure: a member of the Times’ advertising staff currently serves on the city’s social services advisory board).