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Opinion: Commentary: True Impact of Alexandria’s Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend
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Opinion: Commentary: True Impact of Alexandria’s Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

This year will mark the first time in 50 years that the sound of bagpipes won’t be heard in the heart of old town Alexandria on the first Saturday in December. For the last 50 years, the Junior Friends of The Campagna Center have undertaken the awesome task of organizing and bringing forward a beloved community tradition – Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend (SCWW).

Established to help invigorate business activity in the city while also raising funds to support the programs of The Campagna Center, the parade and the events surrounding it generate more than $250,000 in vital revenue to support Campagna Center programs like Building Better Futures, New Neighbors, and the Early Learning Center at St. James.

In August, The Campagna Center decided that all events tied to the weekend would be cancelled due to the public health risks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the streets will be quiet, the staff at The Campagna Center will be busy doing what we have done for 75 years – serving the community.

For months now, The Campagna Center has been actively working to provide in person and virtual services to our families. These activities were incorporated into existing programs that focus heavily on preschool education, access to child care for the school-age children of working parents, tutoring and mentoring for students across the education continuum, and English language classes for immigrants and refugees in our community.

For many Campagna families these services are essential. To qualify for free early care and education programs families generally fall within 100 to 200 percent of the Federal poverty level, which today is considered $26,200 to $54,200 for a family of four. We serve children in our Campagna Kids program on a sliding fee basis to help ensure the program is accessible to all families. Tutoring and mentoring services through Wright to Read and Building Better Futures target significant populations of children who qualify for free and reduced priced lunch. Many of the adults served in our New Neighbors programs are unemployed or underemployed. It has been vital for us to remain open and active during this unprecedented time of stress, anxiety, and worry for our families.

The Campagna Center has also expanded our network of services in 2020 to meet the needs of our community. In April, Campagna launched an emergency diaper bank that has so far received 3,583 applications from parents in need. In July, The Campagna Center was selected as one of seven nonprofit organizations to participate in the ALX Grocery Gift Card program, allowing us to provide monthly gift cards to families who have lost income due to the pandemic and need support. We were also able to open in person learning opportunities at our Early Learning Center as well as at two Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to provide relief for parents who needed to leave home for work and wanted access to our Campagna Kids programs. Our strong partnership with ACPS has been vital to our ability to meet needs in this area.

In September, we increased the number of children we are serving in person to 135 while continuing to serve an additional 523 through virtual learning experiences. We have found ways to provide the technology and internet services to our families with children under five and those we are tutoring in our Wright to Read program. Thanks to a partnership with Goodwin House, Inc., we were able to introduce COVID testing on a monthly basis for all staff working in person with children.

On December 5, what would have been the peak of Scottish Walk Weekend, Campagna Center staff will hold a drive-through gift pickup for our Campagna families offering them a small token of holiday cheer in the form of grocery gift cards, pajamas, books, a toy, and stocking stuffers. The students in our Wright to Read program will have access to similar supports through a distribution we are organizing for December 12.

While I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the spirit of Campagna’s mission, the revenues lost by canceling the SCWW festivities weigh heavily on my mind. This year has not been easy. The cost of keeping children and staff safe is significant. In a year that has come with added and unexpected costs, Campagna will need the support of our community – visit https://www.campagnacenter.org/get-involved to learn about the ways you can support our work.

Tammy L. Mann, PhD, is the President and CEO of The Campagna Center, not-for-profit organization in Alexandria, equipping children and families with a comprehensive set of tools they need to thrive and succeed. Since 1945, The Campagna Center has served the community by offering a range of programs that foster a dedication to learning among children, youth, and adults. More than 2,000 children and families take advantage of their services on a daily basis.