Each year, NOVEC employees have the chance to work in the community to help organizations through Day of Caring. This year NOVEC HELPS partnered with Western Fairfax Christian Ministries and House of Mercy. Both organizations help families in crisis by providing food, financial assistance, and educational classes along with other services.

While HELPS has assisted both of these groups financially this year, participating in a hands-on fashion was an innovative way for employees to see the impact of their work immediately. In August, nearly 40 NOVEC employees split between the two volunteering locations to help with a wide range of tasks. Kristine Hurt, food pantry manager at WFCM, says having volunteers come to fill the gaps is crucial. “Without the volunteers, we wouldn't have people to bag the food for our clients, to stock the food on the shelves,” Hurt said. “If we didn't have volunteers, we wouldn't be operating.”

Volunteers at Western Fairfax Christian Ministries cleaned and rearranged shelves in the food pantry in the morning and then packed 300 bags of food to be delivered to Chantilly High School in the afternoon. Jessica Torres-Cervetto, NOVEC customer care representative and NOVEC HELPS board member, called the opportunity to participate rewarding. “The feeling was awesome! It was a blessing to be able to give back by being part of this wonderful team.”

In addition to assisting with the food pantry at House of Mercy, volunteers were able to fulfill a longtime goal of the staff. “We have been talking about building a composting bin for a couple of months now,” says Sophia Crooks, program manager at House of Mercy. “Since we are so short staffed, we have had to put other more forefront tasks first, so the NOVEC HELPS volunteers made a huge and long-lasting impact to House of Mercy.” NOVEC HELPS says thank you to all employees who participated and helped make this event a success.

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Updated: Jul 2

Living in Northern Virginia, it’s easy to see how crucial STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is for children. However, not every student is able to get proper access, especially low-income students and students of color. A study from the U.S. Department of Education showed that among high schools with high Black and Latino enrollment, they offered mathematics and science courses at a lower rate than the overall population of all high schools. This disparity plays out more when other socioeconomic factors are taken into consideration.

Monica Nichols, Pink Space Theory founder and president, hopes to close the gender and race inequality gap in the STEM community.

For Monica Nichols, creating a place for children, especially young girls, was a calling in response to struggles she faced growing up. “My personal struggles with math inspired me to start Pink Space Theory to help build STEAM skills early on in underrepresented youth,” she said.

Nichols, Pink Space Theory founder and president, says she created the nonprofit organization to help close the gender and race inequality gaps she found in the STEM community. In order to accomplish that, she began to work, building connections and creating a platform to inspire and build what she considers a crucial skill set. “As an African-American female engineer, I want to do my part by providing youth, especially girls, with learning opportunities to engage, expose, and empower them to want to explore the wonderful world of STEAM. We add the "A" for arts to STEM to make it STEAM because we believe it is equally important to strike a balance between creativity and analysis.”

Pink Space Theory participant shows off the wind turbine she built as part of the Girl Power Intro to Green Living workshop. Photo by Endless Expressions Photography

This fall, Pink Space Theory will be partnering with NOVEC HELPS and NOVEC to hold their first Solar Design Stars workshop benefitting a Title 1 school in Prince William County. The 3-week program will teach participants the importance of green energy and environmental stewardship, while introducing them to the engineering design process. They will also learn about careers in renewable energy. The partnership between NOVEC HELPS and NOVEC will cover the program expenses, including paying for a local county teacher, George Mason University instruction, and solar kits. At the end of the three weeks, students will participate in a design challenge to make a solar-powered boat and local engineers will judge it.

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Updated: Jun 17

NOVEC and NOVEC HELPS partnered to give to the House of Mercy in Manassas. The combined funds will provide diapers for more than 300 low-income families.

“Diapers and wipes are very expensive, as any parent knows,” says Jessica Root, House of Mercy executive director. “So if we are able to help our clients in that way, they are able to save or use those funds for other important things like rent or utilities.”

Sophia Crooks, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator at House of Mercy, sorts through purchased items for babies before they are offered to families.

Root says requests for assistance to the nonprofit group grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The number of people we served rose about 800%. We helped more than 20,000 individuals last year alone.” Like so many nonprofit organizations, House of Mercy dealt with a simultaneous increase in demand for its services and a drop in its resources available to clients in 2020. The pandemic also complicated planning that had been made to expand its efforts. In addition to the client need increasing by 800% at the height of the stay-at-home order, their thrift store temporarily closed leading to $30,000 lost in monthly revenue, and there was a decrease in how many volunteers could assist their five-person staff. Still, Root says the staff continued to press forward in their work to expand mobile pantry services and create new partnerships to help get fresh produce to families.

Donations being sorted at local food bank
Donations are sorted at House of Mercy before being put on shelves for clients.

“It's important to us to leverage our connections in the community,” states Heather Anderson, NOVEC system engineering manager and NOVEC HELPS activities coordinator. “We want to give in a way that helps families. When we saw how the House of Mercy had a specific need for diapers we knew we could help.”

"Everyone has their own story and a majority of the clients we are helping are really in need, they just lost a paycheck and everything went downhill from there, or another family emergency happened and all the sudden their savings was gone," said Root. "This could be you or me if the circumstances changed and they can always change in an instant. We need to break down the barriers and just help our neighbor."