The third of a three-part series on historic Jackson Ward’s pivotal past and its future.
Linda Crafton leads a music activity as FRIENDS executive director David Young (left) looks on. (Photo by Chet Strange)
Dozens of pairs of bright, brown eyes glance up at David Young as he glides down a hallway brightened by crayon-colored drawings of squares, triangles and circles. “Hi, Mr. Young!” the children say in chorus as he moves along, greeting each of them by name.
Young is executive director of the FRIENDS Association for Children, a nonprofit child and family services organization. Its “licensed, curriculum-based, early childhood education programs” serve more than 1,000 children in the Richmond region, Young says. With a $2 million annual budget, and no funding from the city or state, FRIENDS provides children from 6 weeks to 18 years old with before- and after-school activities, day care, nutritious meals, and arts, music and health education programs in two locations. They receive grants from the United Way and corporations, but raise a third of their budget on their own. Parents pay based on a sliding scale, with the goal of making quality education affordable for all. FRIENDS even transports the kids to and from their locations: The John C. Purnell Jr. Child Development Center in Jackson Ward and the Robert L. Taylor Childcare Center in Church Hill.
“Everything we do is an effort to give our kids a solid foundation.” —David Young, FRIENDS executive director
The parents who entrust their children to FRIENDS “want exactly the same things that any parent wants for their children,” Young says. “Good care in a safe environment that encourages positive development.” And that’s just what FRIENDS provides. “Everything we do is an effort to give our kids a solid foundation,” says Young, who took the reigns as executive director in October 2012.
Chesterfield resident Tamika Williams’ 3-year-old daughter, Tiana, is a student at FRIENDS, and her two older kids, Tamia, 16, and JaQuan, 21, came through the program, too.
“The teachers at FRIENDS, they looked after my kids like they were their own,” she says. “The curriculum was excellent — my son started there in kindergarten and was on the honor roll all through school. My daughter is a junior this year, her GPA is over 3.0. FRIENDS got them ready early, and they always treated my kids like they were family.” As a single mom, she says she’s thankful that FRIENDS gives her kids a quality education at an affordable cost.
FRIENDS was founded in Jackson Ward in 1872 as the Friends’ Asylum for Colored Orphans. Lucy Goode Brooks, born a slave, was one of the many Richmonders rebuilding her life and community after the Civil War. Everywhere she turned, she saw black children wandering in the streets, abandoned by their former masters after the war. She decided to found an orphanage, and galvanized the Ladies Sewing Circle for Charitable Work and the
local Cedar Creek Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers) into action. That the organization still exists and still serves the children of Richmond is a testament to Brooks’ vision, determination and compassion. Brooks’ great-granddaughter, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, is a Harvard University professor and a leading scholar of African-American history. Her Richmond roots and Brooks’ mission inspire her.
“When we talk about the war, we rarely think about what happened to the children. We think about the men whose lives were lost, the bloodshed, the burning of cities … but what about the children, who lost one or both parents, who were cast off by their masters?” asks Higginbotham. “My great-grandmother did think about the children; she saw the black kids without a home, and her founding the orphanage has always been a moving story for me.”
Friends’ Asylum for Colored Orphans at St. Paul and W. Charity streets, ca. 1920 (Photo courtesy Friends Association for Children)
FRIENDS is an anchor in the Gilpin Court community, which was cut off from the rest of Jackson Ward when Interstate 95 was built through the neighborhood in the 1950s. “We have a big health and wellness event each summer that’s open to everyone, whether they have kids at FRIENDS or not,” Young says. “We also do kindergarten readiness events and offer physicals and immunizations. We’re doing everything we can to ensure our kids, and the kids in this community, become productive citizens of the city.”