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CYSK: Mary Coleman

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

Mary Coleman

Executive Director, City of Promise

Hometown: Toledo, Ohio

Favorite place in Charlottesville: Downtown mall

Favorite small business: Common House

Favorite community event: Fridays After Five

What is your educational background?

I wasn’t able to finish college because my parents stopped paying my tuition because they couldn’t afford it, and there was really nobody in my life to help me figure out what to do, to help me finish school. So I just got married… I shouldn’t put it that way ‘I just got married.’ I’ve been married 37 years. That’s a big accomplishment. But it was sort of also what made me passionate about the work that we do.

What is your professional background?

I spent 22 years as a stay at home mom of my 7 kids, and homeschooled for part of that time. In 2005, I got my first full time job as Director of Donor Relations at Woodberry Forest School, in Madison County. In 2012, I started working at the Covenant School, doing their development work. I was there for 4.5 years and then I came here to City of Promise in 2017, first as Development Director, and then I became Executive Director last year.

What does City of Promise do?

For a while, City of Promise has had a “dual generation approach,” where we want to make sure not only that the children have what they need to succeed in school, but the parents have what they need to get a job or advance their education. With the kids, we have 3 coaches. One serves elementary school, one serves upper elementary and middle school, and the other one serves high school. Those coaches make sure the kids are at school, doing well, getting their homework in, taking them on field trips, getting them tutors. We’ve never had an adult coach. I’m actually getting ready to post a position for an adult empowerment coach!

Why are you passionate about your work?

My role as a mom and a homeschooler immersed me in all things family and education. It was a great preparation for what I’m doing now because I know what it’s like to raise a family and try to make ends meet and navigate systems around education. I know what it’s like to be a parent in this neighborhood and navigate all of the hoops you gotta jump through to get your kids through school.

How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community?

Charlottesville is small enough, has the brains, has the money to solve poverty and this achievement gap. We’re a college town. It’s a shame for a college town to have an achievement gap. What we haven’t had is the determination and the collective action to solve some of these issues. City of Promise was always meant to be a catalyst for initiating some of those changes. As a startup nonprofit, it takes time and money and focus to make that happen. We want to close this achievement gap and prove that this model of academic coaching can work, so then we can expand it to other areas in the city. We also want to challenge the school system, Parks and Rec, the YMCA, some of these multi-million dollar agencies in how they serve this community or how they fail to serve them well, so that we can bring more equity into the city.

What is something you're looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to getting young people together again after Covid. My heart as a mom and as a grandmother is so burdened by the isolation of this time. We actually secured additional gathering space in a warehouse unit on 10th Street, and it’s going to give us that chance to get youth together again and have fun. I’m looking forward to seeing youth out and about.

What's one of your more recent projects?

We have two locations now: our original location on Page Street, which is a house, and then there’s the 10th Street location. In the mornings, we have K-6 graders here to give them a place to do their schoolwork. We have high speed internet, they can get away from home, get a change of scenery. So it’s been really great welcoming them to this. The 10th Street location is for 7-12th graders. So just being available at a time when kids are stuck at home, we’ve got some safe places for them to go and do their schoolwork and support them in that. At the house, the students are in the bedrooms upstairs, one child per room. On 10th Street, it’s 1000 square feet of open space, so we can fit several kids in there with plenty of distance, plus a proctor. Not everybody always wants the stuff that we offer, but for those who want it, we’re here for them! We’re always available to help people when they have a need. That feels good, especially now. If we can relieve a little stress, that means a lot to me.

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