Tell us about yourself.
Hello. My name is Vicki Yeroian, and I am the Programs Director for Podium RVA, working within the Greater Richmond Metro area to provide reading, writing, and communication programs for middle and high school-aged youth.
While attending VCU, I received the Scholarship for the Advancement of Women, the School of Social Work Social Justice Award, and spent time in leadership with the National Organization for Women. I graduated in 2013 with a BA in Political Science and Bachelor’s in Social Work. In 2014, I completed a Master’s in Social Work, and am currently working on my 120-hour certificate in Non-Profit Management.
What is the focus of your work?
Podium provides workshops and writing mentorships year-round that result in quarterly youth publications, showcases, such as Open Mics or regional debates, and in summer leadership projects. Programs work together to:
- Raise English and Writing SOL scores
- Address lack of programs combining writing, communication, and leadership
- Create equitable outlets for growth in youth voice, confidence, and achievement
- Build safe and supportive spaces for youth personal and professional development
- Bridge the regional achievement gap for underserved and minority youth
Podium’s youth education approach is based on our transformative model of intervention: Educate. Empower. Transform. This focuses on understanding values and experiences, collaboration, and transforming oneself by empowering youth through active learning and engagement in leadership.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I started at Podium from 2009 – 2012 as an intern for Armstrong High School’s program and returned as Programs Director in 2014. I have been a part of Podium for most of our existence and have seen a lot of changes but one consistency I also find most rewarding.
Podium is oftentimes referred to as a family by our youth. Watching them go from quiet, stand-offish writers to confident public speakers; seeing the lightbulb click as a new concept or perspective is understood; reviewing college scholarship or application essays or professional resumes: all are humbling. Empowering youth to build the tools they need for aspirations beyond graduation is my favorite part of Podium.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
Being an after-school program provider, I think it is safe to say that most of us have experienced the major challenge of reliable transportation. At Podium, we believe in addressing inequity by bringing programs to our youth. While maintaining after-school relationships, Podium has additionally continued expanding programs into community or youth development centers.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
Some may think Podium programs focus solely on combining art with creative expression, and we do, but Podium programs are much, much more! We are committed to combining culture, art, academics, and leadership. Programs first work towards building an appreciation of writing and comfort in one’s own voice and in sharing with others, but as youth progress through Podium, they sharpen focus on academic writing, critical thinking, communication confidence, leadership and professional growth, and post-graduation planning.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
Yes! Now that we have created a seven-year, continuous learning and professional development environment from middle to high school, and beyond, Podium seeks to spread the vision of understanding writing and communication as an integral part of everyday society.
In the spring we have our 6th annual RVA Awesome Adult Spelling Bee fundraiser at Hardywood’s Brewery on Thursday, May 18th. Doors open at 4:30pm; the competition starts at 5:30pm!
This summer, Podium launches our 3rd annual, regional Writers’ Leadership Conference. New this year, Podium will be opening the conference to all regional youth writers (ages 14 – 19). You no longer have to be part of a year-round Podium program to join us during the summer!
Is Podium involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Podium has long standing partnerships with RPS, CIS of Richmond, VCU, and Virginia Union University, and have engaged in recent partnerships with Boys and Girls Clubs and Peter Paul Development Center as programs expanded into middle schools.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
ConnectVA is a wonderful community resource that connects individuals with professional, educational, and volunteer opportunities throughout the region. As interns and volunteers (many of whom are Podium alumni) plan next steps in their careers, I always pass it on as a resource. Podium is a grant recipient of The Community Foundation, helping to fund programs year-round.
Anything else you would like to share?
Celebration of youth voice is so important to building healthy, equitable futures. Any opportunity you have to support a young author, poet, performer, or artist, I encourage you to take it! Whether attending a showcase, volunteering with organizations, mentoring youth, or donating resources, there are many ways to make a difference that play to your strengths!