Celebrating a Year of Inclusive Partnership

By Fredda Hurwitz, Board Member/Director, Strategic Marketing at Our Stomping Ground

One-year anniversaries are traditionally celebrated with a paper-based gift. More recently, this important milestone has been reflected through the use of clocks. Given the rather extraordinary year we’ve all endured, we felt that marking this particular passage of time was an occasion we couldn’t ignore.

Our Stomping Ground (OSG, previously City Center NOVA) is officially celebrating our one-year partnership with the great team of people at APAH. Our members are happily settled in their beautiful apartments, they’ve met their neighbors, are making friends, and are now fully integrated into the ‘Gilliam Place on the Pike’ community. We can’t begin to express our joy and optimism for the future.

When we first approached APAH about our ambition in the spring of 2019, coming to an agreement was a no-brainer for both parties: we share the same values and fully embrace the notion of collaboration for positive impact on our neighborhood.

Our Stomping Ground’s mission, to build inclusive communities and strengthen neighborhoods in Northern VA through diverse programming, sustainable affordable housing, and social spaces for people of all abilities aligns well with APAH’s mission to develop, preserve, and own quality, affordable places to live; to promote stability and opportunity for our residents; and to advocate with the people and communities we serve.

Clearly, this partnership was meant to be!

“I always knew that Gilliam Place would be a gathering place for the entire neighborhood thanks to its location in the heart of Columbia Pike Town Center. And this partnership is helping make that vision true,” said Nina Janopaul, President and CEO of APAH. “I’m happy to call Our Stomping Ground a partner and am excited about the inclusivity, positivity, and opportunity they bring to all residents of Gilliam Place.”

Celebrating the one-year anniversary at
Gilliam Place.

In the words of Our Stomping Ground Program Director and Community Outreach Coordinator, Donna Budway, “it’s all about building community”. Budway continued, “Our Stomping Ground is about bringing people together in a shared mission to foster compassion and understanding for adults with developmental disabilities, and to shine a light on the importance of inclusive communities. This is part of our mutual DNA.”

While OSG is 100% focused on supporting our members with disabilities and their families, we are equally committed to improving the quality of life for everyone in the building. One great outcome from our collaboration is the afterschool tutoring program that, up until COVID-19 struck, was held onsite in the spacious community rooms at Gilliam Place.

With a group of volunteers, we reached out to our neighbors and identified students who would benefit from afterschool support and opportunities for college preparation. We’re fortunate that our friends at Arlington Presbyterian Church have since provided us a space for our pod during the pandemic, where seven students, one lead parent teacher and community support from Edu-Futuro meet twice weekly.

“Although such programs are hard during the pandemic, the Homework Club and associated educational opportunities Our Stomping Ground has brought to Gilliam Place have helped forge community between residents, bridging ages and identities. The families definitely miss the programs,” began Jessica Stuart, Resident Service Coordinator. “I’m excited to find new ways of working together when we can return to in-person programming!”

Many of our members with developmental disabilities have never experienced living or learning in such an integrated and inclusive environment. Throughout their formative educational years, they were often segregated away from their able-bodied and neurotypical peers. Thankfully, in the halls of Gilliam Place and the surrounding neighborhood, our members are finally enjoying what we all take for granted: spontaneous social interactions and recognition that they are contributing members of the community.

Further, the positive impact on our members has been eye opening, rewarding and in many instances, genuinely life changing. According to Ben McGann, member since 2019, living at Gilliam Place means “that I’m able to make choices about how I spend my time and know that I’m building community every day”.

What OSG is creating at Gilliam Place is unique and will serve as a model of inclusive housing for disabled adults across the country. As we look to the future, and the scheduled opening of Queen’s Court next summer, we remain committed to this partnership and are grateful to everyone at APAH for their ongoing support. Together we are changing lives.

If you’d like to learn more about how you, your son or daughter could benefit from our support or if you’d like to get involved with helping us deliver Our Stomping Ground’s mission, please contact us at info@citycenternova.org.