SPARC Impacts a Diverse Group of Young People’s Lives Through Performing Arts Education

Grace in the Summer 2017 show, Oliver! Photo credit: Tom Topinka Marna Bales, Singer/Songwriter & Executive Producer, Red Amp Audio “As a performing artist, and one who was fortunate enough to take some dance and music classes growing up, I love SPARC. I think all kids need to have a place where they can have their creativity encouraged and supported through training. And I especially love that SPARC is all inclusive – meaning it is open to all youth regardless of disability or income.” Upon entering middle school, Grace was bullied. She also began struggling with food, eating and body image. The mounting pressures led to an eating disorder that quickly took over her life. By the eighth grade, she had to have supervision every time she ate and was rarely left alone. Grace had been involved with SPARC, one of the nation’s most comprehensive, community-based youth performing arts education organizations, since she was 7 years old. The summer after the eighth grade, Grace attended the organization’s summer camp, where she was surrounded by people who accepted and supported her. The camp gave Grace a place where she could totally be herself. Grace also participated in SPARC’s LIVE ART program, which culminates in an annual performance of music, dance, visual art and human connection. Involving students both with and without disabilities, the LIVE ART curriculum focuses on compassion, acceptance, respect, and empathy. Grace was not only on the receiving end of this support, but also was given the invaluable opportunity to support others. This experience made the young woman realize that everyone, even those who fit societal norms, needs a shoulder sometimes. Today, Grace, who is in recovery from her eating disorder, is a sophomore at [...]

SPARC Impacts a Diverse Group of Young People’s Lives Through Performing Arts Education2018-12-10T06:10:29+00:00

Virginia’s Kids Belong Works to End the State’s Foster and Adoption Crisis

Topher Lytle, Engage Director, Area 10 Faith Community “The heart and mission to find safe and loving homes for the thousands of kids throughout Richmond and Virginia drives Virginia’s Kids Belong as they continue to make a significant impact in the lives of individuals.” This isn’t a story about any one child. Instead, this story is about the more than 5,200 children in the foster care system in Virginia who need a family to love, support and keep them safe. Without people sharing their lives, these kids feel like they don’t belong. That lack of belonging can lead to many short- and long-term problems for children, including poor academics, trouble with the law, and human trafficking. By leveraging the combined power of the state’s government (across party lines), business, faith and creative communities, Virginia’s Kids Belong (VKB) runs innovative initiatives to recruit more foster and adoptive families, engage wraparound support for at-risk, foster and adoptive families and help youth who have aged out of foster care. VKB strives to create an environment where there are more foster and adoptive families waiting for kids than there are kids waiting for families. “Community leaders often want to solve societal problems, especially those involving vulnerable children, but they often don’t have an easy on-ramp to do so,” explains former Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell. “VKB helps match the needs of children in foster care with people who have the resources to meet those needs. The end result is more families for kids who need them and more support for those families.” While this nonprofit is new to the state and its work has only just begun, other state affiliates of America’s Kids Belong have been able to grow their pool of foster families by over 40 percent [...]

Virginia’s Kids Belong Works to End the State’s Foster and Adoption Crisis2018-12-09T05:41:26+00:00

Sports Backers Breaks Down Barriers to Healthy & Active Living

Annie Tobey, editor of BOOMER magazine “This organization has supported a healthy Richmond by encouraging healthy behavior for people from all walks of life (training teams and events, programs for kids, programs for underserved communities) and through sports tourism, which contributes to financial health for the region.” Carlene attended a Fitness Warriors Reboot class in her community to lose weight and help with knee problems. The next class, she decided to bring her 11-year-old daughter, Kayla, along with her. Kayla, who has an intellectual disability and club feet, was apprehensive at first and stood quietly with her hands clasped. She told LaCora, the instructor, that she was nervous. LaCora said she was too, and they’d just be nervous together. Kayla also told the instructor that she hoped she didn’t play “old people music”! LaCora is an instructor for Fitness Warriors, a program of Sports Backers that trains community members to lead free fitness classes throughout the Richmond region. These classes are often held in underserved areas, which lack access to gyms, fitness centers, and safe or connected places to get exercise. Before long, Kayla found her groove to the instructor’s music (apparently not “old people music”!) and started to relax. After class, LaCora asked the young girl if she’d come back to help her get over her nervousness again, and Kayla said she would. After several classes, the balancing exercises were beginning to help Kayla walk better. Kayla has even led the class in sprints! "She's resting better during the night which has helped her focus at school,” says her mom, Carlene. Over the several classes the young girl has attended, LaCora has also noticed Kayla’s confidence increasing. By taking a step to improve her own health, a mom has made [...]

Sports Backers Breaks Down Barriers to Healthy & Active Living2018-12-08T05:30:44+00:00

Positive Vibe Café Prepares Individuals with Disabilities for the World

Craig Evans, Singer and Bass Player in The Taters “I love what they do, and that they are very much a rubber-hits-the-road project. You can go to the restaurant and see the work they are doing, see some of the results. …The Taters, as well as other musicians in town, regularly donate performances for some of their fundraisers. Garth and all of his people are a real inspiration to what can be accomplished.” Several months after Josh completed the training program at the Positive Vibe Café, his mom called the executive director in tears. But she wasn’t upset. Instead she was overjoyed to watch her 24-year-old son, who has developmental difficulties, walk into a convenience store and buy a drink on his own ... for the very first time in his life. This seemingly small step was a major leap forward in the young man's confidence. The Positive Vibe Foundation offers hands-on training in food services—everything from bussing a table to handling kitchen utensils—to individuals with physical and developmental difficulties. While enjoying a delicious meal, diners at the Café are not only giving trainees a chance to put their new skills to work, but also financially supporting this important training. Some graduates of the program go on to work at the Café fulltime; others find jobs in different restaurants, grocery stores or other places of business. But perhaps the program’s greatest benefit is how it helps build self-esteem, conquers fears, and gives participants opportunities they and their families never thought possible. For years, Josh went straight to his room and watched TV every day after school. After completing the Positive Vibe training program, his mom reported that he was much more sociable, even chatting with people in [...]

Positive Vibe Café Prepares Individuals with Disabilities for the World2018-12-07T05:35:34+00:00

Celebrate! RVA Makes Sure All Children Feel Celebrated on Their Special Day

Jimmy Comer, Co-Owner of Relationship Business and Insurance Services LLC “Julia’s (the founder) passion for Celebrate! RVA is evident anytime she talks about the nonprofit that she created six years ago at the age of 16. Birthdays are a special day, and she fully believes that every child should have that rite of childhood, no matter their economic status.” As the boys and girls celebrating September birthdays made their way into the Oak Grove Community Center, there was music playing, confetti flying, hula hoops twirling, and banners wishing them, “Happy Birthday!” The gym was positively electric with excitement! Many of these children, whose families sometimes can barely afford rent, much less cake and party hats, have never had a birthday party before. The mission of Celebrate! RVA, the nonprofit that hosts these birthday parties for disadvantaged elementary school children every month, is to make sure that every child has the opportunity to be celebrated at least one day a year and is able to carry that special feeling with them throughout the year. The organization even gives the children “birthday bags,” with candles, banners and more, so they can celebrate whenever and wherever they choose. At the September celebration, a young girl was sitting alone and seemed unsure of how to engage with the other partygoers. One of Celebrate! RVA’s staff went over and encouraged her to get up and dance. When she and the staff member started swaying to the music, the girl’s shyness melted away. Her joy was infectious, and soon 10 more children had joined in the fun. Their elation spread like wildfire through the gym. At these parties, kids proclaim again and again, “This is the best birthday ever!” Every child deserves an [...]

Celebrate! RVA Makes Sure All Children Feel Celebrated on Their Special Day2018-12-06T06:06:59+00:00

VET Fund Helps Families Afford Life-Saving Veterinary Care for Their Pets

Michelle Mullins CDBC, CPDT-KSA, KPA CTP, Owner & Director of Training at Honest To Dog “As a dog behavior consultant, I have a passion for keeping dogs with their families through behavior and training services. I’m equally passionate about VET Fund as their mission aligns with mine. Years ago, my husband and I faced an emergency with our first dog and could barely afford the needed care. I’m so honored to support an organization that works to make sure other families won’t face care choices based on cost.” When Kitrinka noticed a pale liquid on her dog’s bedding, she thought it might be vomit or even feces. The liquid was also on Nikki’s rear end. However, after Kitrinka gave her 11-year-old dog a bath, the pus-like substance was still there. Kitrinka felt her anxiety rise. She said a prayer and took Nikki to the vet. The doctor diagnosed the Pomeranian/Pekingese mix with pyometra, an infection of the uterus, which required that Nikki be immediately spayed to eliminate the infection. Nikki’s surgery and veterinary care were estimated at over $1,000, which was beyond Kitrinka’s means. The vet recommended that she contact VET Fund. This nonprofit, which helps fund life-saving veterinary care when pet owners can’t afford it, helped cover some of the expensive veterinary costs for Nikki. After the hour-long surgery, Kitrinka was able to take Nikki home and began giving her pain meds and antibiotics as well as feeding her a special diet. She also had to keep her recovering pup from jumping or licking her incision, which Kitrinka said wasn't difficult because of her dog's sweet disposition. Nikki celebrated her 12th birthday in November. Forever grateful to Dr. Mason and the supporters of VET Fund, Kitrinka declares: “You will always [...]

VET Fund Helps Families Afford Life-Saving Veterinary Care for Their Pets2018-12-04T05:49:53+00:00

Richmond Metro Habitat for Humanity Builds Homes, Communities and Hope

Susan Winiecki, Associate Publisher and Editorial Director of Richmond Magazine “A safe, stable home with a room in which a child can do homework and, more importantly, dream is priceless. Habitat provides a roadmap to get there."  Rakeisha was determined to move her two young sons, sixth grader Qua’melle and his younger brother, Maurquel, who has autism, out of Creighton Court. While the boys were forced to share a bedroom in their small apartment, that hardship was minor compared to the fact that her sons couldn’t even play outside because of the increasing violence in their neighborhood. Despite her best efforts, Rakeisha wasn’t able to improve her family’s situation on her salary as a receptionist at a hearing loss clinic (she has hearing loss herself). That’s until she found Richmond Metro Habitat for Humanity’s affordable home ownership program. Rakeisha applied for Habitat’s program and was accepted. Then the real work began, including 10 financial and homeownership education classes, monthly one-on-one budgeting sessions, and 350 hours of "sweat equity" building her own home and the homes of other Habitat homeowners. Finally, after much hard work and dedication, this mom received the keys to her new home and achieved her goal of giving her sons a safe place to live. Rakeisha will make affordable payments on a zero percent interest mortgage and build valuable equity while doing so. “Owning my own home will provide a safe environment to raise my children,” says the proud home owner. “A home to build stability and to pass down to my family in the future.” Help build homes, communities and hope by donating or volunteering to Richmond Metro Habitat for Humanity!

Richmond Metro Habitat for Humanity Builds Homes, Communities and Hope2018-12-03T06:33:44+00:00

Veterans and Athletes United Empowers Wounded Warriors to Reach Goals Beyond Their Disabilities

Sue Kindred, Owner of SK Consulting LLC “Veterans and Athletes United is an all-volunteer nonprofit founded by combat veterans with disabilities and run by veterans and caring professionals. They are committed to ensuring that all wounded, disabled and ill veterans can live their lives to the fullest.” Sua was wounded in combat in 2008. His injuries left the Army Special Forces veteran a quadriplegic and on a roller coaster ride, both mentally and physically. By sponsoring the wounded warrior in quad rugby competitions, Veterans and Athletes United (VAU) presented Sua with new athletic challenges and empowered him to work toward goals that were not impeded by his disabilities. Sua competed in both the Invictus Games (created by the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry) and the Warrior Games, where he received a Gold Medal. Sua presented this symbol of his achievement to VAU. Sua also enjoyed a fun respite at one of VAU’s accessible retreats with his son and nephew. The family participated in adaptive fishing and surfing together, plus Sua used an adaptive, all-terrain wheelchair to go on the beach for the first time since his injury. During this retreat, the boys were able to spend time with other children of disabled veterans, which was both a bonding and healing experience for them. The veteran credits VAU for the ability to move forward with his life: “Thanks to you [VAU], I have been able to progress and better myself physically and mentally.” Help empower wounded warriors to reach goals beyond their disabilities by volunteering or donating at Veterans and Athletes United.

Veterans and Athletes United Empowers Wounded Warriors to Reach Goals Beyond Their Disabilities2018-12-09T11:29:51+00:00

CultureWorks Inspires, Enables, and Cultivates World-Class Arts and Culture in RVA

Virginia Voice's audio describers at a Science Museum of Virginia’s IMAX movie Ben Dacus, Director of Creative Services at Zeigler/Dacus Marketing Communications “Art and music have always been a centerpiece for my life. My career is all about creating, and I play guitar and sing on occasion. So, when CultureWorks approached me in 2009 to serve on its board, I was most flattered to be a part of an organization whose goals and efforts are to create a stronger ecosystem in the Richmond area for artists and art/culture organizations.” A mom brought her three daughters all the way from Harrisonburg to Virginia Repertory Theatre for a Children’s Theatre performance. The whole family was excited to see the show. But what's so extraordinary about this event is two of her children are blind. Thanks to Virginia Voice’s Live Audio Description for Theater, this family was able to “see” a live performance together for the very first time. Virginia Voice’s innovative wireless technology allows audio describers, who are back stage, to explain what’s happening on stage (in between the actors’ dialogue) to those without sight. This technology was made possible by CultureWorks, a nonprofit that inspires, enables, and cultivates world-class arts and culture in RVA. CultureWorks' funding helped Virginia Voice not only purchase the equipment, but also hire and train staff, train volunteers, and provide the audio services for six different performances. Virginia Voice is now also using this technology with other organizations like SPARC (watch for their own #SpreadtheGoodwill story) and the Science of Museum of Virginia. After the Virginia Rep performance, the mother from Harrisonburg overhead one of her daughters without sight enthusiastically describing the play to a friend. This seemingly ordinary conversation exemplified the significance of the event [...]

CultureWorks Inspires, Enables, and Cultivates World-Class Arts and Culture in RVA2018-12-05T06:46:34+00:00

Milk River Arts Supports and Celebrates a Neurodiverse Community of Artists

B.J. Kocen, owner of GLAVE KOCEN GALLERY “Milk River Arts is important to me because Sally (executive founding director) is all in. I see through her workshops that she and her mentors are pushing abilities, challenging these artists, AND selling their work!”  When Will’s family moved from California to Richmond, his parents were concerned about how their son would adjust. Will has developmental disabilities and is a visual artist, musician and, as his dad puts it, “has always been a creative soul.” The family found Milk River Arts. At this small, joyful studio, Will draws, paints, and creates collage and found object sculpture alongside professional artists who take his talents seriously. His parents say the Milk River Arts community has validated their son’s abilities over and over again. By supporting and celebrating his work, mentor artists continue to inspire Will to create and also elevate his artistic voice. Milk River Arts promotes and sells work made by artists with disabilities in its studio and in partnership with local galleries and exhibition spaces. Will has been creating and selling his work at Milk River Arts for three years now, which means he’s a professional artist! That’s yet another validation for him and his fellow artists at Milk River. “As parents, one of the most important things we want for our children is for them to feel valued and feel like they are making a contribution to the world," says Will's dad. "Milk River Arts has been pivotal in making this happen for our son.” Help support a neurodiverse community of artists by volunteering or donating to Milk River Arts.        

Milk River Arts Supports and Celebrates a Neurodiverse Community of Artists2018-12-05T06:39:15+00:00