Kerrie Wilson, CEO
1. What is our mission and vision?
Mission: Cornerstones exists so that individuals and families in northwestern Fairfax County who are homeless, living in poverty or facing other needs can access resources that offer stability, empowerment and hope for healthy and connected lives. Cornerstones promotes self-sufficiency by providing support and advocacy for those in need of food, shelter, affordable housing, quality childcare, employment and other human services.
Vision: Cornerstones envisions a community which values all people and shares resources and services to empower those in need to make positive life changes.
2. How does your organization achieve its mission?
Cornerstones achieves its mission through advocacy and support services, connecting our clients to vital resources and a comprehensive array of programs that solve urgent or ongoing requirements for housing, childcare, food and other assistance, building more self-sufficient lives.
Much like the Northern Virginia Chamber’s strategic plan for businesses to grow through relationship building with stakeholders and through engagement in partnerships, Cornerstones actively partners with all sectors of our community to position individuals and families in Northern Virginia for access to resources which meet their needs for sustainable/stable housing, builds family resiliency and enables pursuit of opportunities to further their success and well-being.
With deep roots in the community, our knowledgeable staff and strong partner network ensure a proven and effective response to changing resident needs.
Our clients, our donors, our associates and friends – all benefit from our tradition of caring and record of results.
3. How have your programs directly impacted the regional community?
Stability – Cornerstones provides answers for individuals and families who are in crisis, connecting them to resources and support that offer them a measure of control when it is needed most.
Cornerstones’ Embry Rucker Community Shelter welcomes those who find themselves without a roof over their heads and needing assistance to obtain housing stability. In FY17, 449 individuals, comprising 300 singles and 95 families with 171 children, were provided shelter at ERCS. An additional 277 individuals participated in the winter hypothermia program, or a Medical Respite program that enabled extremely ill people, who would have been discharged from hospital to the streets, to be able to recover in a safe, stable environment. Cornerstones’ outreach team works to engage those who are chronically homeless in the community and resist efforts to secure shelter or housing.
Cornerstones Assistance Services and Pantry Program (ASAPP) provides urgent assistance to help community members maintain stability. The largest food pantry in northwest Fairfax County, ASAPP is open to the public five days a week and one Saturday morning each month. Cornerstones also offers a cash match for very low-income seniors and families when they use their food stamps or “SNAP” cards to shop for fresh and healthy produce, organic fish and meats at the Reston Farmers Market. This “SNAP at Market” program was the most successful in the County in FY17, giving clients access to improved nutrition and thus health, while supporting the local business community through sales of more than $20,000 last year. In FY17, ASAPP served 5,900 individuals (including 2,100 families and 2,733 children) with bags of groceries, diapers/wipes, clothing vouchers, and rent and utility assistance. In addition, with support from generous neighbors in the community, it distributed over 2,250 seasonal gifts, from back-to-school packs to Thanksgiving baskets and holiday gifts.
Empowerment – Cornerstones is there for individuals and families once the crisis has passed, giving them the ability to choose and plan their next steps in an environment that offers time, space and resources to succeed.
Cornerstones Housing Corporation (a program and affiliate of Cornerstones) provides affordable rental housing opportunities and care management services in its 105 scattered-site rental townhomes and apartments in Reston, Herndon, and Centreville to formerly homeless or low-income families who would otherwise have to spend as much as 50 to 80 percent of their income to afford rent alone.
Community Care Management is a one-on-one “wrap-around” support service offered to community members who need to obtain or maintain stability as they journey towards self-sufficiency. The hub of Community Care Management is located at Cornerstones’ Connections for Hope Partnership office in Herndon, a facility of co-located nonprofits and government agencies that work together to improve service delivery to residents in the community. These services strengthen the clients’ stability and include client-identified goal development; referrals to resources, such as emergency food and financial assistance, dental or medical assistance or benefits; opportunities to engage in direct programming and services at Cornerstones, such as housing counseling and eviction prevention, employment services, educational assistance, financial literacy, and citizenship classes. Services also include access to partner resources and programs such as ESL and parenting classes, pro bono legal support, childcare, and computer courses offered at Connection for Hope or the Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center. In FY17, community care management was provided to 350 families living in the Reston/Herndon community.
The Pathways to Sustainable Employment program located at the Connections for Hope Partnership office offers individuals an opportunity to position themselves better for jobs in not just traditional, but new and growing employment sectors. The program comprises a number of components: a 10-day, 30-hour job-readiness curriculum; employment clinics where clients receive assistance in identifying growth sectors in their areas of interest and can apply for available positions within those sectors; access to the professional expertise of volunteers who mentor clients; monthly workshops; and one-on-one employment counseling. In FY17, 63% of graduates from the Pathways to Sustainable Employment program found or improved their employment after graduating from the program.
Hope – Cornerstones builds strong families and communities through concrete resources for families that offer hope and opportunity for a brighter future. Cornerstones partners with community members to lead community change initiatives that address root causes of poverty and inequity.
Next to housing, the cost of childcare is the largest household expense at an average of $15,000 per year for an infant. For hard-working, low-income families the choices are daunting. Laurel Learning Center offers subsidized, quality childcare for 135 infants, toddlers and school-age children – providing developmental assessments, and school readiness curriculum, pre- and afterschool academic enrichment and summer programs. In FY17, 19 out of 19 rising kindergarteners from low-income families entered school with the foundational skills necessary for academic success, and 38 preschoolers achieved their developmental milestones. All the children in the after-school program maintained or improved their academic grades (per school reports).
Cornerstones’ Kids and Parents Engage after-school and summer program is offered at community center sites in Reston and at the Herndon Neighborhood Resource Center. In FY17, 116 youth and children participated in after-school enrichment activities including STEAM, Robotics, Youth Leadership, College-bound Courses, computer classes, and arts and cultural opportunities.
The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness was established in 2008 as a public-private partnership of Fairfax County, nonprofit, faith, business and community leaders with a ten-year plan focused on increasing housing options and preserving affordable housing units, preventing people from becoming homeless, delivering integrated services for people who needed support in remaining stably housed, and ensuring implementation through systems change and new and leveraged resources. Since adoption of that plan, there has been a 47 percent decrease in homelessness in Fairfax County and a transformation in the way partners help people navigate services and access housing options appropriate for them. In 2017, Cornerstones and Fairfax County launched the Fairfax County Housing Opportunities Collaborative – a unique partnership designed to increase private landlord participation in meeting the needs of housing for the most vulnerable citizens. In addition, Cornerstones’ CEO chairs the Fairfax County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC). AHAC oversaw the adoption of a “Penny Fund” in 2006 (one penny of the Fairfax County real estate tax) to preserve 2,600 homes in Fairfax County, and has presented a Community-Wide Strategic Plan for Housing that has identified gaps in housing for people at all income levels and the policies and resources needed to fill them.
Opportunity Neighborhood: Reston or “RestON” is a new community initiative, facilitated by Cornerstones, that was launched in the fall of 2016. It is based on the Promise Neighborhood collective impact model that seeks to rally the community – from businesses to local government to nonprofits to faith communities – to support the success of children from “cradle to career” and to build the resiliency of their families through community care management. RestON partners are actively engaged in dialogue with residents, parents, youth who are living primarily in four low-income apartment complexes in Reston where Cornerstones manages community centers and facilitates dual-generational and resident engagement activities that are available to over 7,000 residents. During FY17, Cornerstones regularly convened Reston business leaders, faith, civic and community groups, and youth-service and government agency staff to complete an inventory of existing resources and conduct “listening tours” as parents identified the barriers – and assets – available to help them meet the needs of their families.
The Food Opportunities and Outreach Design Group (“FOOD”) network was convened by Cornerstones and partners in 2017 to ensure a community-wide approach to sustainable food security. Disturbed by the statistics that demonstrate hunger is a real issue for one in four persons in this community – and the impact that has on learning and quality of life for children and seniors in particular – stakeholders came together with food pantry programs and ministry partners from nonprofits, faith groups and schools to see what could be done better. Since its inception, strategies have been developed to improve collection and distribution efforts, promote collaboration among providers and offer concrete ways for generous and committed community members to contribute and see the impact of their donations.
4. What inspires or drives your team to stay committed to the mission?
Committed and responsive professionals make up the staff at Cornerstones, to include 84 fulltime and 54 part-time employees.
For many of Cornerstones’ staff, their commitment to our mission is personal:
If chosen for Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Nonprofit of the Year Award, Cornerstones will share the recognition with every staff member, every community partner, every volunteer and every client we serve. We strive to be a leader and a role model in the nonprofit sector and to develop and run effective programs to support those most in need in our community. Your recognition of Cornerstones will further ignite our spirit to continue our work and allows us to promote our efforts and those of our partners.
5. What advice would you give other nonprofits trying to make an impact on their community?
We are blessed to have many nonprofit and for-profit organizations which are involved in providing human services, and a county government that is in many ways a leader in this area. We are proud of our role as a community convener. Our advice for other nonprofits trying to make an impact is, “You work better when you are working together to solve community issues.”