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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.

What is the focus of your work?

RVA Rapid Transit exists to educate, organize, and advocate for expanding the reach and quality of the Richmond region’s public transportation system. Until very recently, just this past June in fact, Richmond’s transit system looked a lot like it did 50 years ago. Richmond has seen a decades-long underinvestment in public transit which has led to a very disconnected region. As the region grows, we need to build high-quality public transportation to connect people to jobs, affordable housing, healthy food, and educational opportunities.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Working with folks to reconnect our segregated city via public transportation is important work, and I’m lucky to be able to do it. Also, I really do love riding the bus around and exploring different parts of Richmond.

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

The unique structure of Virginia’s localities paired with the State’s ban on annexation means the Richmond region must work together—as a region—to build a cohesive, frequent, and far-reaching public transportation network.

For decades, the region’s jurisdictions have had differing philosophies on public transportation and getting them all on the same page is our biggest challenge. Luckily, much progress has already been made: the City of Richmond has launched the Pulse and an entire redesign of its bus network, while Henrico will launch their biggest expansion of bus service in decades this coming September. To build a truly regional public transportation system, the region’s leaders need to hear from their constituents that public transportation is a priority.

What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?

A lot of folks think that we are GRTC, our local transit agency, and not a nonprofit advocating for better public transportation across the region. Additionally, the regional aspect of our work surprises some people. Our vision is for frequent and far-reaching public transportation across the entire region—something that we’ve never had in Central Virginia!

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

On September 16th, Henrico will launch their largest public transportation expansion in over 25 years. They’ll extend the existing #19 all the way to Short Pump and increase the operating hours on their major lines to include nights and weekends. This is huge and opens up thousands of jobs to people living all across the region. Beginning this fall, RVA Rapid Transit will kick off a yearlong project, called RVA Rides, to listen and collect transit stories from existing and potential riders. From this feedback we’ll produce a handful of short videos illustrating the transit-related issues facing the region.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Yes! We’re partnering with several organizations—Storefront for Community Design, Art 180, Saving our Youth, GroundworkRVA, and the Association of Black Social Workers—on a program called City Builders. We’re working with a group of Highland Park youth to explore the history of housing and transportation policy and how those things segregate our neighborhoods to this day.

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

The Community Foundation is a generous funder of RVA Rapid Transit, which makes it possible for me to do my job. Without the Community Foundation, and other funders, RVA Rapid Transit would be unable to do the work necessary to move our regional public transportation system forward.

Anything else you would like to share?

Riding a bus for the first time can be stressful—there’s a lot to know and figure out. I love helping folks get over their bus anxiety and learn to ride, so just let me know and we’ll find a time to ride the bus to your favorite pizza joint!

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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.

What is the focus of your work?

Virginia Voice strives for equitable access to information, cultural events, and well being through a free radio service, airing 24/7/365 whereby over 100 volunteers a week read articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch and over 70 other periodicals. With people aging and losing their eyesight or anyone with challenges that makes getting connected more difficult, we offer a source of comfort with a human voice and provide local content as well as news and information. Additionally, we’ve been rolling out a new program: Live Audio Description which invites anyone to participate in live theatre by participating in a pre-show tactile tour, followed by live describers who really connect you to the action on stage! It’s really cool. Currently, we’re partnered with The Virginia Repertory Theatre, SPARC, and the Science Museum. Ideally, any venue with sound and action should have all forms of interpretation for those wishing to share in our collective enjoyment of the arts. I’m part of the team to make that happen and to find people who want to help.

Virginia Voice Audio Describers share the experience during a Science Museum IMAX movie.

 

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

I’ve always loved connecting people who want to make a difference with those making that difference. I get to see how people are working behind the scenes to make a positive impact then I get to witness other folks getting involved and helping improve that mission. At Virginia Voice, we have volunteers who, for years come to our studio to read the newspaper and other articles to people they’ll never meet. On the other side, I’ve heard from plenty of people who have changed their daily schedule just to hear these voices and feel connected again. On a theatre stage, I get to see the smiles of performers as they describe their costumes and the set design, and you can share in their joy as the patrons get to experience live performances most of us take for granted. I’m also really happy to thank supporters when they place their financial trust in us. Really, really happy.

Tactile tours before a live performance help patrons learn more about a performance.

 

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

Personally? Two teenage daughters. Professionally, sometimes we get associated with the Virginia Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and while we enjoy a great partnership with them, we are a stand-alone non-profit dependent on public support.

Our team strives to make sure we’re constantly getting the word out and updating the public with performance schedules, partnerships, and programming information.

Over 100 volunteers a week come into Virginia Voice’s studio to read articles of interest, news and entertainment.

 

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Lots of folks are surprised to learn we’ve been around for 40 years!! Also, our services are not just for the visually impaired. Any one with difficulties accessing information on their own can be qualified to get our radio receivers. Same with our Live Audio Description program, we have staff ready to help guide anyone through the process of receiving our programming, free of charge.

 

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

We are in the midst of our first year rolling out the Live Audio Description program, and that is our focus right now. We started by supporting four performances with live audio description services and will be ending our first year with over 30! This service is new to Richmond and, over time, will become a standardized accommodation. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of something that will permanently change the way many individuals receive access to the arts and culture. We still have a lot of work to get it there, but it just makes common sense to do it and we have the know-how and the volunteers willing to make it happen.

Virginia Voice loans radio receivers at no charge to any qualified individual for 24/7/365 content.

 

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Virginia Voice is extremely fortunate to have several sustaining partnerships. The Richmond Times Dispatch has been with us since the beginning as has WCVE radio (it was WJFK when we first started working together). The MEDARVA Foundation has been a consistent source of support, both financially and through service referrals, and of course, The Virginia Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired have been vital to expanding our listener base. Our partnership with VA Rep in developing the Live Audio Description program has been exciting and rewarding.  Eventually, we want to have partnerships with every venue in town that has some form of live cultural or entertainment event.

 

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

There’s no question the Community Foundation has been integral in our ability to connect with concerned individuals. The support we have received from them can directly be tied to our programming expansion and equipment replacement. They are also a great source to help us find other like-minded community partners. ConnectVA publishes our Live Audio Description event calendar and helps us spread the word about this availability.

 

Anything else you would like to share?

Virginia Voice would like to be the source for anyone with specific mobility, visually, or other challenges and offer them equitable access to information, culture, and community. It doesn’t matter your age, condition, or ability, EVERYONE should have access to the same things we all take for granted. I’m a huge music fan, I love to go to live shows and I want everyone, regardless of ability, to be able to enjoy everything Richmond has to offer. It reminds me of a favorite song written by Frank Turner:

“So why are you sat at home?

You’re not designed to be alone

You just got used to saying “no”

So get up and get down and get outside

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Christina Manikus, Adult Education Programs Coordinator, Sacred Heart Center

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Christina Manikus and I am the Adult Education Programs Coordinator at the Sacred Heart Center. I started my relationship with Sacred Heart Center as a volunteer teaching English as a Second Language after I had recently moved to Richmond from Argentina. While in Argentina, I had taught English, and I was able to bring my experience to share with the other teachers. I joined the staff towards the end of 2014 and have since evolved in my role from Development Assistant to Volunteer Coordinator and now working primarily with the adult programs. This has given me a well-balanced sense of the organization and nonprofits in general. In a former life I focused more on communications, since I studied Media Arts & Design with a minor in Theater & Dance at JMU and worked on a few movie sets afterwards.

 

What is the focus of your work?

My role at the center has me planning and coordinating all our adult education programs that are geared to the Latino communities. For adults we offer morning and evening classes of English as a Second Language, GED Preparation in Spanish, Basic Spanish literacy & numeracy through Plaza Comunitaria, Citizenship, Conversational Spanish Classes, and Basic Computer class.

Immigrants and refugees often come to us with a need to improve their English language ability or continue their education. Their motivations are to help their families, usually by communicating with their children’s’ teachers and doctors or helping with homework.

Our adult programs meet that need by offering English and Citizenship classes in basic English and our other educational programs in Spanish. We have had students finish our programs and subsequently be able to get better jobs or continue their studies at a community college. We have also had students who join our Latino Leadership Institute to learn to support their communities by becoming a grassroots leader.

ABOVE: A video by the Sacred Heart Center where participants share their dreams.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

My favorite part of the job is talking to our adult learners about their personal hopes and goals and helping them imagine how they can achieve them. Letting them know about opportunities to educational or career growth after they finish our programs (GED and English) helps them to set objectives and finish our programs.

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

One of the challenges I have had was keeping up with the demand for immigration court letters that students might need to prove they are studying. The letters have changed with what information is required, especially for DACA students. I’ve needed to lessen the requirements and the time it takes for students receiving the letters to make sure students had what they needed from us, in order not to compromise their immigration status.

Another continual challenge is working with staff and volunteer teachers to make sure the education we are providing is the highest quality possible. This has meant more observations and giving feedback to instructors, as well as shifting volunteers into better suited positions. We have around 39 adult education classes happening most weeks, so it’s a lot to keep up with!

What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?

Most think of us for our English classes or possibly GED but we have many youth programs and have been expanding the services we offer to include notary and immigration paperwork. We also impact many more families through important services by being a community hub with partner organizations who offer food bank, tax services, counseling, support groups, and consulate services from different countries.

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

Our newest program for adults is Conversational Spanish for non-native speakers. We will have Beginner and Intermediate for this Fall 2018 semester, hopefully adding more levels as interest in the classes goes up. This is exciting for me since our focus has been on the Latino communities and this one is on the people who will be interacting with Latino families. I hope that through our classes, the Spanish students will get to know Richmond’s Latino communities better and that our Richmond community actively embraces each other in our shared humanity.  Information about class registration is on our website, at www.shcrichmond.org

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

The Sacred Heart Center is built on community collaborations.  Our ESL and Spanish Literacy programs are administered by trained volunteers that come to the SHC through community and university partnerships.  We rely on relationships with entities such as Virginia Commonwealth University, the Mexican Consulate, University of Richmond, Virginia Literacy Foundation, and others to assist us in recruiting volunteers and in providing training to our volunteers to ensure that they are ready for the classroom.

The organizations that work with us through our community hub program are many and varied. We work with Legal Aid Justice Center, Virginia Healthcare Foundation, and others to conduct cross referrals for legal services, medical assistance, and other programs.  The Bon Secours Care-A-Van provides medical services at our location once a month.  Several family support groups are conducted at the SHC in Spanish, in partnership with VCU and VCU Health System.  We operate a free bilingual tax preparation site in partnership with United Way/MetroCASH during tax season.  Most recently, we began an innovative partnership with Safe Harbor to expand domestic violence awareness and services to Latino families.

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

We are grateful to be a partner with the Community Foundation, as a grantee and through other collaborations, and I personally went through the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program which has been truly transformed how I relate to coworkers and staff. More on the logistical side, we have also found much needed office furniture on the ConnectVA Item Exchange. We find passionate volunteers through recruitment on HandsonRVA, which also connected me to Greater Richmond Association for Volunteer Administration (GRAVA) to network and learn from other volunteer managers.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Daphne Swanson, President & CEO, Junior Achievement of Central Virginia

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Daphne Swanson, President & CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia (JACV).  I have been with Junior Achievement for 13 years.  Prior to joining Junior Achievement, I worked at Deloitte where I was as an auditor primarily working with clients in the mortgage and financial industries as well as local government.

I’m originally from upstate New York, but moved to Norfolk, Virginia where I attended and graduated from Old Dominion University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science.  Seven years later I received a Post-Baccalaureate Degree in Accounting from Virginia Commonwealth University and shortly after became a Certified Public Accountant.  I have an 18 year old daughter who recently graduated from Maggie Walker Governor’s School and will be attending VCU in the fall.

I serve on the board of ChamberRVA and Henrico Firefighter Foundation and a member of the West Richmond Rotary.  I am also an Advisory Board Member for BB&T of Richmond and I sit on the Virginia Career and Technical Education Advisory Committee.

ABOVE: A video of students at the JA Finance Park.

What is the focus of your work?

As the breadth of our communities’ problems seem to grow every day, we believe there is a way to get to the root of these growing issues. With our mission to inspire and prepare young people for success we work to foster student’s belief in themselves and a sense of purpose to overcome life’s challenges. JA can change “I can’t” to “I can” through a scientifically proven approach by showing students how money, careers, and business ownership work. With the help of volunteer role models in proven programs there comes a simple shift to a positive attitude.

 

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The most rewarding part of my work is knowing that we are developing the next generation and instilling the confidence to thrive in the modern workplace.  JA gives students the know-how to manage the related financial and economic decisions they need to make along the way.

Goochland High School students in the JA Job Shadow program at Luck Companies.

 

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

Some of the challenges, as with any nonprofit, are limited resources. JACV is fortunate that the demand for our programs continues to increase.  Unfortunately every year we have programs that go unfilled because of the increased need for volunteers and funding.  We continue to reach out to new and growing companies and the community for more support.

 

What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?

The biggest misconception is we are seen as an organization that focuses primarily on financial literacy.  Most people would be surprised by the number of programs we offer.  We have over 20 programs for kindergarten – 12th grade that focus on work force development, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

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

We recently opened our new JA Finance Park and partner with 9 school districts to provide programming to meet the high school Economics and Personal Finance requirement.  Within JA Finance Park is our new JA Career Center where students may explore different career paths, demand for those careers and education required.  We are piloting a new program this fall that correlates to the new middle school Career Investigation requirement and will include a trip to the JA Career Center.

JA in a Day program at Harvie Elementary School. Board Member Amy Miller served as one of 50 volunteers on this day.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

JACV is fortunate to partner with 20 different school districts:  9 have formal Memos of Understanding with JACV.  With volunteers serving from over 220 different companies from the region, we maintain strong partnerships across all industries. We are the essential partner in relationships between educators, business leaders and community partners of Central Virginia for the benefit of all our youth.

 

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

We use ConnectVA as a resource to see what else is happening with other nonprofits in the community.  We also benefit from the programming that is offered for staff development.  When looking to fill and open position we JobFinder as our main resource.

We are fortunate to receive continued support from Community Foundation for our programming.

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ConnectVA Spotlight: Kristin Vinagro, Director of Communications, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Kristin Vinagro and I am the Director of Communications at Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity.  I’ve been with Richmond Habitat for a little over seven years, and I absolutely love it!  Prior to working for Habitat, I worked for the United Way in Fredericksburg, Virginia as an Information Services Specialist, helping to direct individuals in need to services and working with local nonprofits to help build their capacity and foster partnerships.

I am a double graduate of the University of Mary Washington, graduating in 2006 with a Bachelors in Historic Preservation, and again in 2007 with a Masters in Education.

In my non-work life, I have a wonderful husband who is a teacher in Chesterfield County and two adorable cats.  My favorite hobby is traveling to new and exciting places!

What is the focus of your work?

As the Director of Communications, I oversee all marketing activities for Richmond Habitat, including social media, website, e-newsletters, graphic design, developing printed materials, some event planning, and public relations.  I also act as the main grant writer for the organization, helping to raise funds to build homes for local families and individuals.

Richmond Habitat utilizes thousands of local volunteers each year to build and rehab homes for local families and individuals who do not earn enough to qualify for a traditional mortgage.  Through us, they qualify for an affordable, zero percent interest mortgage, making their dream of homeownership, and the stability that it brings, a reality.  Most of our homeowners come from unsafe, substandard, overcrowded or unaffordable living situations.

Richmond Habitat is an interesting organization because we are really three businesses in one – we are a construction company, we are a mortgage lender, and we also have two ReStore locations (the retail operation for Habitat for Humanity).  Painting the full picture of what we do is an exciting and ever-evolving challenge!

ABOVE: A video about the mission of Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

My absolute favorite part of what I do is getting to share the stories of our incredible homeowners!  When a new future homeowner is accepted to our program, I take them and their family out to lunch so I can get to know them one-on-one.  Our homeowners are some of the most amazing, hardworking and compassionate people I’ve ever met.  Being a part of Habitat for Humanity’s home ownership program is a major commitment.  Each homeowner must take 10 financial and home ownership education classes, attend monthly one-on-one budgeting sessions and complete 350 hours of “sweat equity,” or volunteer time, building their home and the homes of other future homeowners before closing.  On top of that, many of our homeowners are single-parents working at least one full-time, if not two, jobs and taking care of their children.  They are putting in the work to better their lives, and it is so inspiring to me.

I also love how community-focused our organization is.  Building a home through Habitat is a true community effort.  We rely on businesses, faith organizations, individuals, local government and more to not only raise funds, but put in the hard work it takes to build a home.  I’ve learned so many construction skills I never thought I would volunteering on a build site!

Habitat home owners pictured in front of their new home.

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

When I first started with Richmond Habitat seven years ago the organization was going through a rough patch.  They had had some bad press, were in search of a new CEO, and were trying to rebuild.  As a marketing and communications person, the challenge of having to rebuild relationships and regain trust was tough.  But, shortly after I started, we got the right staff in place, including our amazing CEO, and we put our all into making the organization the strong, well-respected organization it is today!  Many of us really like a challenge, and we celebrated the short-term wins along the way.

I am so proud of myself and the others in our organization who were vital to that rebuilding!

What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?

The biggest misconception people have about Habitat for Humanity is that we give homes away.  That could not be further from the truth!  As I mentioned above, our homeowners purchase their homes and pay an affordable monthly mortgage payment, the average payment being around $600 per month.  On top of that, our homeowners commit to completing ten financial and home ownership education classes, monthly one-on-one budgeting sessions and working 350 hours on the construction site.  We like to say our program is truly a hand-up, not a hand-out!

The other misconception is that Jimmy Carter was the founder of Habitat.  While he is our most dedicated and famous volunteer and supporter, a man named Millard Fuller was the founder!

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

Right now, we are getting ready to finish up our largest Women Build initiative to date!  This year, we are rehabbing an entire home using an all women volunteer crew.  We started the build in May of this year and will wrap up around the end of August.  In total, 231 local women signed up to volunteer and raised funds to support the build!

We are also in the planning stages of our second Global Village trip.  Habitat for Humanity works in 70 countries around the world, and that provides us with the opportunity to take volunteer groups overseas to build homes in different areas.  For our first Global Village trip we went to Cambodia and built a home for a family in a village near Siem Reap.  We are hoping to take our next trip in early 2019 and are looking into taking a team of volunteers to Guatemala!

A Global Village Trip with local volunteers who built a home for a family in Cambodia in a village near Siem Reap.

Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?

Last year the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority approached us about the opportunity to acquire properties from them from a program they no longer run.  Many of these homes have been vacant for several years and are in great neighborhoods within the City of Richmond.  We submitted a proposal, were approved, and are currently we are in the process of rehabilitating 12 homes in the Maymont and Randolph neighborhoods into affordable housing.

Our sister housing organization, project:HOMES, is rehabbing additional homes in the neighborhood as well.  The Housing Authority opened up a second round of properties, and we are hoping to acquire additional homes in the Maymont and Randolph neighborhoods later this year.  This collaboration is very exciting for everyone involved!  We are providing safe, affordable home ownership opportunities and helping to revitalize the neighborhood by putting these vacant properties back into use.

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

With the opening of our second ReStore location this Spring, we’ve used ConnectVA as one of our main sources for recruiting new staff.  We really get a great response from those who look to ConnectVA for job opportunities!

I am a recent graduate of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program, run by the Community Foundation, and I cannot say enough great things about it!  I learned so much about myself and what it means to be the leader of a nonprofit organization here in Richmond.  It provided me with the confidence, network of peers, and tools I need to go far!

Finally, we were very lucky to receive a grant through the Community Foundation, and through several of the family foundations hosted through them, which will allow us to continue our work and serve additional families and individuals this year.

 

Do you know someone who would make a great ConnectVA Spotlight?  Email us at admin@connectva.org!

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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: 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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