Two years and counting into the pandemic, Offender Aid & Restoration (OAR) of Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church is focusing on the future while continuing to zero in on its core missions.
The organization “puts participants first,” said Alejandra Santaolalla, the social-safety-net organization’s board chair, at the 14th annual fund-raising breakfast on April 27.
For the third year in a row, the event was moved online due to public-health conditions, but the organization itself did not shut down operations (or even close its doors), even during the worst of the pandemic.
OAR is vitally needed, said board member (and Alexandria police chief) Don Hayes, because it provides “a place where it is safe to be your authentic self.”
“We must all be in this together,” Hayes said at the event. He said the 45-minute program was designed to spread joy and love, and asked participants to “carry that feeling with you, this day and beyond.”
OAR was founded in 1974 by a coalition within the local faith community. In addition to its other efforts, the organization also supervises court-ordered volunteer service in the region.
The pandemic era has proved challenging on multiple fronts; at its beginning, funding was tight and staff was trimmed. But the organization’s top staff member, Elizabeth Jones Valderrama, said OAR’s goal continues to be embracing those caught up in the criminal-justice system and enable them to “remain a part of helping their community thrive.”
“Our culture is all about collectiveness – come as you are,” she said.
In addition to musical and poetry presentations, the breakfast included remarks from Sonya Renee Taylor, who heads The Body Is Not an Apology online community and who now lives in New Zealand. She said she hoped her discourse, and the event as a whole, “puts some fuel in your tank for the work you are doing.”
Attendees apparently caught the spirit.
Mondré Kornegay, a former OAR board chairman, said the organization deserved credit for the “bold work to support the people you serve and to educate the community.”
“This is so powerful,” participant Michelle Valdez said of the program.