Updated: Jul 2, 2021

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, 2021

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."

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Updated: Jun 11, 2021

NOVEC HELPS, NOVEC, and other community sponsors partnered with Leadership Prince William's 2020 to benefit the Youth for Tomorrow campus. Together, $25,000 was raised to build a sensory room and a “confidence” obstacle course at the campus.

Andrea Van Wambeke, general manager of Sweeney Barn in Manassas, says her Leadership Prince William class of nearly 40 members came up with the idea of a sensory room and obstacle course after working in teams to pick an annual project. When COVID caused closures, they realized changes would have to happen to get the project completed. “We’d already come up with a concept, we already made a promise to these kids,” said Wambeke. “We really felt an obligation to continue that promise to them, even if we couldn't get together in a large group of volunteers and people.”

Lawrence Schuster, Director of Utilization Review at Youth for Tomorrow, speaks with a resident in their program.

For Lawrence Schuster, another member of the group and Director of Utilization Review at Youth for Tomorrow, the problems faced getting the project off the ground can almost mirror the obstacle course itself. “All these kids experience obstacles in their life, and you're always going to face obstacles. The goal is to overcome them and find a way around them,” he says. “We came up with the concept of the obstacle course as seeing a challenge in real time and finding a way to overcome it.”

Rather than starting over, Van Wambeke says her class wanted to keep its promise to Youth for Tomorrow by raising money for the room and obstacle course.

Thanks to donations from throughout Prince William County, the financial goal was met, helping the concept become a reality. Schuster says they hope to begin construction in spring or early summer 2021. “These kids at Youth for Tomorrow have promises made to them their whole lives and haven't had them fulfilled,” says Wambeke, “we don't want to be the ones to do that to them again.”

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