Tysons, VA

For the first time in its 48-year history, Second Story is going online for its most important fundraiser.

Scheduled for Oct. 27, the 2020 Beacon of Hope Fundraiser will give supporters a look at how the Tysons-based nonprofit has adapted to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, whose impact has been felt most acutely by poor and marginalized communities like the youths and families that Second Story serves.

Taking the form of a video streamed live on YouTube from 12:30-1:00 p.m., the fundraiser will feature updates from Second Story CEO Judith Dittman on the organization’s current status and its plans for the future. Three youths will also talk about their involvement in the nonprofit’s programs, which provide housing, counseling, and other kinds of assistance to young people and families in need.

The planned virtual fundraiser will be a major change from Second Story’s traditional Beacon of Hope benefit, which is held in October every year and typically serves as the nonprofit’s largest fundraising event.

“This is such a new territory for us, but everyone’s been really working hard in making sure that people will understand what the needs are of the under-served population that we work with,” Second Story vice president of development Jade Leedham said.

The annual Beacon of Hope fundraiser is especially critical for Second Story this year, as the nonprofit attempts to fill more gaps in essential needs for its clients during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While Second Story also serves Washington, D.C., and Maryland, it is primarily based in Northern Virginia with programs to support teenagers in crisis, and young adults and mothers experiencing homelessness. The nonprofit also has drop-in centers in the Culmore area of Falls Church, Annandale, and Springfield that provide after-school support to students.

Leedham says Second Story has seen a “huge” increase in the need for food. Distribution events held twice a week in Culmore have consistently drawn about 300 people per day, while a site in Springfield regularly gets 100 people coming each day.

Second Story has also been dropping off food for clients who are unable to attend the distribution events.

Other pressing issues include access to technology, as students risked being left out of schools’ shift to virtual learning, and rent support after about 70 percent of the youths in Second Story’s rapid re-housing program lost hours at their jobs or got laid off in the past year.

At the same time, Second Story has seen the number of people using its residential programs dip.

“[It’s] the nature of COVID,” Leedham said. “People are reluctant to leave or to go anywhere that’s not familiar to them or that they don’t know is safe or not.”

To maintain contact with both clients and supporters, Second Story created a COVID-19 task force, focused more marketing efforts online, and started conducting video calls with clients to provide counseling and other services virtually.

Second Story leaders say individuals, businesses, faith organizations, civic groups, and other community members have “really stepped up” to support the nonprofit this year, especially when the pandemic hit in the spring, typically a slow time for fundraising.

However, they are not sure what to expect as the year draws to a close, in terms of people’s ability and willingness to make philanthropic contributions when both COVID-19 and the economic challenges exacerbated by the pandemic persist.

Second Story’s goal for the 2020 Beacon of Hope event is to help raise $1.3 million for this fiscal year as part of a “Together We Do More” campaign that started in 2019 and aims to cumulatively raise $4 million over three years.

“In the past, we were able to predict how our in-person fundraiser would do in terms of revenue and how our holiday appeal would do in terms of revenue,” Leedham said. “But now, doing this virtually and this being our first virtual event, it’s just a different ballgame.”

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