In an old community center across from a barren field in Fredericksburg, Virginia there’s kinetic energy flowing through every part of the modular space.
It’s a warm August day, weeks before the start of school year.
This space is filled with possibility.
School supplies waiting to be packed into carefully selected backpacks.
The buzz of hair clippers and squirmy children who sit, albeit impatiently, for their clip and cut.
“You have to heal the family before you can really help the child.”
- Carrie Evans, Executive Director – Stafford Junction
And, preparations for another year of helping some 200 children and families manage the logistics of a new season of learning.
“Kind of how Stafford Junction began was afterschool tutoring for kids in low income families and at-risk youth,” said Carrie Evans, executive director of Stafford Junction. “We are very focused on Stafford because we consider ourselves a hub of resources for families who couldn't afford it elsewhere.”
Years of providing critical services in this county, about an hour south of Washington DC, have taught the dedicated team that they have to focus on more than just the children whose faces beam with joy as they enter Stafford Junction.
“You have to heal the whole family before you can really help the child,” Evans said.
One significant way this organization provides that help is through transportation.
But, their wheels aren't spinning quite as frequently as they should to truly carry out their mission.
“It’s just not in the budget to put $6,000 into a van from 92,” she said. “We typically have three. We have two vans and one bus and they run constantly.”
Greg Minor, a program manager at Stafford Junction, is often in the driver’s seat.
“It’s everything to us. We can’t get em out to the field trips, we can’t get em to the school, we can’t get em to the practices, we can’t get em to the doctor, we need it.”
"Without these, we are really dead in the water,” Evans added.
When WUSA9's Impact team got to Stafford Junction, they had a problem -- and they were hoping we could help them fix it.
To give you an idea of what those vans mean, here is the story of four lives that are forever changed because of this non-profit.
“I’m trying to be the first person in my family to go to college," said freshman Neycer Vasquez.
When Neycer isn’t in class, you’ll most likely find him out on the football field at Stafford High School.
He knows the power of people who believe in him. That support, fuels his desire to stay focused on his goals.
“If I didn't have Stafford Junction, I’d probably be in trouble all the time,” he said.
Since Neycer started going to after school tutoring, he’s started to work on his grades.
“That’s important to him now. He’s starting to think about going to college now. And that’s started rubbing off on his sister,” said Minor, of Stafford Junction. “Because now she sees what he’s doing and she wants to follow in his footsteps. He’s making us all proud.”
“They are always there for me,” Neycer said. “I can have someone to rely on.”
"I have to stay strong for my kids"
Beatriz Canul, Neycer's mother, knows that feeling too. Stafford Junction came through for her family in ways she couldn't anticipate when she confronted a serious health challenge.
“They told me I have cancer. In the beginning, when they tell you that, you know, it doesn't click in,” said Beatriz, through tears. “I cry when I have to cry, pick myself up, I had to be strong for my kids.”
The cancer diagnosis was the first blow to her family. The second came when she learned about the treatments she’d need to fight the enemy within her own body.
“The doctor told me that I had to have these appointments. And, I say, it has to be 8 o'clock in the morning? I don’t have transportation. I have no car.”
That’s when her extended family at Stafford Junction jumped in. Telling her, “Don’t worry about it, we got you.”
“It’s because of this program that I did make all my appointments,” Beatriz said. “Went to do all my treatments and I am still going.”
Football practice, tutoring and doctor visits are just the start. We met two college freshmen whose lives would be very different without Stafford Junction.
"Kind of hard to adjust"
“In order for a child to be successful in school, they have to be, you know, stable,” Destiny Jordan said.
Destiny grew up in search of stability. She spent many years moving from hotel room to hotel room.
“I’m not gonna lie. It is hard. But, it’s not something that nobody can overcome.
Jenifer Bailon grew up only speaking Spanish. She learned to speak English, all while trying to navigate a new school and cultural environment.
“It was kinda hard to adjust,” Jenifer said.
Destiny and Jenifer worked diligently. And, in time, they became the first in their families to get a high school diploma.
“I screamed when we got into college, I was like, Oh my God, I got my advanced diploma,” Destiny said. “Getting the extra help you needed by somebody who gives transportation, it was a big factor.”
Jenifer’s parents worked all the time. They didn't speak English and couldn't help her with homework. But that’s where Stafford Junction came through to and filled a crack, that Jenifer could have fallen through without some assistance.
“I went to this program and they helped me a lot,” Jenifer said.
The teens met at Stafford Junction and ended up enrolling at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Now, they’re roommates.
“The biggest thing is having somebody to talk to, about things,” Destiny said. “It’s been a huge part of my life and I will never forget it.”
Impact isn’t about just reporting on problems. We wanted to see what could happen if we teamed up with the community to get Stafford Junction a new van. And what happened next, surprised us all.
Five months after we embarked on a journey to help Stafford Junction get back on the road, we were ready to surprise them in a major way.
Sheehy Toyota of Fredericksburg heard about their important work in the community and jumped at the chance to support their higher purpose.
We got the team together at Sheehy Toyota and talked through the big reveal for Stafford Junction. It was a huge logistical feat. More than a dozen people had to be in the right place to pull it off.
Could we do it? Well, YES!
We arrived at Stafford Junction to let them know we wanted to come back to visit and give them an update about their wish list.
Armed with a walkie-talkie, WUSA9's Lesli Foster invited the Stafford Junction staff, volunteers and children to follow her outside.
“So if I could direct your attention, that way, that white van right there, is coming here…”Lesli said.
A white van with the Stafford Junction logo was on its way into the driveway that greets everyone who walks into the organization. It was met with a bevy of cheers, clapping and lots of cameras snapping this moment of joy.
Carrie Evans walked over to meet Paul Sheehy of the Sheehy Automotive Group and they embraced.
“Thank you so much, this is such a blessing, you just can’t even imagine,” Evans said. “These kids are everything to us.”
“We’re just happy to be a part of this and enjoy the vehicle,” Sheehy said. “You do a tremendous work for the community and we’re just happy to help in any way that we can.”
That was just one surprise. Paul and his team also bought a van full of school supplies for the children and families at Stafford Junction.
“Wow! School supplies, yes. Awesome. That is amazing!” Evans exclaimed.
We knew that van and those school supplies would go a long way toward helping the 200 families that Stafford Junction serves. What we didn't expect was the reaction to a bag of calculators.
Lynn Hamilton is the Community Development Director for Stafford Junction. She started opening bags and found one filled with calculators.
“Oh my gosh, our high school kids are the ones who need these. And are failing classes because they don’t have a calculator. So now, we can give one to everyone,” Hamilton said, through tears. “You have no idea. Thank you.”
We knew one surprise would be overwhelming. But we couldn't stop there!
“What if I told you there’s another surprise?” we asked.
And into her walk-in talkie, Lesli called the Impact team once more, “you guys ready to bring it in?”
By this time, Evans was completely perplexed. The staff and students at Stafford Junction were also just as confused.
As they are looking down the road they see another van coming their way with a red bow on it.
It finally hits Carrie. This van is for Stafford Junction, too.
Tears. So many tears and hugs!
“Oh my God,” Carrie said. “That is so amazing, two vans!”
The second van was donated by the Invisible Hand Foundation. It’s a network of donors who give anonymously to support young people in DC, Maryland and Virginia to overcome obstacles and reach their full potential. They heard about Stafford Junction and wanted to amplify their impact.
Sheehy Toyota of Fredericksburg and the Invisible Hand Foundation stepped up to truly make an impact.
When we saw the two vans drive off, our Impact team kept thinking about how every mile matters.
We are excited to see how many more lives are touched by their generosity.