"Miss Penny" Ferris, NRC's programs coordinator. Casey Templeton Photo
A line of children at the Greater Fulton Neighborhood Resource Center passes by, giving tiny fist bumps to "Miss Penny" as they say their hellos. She watches the line snake its way outside.
"This is me," says programs coordinator Penelope Ferris, "giving tours. We do this, we do that," extending her arms, like a flight attendant before takeoff. "People nodding, ‘OK, this sounds pretty typical.' Then as we show the kitchen and go outside, the garden, and the playground, they get overwhelmed. We have so many balls in the air and do it well, mostly with volunteers."
Stamped With Success
A New Jersey native, Ferris has a background in social work, beginning with her undergraduate degree from
Virginia Commonwealth University.
She went into skilled nursing but then decided to travel the world. Back in Richmond in 2007, her sister Bridgette, who'd volunteered and sent her son to the NRC, insisted that she see what was happening there.
"This was about 150 degrees around from dealing with the elderly, injured and ill," Ferris says. "So I went for it."
She takes the children on field trips. It may be the Honda Training Center, where the youngsters learn about changing a tire and checking the oil. Or they may go to the Richmond Ballet. Ferris impersonates a wide-eyed child whispering, "Miss Penny, it's like we're underwater," because the lights were blue and the movements fluid and graceful. "She experienced that beauty first-hand."
When Ferris first arrived at NRC, the computer room was overrun by teens playing games. Now, to enter, 25 minutes
of reading are required, with questions asked to test comprehension.
"It's like, poof! They're allowed to be teenagers again," she smiles. "I can't do anything about what's out there. But when they step in here, I can do something about that."