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ConnectVA Spotlight: Sarah Williams, UnboundRVA

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Sarah Williams and I’m the Executive Director of UnBoundRVA.  I have a BBA and MBA from The College of William and Mary.  I grew up in Halifax, Virginia where giving back and the importance of small businesses for creating generational wealth were ingrained in me. The first business I started was at age 12 selling candy and drinks at my brother’s baseball games.

I served for six years on the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence Board- now part of the Community Foundation – with RVA superstars like Kathie Markel, Ted Chandler, Sherrie Armstrong and Kevin Allison – that set the bar high for excellence by our nonprofit sector.  My work with small business owners has been what I have loved as a banker and an investment advisor and for four years as Chairman of the Board of UnBoundRVA.

ABOVE: A video that shows the process for the UnboundRVA program – working with “high potentials” and partners

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

UnBoundRVA removes barriers such as access to capital and provides connections and access to an entrepreneurship curriculum for individuals from low income communities who aspire to become entrepreneurs.  We know through the work of the Kauffman Foundation that economic development and the vibrancy of communities is improved when small business startups are celebrated and open to all.  The entrepreneurship ecosystem in RVA includes the Main Street business owner and the entrepreneur from low income communities.  The need is to open the doors to entrepreneurship and change the community and that entrepreneur’s life and create generational wealth and thriving businesses.

UnboundRVA Class 4

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

The incredible energy and talent of the future entrepreneurs is so exciting.  A very smart friend of UnBoundRVA said that poverty creates a narrow vision of what can be.  He said UnBoundRVA expands that field of vision through education and connections that opens up possibilities.  I love seeing that process occur.

UnboundRVA’s website where you can learn more information and hire businesses they’ve supported

What would someone be surprised to know about UnboundRVA?

I think RVA would be surprised to know that UnBoundRVA, founded four years ago, has launched 12 businesses and is ready to launch Class 4 businesses in July.  The participants in the workshops connect with over 25 mentors and speakers and have over 120 hours of classroom work supported by over 100 volunteers for each class.

ABOVE: At TEDxRVA YouthIn in 2015, UnboundRVA Co-founders Sarah Mullins and Richard Luck shared how the entrepreneurship ecosystem that UnBoundRVa serves removes barriers for a path to success.

We are getting ready to recruit for Class 5.  Opportunity Lives in RVA Scholarships will kick off in July to support the participants with scholarships of up to $10,000 each to support Class 5.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

We should be called UnBoundRVA/Partnership.  Our model works because of partnerships with over 30 nonprofits in RVA, over 100 volunteers for each class and some incredible corporate partnerships that allow us to deliver the model.  Village Bank, LeClair Ryan, Cherry Bekaert, Capital One, Big River, SunTrust and Union Bank and many more provide the critical partnerships that give our business owners access to best in class services. Capital One provides over 40 volunteers and the curriculum to teach our Strength Builder Series.

Class Four during the “Strength Builder Series” in partnership with Capital One.

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

I love the ConnectVA email update that arrives in my inbox about 4 o’clock each afternoon and the information is terrific.  I like the ability to post for new teammates and the access to individuals who give great advice and support to the nonprofit community.   The nonprofit world in RVA is thriving and vibrant…..thank you ConnectVA for your support and high standards!!

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Maggie Smith, CodeVA

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Maggie Smith, and I am the Director of Children’s Programs at CodeVA. My background is in arts education and curation. My career had been focused on fine craft from involvement in the creation of the organization of Cabbage Town Clay & Glassworks, a neighborhood community art center in Atlanta to curating an exhibition of recycled jewelry from a program called The Radical Jewelry Makeover; I have always enjoyed learning and teaching about craft. CodeVA has given me the opportunity to combine my love for craft and education by providing me the challenge of creating arts integrated computer science curricula. Computer science is a craft in the sense that people are creating a “thing” that is useful for other people and enhance daily life.

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

CodeVA’s mission is to provide equitable computer science education to all students in Virginia. Through our children’s programs, we strive to provide fun and engaging activities to excite both students and parents about computer science. We offer Summer Camp, After-school, and other outreach arts integrated experiences.

A picture taken at CodeDay in May 2018. CodeDay is a student run worldwide event where student programmers, artists, musicians, actors, and everyone else can get together and build apps & games for 24 hours.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

Coming to CodeVA was quite a career switch for me. The thought of working with computer science was initially very intimidating. I quickly realized that feeling of intense “not for me,” and intimidation is a part of the educational conflict CodeVA is here to neutralize.

Using hands-on art activities to get students excited and confident in the human side of computers has been a refreshing challenge. The most rewarding part of my job is watching my staff create positive connections with kiddos from a wide variety of communities.

What are some major challenges you have faced?

As our organization has grown, my biggest challenge has been a beautiful problem to have, how to keep up with demand. This session will be our 5th year offering summer camps, and luckily the program gets better each season. I am very fortunate to have an all-star staff that has supported our growth and maintained a mission focused program.

What’s a misconception the public has about your work?

Coming into CodeVA, I had several misconceptions about computer science. I find many adults have similar misconceptions when it comes to their student’s computer science education. When speaking to parents at events I often hear two statements that indicate a disconnect between computer science education and technology in general. One is that their student does need STEM education because they a wiz with a smartphone, or alternatively that after a week of camp their child should be fully versed in all text-based programming languages. Computer science is why and how we use computers. By aiming for 50% on and off-screen activities, we are providing experiences that will hopefully open student’s minds to problem solving, creativity, and making. Computers are not smart; they are following directions given by people. It’s pretty fun to imagine the possibilities. I love seeing kids make discoveries in the classroom. There is a confidence and excitement in knowing computers are tools made by humans for humans. CodeVA is here to introduce computer science to young learners and possibly stir up some curiosity that encourages them to seek developmentally appropriate coding education.

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

Summertime is our busiest and most exciting season. This year we will be serving students from all over the city through summer camps and off-site workshops. Simultaneously CodeVA’s teacher training programs are expanding this summer in anticipation of the new Computer Science SOLs that go into effect in the 2019 – 20 school year. We are offering training in six locations across the state for K-12 public school teachers. We have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Our partnerships are one of the reasons I have so much fun at camp. Through support from our generous fiscal sponsors, we can provide approximately 45% of our student’s financial aid. We partner with several organizations such as St. Andrew’s School, Friend’s Association for Children, Richmond Cycling Corps, STEP, Mosby Court Tenants Association, and Gap 4 Lyfe. Growing our community brings so much to our educational environment that allows everyone to grow.

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

I feel very fortunate that my staff, as well as myself, have been able to participate in educational and professional development opportunities provided by ConnectVA and the Community Foundation. The Community Conversations have been helpful in bringing essential and timely topics back into our space and continuing the conversation with our staff.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Sarah Hale, Executive Director, Urban Hope

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Sarah Hale, and I am the Executive Director of Urban Hope. For most of my career, I was in residential interior design. What I loved most about that work was the ability to improve the everyday lives of families through effective design, and it left me longing for a deeper, broader impact. We all understand the power of home, for better or for worse, and I came to Urban Hope with the intent of helping our city improve the prospects of home for those who need better.

What is the focus of your work?

Urban Hope exists to make home a cornerstone of opportunity. When someone comes into the Urban Hope family, we want it to be the beginning of a positive trajectory that will improve all areas of their life; we focus on housing, as it has such a profound effect on all areas of life, including health, education, and employment.

It is our aim that clients who come to us receive inspiring, solid financial instruction, and are given the support they need to improve their financial picture. For those who are financially ready, we provide safe, affordable, high quality housing in the East End.

The real estate market in the East End is challenging right now for those who need lower rent or are looking to purchase a home on a modest income. To address this, Urban Hope aims to secure and maintain as much affordable rental housing in the East End as possible, so that existing residents, especially long-time residents, are not forced to leave the neighborhood. We also have a homeownership option for those of our clients who are able to purchase a house, and we operate on a lease-to-purchase arrangement.

Urban Hope occupies a special niche in that we serve mostly families and individuals who make 50% or less – often much less – than the area median income. This is a challenging bracket in which to work; often folks who are at this income level are one flat tire away from devastating financial setback. It is our intent that with education, mentorship, and encouragement, more people will be able to improve their financial situation and achieve housing stability.

The year is ending soon! Will you help us close the gap?Visit www.urban-hope.org/donors/give-now/ to make a donation today!Help Urban Hope finish 2016 strong for all the right reasons– bringing shalom to our city!

Posted by Urban Hope on Wednesday, December 28, 2016

ABOVE: A video about Urban Hope’s mission to “bring families home”

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The most rewarding thing about our work is the knowledge that what we do all day, every day, is very tangibly helping to improve the lives of our clients, as well as the future of this neighborhood, and by extension, our city. We envision a thriving community where everyone can feel at home; when we are securing affordable housing that will stay affordable, we are working toward that vision.

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

Well, as I mentioned, the real estate market is truly a challenge – and one of our biggest. We always have our ear to the ground to discover houses that will be solid properties for our portfolio, but real estate investors are making that increasingly challenging. For example, properties that might have been affordable at auction often now sell for well over what we feel is prudent to spend, as they must be purchased virtually sight-unseen. Speculators with deep pockets can and do pay top prices, and often hold on to abandoned properties without improving them, in hopes that their investments will appreciate. Instead, these properties sit untouched, and blight remains.

As mentioned in this 2017 article by Bob Adams and Laura Lafayette, the General Assembly has cleared the way for Virginia to create land banks. It is our hope, along with the authors’, that the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust will become the home of Richmond’s land bank, providing a better avenue for Urban Hope and other affordable housing nonprofits to acquire properties and develop them for the good of the city.

One great thing is that we have had properties donated to us, which is a huge blessing, and a great way to make a big impact, for those who are able. We continue to scout for properties that will make good homes, properties that are in solid shape and worthy of our hard work.

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Something that is special about Urban Hope that I think might surprise people is that we are almost entirely privately funded; our model is impact investing, whereby investors place their money with Urban Hope for a modest return. At the end of their agreement with Urban Hope, their original investment is returned to them, or reinvested for more creation of affordable housing.

This is a great way for investors to make a huge impact and get a return, all at the same time. It’s a double bottom line, and people do well by doing good!

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

Urban Hope offers engaging and informative financial instruction; our Money Smart classes are held monthly and are proving to be a very practical and effective help for those who attend faithfully. As part of this initiative, we have financial mentors who volunteer to help our clients work through their finances.

We also are planning our next round of acquisitions and renovations, which we hope will begin soon. This summer, we will be raising funds that will go, in part, toward lowering the renovation cost of our newest house, which will then lower the rent when it is complete.

This summer, we will be creating the Elevate Fund, which will help our tenants when they have challenges meeting their rent. Instead of resorting to payday loans, title loans, or other costly methods sometimes used to borrow money, tenants will be able to borrow from this fund at a modest 5% return, and as they repay that debt, they will be repairing their credit, and keeping a roof over their heads at the same time.

ABOVE: A recent video by ABC 8 News on Urban Hope’s Director of Housing and Family Services, Carolyn Lofton.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Urban Hope is a member of RCDA (Richmond Community Development Alliance). We also are a member of the housing action team with Richmond Promise Neighborhoods, and we collaborate with the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building in the focus area of housing. We participated in the city’s 2017 Housing Summit and will continue to collaborate as invited. Urban Hope collaborates with the Neighborhood Resource Center for financial and job counseling. In addition, some of our clients receive down payment grants from HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal). We partner with Entrust Financial Credit Union to help facilitate our financial counseling. We participate in Transformation in Action, a group dedicated to the betterment of the commercial corridor on 25th Street. One of our staffers sits on the board of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, and we also participate in The Gathering (a group of local organizations founded on Christian principles), and BlessRVA (a group of local ministry leaders focused on effective collaboration for the City of Richmond).

Additionally, we have been awarded a sizable grant from the City of Richmond’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and we are looking forward to putting those funds to good use in our next round of renovations.

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?

We use ConnectVA to seek collaborations and resources we believe would help our clients and our mission. It makes us deeply hopeful that with increased connections and improvements in communication and collaboration, we can make some real, tangible progress in addressing the challenges faced by the citizens of our great city.

Anything else you would like to share?

It is my hope that we can find many more people who would like to engage with the challenges of affordable housing. Urban Hope has many ways to engage; check out our website to see all the options http://www.urban-hope.org! That said, we are one of several terrific organizations working on affordable housing in Richmond, and we are happy to be counted among these hard-working folks. Thanks for reading!

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Beth Roach, James River Association

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Beth Roach, and I’m the Grants Manager for the James River Association, the only nonprofit solely dedicated to protecting the James River watershed from the headwaters to the Chesapeake Bay. My conservation career began back in 2004 with Virginia State Parks; over the course of 7 years, I served as volunteer, seasonal interpreter, conservation intern, park ranger, chief ranger, and environmental programs manager. After my park work, I gained skills in exhibit design, volunteer management, and most recently, nonprofit accounting and administration. I am an enrolled member of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of VA and serve on the Tribal Council. As a Councilwoman, I’m a storyteller and I manage environmental programs. Recently, I was elected Vice Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice. I have a degree in History with a concentration in Public History from James Madison University.

What is the focus of your work?

I write and manage grants that support our core programs: Advocacy, Community Conservation, Education, Riverkeeper, and Watershed Restoration. The James River Association was founded in 1976 by a group of citizens who were gravely concerned about the health of the James River. Years leading up to ‘76, Kepone was being dumped in the river in Hopewell. This resulted in the James River being shut down to fishing for 13 years. In addition to the Kepone, poor stormwater management, sewage treatment, and farming practices also led to the degradation of the James River. Fast forward to 2018, the James River is regarded as one of the most resilient rivers in the nation. The 2017 State of the James report rated the health as a B-, which shows strong gains in fish and wildlife populations, habitat restoration, pollution reductions, and protection and restoration actions. While there is much to be celebrated, we know there is still much to do regarding sediment pollution, stormwater runoff, toxic floodwaters, and eroding shorelines. Our work addresses problems facing the James from the top down and the bottom up! We work with legislators, students, teachers, families, government officials, other nonprofits, and citizen volunteers.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I was raised along the shores of the Lower James River and spent most of my childhood swimming in the brackish water downstream from Hopewell. The James River was still closed to fishing when I was born. That ban lasted throughout my childhood and undoubtedly influenced the direction of my life’s work. I’m proud to now be a part of an amazing team of dedicated stewards of the river. Over the course of 4 years, I have helped to raise over $3 million dollars of restricted funding to support our work. That equates to thousands of trees planted, over 20,000 students educated, millions of dollars in stormwater funding protected, and hundreds of volunteer projects implemented!

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

As any fundraising professional knows, maintaining consistent funding is a challenge as the philanthropic landscape constantly changes. Staying on top of trends can be tricky. One avenue that has helped me is working with the Central Virginia Chapter of the Grant Professionals Association. We meet quarterly to share best practices and just support each other. While our realms are quite different, we often all face the same external and internal challenges. I now serve on the board of directors for the chapter as co-chair of programs. This allows me to identify areas in which I need help. Most of the time – we all need the same boost of training!

 

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Ultimately, I want people to realize how amazing the James River is. How it’s more than our drinking water, it’s also a source of renewal and resilience. A lot of people think the river is unsafe for recreation. After a heavy rain, there may be cause for concern, but most of the time it is ok. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, we post weekly water quality monitoring reports to help folks track how the water is by location. Check it out! www.JamesRiverWatch.org

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

We do! This spring we are destined to plant over 3,500 trees to restore riparian buffers. That is by far more than we have ever planted in one season before. This is part of a 3-year grant with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. We also just launched a 3-year grant with NOAA Bay Watershed Education Training Program to work with all 5,100 sixth graders in the City of Richmond. We hope to hear soon about a green infrastructure program that will involve 5 libraries in the City of Richmond. Last year, we kicked off our Paint Out Pollution initiative, which involves implementing storm drain murals with native fish and fauna. Keep an eye out for more of those popping up around the Richmond Region!

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Partnerships are critical to our success. We work closely with the Capital Region Collaborative to lead the James River Work Group. We work with all school districts in the Greater Richmond Region. We have a strong relationship with the National Park Service and recently acquired a tract of land near Turkey Island Creek to connect with the Cap to Cap Trail. We recently opened up an outfitter service in the Upper James and we also just opened a new facility on the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg/James City County. We also work with the James River Park System, James River Outdoor Coalition, James River Advisory Council, Middle James Roundtable and so many more.

 

How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?

For us to understand what needs exist, JRA has to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening throughout the region. This site allows us to see what our partners are up to as well as what is happening in our communities. Also, ConnectVA is a great way for us to share meeting announcements for the Grant Professional Association.

Anything else you would like to share?

Please connect with us through one of our many programs! Either join us for a paddle on the James, become a River Hero Home, volunteer for our RiverRat program, or join and become a member – there are so many ways to help the James River.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Verenda Cobbs, Program Director, Communities In Schools of Richmond (CIS)

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Verenda Cobbs and I serve as the Program Director for High Schools and Performance Learning Centers for Communities In Schools of Richmond (CIS). I hold a master’s in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University and have been in the human services field in some capacity since graduating from high school.

While at VCU I completed an internship at CIS that began my understanding of the impact of poverty on children and how outside issues (hunger, homelessness, lack of nutritional meals, etc.) can become barriers to learning when at school. I later completed internships at Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Richmond Public Schools, and the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls. Each of these experiences provided a different perspective on the effects of poverty on children.

As I case-managed and worked with students I realized that resilience and having a strong support system in place played a significant role in their success. After graduation, I worked in both the mental health field and in community development for other nonprofit organizations.  Each of these opportunities helped prepare and lead me back to CIS.

I have been working with Communities In Schools of Richmond for four years – starting as a school Site Coordinator at John Marshall High School and transitioning to my current role in 2016. Without a shadow of a doubt I would say that I am now at my dream job!

What is the focus of your work?

Communities in Schools of Richmond (CIS) works in 39 K-12 public schools in Richmond and Henrico. Our goal is to support students by assessing student needs and establishing relationships with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers, and parent and volunteer organizations to provide needed resources.

CIS focuses on five things that we feel every student needs to thrive:

  1.     Safe place to learn and grow
  2.     One-on-one relationship with a caring adult
  3.     Healthy start and a healthy future
  4.     Marketable skill to use upon graduation
  5.     Chance to give back to peers and community

Through a school-based site coordinator, CIS strategically aligns and delivers needed resources so that students can focus on learning. In this pivotal role, the CIS Site Coordinator works with school staff to identify students at risk of not graduating. They assess school and student needs and harnesses the external resources necessary to make a difference in the life of a child.

Verenda with Ms. Chapman & Ms. James – CIS Site Coordinators at Highland Springs High School

The CIS mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Site coordinators often start by meeting basic needs such as food and school supplies. Soon, because they are dependable, consistent and positive, the CIS team begins to build relationships that will open opportunities to meet the more intensive needs of individual students.

CIS implements this model at every site – elementary, middle and high school – to ensure that students are connected to these basic needs so that they can succeed.  We’ve found that building a support network for students who lack resources is an undeniable piece of the puzzle that leads to strong student engagement and on-time graduation. But CIS does not work alone. During the last school year, there were more than 350 partners supporting Richmond and Henrico students and more than 1,200 volunteers who shared time with K-12 students. Together we were able to serve as a network of support to help students keep the doors of opportunity open. We are a link to positive relationships, mentors, emergency resources, community engagement and healthy activities for more than 18,000 students and families in Richmond and Henrico County.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

As a Program Director, the most rewarding part of my work is seeing my staff grow and develop. I have an absolutely amazing team of human service professionals that I get to champion every day!  I work with staff to develop data driven and evidence-based interventions and help them grow in their role as site coordinators.

We work together as a team to identify the challenges and issues their students are facing in school, at home, and in their community. By identifying these challenges, staff can engage in individual case-management and provide tiered levels of intervention and support to their student population. Each of the high school and Performance Learning Center staff has developed a unique vision for their school, which results in a stronger program and increased student engagement throughout the school year.

As an organization, I can say that the most rewarding part of our work is helping students succeed.  Success often starts with small steps –  a high five and smile in the hallway, attending school every day for a week, choosing to walk away from a negative situation instead of engaging –  and sometimes success looks like those last few steps across a stage at graduation, getting into a first-choice college, or having a game plan for after high school. Not many people have the honor and privilege of clearly seeing how their role at work changes lives. At CIS we help students succeed – to stay on track at school and make it to graduation – and helping students succeed is hands-down the most rewarding part of any job at CIS.

 

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

I struggled like many of our students. Growing up in a single-parent home, I worked part-time through high school while balancing obligations of being the oldest of my siblings. I struggled academically during my transition to high school, experienced bullying, and had some challenges socially and emotionally. My high school experience was very difficult – and after failing out of the nursing technical education program that served my high school I was left with no plan for graduation. With the help of my guidance counselor and one of my friends, I was able to apply late to college and start in the spring instead of in the fall.  Had it not been for their guidance and interest in seeing me succeed, I don’t know where I would be now. This support system helped me through the financial aid process and connected me with resources to succeed in college – with their help I became the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college. These experiences have helped me have a frame of reference as I work with both students and my team.

Sadly, my story is not unique. There are so many students in our region that need similar support.  At CIS we always need job mentoring/job shadowing experiences, career readiness enrichment, and training on financial planning, building healthy relationships, and mindfulness. At the high school level, it is common for parent engagement to decrease while mentoring, and enrichment programs are less available, thus requiring CIS staff to be creative in strategically creating programs that serve the needs of our students.

Site coordinators have developed mentoring programs and small groups that include interventions related to trauma-informed care and mindfulness, service learning, as well as parent engagement, resiliency, healthy relationships, and career-readiness. They do a phenomenal job implementing enrichment field trips, college tours and guest speakers to help the students on their caseload learn skills to help them prepare for graduation and success outside of school.

 

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Although we have a variety of roles in our organization we all can work closely together to serve the needs of our students, families, our schools, and our community. Many of our staff serve on Citywide initiatives to support the larger community in areas of trauma informed care, mental health, workforce development, housing access and other areas of health/wellness.

Through our collaboration in these various initiatives we can work side by side with many other community organizations to support our students, not just at the school level but also at the community level. I think it is fair to say that for most CIS staff our role is not only a job, but an extension of our life’s work. We are engaged, excited, and enriched to provide for the students that we serve. Communities In Schools staff are passionate about the work and have extensive training to ensure that we are utilizing current evidence based interventions to serve our students.

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

Each year we have the opportunity to take 300 students from area middle and high schools downtown to the General Assembly Building and the Supreme Court of Virginia for Rule of Law Day.  Students can learn about the three branches of government and discuss unique challenges in how they affect their generation with lawmakers. This is a program that our students look forward to every year.

Students serve as Justices during their Mock Trial at Supreme Court of Virginia

 

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

At CIS of Richmond we are thankful to partner with over 350 organizations throughout the Greater Richmond area. Our work would not be as robust without the support of these organizations and other area nonprofits. Together we are supporting over 18,000 students a year with mentors, lunch buddies, weekend food bags, grief counseling, reading partners, mindfulness moments — and more!

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

The Community Foundation has been a long-time supporter of CIS of Richmond. We are so appreciative of this partnership that allows us to continue to support K-12 students who are at the greatest risk of dropping out.

ConnectVA has provided a wonderful resource to CIS. We post open positions through the ConnectVA website, share events through the site, and often check out the classifieds to see if any extra items might work for our CIS school sites.

 

Anything else you would like to share?

Here’s an inspirational video highlighting a George Wythe Highschool student, Alfredo and his CIS Coordinator Angela.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Julie Adams-Buchanan, Executive Director, The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond (TSCOR)

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Julie Adams-Buchanan and I am the Executive Director at The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond (TSCOR).  I have been at TSCOR over 10 years and have been its director for almost four of those years.  I was the Coordinator of Client Services previously, overseeing transportation and other assistance provided by volunteers to seniors in Richmond.  I have a B.S. in Sociology/Anthropology and M.S. in Sociology from VCU.  I obtained a Certification in Volunteer Administration (CVA) in 2013, solidifying my belief in the immense importance of contributions made by volunteers.

What is the focus of your work?

The Shepherd’s Center is dedicated to encouraging the older population to remain active and independent through enrichment programs and volunteer services to their peers.  Those programs and services include lifelong learning; transportation to medical appointments and grocery stores; handyman assistance with small, but necessary, household repairs; and group travel on both one-day and overnight trips.

We advocate positive aging, recognizing that older adults have a lot of experience and wisdom to offer their communities and that giving back is enriching and rewarding as well.  TSCOR’s mission addresses the social issues of inadequate transportation, food insecurity, and isolation, as well as the need for meaningful social interaction and intellectual challenge through volunteer service, educational programs, and organized tours.

TSCOR provides free services, offered by volunteers, to seniors in our community who, for a variety of reasons, cannot provide those services for themselves.  The most important services TSCOR provides are handyman (or woman) assistance and transportation to those who are 60 and older.  Handy individuals assist seniors with minor home repairs, like changing a light bulb or a washer in the kitchen sink – tasks that have become a challenge.

Transportation, by far, is our most requested and most-needed service.  We provide door-to-door transportation to medical appointments, grocery stores, and food pantries. These rides are given by volunteers who use their own cars with no reimbursement – pretty amazing individuals! TSCOR is one of three remaining organizations still utilizing volunteer drivers to provide free transportation to seniors in the Richmond area (and our service areas do not overlap).  Last year, TSCOR volunteers provided 1,264 round trip, rides to seniors.

I never knew how much of an issue transportation was, especially for seniors, until I began working at the Center. The ability to drive is equivalent to independence. Losing independence is a leading fear as people age. For various reasons, older people can lose this independence. Our volunteers help empower these individuals by giving them the control and freedom to secure their own transportation without feeling like a burden to family and friends.

It’s more than just rides. For many of our clients, a trip to the doctor is the only time they get out of their homes and interact with others. We become friends with them and some consider us family. We are their touchstone, their friendly ear, their sound board. Sometimes they just need a kind word; to know that someone cares about what they have to say. Volunteers often report that the one-on-one companionship and support throughout the trip is just as important to clients as the medical appointment itself . . . and important to drivers, as well.  Our volunteers often tell me that they get more out of the experience than what they give.  As one driver said, “It’s an awesome feeling helping others and you make new friends too.”

The Shepherd’s Center seeks to offer opportunities to get older adults involved, keep them active, and eliminate social isolation.  Our lifelong learning program, OPEN UNIVERSITY, offers just that with classes and lectures each fall, winter, and spring.  The courses and lectures are geared to those who are 50 and older and are taught by well-qualified volunteers, including both current and retired faculty from area colleges and universities.  The subjects range from yoga to opera, languages to literature, history to understanding the stock market.  In addition, each class day includes a luncheon speaker, a local celebrity who presents a talk on a topic of special interest.  The average attendance for each three-month term is 275.

It is the best bargain for lifelong learning in the Richmond area and if I didn’t have to work, I would be there the whole time!  It is like college without the papers and tests.  You can just take it all in and enjoy.  It is equally enjoyable for our volunteer instructors who get to do what they love to do – teach!  They get to share their knowledge with people who really want to learn and they also have no papers to grade or tests to prepare.

We also offer group trips, 2-3 times a year, organized by our Travel Committee.  These trips are available to TSCOR members and friends at a minimal cost.  In recent years these single-day and multi-day excursions have included trips to New York City to see Broadway shows, Washington to visit Arena Stage and Wolf Trap, Baltimore to see the National Aquarium, Southwest Virginia for a trip down the Crooked Road to explore its musical heritage, and Norfolk to tour the U.S. Naval Base.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I love working with our volunteers. They assist in all aspects of programs and services, helping our clients, teaching our students, running our organization and generally sharing their incredible talents.  TSCOR wouldn’t be here without all of them.  Their experience guides and forms the work we do every day, and I am continually bowled over by their dedication and generosity.  When I talk to a client who says she doesn’t know what she would do without our drivers, or a student who was enthralled with a lecture, or a traveler who has had an experience of a lifetime, I am so proud and honored to be a part of this organization.  The Shepherd’s Center model is unique with such a wide variety of opportunities to join in, to learn, and help make Richmond a more caring community for older adults.  I am a people person, and the people at The Shepherd’s Center are the kind of people you want to be around.  I have learned so much from all of them and am excited about our future together.

I feel strongly about respecting, empowering and caring for our older Americans and I think we can do better.  Through the mission of TSCOR, I am able to do a bit more to contribute to that goal and at the end of the day, that is a good feeling.

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

We will be celebrating our 35th anniversary in March of 2019 and there are still so many people in Richmond that do not know who we are.  It is such a gem of an organization and it has been, and continues to be, my goal to change that.  A variation of this challenge is that if people do know about us, it is either the Open University or the transportation service that they are familiar with – rarely is it both.  And travel is often a surprise, let alone all the volunteer opportunities. So if you are reading this right now, please help us out and tell someone about us today!

I would be remiss not to mention our constant need for more volunteer drivers. The Age Wave has arrived, with Baby Boomers turning 65 every year and we have seen its impact in the steady increase of the number of requests and new clients we acquire each year.  We need to keep up with the demand by recruiting a comparable amount of new volunteers.  We have a project in progress to increase the visibility of this need and hope to not only sustain our transportation service, but grow it, in order to serve more individuals in metro Richmond.

 

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

The Shepherd’s Center is not a place or a building, nor a “senior center,” nor a religious organization.  I like to call it a “Center Without Walls.”  We meet at various locations around the city, and our participants are anything but old – a perfect example of the saying, 60 is the new 40.

But the biggest misconception is that we are a religious organization.  This is primarily because of our name (Shepherd’s), although we try to discourage that connection by using sheep in much of our media (AND we have a huge collection scattered all around the office!)  TSCOR could be called multi-denominational to the point of being non-denominational.  It is not affiliated with any particular religious organization.  We do partner with all faiths in the Richmond community, and know that we have the capability to leverage the efforts of congregations and work together to do what cannot always be done separately.

This misconception is perpetuated because our courses and lectures are held in a Lutheran, a Presbyterian and a Catholic church.  Here’s something that people don’t think about, but churches typically have large buildings with classroom space that is empty during the week, so we help them put it to good use!  It’s a win-win situation.

 Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Lunch and Life, presented in partnership with St. Mary Catholic Church, is a free four-week lecture series on Wednesdays, open to the public and offered at the beginning of each Open University session.  No TSCOR membership or Open University tuition is required.  Attendees are asked to bring their sandwiches and enjoy snacks, desserts, and beverages provided by the church.  Recent lecturers have included Dr. Edward Ayers, President Emeritus, University of Richmond; Ed Slipek, Architectural Historian; John Bernier, Chief Meteorologist at WRIC TV-8; Curtis Monk, President and CEO of Commonwealth Public Broadcasting; Bill Lohmann, author and Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist; and Ray McAllister, author and former editor of Boomer Magazine.

Anything else you would like to share?

TSCOR is an affiliate of a national network of almost 60 Shepherd’s Centers, all of which are offshoots of Shepherd’s Centers of America, founded in 1972 by the Reverend Elbert C. Cole in Kansas City, Missouri, who realized that older adults need meaning and purpose throughout their mature years.  Shepherd’s Centers all have a commonly understood mission: to empower older adults to use their wisdom and skills for the good of their communities.

TSCOR is the first of eight Shepherd’s Centers in Virginia.  Our Center helped mentor the Centers in Chesterfield and Oakton-Vienna, and the latter mentored five more Centers in Northern Virginia. Those planning, providing, and participating in the services of that first Shepherd’s Center were older people themselves.  That continues to be an important feature of all Shepherd’s Centers: older people helping older people.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Monica Callahan, Director of Workforce Programs, ChamberRVA

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Monica Callahan I am the Director of Workforce Programs at ChamberRVA. I have been in this role since September 2017. Prior to moving over to the Chamber, I most recently served as the Director of Outreach and Development for Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond an LLC of ChamberRVA that focuses on the earliest end of the workforce pipeline, children 0-5.  Prior to that, I was the Community Engagement Director for Richmond 2015, the organization responsible for the 2015 UCI Road World Cycling Championships.

 

What is the focus of your work?

Workforce Development is essential to economic prosperity and growth of the community and is of great interest to businesses in the region and to businesses looking to move into the region. Workforce Development is also the pathway to economic vitality and sustainability.

ChamberRVA has taken the initiative to look at the workforce supply in the region vs. the demand that will be needed over the next 10 years. The Chamber is uniquely situated to lead this effort to improve the talent pipeline and advocacy because we are the only local business membership organization devoted to the success of the entire region.

FutureRVA is a dedicated fund managed by ChamberRVA that will 1) lead to a more robust local talent pipeline, 2) enhance our ability to attract talent, 3) foster regional sustainability, and 4) improve our quality of life.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I am extremely excited to be at the helm of this very important work in our region. I am researching future workforce demands and using that data and information to create a case that we can use to help drive education to ensure that all children are workforce ready.

I have learned so much in such a short period of time from our FutureRVA investors about where they see their future workforce needs and more specifically, the shortages in skills and qualifications that will be needed in order for them to compete in the global marketplace.

As a native Richmonder, I know that RVA is a great place to live, work and play. I am excited to be a part of this initiative that will help to ensure that all students in this region will have a quality education that will give them the tools to be workplace ready which will ultimately lead to a rich quality of life for us all.

 

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

ChamberRVA is not just a membership organization that hosts local networking events. We partner with companies to understand their needs when it comes to growth and development then build out robust programming to act as an extension of their HR department. We focus on developing the future leaders of Richmond through self-awareness, leadership and influence at all stages of their careers. As a small, but mighty, team of 12 full-time employees, we manage over 20 development programs and 4 signature events that bring public and private sectors together to build a thriving regional community.

 

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

The work of FutureRVA is off to a great start. The skills gap analysis is well underway. I am looking at data and meeting with industry cluster groups comprised of our FutureRVA investors. I am looking at supply versus demand, future growth in industries and occupation groups and the skills and credentialing that will be needed to fill those demand occupations.

ChamberRVA is pleased to be taking a delegation of supporters to Nashville this spring to learn more about the Academies of Nashville and how their chamber has worked with education and business to change their approach to high school to prepare their students for the workforce. In addition, we will publish our inaugural bi-annual FutureRVA report this spring that will show our findings so far and set the stage for what’s next in our 3-year process.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

ChamberRVA is all about collaborations and partnerships; we could not do what we do to support one city, one town and seven counties without collaborations. The work of FutureRVA will have me working very closely with business leaders, superintendents and school boards, community colleges, local and state government, and economic development professionals to assess the workforce needs in the region.

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

The Community Foundation is a supporter of FutureRVA. Their support of ChamberRVA is helping to further the organization’s over-all mission of building a thriving regional community. We appreciate the Community Foundation’s support of this work.

 

Do you know someone whose nonprofit work should be featured on ConnectVA?  Send us a suggestions at admin@connectva.org!

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Matt Morgan, project:HOMES

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Matt Morgan, I am the Deputy Director of Neighborhood Revitalization at project:HOMES. I started as an intern at project:HOMES about five years ago, and have held a variety of positions at the organization.

In my current role, I manage the rehabilitation section of our Neighborhood Revitalization program, where we provide critical home repairs to low-income families in Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, and Norfolk.

Our project managers assess the needs of a homeowner, ensuring that the home is safe, warm, and dry. I also work on pre-development and closings for the real estate side of our department, where we build up to 25 homes a year which are sold to low-income families. I graduated from VCU in 2012 with a Bachelor’s in History, and got a Master’s Degree in Urban and Environmental Planning from UVA in 2014.

Before and after of a historic home in Richmond through the Neighborhood Revitalization program.

What is the focus of your work?

We are celebrating our 25th year of improving lives by improving homes in the Richmond region. We try to have the largest possible impact on every household we serve by coupling home repairs, energy efficiency, and making homes more accessible.

My department focuses on neighborhood revitalization through the production and preservation of affordable housing. We produce up to 25 homes a year which are then sold to low-income first-time homebuyers. And the preservation of affordable housing comes by ensuring that existing low-income homeowners have homes that are dry, warm, and safe.

People often come to project:HOMES because their roof is leaking, or they have no air conditioning, so we are able to fix their roof, or provide them with cooling assistance through our Keep RVA Cool! initiative every summer. But, what we often find when we get to someone’s home, is that they also need insulation, or a wheelchair ramp to even access their home. Because project:HOMES can provide so many services, that same homeowner who came to us because her roof was leaking can have better access to her home, can see a significant reduction in his or her heating and cooling expenses, and can feel more comfortable and safe in their home.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Two of the key components of affordable housing are availability and accessibility. We spend a lot of time thinking about making sure there is an adequate supply of affordable housing, but what we often don’t think about is the accessibility side.

A low-income person who qualifies for a mortgage can find a home somewhere that meets what he or she can afford. However, there are not a lot of options for someone looking for a high-quality, energy efficient home in a growing neighborhood like Church Hill or Carver. Our homes have high-quality finishes, upgraded appliances, are energy efficient, and are always designed to fit the historic character of the neighborhoods we serve. Our model for affordable housing really challenges the standard for what defines an affordable home. There is nothing more rewarding than when we are able to provide just as high quality of a home, sold to a low-income buyer, as the market rate house next door.

I also find it incredibly rewarding to serve the members of our community with needed repairs to stay in their homes. A lot of people don’t recognize how important home repairs related to health and safety can be. Something as simple as replacing someone’s roof can have a huge impact not just on the physical health and safety components of someone’s home, but on their mental and physical wellbeing as well. I like to think about it as what keeps you up at night. If we have the ability to remove something like needing a new roof, or how high a family’s utility bills are, it can really have an impact on someone.

ABOVE: A video by Virginia LISC honoring project:Homes

What are some major challenges you have faced?

The hardest part about what we do is not being able to provide every service each homeowner needs. Different programs have different restrictions, so not every person who calls us is able to receive all of our services.

One way we have worked to get past that is through our Keep RVA Cool! initiative. In 2016 we noticed a gap when it came to air conditioning in the area: heating is considered an emergency repair, but cooling is not. So, we looked around and found programs that could help seniors and some other populations with cooling assistance, but not all low-income households qualified. We realized that under $200 per household, we could provide someone with at least some relief from the heat, by installing a high-efficiency window air conditioner. The trouble was, we underestimated the need for cooling assistance in our area, and we soon had 20 households requesting an air conditioner. In order to fund these units, we had to look outside of our existing supply of funding and reached out to any business we could think of. By the end of the summer we had raised enough to install 40 air conditioners across the region. This has become an annual program, and we will be in our third year this summer.

 

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

project:HOMES offers so many services that it’s common for our partners and clients to think one program represents everything our agency does. While all of our programs have a high-capacity to affect change in the Central Virginia region, it is the combined efforts of our programs that really sets us apart from other housing agencies. We recognize that revitalizing a neighborhood is more than building high-quality affordable homes. Sustained revitalization and neighborhood stability requires the comprehensive services that project:HOMES offers.

Our approach to revitalization includes not only creating affordable homeownership opportunities, but also creating affordable rental options. project:HOMES’ Rehabilitation and Weatherization programs provide existing homeowners in developing areas with desperately needed home repairs and energy conservation advancements – resulting in lower utility bills and improved home-safety and accessibility.

 

 

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

As a regional provider of comprehensive housing services, project:HOMES staff are out in the areas we serve every day. They see the needs of our communities first hand, and have identified a critical gap in existing services.

The rapidly growing Baby Boomer demographic has dramatically increased the need for accessibility and emergency home repairs. In response to the community need, our Renew Crew Volunteer program recently established the Immediate Response Fund. The Immediate Response Fund’s funding model provides the flexibility necessary to respond to critical needs of area homeowners. Emergency repairs are costly, and quickly addressing hazardous living conditions is critical to household members’ health and safety, as well as preserving housing affordability.

We also just received a Lead Hazards Reduction Grant, where we will work with the Richmond City Department of Economic and Community Development and the Richmond Health District to abate lead hazards in homes where there are children with lead poisoning. This is a really exciting opportunity to not just expand the services we are able to provide in Richmond, but to meet an important need.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

We are constantly collaborating with community partners to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients. We recently completed our first home with the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. MWCLT has taken on the challenge of keeping affordable housing in the area affordable in perpetuity.

They do this by selling a home to a low-income homebuyer, while maintaining ownership of the land the house sits on. This creates an opportunity for the buyer to own a home, and build equity on that home, but keeps the price of the land out of the equation when the home is sold to its next buyer. Read this recent article about MWCLT in Richmond Magazine.

We are also passionate about our partnership with several other Richmond area agencies for Green and Healthy Homes. Home repairs can create important health outcomes when it comes to physical safety, asthma, and lead poisoning. We are working with organizations involved in housing, human services, and health to provide comprehensive housing and health services, in as easy as a method as possible for the clients being served.

We are entering into our third year in partnership with Philip Morris, where we work with a team of their engineering interns to build a home in five days. The interns have to take our normal four-month long construction process and figure out how to stack tasks and manage contractors so that they can compress it into less than one week. In our first year our goal was to just build it in under a week. Last year we added the challenge of it being done in five days instead of seven, and to sell the home to a low-income veteran. For this year, people will have to stay tuned to see what challenge we have added for the interns.

ABOVE: Last summer project:HOMES built a house in only 5 days with partners Philip Morris!

Currently, we are wrapping up our year-long 25th anniversary celebration. Our dedicated sponsors have made all 25th anniversary events and programs possible. Visit www.projecthomes.org/25th-anniversary for a complete list of sponsors and upcoming anniversary events.

 

How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?

The Community Foundation is a long-time supporter of project:HOMES’ programs and services. ConnectVA has helped recruit qualified staff, is a resource for professional development opportunities, and also helps stay connected to local nonprofit news and events.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Gabrielle Jones, Community Idea Stations

Tell us about yourself I'm Gabrielle Jones, Digital Marketing Manager at the Community Idea Stations. My educational background is in journalism and I worked in marketing and management for a for-profit company in Washington, DC before coming to the Community Idea Stations almost three years ago. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA and have lived in Raleigh/Durham, NC, Detroit, MI, and Washington, DC. I'm happy to call Richmond my new home and love having the opportunity to go to work on this city's Sesame Street each day.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Patricia Bradby, Leadership Metro Richmond

Tell us about yourself My name is Patricia Bradby and I am the Communications and Events Manager for Leadership Metro Richmond. I grew up in New Kent County just outside of the city and moved away to New York City for college where I began my career in the live music industry. I have a B.M. in Music Business from New York University as well as an M.B.A from the University of Texas at Austin.  Since moving back to RVA in the fall of 2015, I have found many fun and exciting ways to utilize my skill sets for the betterment of the community. Outside of my work at LMR, I also lead the community team for TEDxRVA (we launched TEDxRVASalons in January 2017) and I have my own small business (Miss Priss Tea) which encourages face-to-face intergenerational communication over afternoon tea. My specific knowledge around live music event production has also been utilized to help the Richmond Symphony produce three of their Big Tent festivals in Jackson Ward and the East End.

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