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CYSK: Athena Gould

A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the leaders, changemakers, and community members who call Charlottesville home

Athena Gould

Hometown: Long Island, NY

Years lived in Charlottesville: 4

Favorite place in Charlottesville: Pen Park trails

Favorite small business: Carter Mountain Orchard

Favorite community event: Fridays After Five

What is your educational and professional background?

I have undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and English Language Studies. I have a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy. I’ve been the Executive Director at this agency for four years. Before that, I was the Chief Program Officer at Big Brothers Big Sisters Southern Nevada, in Las Vegas, for five years. I’ve worked in youth development for well over fifteen years at this point. I’ve done everything from gang prevention work to gang intervention to pregnancy prevention, both in New York and Las Vegas, before coming here.

What does BBBS do?

The heart of what we do is build relationships. We are a mentoring agency. We recognize that every kid is incredible just as they are. It’s our job to give them the support that they need to grow into the best versions of themselves. That’s what we do. We find adults and partner them with kids ages 6-18, and the “bigs” (what we call the mentors) spend time with the “littles” about once a week and we ask for at least a year commitment, though they’re staying much longer.

All matches are made by hand; there’s not a computer that does it for us. We interview the little and the parent and ask about the strengths of the little, as well as what they could use additional support in. We don’t live in a bubble. We know that, perhaps a kid needs help with math, or they’ve never had access to higher education, or maybe they’re interested in being an entrepreneur. But we also highlight their strengths: “I love science, I love using my hands, I love playing.” And then we also interview the adults. We’re looking at the strengths of the adult and how they can support that little.

Why are you passionate about your work?

I’ve always believed that kids are incredible. I think a lot of times when adults look at kids, they look at them and wonder how they could help and support, but they don’t see the greatness in the kid right now. They look at it as just potential, and don’t see that they’re already powerful, they already have a voice, and they’re already incredible. What I love about this agency is that we’re able to get that message out to adults. They buy into it, they believe it, and they’re able to support kids from a strength-based perspective as opposed to a deficit-perspective.

When you just think about yourself, or I just think about myself, if someone only looked at me through my flaws or my deficits and said “that’s how I want to support you,” it’d be a completely different relationship.

How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community?

There are a lot of kids that are in need of support, especially now. I think Covid has highlighted a lot of things that we as a community already knew. One of those things is the need to stay connected. Kids are at home, there are issues with technology. My own kids are feeling the anxiety of not being connected with their friends and their peers except for online. They’re not connected with teachers in the way that they would’ve been. 

We’ve found that there’s been an increase in the number of families that would like support for their kid through a big brother or a big sister. Our hope, our goal, our wish is to provide every kid that needs or wants a mentor, with one.

Who do you admire in Charlottesville?

You know who I LOVE? Mark Lorenzoni. He is the owner of Ragged Mountain Running Shop and he is wonderful. He is highly philanthropic; he has been on the board of 20 different nonprofits in town. He was my Board Chair a year ago, here at Big Brothers Big Sisters. He puts on every race in town; we have a race once a year, but he also does the Four Miler. He supports VIA (Virginia Institute of Autism). He teaches Sunday School at his church. I honestly don’t know how this man has enough time to do everything that he does. If you go in [to Ragged Mountain] and say hi to Mark, he’s going to be your lifelong friend.

What's something you are looking forward to?

I am completely excited about our Luncheon on October 20. It’s our first virtual luncheon; it’s our first virtual event. Our keynote speaker is Tiffany Aliche, and she’s known as the Budgetnista. She has a large following all over the country. She has a group called Live Richer Academy, where she works with predominantly women, though it’s open to anybody, and teaches everything from credit counseling and maintaining credit, to home ownership, investment in stock, and how to be an entrepreneur. She’s got a group of experts that work with her and they teach these classes. 

A few months ago, I was asking myself: “Are we doing a good job? Are we relevant? How could we be more impactful?” This really has been a year of reflection and hopefully a year of change if you’re paying attention. Hopefully none of us are the same as we were in January. I wanted to ensure that our agency wasn’t just lip-service. If we think that kids are incredible, what are we actively and intentionally doing to support them? 

If one of the ways to build generational wealth is through home ownership, why aren’t we talking to kids about the steps to get there? Why do adults need to struggle to figure out how to be successful, if we can start teaching them now? I remember when I was 18, and I went to college, and American Express was like “would you like this credit card?” and I was like “why yes, yes I would.” And then had to figure out that I probably shouldn’t have taken it. Why can we not prepare kids now? So if at 18 they want to own a business or a home, they’ve got the knowledge. My hope is that through this event, people will be inspired and feel empowered to be intentional in the ways they’re connecting with each other.

Ready for more?

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