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ConnectVA Spotlight: David Kunnen, Executive Director, Blue Sky Fund

Tell us about yourself.

My name is David Kunnen and I’m the Executive Director of Blue Sky Fund. I’m a recovering tax accountant who has worked in the nonprofit space in Richmond since 2005. I served the YMCA of Greater Richmond for 10 years, took a quick 12-month detour at The American Heart Association, and have been in my current role at Blue Sky Fund since September 2016.

ABOVE: A  Blue Sky Fund Campaign video from 2017

What is the focus of your work?

Blue Sky Fund is on a mission to provide transformational opportunities for urban youth through outdoor education. Our three core programs – Explorers, Outdoor Adventure Clubs, and Outdoor Leadership Institute – provide opportunities to improve access for children in Richmond Public Schools to engaging, experiential education and enrichment opportunities that take advantage of all of the amazing outdoor assets we have in our region. If we can help increase students’ academic achievement and help develop their resilience, we are making progress towards our goals. Our region wins awards and has magazine articles written that encourage people from across the world to come here to live, work, and play, yet there are large numbers of our neighbors who don’t traditionally take advantage of all parts of our city. That’s not equitable, and we want to help change that. Only two of the elementary schools we work in are currently fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education, and we want to do our part to help RPS meet their 2023 accreditation and strategic plan goals.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

There is so much – I could write a whole post on this. These two types of examples are always front of mind. First, it’s rewarding to see a child totally engaged in kinesthetic learning during a Blue Sky trip when sitting at their desk in the classroom and listening is a challenge for them. We regularly hear from classroom teachers that students who struggle in the traditional school setting are thriving during our field investigations. Second, our activities constantly provide new experiences for the students we serve. We see the fruits of our work when we go rock climbing and a middle school student who stared up at wall with a look on their face that is best interpreted as “you want me to do what?!” on day 1 ends up overcoming their fears and hesitations to not only become extremely proficient at the activity, but also comfortable teaching their peers.

What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?

We love being outside and believe whole-heartedly in the power of nature and the outdoors as a catalyst for learning and growth. Unfortunately, it’s not always 75 degrees and sunny when we venture out. When the students’ classroom teachers complain about having to go outside, or that the weather isn’t good, or that they don’t like bugs, the children pick up on those sentiments and run with them. We have a 5-Finger Agreement that we start each program day with, and encouragement is one of the five tenets of that agreement. Our incredible staff will make sure to demonstrate for everyone who is a part of our program – children and adults alike – that we will overcome any negativity about getting outside so that we maximize our learning opportunities. Fundraising is also ultra-competitive in Richmond…but everyone reading this already knows that 🙂

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

We serve over 2,200 children each year. We are still a relatively young organization compared to some of our peers, and our reach often surprises people. Although we have ‘Fund’ in our name, we are not wealth managers or angel investors.

Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?

We are planning to double the size of our Outdoor Leadership Institute (OLI) when we recruit our next class of participants. Each year, rising 9th-12th graders are nominated to participate in this year-long program that focuses on leadership, unity, and service. We create 12-person crews who share a summer experience that includes a backpacking trip to Grayson County, a year’s worth of service projects, and the development of their own individual leadership portfolios. Until now, we have taken two crews out each year, and we will have four(!) beginning in the summer of 2019. After graduation, OLI participants come back each summer for an alumni experience. The last two years, this group has gone to Colorado and ridden their bikes 334 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.

 

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Without collaborations and partnerships, our impact would be blunted. We are so grateful for our relationship with Richmond Public Schools. NextUp has created a great system for out of school time programming, and we are excited to see how working with them continues to develop. The James River Park System is always a gracious host, and keeps their parks safe and fun. The VCU Rice Rivers Center is a unique partner, since we take kids from all three of our programs there during the year. Over 35 locations throughout the region and state support our activities as host sites – to say we are fortunate to have their support is an understatement.

 

How are you leveraging ConnectVA and the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

Our nonprofit community is very fortunate to have the resources that ConnectVA and the Community Foundation provide. Blue Sky tries to take full advantage! Our staff regularly checks and engages in the professional development opportunities offered in the Learning Center, we’ve supported teammates through ENLP, we receive many qualified and mission-minded candidates from the Job Finder, and we have even gotten rid of some old office furniture on the Item Exchange! The Community Foundation staff are always supportive and willing to answer questions about program focus and impact, and we are incredibly blessed to be the frequent recipient of Community Impact grants.

Anything else you would like to share?

On Saturday, October 27 we are hosting our 7th Annual Hike for Kids event. Participants can choose to hike 3, 8 or 14 miles through the James River Park System in downtown Richmond. The 3-mile option is very family-friendly. After hiking, enjoy food, beer, and live music at our host site (thanks Virginia War Memorial!) overlooking the river. Proceeds from the event will provide more opportunities for the children from our city’s most vulnerable communities to experience the outdoors in a meaningful way. For more information and to register, click here: https://secure.qgiv.com/event/936972/.

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Emerging Nonprofit Leaders 2018-2019 Announced

The Community Foundation for a greater Richmond is excited to announce the selected participants for the 2018-2019 cohort of Emerging Nonprofit Leaders!

The Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program is a dynamic nine-month experience for the next generation of nonprofit leaders in the metro Richmond area. In this engaging program, participants can foster a deeper understanding of their leadership capacity, advance their understanding and practice of leading in the nonprofit sector, and strengthen their network of nonprofit colleagues.

Now in its twelfth year of operation, the program has demonstrated measurable results, building a cadre of talented leaders for the future of the Greater Richmond community.

Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Cohort 11 at their graduation ceremony in June.

In addition to participating in engaging sessions on topics including strategic leadership, organizational change, collaboration, and coaching others, participants:

  • Experience team building through rigorous and challenging activities in an outdoor setting
  • Develop deep relationships with other nonprofit leaders
  • Participate in a live nonprofit case study
  • Increase awareness of their leadership through a thorough assessment process, including 360-degree feedback and the Birkman Method Assessment
  • Benefit from individual leadership coaching, provided by professionals with experience in leadership development and nonprofit management
  • Network between sessions by engaging in dialogue with the other participants and instructors
  • Interact with five local exemplary Executives-in-Residence in a forum where they share their experiences and perspectives
  • Participate in Small Peer Practice groups led by ENLP Alumni
  • Have access to a supportive online cohort-based e-learning platform.

Selection Process

Nonprofit applicants were selected based on their potential to make a significant future contribution to the nonprofit community through assuming higher and increased levels of leadership, show substantive history of involvement in the nonprofit sector through employment, volunteerism, or board service and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing professional development, continuing education, and lifelong learning.

In August, a committee made up of ENLP Alumni reviewed applications to ensure that the 12th cohort met above criteria and that the group would be diverse and comprehensive representation of the local nonprofit sector.

 

 

The 2018-2019 Emerging Nonprofit Leader Participants

  • Analise Adams, Program Director, Shalom Farms
  • Kate Ayers, Executive Director, Re-Establish Richmond
  • Raven Bates, Communications Manager & Office Coordinator, Virginia Community Development Corporation
  • Caroline Browell, Marketing & Communications Manager, Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia
  • Nausha Brown-Chavez, Program Manager, The READ Center
  • Sara Buckheit, Post Adoption Program Manager, Children’s Home Society of Virginia
  • Shannon Castleman, Executive Director, Oakwood Arts
  • Yong Chae, Finance Director, Senior Connections
  • Terry Ebright, Food Pantry Manager & Communications Associate, GoochlandCares
  • Catherine Estevez, Assistant Director, Communities in Schools VA
  • Diana Fales, Training Manager/Yardi Specialist, Better Housing Coalition
  • Sakina Jackson, Deputy Director, Child Care Aware of Virginia
  • Robert Larkin, Training Coordinator, Richmond Residential Services, Inc.
  • Erin Lingo, Agency Relations Manager, Feed More
  • Jessica Ramirez, Director of Advocacy & Public Relations, Rx Partnership
  • Tiffany Thomas, Director of Programs, Partnership for the Future
  • Lisa Thompson, Child Development Services Program Manager, ChildSavers
  • Aly Truesdale, Director of Development, Special Olympics Virginia
  • Sherman Urquhart, YouthBuild Program Director, Pathways
  • Stephen Vicoli, Transition Coordinator, The Healing Place, CARITAS
  • Pilar Waters, Program Director, U.S. Referrals, World Pediatric Project
  • Erin Wischer, Operations Manager, Community Foundation for a greater Richmond
  • Alle Witt, Grants Manager & Development Officer, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry
  • Mary Beth Yates, Development Manager, Children’s Museum of Richmond

Congratulations to all who were selected to be a part of Emerging Nonprofit Leaders cohort!

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Help Somebody Hall of Fame: Nancy Rossner, Community Tax Law Project

The Help Somebody Hall of Fame celebrates and recognizes good people doing good work in our RVA community.  We encourage our readers to nominate nonprofit staff, volunteers, board members and community members.  This month, we’re recognizing Nancy Rossner – a staff attorney at the Community Tax Law Project (CTLP).

The CTLP provides free legal help to Virginia’s low wage families and individuals experiencing economic harm because of a tax problem. Their services directly strengthen the financial stability of working families and ensure that all Virginians receive fair and equal treatment in tax disputes.  Nancy’s colleague nominated her for this recognition (but asked to be anonymous) and said, “I am constantly amazed by Nancy’s dedication to her work assisting our clients with their complicated tax issues.  Not only does she handle a very high level of cases at all times, but she does so with such passion, conviction, and an extremely high level of professionalism.

Read more about Nancy’s work and how she’s bettering our community, below.

How does Nancy demonstrate the spirit of the “Help Somebody Hall of Fame”?

Nancy Rossner has been working tirelessly and diligently as a staff attorney at the Community Tax Law Project for over six years. Nancy helps over 200 Virginians annually by providing free legal representation to assist these persons with their tax legal problems. Whether the issue is before the IRS or the Virginia Department of Taxation, Nancy skillfully advocates for each taxpayer until their issue is resolved. Nancy treats all clients with the same zealousness whether their issue is small or involves large denominations.

All her clients are low-income and would not have access to legal representation without Nancy and the Community Tax Law Project. In addition to full legal representation, Nancy also opens her knowledge of the federal and state tax systems to provide brief tax advice to several hundred more Virginians who have tax questions. These questions can range from a simple question such as whether a person has to file their taxes but can also involve more complex questions such as what information a taxpayer includes in their petition to the U.S. Tax Court.

Once again, Nancy applies her expertise and professionalism to each of these brief encounters providing legal tax advice not available elsewhere without a fee. Finally, Nancy conducts a large portion of the educational outreach conducted by the Community Tax Law Project. She provides tax literacy classes to a variety of job readiness and workforce reentry programs. Furthermore, Nancy has presented on low-income taxpayer issues at several regional and national conferences in her field. Always the consummate professional, Nancy addresses these speaking opportunities as another avenue to make the lives of low-income taxpayers better through education on the tax system.

Nancy with CTLP interns doing outreach in the community.

What’s the impact of Nancy’s generosity?                 

Nancy’s impact is difficult to describe without providing examples, as all her cases have their own unique set of facts. One recent case that comes to mind immediately is a case involving a taxpayer named Janine (name changed to protect the client’s identity). Janine was an insurance agent who had recently received a letter from the IRS stating that she owed them a substantial amount of money, which she could not afford. Janine had been working with other members of her family who had become abusive to her, physically, emotionally, and financially. Janine was able to remove herself from the physical and direct emotional danger of her family, but the financial abuse continued to follow her. First, some of the tax issues Janine was facing were because her family members were working under her professional license. Any profits Janine’s family members were earning using her license were being attributed by the IRS to Janine. Once Nancy became involved, Nancy was able to help Janine stop her family from their fraudulent use of her professional license. This required a state agency and their investigative branch to correct the prior fraudulent activity. Nancy also worked within the IRS system to then correct Janine’s income to exclude the amounts fraudulently attributed to Janine by her own family members.

This whole process took many months to accomplish, but Nancy was by Janine’s side through the entire journey. What makes this story even more special is that Janine is a single mother and English is not her native language. I wish I could say that this is the highlight of Nancy’s career as a public service attorney. However, Janine’s case is one of thousands of similar cases that Nancy has worked on over the last six years. The facts of each case are different, but there is a common thread of a person’s life falling to pieces. Sometimes, the turmoil is related to abuse such as was the case with Janine. Other times, homelessness is an immediate concern, when the person has not addressed their tax problems and wages are about to be garnished. Many people do not envision tax problems causing someone’s life to completely derail. However, when you add a tax problem to a life riddled with abuse, illiteracy, mental abuse, substance abuse, and a precarious financial situation, you have the recipe for a life about to be shattered. For literally thousands of low-income taxpayers, Nancy has been there to fix the tax component of their life struggles, providing her clients with at least one less life struggle to deal with.

In addition to her professional attributes, Nancy is also a dedicated mother to her beautiful young daughter and a loving wife to her husband. She is also a proud alumna of the University of Richmond School of Law and continues to mentor several student interns from her law school at the Community Tax Law Project.

Nancy presenting at a national conference for tax professionals.

About the Help Somebody Hall of Fame

The Help Somebody Hall of Fame is a platform to express gratitude for a person in the community who acts selflessly to improve the lives of others.  We want to share these stories in hope of inspiring more people in Greater Richmond to act with generosity.  There will be random drawing from those who are honored, and two honorees will select a nonprofit of their choice to receive $1000.  Read more about how to nominate someone here.

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YNPN RVA Event Recap: Nonprofits@Noon with Elizabeth Bass

Leadership. Service. Community. A commitment to those three themes has motivated Elizabeth Bass, Executive Director at Virginia Mentoring Partnership, throughout her nonprofit career and continues to drive her today. Elizabeth shared the challenges and opportunities she has experienced in her professional and personal life, along with some valuable advice, to a group of young nonprofit professionals at the Virginia Holocaust Museum on Sept. 12, as a part of a series called “Nonprofits@Noon.”

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Ross Catrow, RVA Rapid Transit

Tell us about yourself. My name’s Ross Catrow, and I’m the staff person for RVA Rapid Transit, a local nonprofit focused on advocating, educating, and organizing for a frequent and far-reaching public transportation system in the Richmond region. Before taking a job advocating for better public transit, I ran a local news magazine called RVANews, and, today, run a daily newsletter called Good Morning, RVA.

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Nonprofit Compensation and Benefits Report released for Richmond, Charlottesville region

The Community Foundation for a greater Richmond partnered with the Center of Nonprofit Excellence earlier this year to issue a survey seeking input on compensation and benefits offered by nonprofits in the Charlottesville and Richmond region. The purpose of the survey is to build our collective knowledge and ability to further support and advocate for a healthy sector. After months of data collection and analysis, we are pleased to publish the 2017 Regional Nonprofit Compensation and Benefits Report.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Scott Kocen, Virginia Voice

Tell us about yourself. My name is Scott Kocen and I’m the Development & Communications Director for Virginia Voice. I graduated from the George Washington University with a B.S. in Political Science and Psychology. I went to Graduate School at Virginia Commonwealth University for Sociology and have been fortunate enough to spend my career raising awareness and support for worthy causes in the political and nonprofit sectors.  I’m a lifelong Richmonder and have the pleasure of seeing the best our community has to offer and how it constantly evolves to showcase service, culture, and inclusion for everyone.

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The Impact of New Tax Laws on the Local Nonprofit Sector

There’s no question that the 2018 tax reform has been a hot topic of conversation, and often, a source of concern for the nonprofit sector.  Organizations have been asking: how can we prepare, what can we anticipate, and how should we adjust our fundraising plan? Over the last several months in Greater Richmond, nonprofits have gathered for workshops, community conversations and discussions to learn from experts and one another about how they can strategically navigate these changes, while continuing their mission-driven work. This July, the Community Foundation surveyed nonprofit leaders to better understand the implications of the new tax laws on the local sector to monitor trends and offer insight.

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Help Somebody Spotlight: Erin Gardner, Connor’s Heroes

At the Community Foundation and ConnectVA, we are so excited to share more stories of individuals in our community doing great work, through the Help Somebody Hall of Fame.  Throughout the year, we are accepting nominations from the community at large and will highlight a compelling submission each month.  Once a quarter, we will select (at random) two people to receive a $1000 grant made in their name to give to a local nonprofit of their choosing. This month we are highlighting Erin Gardner, who is the Program Coordinator at Connor’s Heroes.  The Executive Director of Connor’s Heroes, Celia Tetlow, reached out to us to share more about the great work Erin does in the community.

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