An AmeriCorps staff member leads a game of “Big Ball Soccer” with members of the Southside Boys & Girls Club. AmeriCorp members spend 15 hours a week with Club members to support BGCMR programs and practices. (Photo courtesy The Boys and Girls Club of Metro Richmond)
John Bryan, the executive director of Moose Management Academy, tells a story of an event for nonprofits the academy gave last year. Admission was a $50 check made out to a favorite nonprofit — but it couldn’t be your own. “We had about 300 attendees,” he says. “I was amazed at the result. I thought they would write checks to the same dozen, two dozen well-known organizations. They named 95 different nonprofits.”
The Richmond region, he says, has more than 1,000 nonprofits. Grouped roughly into four categories, there are those that provide direct services to many (Goodwill Industries); those that serve as intermediaries supporting the nonprofits that provide direct services (Homeward); those that are so tightly focused “they reach a very small need, but it’s a need no one else is thinking of” (Art on Wheels), and, finally, he says, those that “help fill human needs that we generally think of our taxes doing, such as volunteer fire departments.”
In putting together our list of superlative nonprofits, we decided to steal a page from Bryan’s book. We asked local nonprofit leaders to pick three organizations they believe deserve recognition, plus one they think flies under the radar and should get more attention.
Art 180’s Marlene Paul no doubt spoke for the majority of our respondents when she wrote: “This was really hard — and not just because of the subjectiveness in defining ‘deserving recognition.’ There are so many good, doing-good organizations in Richmond that it’s hard to select just three. It’s tempting to shout out the shiny new ones, and yet there are longstanding groups still making a consistent contribution.”
What follows is a sampling of nonprofit leaders’ selections — edited for length.
Executive director, Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton
Richmond Peace Education Center — Richmond Peace Education Center (RPEC) continues to be the organization most consistently involving youth in peace and social justice activities. Its Youth Peace Project presents an annual Generation Dream Educoncert, where youth honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through music, dance and poetry.
Girls for a Change/Camp Diva —The Date with Dad dance and weekend is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for girls to see and relate to their fathers, some of whom are incarcerated yet can have a special opportunity to share with their daughters. Camp Diva is a summer experience for teenage girls to learn life skills and plan for a future of success.
Enrichmond Foundation — An organization passionate about and committed to the well-being of the parks and public spaces in Richmond, including the 17th Street Farmers’ Market.
Executive director, Sports Backers
Fit4Kids — They have done a fantastic job of moving from a startup to a fast-growing organization having a big impact on kids’ lives in the schools they serve. While many organizations focus on childhood health, none were solely focused on encouraging healthy eating and regular physical activity to promote healthy weights among children, many of whom live in underserved parts of our community.
SwimRVA — Creating a nonprofit-owned-and-maintained aquatic center is extremely challenging and SwimRVA has met the challenge. While any startup is difficult, working through the complexity of operating a huge swimming facility while starting programming to generate revenue at the same time has been quite the juggling act.
Partnership for the Future — The program helps train gifted students from challenging circumstances with the skills and resources they need to win college scholarships, live in the college environment and cover sometimes difficult financial challenges, such as transportation, books and computers.
Founder and creative director, Afrikana Independent Film Festival
Girls for a Change — This national organization inspires girls to speak up, become decision makers, and create visionary change. CEO Angela Patton is a Richmond native. Signature events include Camp Diva and Date with Dad, in which incarcerated fathers can connect with their daughters beyond the confines of a routine visit. This program not only strengthens black families but can be a catalyst for generational healing.
Feast RVA — Feast RVA empowers local creative startups by holding $25-per-person dinners at which three organizations pitch their ideas. The money goes to the startup with the most votes. Josh Epperson and Johnny Hugel have created a space for community-based micro-funding done right.
Change Rocks Foundation — CRF’s education, music and arts programs have empowered AIDS orphans, human trafficking survivors, college students, educators and others in 12 countries. Founder and Richmond transplant Yewande Austin urges us to learn to make a difference.
Executive director, Richmond Symphony
Weinstein JCC — We love working with the JCC, which provides a remarkable array of programs in its excellent facilities. Its board and staff are committed to reaching out beyond its walls to everyone. Together we’re bringing legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman here in September to celebrate the JCC’s 70th anniversary.
FRIENDS Association for Children — Executive Director David Young leads a small but vital organization with a storied history. We’re partnering with the FRIENDS on our Big Tent festivals in May, raising awareness of the great work done at the FRIENDS’ child development centers in Jackson Ward and Church Hill.
Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond — A well-established Richmond nonprofit that is empowering young people to succeed. This nonprofit is so important that it would need to be invented if it did not exist already. They’re helping us teach music after school in MLK Jr. Middle, making a pipeline to enable East End students to join our youth orchestra program.
Executive director, Groundwork RVA
Storefront for Community Design — Ryan Rinn and Tyler King listen to Richmond’s public housing residents. They provide plans of action built through workshops that educate and empower residents to shape their communities. Storefront also cranks out bright interventions for vacant buildings, such as their RVA Popup Shops.
CodeVA — They take computer science education seriously. Part policy team, part service providers, Chris and Rebecca Dovi saw the need to teach computer programming, and are working to meet it through stellar youth programming, unwavering commitment to teacher education and a vision that is ahead of the rest of us!
Renew Richmond — With limited staff and resources, they are teaching youth about community empowerment through food production.
President and CEO, Boaz & Ruth
Virginia Mentoring Partnership — Virginia Mentoring Partnership supports nonprofit organizations, staff and volunteers who are providing direct services. They help build capacity of other organizations. They have an outstanding director, Elizabeth Bass, who is dedicated to VMP’s work as it transitions from the founder’s leadership to new leadership under Elizabeth’s direction.
Richmond Peace Education Center —RPEC is on the front lines of creating a more just and peaceful world through programming with middle and high school students and in the wider Richmond community.
Alliance for Unitive Justice — AUJ works to address conflict in an innovative way that deescalates tension and allows all parties to come to a mutual understanding based on respect. This project has been successful in Richmond high schools and could use some press to help fund its good work.
Executive director, ReEstablish Richmond
Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities — VCIC works with schools, businesses and communities to address prejudice across the commonwealth. Through workshops, retreats, and customized programming, VCIC develops leaders who peacefully navigate our cultural diversity.
CrossOver Healthcare Ministry — CrossOver is essential to ensuring that all low-income people have access to physical and mental health services. By providing quality and compassionate health care to the low-income uninsured, they make Richmond a healthier place.
RVA Rapid Transit — It helps residents advocate for an improved transportation system, and represents their interests in the development of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Its vision expands BRT to the city’s four major arteries, making 80 percent of jobs accessible.
L. Robert Bolling
Chief executive officer, ChildSavers
Children’s Home Society of Virginia — In Virginia, 1,400 foster children are currently waiting for a home. CHSVA provides outstanding placement services by preparing and matching children to permanent families. CHSVA recently partnered with the Better Housing Coalition to find housing and support services for children aging out of foster care.
Elegba Folklore Society — Arts and culture are important to the healthy development of communities. The EFS for more than 20 years has reminded greater Richmond of the wealth and expanse of African culture in our lives.
Neighborhood Resource Center of Greater Fulton— Oftentimes a spark can begin the revitalization of neglected neighborhoods. NRC has been that light for the Fulton community by designing and providing relevant children-,youth- and family-centered workforce, education and family support services and programs.
Juvenile justice community organizer, JustChildren, Legal Aid Justice Center
Sacred Heart Center — Provides valuable services, including adult education, family services, health and wellness, and youth programs for mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant families, truly caring for
one of the most vulnerable communities among us.
CrossOver Healthcare Ministry — Addresses a huge need for free health care for the uninsured poor, including immigrants, the poor struggling with chronic disease and people who fall into the “Medicaid gap” left by the Virginia General Assembly.
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society — Provides free civil legal assistance to Virginia’s low-income people and families. Services include legal support for domestic violence victims and tenants facing eviction.
Chief executive officer, Richmond SPCA
The Children’s Museum of Richmond — This organization appreciates the importance of teaching children how to care for and treat animals with compassion. It has been a great partner with a veterinary clinic installation at its Chesterfield County location and in providing a venue for adoptable pets. It fosters imagination and creativity in kids.
Virginia Historical Society — The VHS provides wonderful educational offerings that are always fresh and fascinating and encourage an understanding of the importance of history to current issues. It generously offers [rental] space in its building for others in the community to use.
FeedMore — The growth of this organization is remarkable and it provides crucial support to the people who most need it. Providing children with enough to eat is at the heart of what a community must do to give them a good start in life.
Co-founder and executive director, Art 180
Legal Aid Justice Center — LAJC provides legal resources for low-income people, but also advocates to change challenging social policies, like juvenile justice, immigration, housing discrimination. It’s now tackling Virginia’s embarrassing ranking as the state with the highest number of school referrals to law enforcement.
James River Association — I can’t live in RVA and not appreciate a group whose sole focus is protecting and honoring the mighty James River. One-third of Virginians rely on the James and its tributaries for water, commerce and recreation. JRA provides education and outreach, but also advocacy for this beautiful, important natural resource.
Positive Vibe — Garth Larcen opened Max’s Positive Vibe Café a decade ago so his son, Max, who has muscular dystrophy, would have a place to work and a sense of purpose. The café evolved into food-service training for young adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities — and last month, they trained their 1,000th student.
Kathleen Burke Barrett
Chief executive officer, St. Joseph’s Villa
Diversity Richmond — Diversity Richmond (formerly the Gay Community Center of Richmond) is building a stronger community through dialogue, education and advocacy. It has contributed more than $865,000 to local nonprofits in the last 12 years with proceeds from Diversity Thrift and Diversity Bingo; has strengthened relationships with local police departments, and has arranged for students on public assistance to shop for free clothing at Diversity Thrift.
Beacon Tree Foundation — Its passion/mission is to help families who have a child struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as concurring addictions. Beacon Tree, run by families of children with mental illness, provides resources for families who cannot afford treatment for their child.
Art 180 — Art 180 creates and provides art-related programs for young people living in challenging circumstances. Participating students from St. Joseph’s Villa have found new ways to express themselves and be recognized.
President, Virginia Home for Boys and Girls
Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School — This private middle school, located next to the Fairfield Court housing project, offers scholarships to low-income East End children. Beyond free tuition, AJCES offers its students strong role models and allows them to envision what their futures can look like with a solid education.
Family Lifeline – A Family Lifeline home visit opened my eyes to the plight of our young children who grow up in poverty. We visited a young mom of three in Gilpin Court to support and encourage her to
provide healthy meals to her children, and to give them access to early childhood education opportunities. The simple act of giving the mom a book [to read to her children] was a major step forward.
Voices for Virginia’s Children —Voices passionately advocates for at-risk youth and their families in the public policy and legislative arena. It has made great headway, particularly in the area of children’s mental health.
Executive director, Virginia Supportive Housing
Homeward — Homeward provides a backbone for collaboration and change in the way agencies deliver services to people experiencing homelessness. It has helped to convene multidisciplinary agencies to accomplish monumental feats, such as functionally ending veteran homelessness in Virginia.
Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence — The Partnership supports the region’s nonprofits with training and development. It connects people to volunteer opportunities and provides a communication network for the nonprofit community. We are incredibly fortunate to have such an outstanding resource.
Sportable — Sportable’s goal is to free athletes to see beyond their disabilities. They believe sports are the catalyst needed for persons with physical disabilities to create a support system and reduce social isolation. Staff is creative, personable and, with new executive director Hunter Leemon, determined to create accessible options for regional sports opportunities.
(Photo courtesy TheatreLAB)
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(Illustration courtesy ThinkStock)
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