Adrienne Patrice Whitaker (Photo by Jay Paul)
As a student at The College of William and Mary in the mid-1980s, Adrienne Patrice Whitaker was a volunteer at Eastern State Hospital, which focuses on mental health care. She also was a nursery school volunteer.
Whitaker was so smitten with helping others that she wanted to spend a year volunteering after graduation and shared her wish with her parents. Whitaker’s father, himself a longtime volunteer with Special Olympics, promptly informed her that he would not finance her “career” as a volunteer.
Undaunted, Whitaker moved to Richmond in 1988 and sought a volunteer position at the-then Virginia Home for Boys. Instead, she was hired as a childcare worker at the West Broad Street facility. She lived and worked there a year before pursuing careers in banking and higher education.
Today, nearly 30 years later, Whitaker is back full time at the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, serving as vice president of philanthropy and marketing for the nonprofit, which helps children throughout Virginia who have emotional and behavioral health challenges.
Photo by Jay Paul
When Whitaker began working there in 1988, the agency still operated with an orphanage mentality, she says, meaning the boys — abused, neglected or experiencing behavioral problems — often would remain there until adulthood. Today the average stay is nine months on the 30-acre campus.
Back in the late ’80s, Whitaker’s duties were those of a parent, making sure the residents did their homework, chores and “anything it took to maintain a home,” she says. “It was all about being that parental figure.” Whitaker also showered her charges with love, something many of them lacked in their lives.
After leaving the VHBG and joining SunTrust Bank, she landed several high-level positions that enabled her to continue giving back to others. For example, as SunTrust’s senior vice president of diversity and community outreach, she oversaw community affairs, charitable giving and volunteer activities for 3,500 employees.
Financial management and financial empowerment were pursuits that Whitaker enjoyed most, and she frequently delivered workshops and seminars to assist underrepresented communities.
She remains grateful for the leadership and training programs the bank provided her.
“Every step of the way they supported my growth,” she says. “It was intentional.”
Whitaker’s last SunTrust position was eliminated in 2013. She then joined Virginia State University as interim vice president of institutional advancement. The transition proved smooth since Whitaker had previously served on VSU’s advisory board. Her responsibilities included development, alumni engagement, corporate relations, government relations, university relations and marketing.
Whitaker credits her work at VSU for enhancing her leadership skills during what she says was a transformative period for the historically black college and university in Petersburg under the presidency of Keith Miller. Upon leaving the university, Whitaker established an endowment fund for students who study agriculture, textile and merchandising.
Although she likes to think of her return to VHBG as her “second act,” she has volunteered at the nonprofit since 2000, along with other organizations.
“Working with youth [at VHBG] who really had nothing shaped all the volunteerism in me over the past 25 years,” she says.
Whitaker acknowledges her success with a quiet confidence that is reflected in her brilliant smile and easy manner. She firmly believes in being prepared for opportunities, and has taken courses at VSU, Boston University and the University of Richmond in philanthropy and stewardship. She understands that fundraising and philanthropy are more than calling on corporations or writing a grant. Successful fundraisers rely on relationships.
For Whitaker, being back at VHBG means continuing to nurture a long-term relationship that has no end in sight. “It’s like I’m at the beginning again, and I’m excited about this next chapter,” she says.
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