|This organizing effort led to hundreds of seniors being able to stay in their homes. |
Seven years ago, what began as a tragedy for hundreds of seniors ended up as a victory for those seniors and the VOICE leaders who organized with them. In 2015, residents of Fellowship Square Senior Housing at Lake Anne learned that there was a plan to replace their aging building, a place that those seniors called home.
The residents, some of whom had family and friends attending VOICE congregations (Trinity Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist of Reston, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation), were angry and scared with the initial proposal. Junita Clark, mother-in-law to a NVHC member, led a petition drive. Residents united in solidarity saying, “No we will not accept being separated from one another.”
Renee Brereton, VOICE organizer, met with residents and found strong established relationships, especially within the Chinese, Korean and Iranian ethnic communities. One key ingredient in the success of this campaign was finding a new developer that had experience with senior housing and a commitment to not displace tenants.
The team found that developer in CPDC who later merged with Enterprise Community Development. They worked with County and Federal agencies to raise $83 million for Lake Anne House with 240 units. In August, residents moved into an award-winning beautiful building. All residents have HUD vouchers. In addition, HUD designated Reston as an expensive zip code and raised the HUD voucher to $1,600/month.
What makes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid Al-Fitr and Diwali different this school year in Fairfax? They are fully recognized holidays in Fairfax Public Schools. Congratulations to VOICE leaders, School Board members and allies!
Many may not know that this campaign was started by Muslim and Jewish high school students in 2017 when they wanted to do something about the hateful remarks and acts directed at them such as peers making jokes about the holocaust, girls being told they couldn’t wear their hijabs and students being called “terrorists.”
VOICE leaders knew they needed to do something to address the fact that many did not feel welcomed at school. So we did what we do best, we talked to those directly impacted. VOICE leaders listened to hundreds of Jewish and Muslim students and while many ideas were shared, the one that we heard again and again was “honor my most important holidays show that you also respect me as a person.”
That year, over 800 VOICE adult and high school age leaders gathered in Fairfax and Prince William Counties with their prospective Superintendents at VOICE Actions to get public commitments about the Muslim and Jewish holidays. Both superintendents stated to VOICE leaders that going forward no tests or major field trips were allowed the day of, the day before and the day after the religious holiday. There were other victories as well, such as allowing students to be able to spend their lunch time in the library during Ramadan since they were fasting.
The next several years were rocky in the actual follow through which led VOICE leaders and others to decide that organizing for having the days off was worth relaunching. Then in the 2021-2022 Fairfax public school calendar, the County School Board decided no religious holidays would be included, even moving Easter from Spring Break.
There were many pivotal moments throughout this campaign when members of different faiths stood for the whole and would not let one faith’s holiday be included if not all of the ones they had collectively agreed upon were in the FCPS calendar. We want to celebrate this fact, as well as, the victory that going forward thousands of families can observe their major religious holidays with their families. A special shout out to the VOICE leaders, young and older, at Dar al-Hijrah, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation and Temple Rodef Shalom!
Here is a Washington Post article from the start of this campaign that features several VOICE leaders.