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ConnectVA Spotlight: Elizabeth Bass, Virginia Mentoring Partnership

Virginia Mentoring Partnership on ConnectVA

Tell us about yourself: 

I joined the team at Virginia Mentoring Partnership in the summer of 2013, after ten years in Charlottesville at Madison House, the student volunteer center at the University of Virginia.  I have worked in the non-profit sector for more than 15 years, with an emphasis on volunteer training and management, community outreach, and collegiate civic engagement. I received my B.A. from U.Va., and my Masters in Social Work from VCU.  Throughout my career, one of my most meaningful roles has been connecting people with opportunities to serve, and ensuring that their experiences are high quality, and have a positive impact. This is one of the things that motivates us at Virginia Mentoring Partnership (VMP) to achieve our mission: to increase the quality and quantity of mentoring for Virginia’s youth.

What is the focus of your work?

Our work is to promote effective youth mentoring in Virginia, and the vision of VMP is that every child who needs a mentor has a mentor. Our vision is about the kids in our communities who need a caring, trusted adult in their lives.  We know, and research supports, that young people who have dedicated, consistent adults in their lives are less likely to drop out of school, or engage in drug and alcohol use, and are more likely to go to college and enter the workforce. They have a more positive outlook on their futures, and stronger relationships with peers and parents.

The mission of VMP is about the adults who commit to be there for those young people. We provide training and support to mentors and mentoring program staff. In order to create high-quality, sustainable matches between a mentor and a child, mentors need preparation and training. Mentoring program staff need standards and best practices to follow, and to be able to equip their mentors with the tools and resources to best engage with their mentees.  So we help to educate, strengthen, and build capacity for the youth mentoring movement in Richmond and throughout Virginia.

What do you find most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing about our work is training hundreds of new mentors every year who are giving their time and opening their hearts to be there for a young person. There are so many programs that have waiting lists, and have children and teens who could benefit from a caring adult in their lives. Each new mentor that we train helps to close the mentoring gap, and allows those mentoring programs to achieve their goals.

Tell us about one of your biggest accomplishments: 

One of VMP’s biggest accomplishments recently has been coordinating an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program in conjunction with the Corporation for National and Community Service. In the past three years, we have hosted cohorts of VISTA members who were placed in youth mentoring programs throughout the state. The VISTAs have created over 1,200 mentoring matches, and have allowed mentoring programs to expand their efforts, develop new opportunities, and build organizational capacity. We are so proud of the service and dedication of our VISTA members, and are grateful to have them as an extension of our team!

What’s coming next for your organization that really excites you? 

We believe that mentoring is good, but quality mentoring is better. So we are excited to be offering a quality improvement process, Quality-Based Membership, for existing mentoring programs. This year-long process uses nationally recognized best practices and standards for quality mentoring, and helps programs develop a work plan and access the research, tools and resources it needs to meet those quality standards, and achieve the distinction of Partner Member. By the end of 2015, ten local mentoring programs will have completed QBM, and many more will begin the process. It’s exciting to be a part of raising the bar for youth programming in the community, and to know that we are all collectively working towards producing positive outcomes for our kids.  

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?

We rely heavily on ConnectVA at Virginia Mentoring Partnership. Each week, we post our New Mentor Trainings and our professional trainings for program providers on the calendar. Whenever we have an open position or a VISTA opening to fill, ConnectVA is one of the first places we share the opportunity. And all of our staff subscribe to the update emails, and regularly share the useful articles, links to events or grant opportunities with one another. Our community is lucky to have a resource like this as the go-to for the non-profit sector.

Anything else you would like to share?

If anyone reading this has felt inspired to learn more about becoming a mentor to a young person, I hope they will check us out at www.vamentoring.org and get involved. One of the best parts of my week is when I spend time with my mentee at a local middle school, and I know that I get just as much out of the experience as I give.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Charles Gerena, Drive Electric RVA

ConnectVA Spotlight

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Charles Gerena and I am founder and lead organizer for Drive Electric RVA. My background is in communications, and I have utilized these skills as well as my project management experience to grow our organization from one person (me) to dozens of people throughout central Virginia who own electric vehicles or are interested in the technology. All of this growth has happened in less than two years.

What’s the focus of your work?

The mission of Drive Electric RVA isn’t to sell electric vehicles (EVs). It’s to sell an idea — EVs have become a fun, practical transportation alternative. They aren’t a relic of the past (there used to be more EVs than gas-powered cars) or a cool project of a mechanically inclined environmentalist. They are here, and they can be used as a tool for reducing energy consumption and air pollution. They are also just plain fun to drive, and cost less to maintain and fuel!

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

When sharing my experience as an EV owner helps someone see an electric vehicle differently, that is very fulfilling. It’s even more amazing when that person decides to buy an EV based on what they learned — that has happened at least twice. Creating a more sustainable world is a huge task, but it happens one person at a time.

Tell us about a challenge you have faced.

One challenge is closing the zero emission transportation loop. An electric vehicle doesn’t emit pollution from a tailpipe like a typical car, but the electricity that runs it is often generated by burning carbon-based fuel. About 65% of the power generated in Virginia comes from natural gas, coal, and petrol plants. The answer is to use renewable energy sources like solar and wind to charge an EV, but that option is out of reach for many people for many reasons. That’s why I have been promoting the efforts of organizations like VA SUN and Solarize RVA to help homeowners and businesses generate their own power from the sun affordably.

What’s coming up for your organization that excites you?

We showcase electric vehicles every month at local farmers markets and do other things to connect EV owners and enthusiasts during the year. But our biggest events are coming up in September during National Drive Electric Week (a nationwide celebration supported by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association.)

This year, we are trying to get 50 EVs gathered in one place to show Richmonders the variety of choices that are available today. I am very excited because of the partnerships we have formed. For example, the big EV gathering is being supported by Gumenick Properties. We are also offering test drives of EVs and screening a documentary in partnership with the RVA Environmental Film Festival, and doing a presentation on zero emission transportation with the help of Old Dominion Innovations and Richmond Green Drinks.

How has ConnectVA helped you fulfill your mission?

ConnectVA’s Community Calendar has helped me plan and promote our events, while the organization profile page puts Drive Electric RVA in front of thousands of people in the nonprofit world. An elementary school teacher saw our profile and contacted me about bringing an EV to an Earth Day nature fair.

Anything else you’d like to share?

If you know someone with an electric vehicle — hybrids included — tell them about our group. We are here to support you!  Check out our Facebook page to help fill in any information gaps on our group. Also, here is an article that RVAnews did earlier this year.

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YNPN Recommends: 4 Tips for Development

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On Wednesday, YNPN RVA held their summer social at the Daily Kitchen and bar!  We had a great time catching up, having drinks and sharing laughs.  The place was packed with seasoned nonprofit professionals, folks just starting out in the sector, and even career seekers looking to learn more about our work, and curious about how to get their foot into the door.

Whether you are looking at ways of connecting and collaborating with other professionals in the sector, trying to advance the position you already have, or are trying to make a leap into the nonprofit world, being creative about developing yourself can have a big payoff.

Finding ways to develop leadership and management capabilities can be particularly challenging though for young professionals who are new to navigating the day-to-day work of nonprofits, but it’s not impossible.

 Bridgespan recently wrote a great article on 4 tactics young professionals have used to develop themselves while building their organizations:

1. Find advisers/coaches early on who reflect the particular growth stage of your organization or have expertise that you don’t have but want to develop.

Check out our recap from our YNPN RVA Mentoring Matters event, where we brought in local nonprofit leaders to talk about how finding a mentor advanced their career.

2. Reach out to peers in similar organizations for support and learning.

Take advantage of the plethora of resources on ConnectVA!  From our Organization Directory, where you can find contact information and learn more about a nonprofit’s mission to our Community Discussion Forum, where you can ask a burning question or make an announcement – ConnectVA is here to help you get connected and stay informed!

3. Cultivate self-awareness. To prioritize areas of development, know what you’re good at, where you need improvement, and how your strengths and weaknesses are perceived by others.

Again, finding a mentor or confiding in a trustworthy colleague can really help you recognize where you may need to improve and how you can capitalize on the strengths that you have.  During the fall and winter, Nonprofit Learning Point has some fantastic day-long classes that can also help you in your journey towards self-awareness:

4. Be persistent. Have the vigilance to fight through obstacles and stay focused on why you chose the work. This commitment can help build your confidence to face any challenge that comes your way.

Did you miss our summer social?  The next opportunity to get involved with YNPN RVA is on HandsOn Day, the region’s largest day of service, where nearly 1300 volunteers will be volunteering at dozens of local nonprofits from 9am – 1pm on October 17th.  Save the date and stay tuned for how to sign up to participate in a volunteer project with us!

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Tom Anderson, CEO and Founder of IT4Causes

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Tell us about yourself - I’m the Founder of IT4Causes, a local nonprofit that’s dedicated to delivering low-cost, highly effective information technology solutions to small and mid-sized nonprofits in RVA.  I left a long career in technology at places like Capital One and Honeywell because, for me, it was no longer about the money, but about the impact I could have in the community.

What is the focus of your work? So many smaller agencies simply can’t afford traditional IT services, so they do the best they can with what they can learn on the fly and what a few volunteers can do.  But to be effective and efficient in our data-driven world, you need an actual IT strategy, solid systems that work together, and people who can help you use them to great effect.  Lacking this, so many awesome nonprofit folks in town are spending their precious time fighting technology instead of doing what they are great at: serving their missions.

What do you find most rewarding about your work? I really enjoy seeing the look of relief in the faces of different Executive Directors when I tell them how we can solve a particular IT problem for them.  Whether it’s how to manage donors more effectively, making sure their data is secure and backed up, or just showing them a new trick in Excel to make reporting easier, I’m always delighted to find a way to give them back another hour so they can spend it helping others in our community.

What are some major challenges you have faced? When I first started down this road, the biggest challenge to me was how to make things more affordable for nonprofits.  But by studying the problem space and talking to lots of people to stimulate ideas, I found we could reduce costs by about 90% from commercial rates by:

  • Using a common strategy and solution set for as many clients as possible
  • Charging lower than commercial rates for our staff
  • Leveraging skilled IT professionals in commitments of 8-hours or less, and
  • Raising money from people who “get” the impact of great IT

What’s coming next for you and/or for your organization that really excites you? I’m thrilled that our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status was recently approved by the IRS.  We’ve got some great things in the works now to raise money so we can keep on delivering solutions for so little investment by our partner nonprofits.  To celebrate, we have a happy hour coming up at Isley Brewery on September 1, and we’re planning a family-friendly tech-themed event for the 4th quarter (stay tuned to our Twitter @IT4Causes or ConnectVA for more info on those).  We’re also launching a mini-campaign around The Amazing Raise.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission? We’ve used it to post jobs and events.  We now have capacity to provide services to more agencies, so we’ll start advertising our services there in the very new future.  If you don’t want to wait, you can send me an email at Thomas.anderson@IT4Causes.org to learn more about what we do and if we’re a good fit for your agency.

Anything else you would like to share? Richmond has so many great opportunities to learn about nonprofits; in addition to taking a lot of Nonprofit Learning Point classes, I went through Leadership Metro Richmond (a fantastic program) in 2014 and I’m also taking graduate school classes in Nonprofit Management at VCU.  I’m also serving as Board President at The Daily Planet.

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How to Use ConnectVA – 10 Tips

Tip of the Week (2)

Do you have questions about how to use the new ConnectVA site? Since we launched our redesign in April, we’ve been answering frequently asked questions in a series of blog posts. As the summer winds down and vacations end, we’ve compiled many of our Tips of the Week here in case you missed one or need to revisit a topic:

  1. Change Your Password and Update Your Profile - Before you do anything else, your first step should be to change your password to something secure that you can easily remember, and to update your ConnectVA member profile. The Member Directory is searchable, so we recommend you add a photo, your contact information, and links to your social media sites.
  2. Update Your Organization’s Profile - If you haven’t updated it in a while, make sure your organization description, social media sites, logo, and point of contact are all up-to-date so ConnectVA users can easily find current information about your organization.
  3. Using Your ConnectVA Dashboard - Need to edit a job? Want to remove a claimed item from the Item Exchange? You can manage your profiles and listings in your pop-out dashboard.
  4. Request Membership to Your Organization - Did you know that multiple people can manage your organization’s listing and post jobs, events, and more? Make your organization more accessible by encouraging your whole team to create ConnectVA accounts and request membership rights.
  5. 7 Reasons Why Everyone In Your Organization Should Be on ConnectVA - Speaking of your team, we’ve highlighted all the ways your organization’s staff, from Intern to Executive Director, can use ConnectVA to make their jobs easier.
  6. How to Edit and Promote a Job Posting - Whether you need to change the job description or are looking for ways to make your listing more visible, this post is for you.
  7. Post or Update an Event on the Community Calendar - Planning your next event and need to cross-check for good dates? The ConnectVA Event Calendar is a great tool for planning and promoting your public event.
  8. Subscribe and Post to the Discussion Forum - Use the ConnectVA forums to post news and announcements, funding opportunities, get advice on marketing and volunteer management, and more. Anyone subscribed to a particular forum will get notified of your posting by e-mail.
  9. Posting in the Items Exchange - Learn how to use our Items Exchange to post in-kind donation needs or available goods for donation.
  10. ConnectVA’s Got Your Ticket to a Learncation - A summer staycation is a great time to invest in your professional development. Learn about how to use our Resource Library to ramp up your skills.

What other topics would you like to see covered? Tell us in the comments below!

 

Have a question not answered here? Visit our FAQ page, or e-mail us for assistance.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: David J. Duck, Hanover County Department of Community Resources

Tell us about yourself - My name is David J. Duck and I serve as the Youth Services Specialist for the Hanover County Department of Community Resources. My education has focused on recreation and parks management as well as digital arts, and I have spent my professional career developing youth and community programs for various government and non-profit agencies. Getting my start in community programming in my hometown of Newport News, VA, I have been blessed to work in organizations from Norfolk through Ashland (and a few spots in between!) What is the focus of your work? The sector of public service I have aided most involves

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Nonprofit Trends: Greater Diversity and New Generations of Leadership

Recently we highlighted local nonprofits who are combating inequality and environmental degredation - two areas that are expected to continue to impact the sector. This week, we tackle diversity and new generations of leadership. We've collected some examples of organizations in the Richmond and Tri-cities area who are working to make the sector more inclusive and to prepare new generations for leadership roles.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Shareta Berry, Driven 2 Destiny Outreach Center Inc.

Driven 2 Destiny Outreach Center on ConnectVA

Tell us about yourself – My name is Shareta Berry, former homeless single mother and a domestic violence survivor.  I started volunteering as a community outreach worker at the age of 14, then worked with churches in the Baltimore, MD area assisting Pastors with Special Needs Children as a teen. In 2003, I moved to Richmond, VA with my six children and started working with AmeriCorps as a volunteer working with At Risk Youth in low income communities with Job Readiness Preparation.  I moved to Durham, NC in 2010 and in 2011 founded and became the CEO of  Driven 2 Destiny Outreach Center Inc.  I hold an Associates Degree in Psychology and I’m currently in School for my BA Science Degree in Psychology.

What is the focus of your work? The focus of the work that I do is helping women, children and At Risk Youth in low income communities and in areas where crime is at its highest. The needs of 21st-century communities seem to be growing by the day. Our centers have expanded to meet these needs. Over the years, we have learned that what people need most is someone who will listen to their concerns – someone they can turn to for support when the going gets tough. And that’s what Driven 2 Destiny Outreach Center is all about. So we have expanded the scope of community services to include drug prevention, community outreach, and coming soon, shelter facilities for displaced families and women that are escaping domestic violence or the lifestyle of prostitution.

What do you find most rewarding about your work? The most rewarding thing that I find is knowing that at the end of the day that someone walked away with a smile on their face and the help that they need to getting one step closer to obtaining the life change they are longing for, for both them and their family. It makes me feel happy knowing that I am doing just what God has placed me on this Earth to do –  help someone in their time of need and in their time of trouble, as people were there for me and my family when we needed help.

Tell us about your biggest accomplishment in this position – The biggest accomplishment and most memorable was in 2014, when we first were able to feed families for the Christmas holiday season and at the same time we were able to help children on the Angel Tree list with gifts. That was something that I have dreamed of doing for two years, to finally see the vision and dream come true.

What’s coming next for you and/or for your organization that really excites you? For the month of August, we have our very first ever women’s empowerment meeting, where we meet with women that have been through domestic violence, raped, and molested and help them overcome their fear so that they can move toward rebuilding their life and taking back what was stolen from them – self-worth. This will be the first time that we are doing this in Richmond, VA, as I have done this meeting in the North Carolina Region.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission? I want to say that since we relocated to the Richmond, VA area and I have connected with ConnectVA it has helped open some doors for us on a higher level and more people are willing to come and volunteer with us more during the times that people are in need of help. ConnectVA opens doors for nonprofits that are small but have a very big vision. Through ConnectVA, I hope to build a strong and solid partnership with other local and national nonprofits that are like-minded and have some of the same goals and ideas to help the community and the people within the community to grow. The things that I like most about ConnectVA are that you can post your events and what your organization is doing within the community to give people a snapshot of how others are making changes that are bringing families and youth closer for a common good.

Anything else you would like to share? We may be a small nonprofit, but we have a big vision to see people’s lives change around the country.

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News from the Community: Nonprofit Social Media Strategy Winners

Last Wednesday was the final nonprofit presentations for the VCU Social Media Institute, which combines undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University with college students from Iraq in the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program for a one-of-a-kind social media project.

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Over a four-week period, the students developed and implemented social media projects for nonprofit organizations in RVA, including:

RVA Music School and Outreach
Sabot at Stony Point
GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP)
Youth Life Foundation of Richmond
Dress for Success Central Virginia
Connor’s Heroes Foundation
Beds for Kids, Inc.
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Virginia Center for Health Innovation
College Behavioral and Emotional Health Initiative (COBE)
VCU College of Humanities and Sciences

ConnectVA had the honor of judging the presentations and selecting the winners, along with Alix Bryan of CBS6 and Nathan Hughes, founding member of the Social Media Club Richmond and Executive Vice President & CFO at Bandazian & Hughes.

We saw many great social media strategies – great campaigns with smart hashtags, video projects, new media being incorporated and ways to help the nonprofits get organized when implementing!

Last week we critiqued the projects and gave an overview of recommendations for social media strategy; we also created this handy ConnectVA Guide to Social Media Best Practices 2015 for the students (and YOU).

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The Finalists

3rd Place: RVA Music School and Outreach

RVA Music School and Outreach is a BRAND NEW nonprofit; when the students started the project with them, all the owner had was a personal Facebook page for promotional purposes!  The students changed the name from Bryan Park Music Studio, defined their target audience, created a website (that’s also responsively designed!), created clever video campaigns to put on YouTube, and set up Instagram and Facebook accounts (that already has 150 followers!).

The students went even further, creating content ideas for the budding nonprofit, guidelines for posting, hashtag campaigns, tracking, evaluation and measurement guidelines, and even a few fundraising ideas!

We were so impressed as judges by the amount they were able to accomplish in 4 weeks!  The students truly gave RVA Music School and Outreach a solid foundation to build their online and social media presence!

Runner Up: Sabot at Stony Point

Sabot at Stoney Point is a nonprofit school in Richmond, Virginia who serves students from preschool to 8th grade and has an Italian-based teaching curriculum – Reggio Emilia.  The nonprofit already had a fairly solid following on Facebook and the teachers write regular blog posts!

The VCU students assisting Sabot at Stoney Point did a fantastic job of providing the nonprofit with a robust Social Media Strategy and campaign ideas!  We were really impressed with how they distinctly defined the audience they were trying to reach and chose specific platforms to prioritize, based on those findings!

One of the most exciting parts of the Social Media Strategy was the content schedule the students created – with ideas of interesting posts and questions for the coordinator to post each day of the week!  Look out for the campaign #SabotStories on Instagram and Twitter!  The students also gave guides for the nonprofit as they redesign their new website, to make it responsive and implement best practices!

The Winner:  GReat Aspirations Scholarship Program (GRASP)

GRASP is a nonprofit that aids and assists high school seniors with funding for post-secondary education. By working with the students from VCU, they hoped to accomplish three main priorities: 1) increase engagement with social media followers 2) increase followers among high school seniors 3) educate the organization internally on the importance of social media.

WOW!  The students did an excellent job of putting together a solid plan for GRASP, including tips for their Facebook page, where they’ve helped put together “How has GRASP helped you?” video campaigns featuring former scholarship recipients, an internal Facebook group open only to advisors around the state to work on coordination, a Twitter account, Instagram, and YouTube account.  Most exciting was seeing the WordPress blog site that the students created for the nonprofit, and an editorial calendar using this awesome new tool called CoSchedule!

Taking the strategy a step further, the students provided guidance on tracking, measuring, analytics, and fundraising campaigns.  They put together 7 videos and 9 infographics and even a training for internal staff on ways to use social media and best practices.  The CEO, Paula Buckley, and Board Chair were in attendance at the final presentation and could not have been more thrilled!  They commented that the presentation was submitted to the entire board and they will begin implementation immediately!

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All in all, the students were incredibly impressive – they were able to accomplish so much in 4 weeks; it was truly unreal!  Thanks to VCU Social Media Institute for letting us be a part of this fantastic program and the commitment that you have to our nonprofit community!

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Bruce Coffey Jr., Read to Them

ConnectVA Spotlight-Coffey

Tell us about yourself.

I am Bruce Coffey Jr., the creator of Read to Them’s One School, One Book program and the overall Director of Programs at Read to Them.  I am trained as a historian and also serve as a middle school history teacher at Sabot at Stony Point School.  I believe in the transformative power of children’s literature and am ecstatic to be in a position to share my enthusiasm and that enabling power with families and schools across the country.

What is the focus of your work and the need you are addressing?

Schools and the nation have bemoaned poor reading scores and poor reading ability since I was in elementary school.  In addition, schools are asked to do too much and cannot transform student’s lives and abilities without input from home.  Read to Them’s programs aim to solve both problems – putting some responsibility for children’s education back in the home, but in an exciting rewarding way, allowing children, families and schools to experience and generate enthusiasm for reading children’s literature together.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

It’s rewarding for me to know that I can introduce books I am enthusiastic about (high quality children’s literature), not to a handful of friends or family, but to thousands of children and families across the country.  It’s rewarding to hear and see the enthusiasm generated by our simple program in the pictures, videos, links, and testimonials they share.  It’s rewarding to know we’ve discovered a simple solution that actually helps our education system in its monumental task.  It’s rewarding to know that we can transform students’ lives and possibilities through the simple, sly, unlikely vehicle of a book.

Tell us about your biggest accomplishment in this position. 

Growing from a half a dozen schools to over 1000 across the nation is our biggest accomplishment.  It was challenging to do this as unfunded non-profit.  We’ve managed to create a simple, flexible, affordable, easy to implement program that generates enthusiasm and is renewed by most schools every year.  Managing our burgeoning list of client schools without benefit of large grants or sponsors has been our biggest challenge.

What’s coming next for your organization that really excites you?

We’re expanding the One District, One Book program – in which all the families in all the schools in an entire district read the same children’s novel at the same time.  We’ll be doing that this year by expanding an across the state initiative we pioneered in Texas – Texas Reads One Book.  We also plan to expand our auxiliary offerings to middle schools and high schools.  And to make a special push to innovate and find ways to reach the underserved, least privileged or least capable families in our populations.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?

We’ve discovered that partnering – and especially partnering with partners of partners! – is a great way to build synergy and increase one’s reach and effectiveness.  So we’d love to use ConnectVA to connect and partner with other organizations with overlapping missions and goals.  We’d especially like to find ways of reaching families in some of Richmond’s struggling inner-city schools.  We’ve been working at it – but with only marginal success.

Anything else you would like to share?

Our mission is to create a culture of literacy in every home.  That may sound ambitious and it may sound like a mouthful.  But it really is our ambition and we really believe – we see it every day – in the unique ability of a rich, children’s story to animate learners and families, to increase interest and ability in reading, and to make students’ and schools’ more effective.  We recently moved our offices to the BookBindery on Broad St. Come say Hello!

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