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  • CYSK: Joe Jamison

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the entrepreneurs, creatives, social innovators, and community champions who call Charlottesville home! Joe Jamison Founder and CEO of VisitAble Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia Years lived in Charlottesville: 6 Favorite place: The winery and brewery scene around town Favorite community event: Saturday Farmers Markets Favorite local restaurant: Oakhurst Inn Cafe Tell us about your educational and professional background. I’m a recent graduate of the University of Virginia; I graduated in May 2019. I did the Entrepreneurship minor while I was there and the capstone course was to start your own business. The first assignment in the class was to pick something you’re passionate about. My father has used a wheelchair for my entire life, so I’ve grown a passion and an understanding for how people with disabilities are treated, and the barriers and challenges they face every day. With that project, I decided to focus on two main problems that stood out to me: the gap between minimum ADA compliance and practical accessibility, and the way that people with disabilities are treated. Why did you first start VisitAble? After doing some research on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and talking to the disabled community, I noticed three shortcomings, which really illustrate why there is a gap between the minimum ADA compliance and practical accessibility for the disabled community: The enforcement system of the ADA is based mostly on complaints. This leads to a reactive and punitive approach to accessibility. A lot of times, both public and private entities are waiting for a renovation to happen, a new facility to be built, or a new complaint to happen. There is certain verbiage in the ADA that is unclear or creates loopholes, such as “historical preservation,” “undue burden,” “program access,” or “readily achievable.” There are certain guidelines that aren’t in the ADA but that are important to the disabled community, such as how to treat people with disabilities and interact with them in the correct way, respectfully, and how to be transparent about accessibility. It makes sense that a policy has some spaces in which it could improve, because policies can’t be exact and not everything may be practical in a policy sense, so it’s natural that there is this gap. This has led to a bunch of discrepancies in the accessibility of different establishments. In my experience with my father, we had to call ahead to restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, parks, and gyms to check their accessibility. Usually, the person who answers the phone doesn’t know that much about accessibility, so a couple of things happen: we end up having to talk to 3-4 different people before we get an answer, we’ll have to go deep into the situation about my father’s disability and explain his needs, or we’ll get told inaccurate information and be unable to get in when we show up. All of this has created a barrier of uncertainty, where people with disabilities don’t know what’s accessible to them. This process of calling ahead has really created a more uncomfortable, tedious, and inaccurate approach to checking accessibility. People would rather not call ahead. The disabled community is then left with one or two options: they can go to the same places that they know are accessible and welcoming, or they can stay at home. Even if a place is completely wheelchair accessible or physically accessible, that has nothing to do with how people are treated by employees. That’s the second problem I wanted to focus on: the treatment of people with disabilities. I always give the example of going to a restaurant with my father and having the host or hostess talk with me the whole time and not really acknowledge his presence. All of those things really stood out to me and so I started VisitAble to help solve this and close the gap between ADA compliance and practical accessibility. I’m trying to use the private sector to help pick up where the law falls short, and create a more proactive and positive motivation to consider, think about, and improve accessibility. VisitAble is creating an interactive database, similar to a Yelp for accessibility, really focusing on the mobility information at first. We’re coupling that with a training certification process, which is a tool to test, improve, and broadcast mobility access and disability etiquette. Hopefully, these two things will not only enable a better experience for visitors with mobility challenges in physical, public-facing spaces, but will also allow organizations to attract and provide the best experience possible for their customers. What does VisitAble do and what is your future vision? Right now, I’m starting the training certification [for businesses and other public-facing spaces]. The first phase is disability etiquette training, which covers important topics for all disabilities and chronic illnesses. The second stage is an accessibility assessment, where we’re testing practical mobility access. This is not a full ADA compliance test; we’re trying to make a streamlined and practical test. We also include a secret shopper experience in that, which is mostly for people with mobility challenges right now, to see how they’re treated by staff. It really puts the training into practice. Finally, we give a report with feedback and suggestions on businesses’ practical mobility access and we give them a listing on our database of mobility information, to help them with their transparency. Just by going through the process, they earn the training certification. We’ve recently expanded from just businesses to all public-facing spaces, so we’re approaching universities, public school systems, property managers, and local governments as well. I think the future definitely holds more of those markets. We’re also looking at more holistic certifications. For example, if we’re working with a Parks and Recreation department, being able to certify that the whole department or a certain percentage has been through the training, is getting feedback and suggestions, has secret shoppers or mystery guests with disabilities giving them feedback, and that they’re being transparent. Besides that, we’re also looking into incorporating all disabilities and chronic illnesses, which are mostly already in the training. That’s always going to be improving, but we also want to put that into the database of accessibility information. We’d like to shift our secret shopper program from a more mobility focus to include all disabilities as well. And like any other startup, we’re looking to expand our impact and geographic reach. Why are you passionate about your work? I think it was a combination of my personal experience with my dad and that entrepreneurship class, and how it translated from passion and understanding to a business idea. I hadn’t really thought about it as a business idea, or an advocacy idea, until I took that class where they asked, “What can you do to make society better, change lives, and do well by doing good?” My thought was that on one end, I could help educate people on how people want to be treated and what access needs to be, and I could help organizations open themselves up to a market they’re not really noticing or accomodating at the same time. How do you hope to impact the Charlottesville community? I’d love to make it more of a destination. I’d love to be able to say Charlottesville is our founding place and where our headquarters is. I started this business here, got some traction, incorporated, and am still here. I’d love to make Charlottesville a place that’s age-friendly, mobility-friendly, and disability-friendly. I’d love to impact the community by employing a lot of people, especially people with disabilities, and creating more opportunities. I think there are a lot of great things about this city; the local business scene really stands out to me. It’d be nice to help those business owners really understand accessibility and cater to a market that they’re not currently focused on. What about Charlottesville inspired you to start here? Two things really inspired me to start here: the University community and the local business community. With the University community, having that constant support and connection to UVA was incredibly helpful. I went through the incubator at UVA; it was called Venture Lab when I was in it but everyone knew it as iLab, and that itself was huge. I already had some traction in Charlottesville and wanted to create a centralized resource. There are so many small, local businesses here that really do care about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Honestly, being from Northern Virginia, I was also ready to get away from the highways. It’s so much more peaceful here. I live near the downtown mall and I’m able to go on great walks, which has been awesome during Covid-19. I love the neighborhoods here and I was relieved to find I could be relaxed outside of the UVA community, which I was nostalgic for at times. If you would like to learn more or get involved with VisitAble, please visit their website at the link here:

  • CYSK: Pertelle Gilmore

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the entrepreneurs, creatives, social innovators, and community champions who call Charlottesville home! Pertelle Gilmore Founder and CEO of BUCK Squad Hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia Favorite small business: Mel's Barber Shop Favorite place: Bench at Pen Park, by the Rivanna River Favorite community event: Any BUCK Squad event with the kids Favorite local restaurant: Mel's Cafe Tell us about your personal background. I was born to a fourteen-year-old single mother in a neighborhood we know as Westhaven. I was conceived out of a statutory rape; my father was a grown man, my mother was a fourteen-year-old little girl. My father was a street guy, running around the city doing the things that guys like him did in low-income, disenfranchised communities. They found their identity through gang life. They were destroying this city and their lives in the process. I was the first born out of nine kids. I was the first grandchild, first son, and first nephew. On my paternal side of the family, I was raised around dysfunctional alcoholism and addiction. On my maternal side, I was raised around functional alcoholism, which meant they went to work five days a week, but on the weekends, as we say in the hood, they’d “turn up.” It all laid an impression on me. I came up in an environment of violence; I used to watch my grandfather get drunk on the weekends and beat my grandmother and I watched my father, on the rare occasions I saw him, beat my mother. Even though we had the connection of Black love in my community, where we didn’t have to lock our doors, I used to see violence around me all the time. I had people that loved me, but they loved me in the ways that they were taught to love. A man would never tell another man that he loved him. If you got beaten for doing something wrong, you couldn’t cry. As a child, I came up hard, but I found a love for sports. I was a good football and basketball star. I released the destructive energy from the issues I wrestled with as a child on the football field as a running back. If I’d have had the support of my family through that process, I would have gone to the NFL. That’s how good I was. That’s one of my biggest regrets, but things happen for a reason. I don’t believe in coincidences or accidents, I believe in purpose. In the mid-’80s, the crack epidemic hit Charlottesville and I watched my mother’s best friends turn into demons overnight. I watched the city turn into demons, fiends for something as small as a white substance, and I watched it destroy the families and the people I loved. My mother went through a depression for about four months because individuals we loved were being destroyed by this new thing. Around the same time, she went through the loss of a child. I had eight siblings and things got real rough at one time. I’m not using this as justification, but I had to provide for my family and I started selling drugs. They were a gift and a curse for the community. When I sold that first drug, it became a lifestyle for me that lasted over 30 years. I’ve been all the way at the top of the drug game, and I’ve been all the way at the bottom, wrestling with the stuff I used to sell. I’ve experienced everything in between. Who is involved the BUCK Squad? Every member on my team was handpicked by Herb Dickerson and I, and they can now heal the community that they once destroyed. When we picked them, I told them “you owe this society” and if they felt like they didn’t, I ended the interview. All of us share similar backgrounds, being people who once were rulers of darkness. We’ve all been there. That’s what gives us the expertise to do the job that we do today. The age range goes all the way up to 70. A lot of us have been scarred by violence, most of us have felt the pain of fearing for our life, so we have the direct expertise to go out into these communities to help heal. What does the BUCK Squad do? We try to put people into a position where they have choices. We do that first and foremost by conflict resolution, 24 hours a day. We treat violence as a public health issue, no different than Covid-19. It has the potential to destroy life en masse, so we treat it like an epidemic. The first thing you do with an epidemic is cut the transmission. That’s our job. We identify the highest-risk transmitters, who we call high-risk participants, those who perpetrate acts of violence, those who have been to prison, and those that fit certain criteria. We identify those guys and then we go in and habilitate them and put them in a position where they can be effective fathers and sons, and be alive to take another breath. I believe that if we can save one, our job is done. I went to a guy’s house the other day to do a conflict resolution and I counted 37 guns in a 19-year-old’s bedroom. He had enough to supply a small militia. His mind was made up to go out and handle some business because one dude texted his girl. He had done work before; we call these guys “hitters.” We got there just in time and we talked him down. I begged him. I said, “I’m not trying to change your economics. I know you’re selling drugs, I know what you’re dealing with. I don’t want to change that now, but I want you to allow these kids to be out here. From 5-7pm, don’t sell drugs, don’t have any guns out here. When you are selling drugs, don’t have guns on you. When my squad [the BUCK Squad] comes through, give them respect and let them see that you don’t have anything on your waistline.” We did that and it happened. They give those kids two hours every day where they shut down shop over there. When we come through and canvas every day, they lift up their shirts to show us they don’t have any weapons on them. We also focus on the kids because my team believes in generational curses. We believe that this perpetual cycle of ignorance has been here for over 400 years. They think that nobody cares about them because of their complexion or because of where they live. We want to change that. We had an event last Sunday at Westhaven with the kids and they started crying when we were going to leave. That’s not normal. They wanted us to stay so they could stay outside. They’re all innocent kids; they shouldn’t have to worry about if a bullet is going to come through their window. We want to give them choices so they can be anything they want to be. That’s our responsibility and our obligation. They all deserve a chance. The first thing I tell anyone I encounter in this community is that I love them. Why are you passionate about your work? I always tell people, in my own humble opinion, “I’ve been everywhere but the moon and seen everything but the wind.” When it comes to street life, I’ve experienced all aspects of it and I’m still here, still standing. Of the guys I grew up with from the sandbox, my best friends, I’m the last one here. One was killed on November 3, 1999, and the other was killed on August 25, 2000, and they both died the same way: gun violence. They were both shot and killed in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and they bled to death as they cried for their life. I’ve been shot twice where the bullets actually went inside me, and at one point in my life, I would put on a bulletproof vest like a man would put on a belt. God kept me here for a reason. I am a believer that we are in a position to be partakers in a journey to change the trajectory of the entire community of Charlottesville because of our experiences. As we walk through life, we go through a lot of pain, but I believe that pain is the greatest motivating force on the planet, after love. How do you hope to impact the Charlottesville community? I consider Charlottesville to be the greatest city in America, no matter the past, no matter the scars. This is a wonderful city of second chances. I’m shameful that I once destroyed it through acts of violence, selling drugs, and through destroying entire families, indirectly and directly. I was the personification of what it was to be a gangster. Anybody who has a history here in this city knows my history. What used to be a curse hanging over my head is now a badge of honor because we go out here and we help people. We go out here with the kids and we save people. We’re going to save this city and these souls. Nobody’s going to die on my watch if I can help it. What is something you live by? “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you would like to learn more, make a donation, or get involved with the BUCK Squad please visit their website at the link here:

  • CYSK: Maggie Graff

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the entrepreneurs, creatives, social innovators, and community champions who call Charlottesville home! Maggie Graff Founder of Ignited Hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia Favorite small business: Darling Boutique or Sidetracks Music Favorite place: IX Art Park Favorite community event: VA Film Festival Favorite local restaurant: Lampo What is your educational and professional background? I grew up in Charlottesville and went to JMU for my undergraduate degree, where I studied Advertising and minored in Music Industry. Since then, I’ve moved to Richmond and completed the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Business of Art & Design online graduate program. That curriculum is geared towards creative entrepreneurship and finalizing an entire business plan. Originally, I started the program wanting to elevate my music industry freelance photography business, and ended up creating “Ignited.” What does Ignited do? Ignited is an online, membership-based community serving the Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia music industry! Think of it as a central resource for all involved in the music scene in Central VA, from musician to fan and everyone in-between. Its main features include the streamlined event calendar, industry specific groups, music book club, and monthly giveaways from local music businesses. Ignited provides a space for music lovers and industry individuals to network, promote their projects, and stay in the know of everything that’s going on locally. For example, there’s a “Feedback/Critiques” group for those who want direct insight on their current projects from others. There’s also an “In Search Of/Selling” group meant for those on the hunt for new bandmates, specific gear, event tickets, and more. Members who sign up in the first couple months after Ignited launches are able to get their first three months completely free, and then after that, members can subscribe on a monthly or annual basis. Why are you passionate about your work? I had a unique angle into the Central VA music industry from my music photographer vantage point. I distinctly remember wanting to meet other female music photographers in the Richmond area when I first moved, and realizing there wasn’t a direct resource I could consult to broaden my network. This is when I got to thinking about providing something larger scope than my freelance music photography. There’s such a dynamic, diverse, and talented network in both Cville and RVA music that I wanted to assist in bringing everyone together. It was through my experience as a music photographer that made me better understand the local industry’s unsolved needs, like that of a centralized community resource accessible to all involved in the Charlottesville & Richmond music industry. How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community? This is a platform centered around cross-connectivity, promotion, and growth within the local music industry, and my top priority is to maintain that objective. If I can manage that, then I’ve accomplished everything I’ve set out to do with Ignited. I hope that no matter your involvement or association with local music, Ignited can help you elevate and expand upon that experience. What is something you're looking forward to? Ignited’s official launch! The Ignited platform goes live on May 1, 2021! Starting at midnight, you can go to, signup, and you’ll get the first three months for free using code “IGNITED90”. If you’re interested in becoming an Ignited Brand Ambassador, an Ignited Partner, or simply learning more, you can reach out to Maggie directly at Follow along with the Ignited experience by also following Ignited on Instagram: @ignitedva! Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • CYSK: Chris Farina

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the leaders, changemakers, and community members who call Charlottesville home Chris Farina Director at Rosalia Films Hometown: Baltimore, MD Years lived in Charlottesville: Over 30 Favorite small business: The Chili Shop (now closed, but featured in West Main Street) Favorite place in Charlottesville: The Corner parking lot (not the lot, but the people) Films mentioned over the course of this interview: Route 40 (1986) West Main Street (1995) Holistic Life Foundation (2015) World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements (2010) Seats at the Table (2018) Pep Banned (coming soon) Death Becomes You (coming soon) What is your educational and professional background? I came to school here at UVA and I ended up majoring in American Government. I came here with an interest in government and also creative writing. There was this one adjunct professor who taught film in the English Department, before we had a Media Studies department, who I had for three different classes on film. It was more about film criticism, which is what really led to my first film. For the last class I had with her, I actually started a documentary film instead of writing a thesis paper. Even after I graduated, I worked on an election in Baltimore and even at City Hall, but the film kind of took over. The first film I did (Route 40) was with Reid Oechslin, who was the long time manager of Vinegar Hill Theater, about a five mile stretch of an urban highway in Baltimore. There was a more famous documentary filmmaker in town at the time, Ross Spears, who would charge very little for the editing, as long as we were working after 11pm and before 7am. This was all back in the 16mm film days. So I was traveling back and forth to Charlottesville because of editing, and was working at the Corner Parking Lot at the same time because it was one of the few jobs where you could sleep through it during the day, when it was slow, and then work through the night. Right when Route 40 was finished, I was going to move back to Baltimore, but the parking lot business fell into my hands. It wasn’t really part of the plan but it just happened, back in 1986. The parking lot has allowed me to continue to make films because I’ve never been great at the fundraising aspect. Where does the name Rosalia come from? My grandmother, Rosalia, was a poor immigrant from Sicily back in the 1920’s and I was looking into making a film about a bocce festival in Little Italy in Baltimore. That’s when I started the company. The film didn’t happen, I wasn’t able to raise the money, but the name stuck. What makes you passionate about your work? I’ve always had this approach of looking at a microlevel. West Main Street was technically about Charlottesville, and the stories and memories of individuals of the 20th century here. It’s also kind of universal though, when you focus on individuals. There’s real relevance that could go anywhere, not just for Charlottesville. The same thing is true when you focus on one class in the education system. I’d much rather be in a particular classroom and watch the dynamics of the individuals, than doing a big documentary on education in the country. When I’m inspired by what I see, I want to share that emotional feeling with an audience. How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community? There’s such inspiration in the everyday people who contribute to their community. In many ways, we need to recognize that as individuals when we walk down the street. That doesn’t just mean somebody who’s out there advocating for social change. It could be as simple as a guy who has been running a business, who has created real relationships in this community, and is a really positive force. Educators in many ways are not given the recognition that they deserve. They’re almost like parents in that they’re teaching the next generation and passing on the ability to adapt to the world, as these younger people are becoming adults. To me, honoring that and inspiring an audience, gives me a lot of hope. What's been a favorite recent project of yours? There are two new films in particular, that are a little different from my previous films. One is pretty funny – the old UVA Pep Band was hilarious – I remember watching UVA get beat by 40 at halftime, when everyone would hang out and watch the halftime show and then leave. One person who was a former field conductor of the band approached me, and we’re actually just starting our pitch for funding. When Covid ends, we’re going to immediately hit the ground and do a film of that band, and talk to a lot of the past members, and maybe even host a reunion performance. I’m really looking forward to it as a fun project. I see it as laughs from the start to the end. I’d already started filming the other one, and then because of Seats at the Table and dealing with the logistics of working with the prison bureaucracy, I had to put it to the side. When we finally got permission to film Seats at the Table, I felt like I had to do it right away. If there had been a change in administration, they could have easily pulled me right back out. Now, it’s more about preparing for the end of Covid and then hitting the ground running. Death Becomes You is a film I’ve been wanting to make for about 20 years. The idea is how to get people to be less afraid of the subject of death. It’s isn’t about dying, it’s more about our perspectives on death. The approach that I’m taking is: if you can imagine a body right after death, imagine the journey that body goes through over a few days, from the death to the grave, and the people whose daily work is part of that journey. We’ve already filmed the UVA Hospital, a hospice house, a guy who cuts the lawn at graveyards, a gravestone carver, and a gospel singer who sings at funerals. People who deal with death on an everyday basis demystify it a bit. I don’t see it as a somber film. For example, we asked the gravestone carver: “What’s the funniest gravestone you’ve ever carved?” (It had two beer steins on the sides.) I want to demystify it and get people laughing as well, so they recognize the reality that death is the same as birth: it’s part of life. Who is inspiring you right now? I’ve been inspired by a number of the people and the work that I’ve portrayed in my films. For me as an individual, it gives you a boost to see the great things that everyday people do for their community, even if they don’t normally get much attention. For me as a filmmaker, I ask myself: How do I shine a light on these people’s good work? I see myself as a listener, and in that sense, the film doesn’t necessarily come from me with an agenda. Instead, it’s asking: How can I be an observer and see what’s in front of me? And then the film comes from the subject. What is something you're looking forward to? I’m hoping when we hear the good news about potential vaccines… I’m thinking 2021 will be the year I get two films out there. Covid has almost got me pumped for when it’s over and I can get back to work, as opposed to just sitting in the Corner parking lot. Usually my projects take 4-6 years, because of funding and everything else. I’m hoping I might change that timeline a bit. Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • CYSK: Caroline Emerson

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the leaders, changemakers, and community members who call Charlottesville home Caroline Emerson Vice President of Community Engagement and Campaigns United Way of Greater Charlottesville Hometown: Jackson, TN Years lived in Charlottesville: 27 Favorite small business: The English Gardener Favorite local restaurants: The Alley Light, Brasserie Saison, Tavola, and Orzo Kitchen Favorite community event: Community Table Favorite place in Charlottesville: Her screened-in porch What is your educational and professional background? I always went to really small schools. My high school graduating class had six people in it, which was great because you got to do everything: you could be the editor of the yearbook and the star on the basketball team. Then I went to Sewanee, which is the University of the South, another small liberal arts college. I originally thought I was going to go to Medical School because my mother was a physician and I spent my youth toiling behind her, going to the emergency room, and working for her summer after summer. When I got to college, I realized I hate Microbiology and Organic Chemistry, so I shifted dramatically and ended up majoring in Philosophy. My dad was a theater major and ended up in radio, doing the General Manager side of stuff. So I guess that side of my personality sort of won out: I was really into theater growing up as well. Philosophy lets you think about how to frame arguments, and be very logical, and all those things. After college, I ended up going to work for the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. It’s an enormous Arts organization with international performers doing really cool stuff. I met everyone from Elmo to really cool international companies that would come in and take over the place. I did museum tours when I first got started, then I worked my way into the Public Relations department, became the PR Director, and then moved over to the development side and got into fundraising there. I really learned the 360 of nonprofits there and also got to work in the arts which was super cool. I’ve been in nonprofits the whole time, but I’ve been with United Way for 26 years. I think my funniest job was selling socks on the street in New York for a couple summers! What does United Way do? We focus on financial stability, school readiness, and connected community. We allocate resources, whether that’s leadership, time, skills, or dollars, to solution-oriented organizations and initiatives that address things in those areas. We’re all about trying to create opportunities and overcome equity discrepancies. The overarching goal is to reduce poverty in Charlottesville and our surrounding community. United Ways are all completely autonomous, local organizations. We are connected through a trade association. This is really important because we are not like Salvation Armies or Red Crosses or anything, we’re just not set up that way. We’re totally local and autonomous, but we are connected. We can share information and resources, which is really important during times of national emergencies. It’s a great way for us to get ideas from each other and learn from what other United Ways have been doing. What makes you passionate about your work? The people that we work with! When you get to know or hear about a family... for example, you have a mom with little kids, and is working two jobs, and she’s also taking classes, and she’s doing everything she possibly can to make a better life for her children… that’s inspiring. That’s hard work. It’s always the people; there are amazingly resilient people. My colleagues and coworkers are also astounding passionate, compassionate, brilliant people. We support each other. It’s always about the people. Charlottesville’s a small town with a lot of big town ideals and brain power. How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community? Our original statement is for a strong equitable community, where every person thrives. That is something that is a real driving force for us. We’re trying to attack discrepancies and inequities on a systems level. That takes a lot of work and a lot of time, but we also need to keep listening and learning. We want to reduce poverty, especially in Black families because they are disproportionately impacted by these things. That is really what we’re committed to. We’re launching some community-wide goals related to poverty reduction in the coming year, so tune in for that! What's been a favorite recent project of yours? It’s got to be the virtual Community Table that we just did with Tom Tom! I’m really passionate about our Community Tables anyway, the whole idea. Back in 2017, I was deeply involved with beginning that project. It has been so transformative to hear the experiences of people… just when you think you’ve learned something, there’s so much more to learn, so many different perspectives, and so many different experiences. Every time we go through that process, I learn something more about the lives of other people and how I can impact them, for good or for bad. It really makes you see how connected we all are and how important it is that we stay connected. Check out the Community Table recordings from this past summer on our YouTube channel! Who is inspiring you right now? There are a lot of people in Charlottesville that inspire me, so to pick one is really hard. One person that has been rising to the top lately is Leah Puryear. She is the Director of the Upward Bound program at UVA, on the Charlottesville City School Board, and she was a Community Table host. She’s actually been a Community Table host from the beginning, which is how I got to know her. Upward Bound is a program that works with kids in high school, that traditionally would have limited access to college resources, to help get them ready to go to college. Leah is a force of nature with an enormous heart! It just so happens that her mother and my mother live together at a retirement community, and they actually know each other too! It’s kind of sweet. What is something you're looking forward to? Everyone is looking forward to getting a handle on the pandemic, of course. I know that for every answer, that’s the bottom line: we’ve all got to get back to something. For me, one thing I look forward to getting back to is a warm Saturday night on the downtown mall with music, laughter, and people waving at each other. That’s very much Charlottesville to me. That’s one of my experiences of Charlottesville. That’s certainly not the only experience of Charlottesville for a lot of people, but for me, I really miss that. Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • CYSK: Antwon Brinson

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the leaders, changemakers, and community members who call Charlottesville home Antwon Brinson Founder, Owner, and President of Culinary Concepts AB "Just call me Chef" Hometown: Niagara Falls, NY Years lived in Charlottesville: 5 Favorite small business: Forezee Marketing "Most patronized" local restaurant: La Michoacana Taqueria & Restaurant What is your educational and professional background? I’m a graduate of the Culinary Center of America in upstate New York, and a graduate of the Greenbrier Apprenticeship Program, which is a three year apprenticeship. I spent the last 15 years travelling nationally and internationally with the philosophy of really understanding culture to give me a better understanding of cuisine. On that journey, I’ve been a teacher, a mentor, and an educator through cooking. I found that I gravitate more towards that aspect of the kitchen. I love building teams, I love building people, and that’s really what’s allowed me to travel and do what I’ve done. I got pretty good at it over the years. So fast forward to about three and a half years ago: I saw a problem in our industry, and me being as passionate as I am about teaching, saw it as a great opportunity to launch a company that provided training for folks who wanted to be in the industry. I always like to refer back to, at some point in my life or my career, someone gave me an opportunity. Regardless of if it was a teacher giving me the opportunity to join a culinary competition, which led to me going on to college, or if it was me being a dishwasher and a chef giving me an opportunity to work the line, or the general manager giving me the opportunity to spread my wings through hospitality. Throughout my career, there have been individuals who have opened my eyes to the different facets of this industry. Those opportunities are what allowed me to really grow, travel, and achieve my goals. My organization is all about giving individuals opportunities, so it’s extremely important for them to be able to recognize what an opportunity looks like and how it could help shape them in this industry. What's the origin story of Culinary Concepts? When I launched my company, it started with the question: Are there any training programs or organizations out there designed to give people the foundational skills to become a professional and have a career pathway in culinary? When I really dove into it, there were only 3 organizations nationally (that I could find) that were doing anything remotely close to what I wanted to do. I said, “What if I created an organization here in Charlottesville that focused on giving people opportunities and giving employers qualified individuals to work in their kitchens?” I stepped away from my job as Executive Chef and launched a company. After the first 3 months, I had my first program off the ground, and after 4 months, I had my first class graduate. From there, the rest was history. It just took off. What does Culinary Concepts offer? When you look at the organization as a whole, my mission statement is “reach one, teach one.” Because everything that we do is about education and helping people connect to resources. Regardless of if that’s a training program or a workshop or a cooking class. Anybody that comes to Culinary Concepts can expect to get three things: We’re going to educate you You’re going to have a lot of fun We’re going to give you some tools to help you on your culinary journey Whatever facet you come to us (training program, workshop, or cooking class), we want to make sure that you leave with an abundance of value and feel empowered to do more within your culinary journey. Why are you passionate about your work? Going back as far as when I first started, there’s always been a shortage of qualified people to work in the kitchen. What I found was that, over the last 5 years, that’s been amplified so much because people aren’t really interested in working in kitchens anymore. When you look at how the industry has been diversified with the Food Network and all of these different positions available for people to work in the industry, but not necessarily in the kitchen, there is a new generation of cooks who don’t feel like they need to be on the line anymore. A lot of the folks that are in kitchens, it’s low-hanging fruit. They needed a job or they had an opportunity to work the line and enjoyed it and they're there. How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community? When I moved to Charlottesville, I didn’t understand the lay of the land. Charlottesville has over 500 restaurants in a 10 mile radius. It’s third per capita with most restaurants in the nation. That’s comparable to New York and San Francisco. When you look at the workforce, we don’t really have an educational system that’s designed to pump out qualified individuals. A lot of those folks in the industry in Charlottesville don’t want to go to college, they’re just looking for a way to take care of their family or increase their skills, so they can continue to live the lifestyle that they want to live. When I decided to launch my company, it was purely based on what I was seeing. I had a kitchen full of people that loved cooking, that were passionate about cooking. Some people had been in the industry for 5 years, some people 10 years, but they only had station-specific skills. And what I mean by that is they could work pantry, they spent 5 years in the industry working pantry, and now they’re making $5 more than what they started at, but they’ve only learned one skill set. Who is inspiring you right now? Tanya Holland is doing some really cool stuff. She started out her podcast with Questlove! Like who starts with Questlove? That’s freaking awesome! Her philanthropic side is huge. She’s on the James Beard Foundation, like on their board. She’s a part of some national organizations that are creating true impact, nationally. I think that as chefs, a lot of the time, we work in silos. Not a lot of chefs have the mindset to find creative ways to connect with their community. They just focus on their customers. I think Tanya’s perspective and education and background, all that wrapped together has created a powerhouse of personality, a motivator, and an icon that could really inspire a new generation of people. To hear more from Antwon and Tanya on the hospitality sector, watch this! What's something you are looking forward to? When Covid hit, I launched an online platform where we’re doing online cooking classes and I partnered with a company that works with local farms so we get fresh produce for our classes, so I still get to do things with the community and do what I love to do. I would say I’m super excited about the fact that right now, hospitality is in crisis mode. When your back is against the wall, in any industry, something comes out of it. I think about my business... When Covid hit, all my stuff stopped. My back was against the wall and it pushed me to get creative and go back to the drawing board to find a way to make it happen. Hospitality is a billion dollar industry. It’s not going anywhere. It’s just going to change and evolve. I’m really excited about the possibilities of what can come from that. I’m really proud to see so many for-profits and nonprofits, and even government organizations and schools, working together to solve a common problem. I’m excited about where we’re at and I’m excited about where it’s going. Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • 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 Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge 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? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • 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. Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • CYSK: Miriam Gordon-Stewart

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the entrepreneurs, creatives, social innovators, and community champions who call Charlottesville home! Miriam Gordon-Stewart Co-Founder and Artistic Director at Victory Hall Opera Hometown: Adelaide, Australia Years lived in Charlottesville: 6 Favorite small business: Market Street Wine Favorite place: Blue Ridge Parkway Favorite community event: PVCC Let There Be Light Favorite local restaurant(s): Alley Light, Tavola, MarieBette What is your educational and professional background? I dropped out of high school, so I never got a formal degree. I started working professionally in opera from a very early age. I was one of the youngest people to join the state company where I lived at age 17. That was an unusual path for an opera singer; it is completely normal for many people to complete multiple degrees and training programs first, but I started learning on the job straightaway. I sang all over Australia and then moved to Germany to sing leading roles at a house in Hamburg, and that led to more roles in many of the great opera houses of the world. At a certain point, I grew a bit dissatisfied with that lifestyle and with the kind of work I was able to do in the traditional industry. I longed to have a little more control over the projects that I did and I wanted to be able to form projects myself, bring together casts and concepts, take opera into a new space it hadn’t been taken before, and reach new audiences with a new, more contemporary style of opera. The way to do that for me was to co-found Victory Hall Opera here in Charlottesville in 2015. This is now our sixth season in 2021. Who is involved with Victory Hall Opera? The two co-founders, myself and Brenda Patterson, run the company and are also singers. We have a troupe of twelve singers, most of whom are the same people that we started the company with six years ago. When we started the company, we really wanted to try the troupe model; at the time, we were the only one in America. It’s something you find a lot of in the theater world and the dance world, but it’s not at all common in opera. Our group is made up of some of the most special, most interesting, groundbreaking performers that we had all heard about. We sent them all invitations, asking them to join us in this undertaking, and they all accepted. The people in the troupe are not Charlottesville residents; they’re some of the most successful singers in the country, living all over the United States. They come into Charlottesville over and over again in different roles, doing different jobs. One of our singers is also a composer, so we’re commissioning him to write an opera this year. The idea is that when you work with the same people over and over again, you develop a real rapport with them, intimacy, and a sense of trust. The kind of work that you can then produce is really different; we can push the boundaries much further because we know each other and we know how to work together. Our troupe has also become a part of the community. They know the town, they have businesses that they support here, and some of them have local sponsors now for their performances. These relationships build over time and they become a part of the community, even if they don’t live here. What does VHO do? We do a wide range of programming; we’re a year-round company. We perform in alternative venues, so you generally won’t find us in a traditional theater. We convert spaces around town for performances most of the time, and we perform in unusual places for opera to take place. Usually, we do three smaller-scale events during the year, involving 1-2 people, and then we generally do one fully staged opera every calendar year as well. Last year, we had to cancel our full opera, like the rest of the country and the rest of the world had to do, but we really wanted to keep those contracts in place and keep paying our artists. The rug was pulled out from under every artist in the country and it was a really hard time. We really wanted to find a way to keep the project in place but to reimagine it. So it turned into a documentary film all about the effect of Covid on artists and on our cast. The artists filmed themselves at home, documenting their lives, and then we brought them to Charlottesville for a week to record the soundtrack in a professional studio environment. They were not singing through their iPhones; we produced a really high-quality recording that is available separately from the film. We just released it this past Saturday night (3/27) and the response from the opera community has been pretty overwhelming so far. It’s really struck a chord with people, for obvious reasons. Why did you choose Charlottesville? I moved here to start Victory Hall six years ago because we originally had a co-founder who was from Charlottesville. She convinced us that this would be a good place to start the company that we had planned together. Charlottesville is a little bit outside of the eye of the opera industry. It’s not a big city but it’s a city with a really engaged theatre community. People go and see things all the time and have a hunger for new ideas. Over the course of the past year especially, we have been so overwhelmed by the support we have received. What it has meant is that we were able to keep going, we were able to produce the film last year without any ticket revenue, and make it through until we released it this year. Our support base in Charlottesville, and beyond, responded to the fact that we were in this perilous situation. They also really responded to the fact that we were still offering opportunities to artists and supporting them. If there’s one thing people have come to understand during Covid, it’s how fragile the arts are. Why are you passionate about your work? Being a singer is an identity. It’s something that you discover about yourself usually very early on. Little kids who are destined to be opera singers are quite often walking around the house impersonating sounds and other singers, and they’re very good at it. I grew up listening to a very wide range of music, but I knew early on that some of the things I could do with my voice were special. I knew I wanted to be some kind of performer, and as soon as I went to see an opera for the first time at age 14, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. I was absolutely driven from that point on, once I knew that that was a career that existed. That’s when I started training vocally and nothing else mattered from that point on, which is part of the reason why the other academic stuff didn’t seem important to me. Why have I stuck with it? I don’t know. I feel like if you can make a living doing the thing that thrills you, you’re a very lucky person. I had a blessed career, I had successes and breaks that went my way. I certainly worked really hard as well, but I think everyone is dependent on a lot of luck in this industry. I had that up until a point. If I hadn’t started VHO six years ago, I may have left the industry because structurally, it’s a very hard place to work. It’s competitive. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for personal relationships, or a home life, or any of that nice stuff. The fact that now I get to create, direct, write, and still perform, but perform in projects that really do it for me, has kept me in the industry. What is something you're looking forward to? On March 12, we're hosting a Facebook Live discussion about our film UNSUNG. Two cast members, Victor Ryan Robertson and Carlton Ford, will join me and the three of us will be interviewed by Tracy Cox, who is an Instagram sensation and also a world-class soprano. We’ll talk about the film, but also the state of opera in general. We’ll talk about the experiences that we all have as opera singers and how our lives before Covid were already financially insecure. It’s always been hard as an artist going gig to gig. As a singer, if you get sick, you don’t get paid. It’s all pretty tenuous. We’ll also talk about being in a film: that experience is definitely a new one for the whole cast. I’ve never directed a film before, so I’m sure Tracy will ask about my process for gathering the footage from people remotely, weaving it together, and trying to tell these stories in a really honest way. Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

  • CYSK: Alex London-Gross

    A glimpse into the daily lives, inspirations, and stories of the leaders, changemakers, and community members who call Charlottesville home Alex London-Gross Executive Director at The PB&J Fund Hometown: Philadelphia, PA Years lived in Charlottesville: 7 Favorite small business: Market Street Market Favorite place: Shenandoah National Park Favorite community event: BANFF Film Festival Favorite local restaurant: Lampo What is your educational and professional background? I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s in Public Health. I have always felt very motivated towards trying to create healthier environments for people to live in; that is a part of what brought me to the PB&J Fund. I’ve had a pretty diverse career path. I worked for the YMCA for almost 7 years and have had several different roles for them: I did some policy work for YMCAs across the state of Virginia, then went on to a national consulting role where I was helping other states think through policy and systems change that would center community-based organizations in a healthcare system, rather than it being a hospital as the center of healthcare. I was a volunteer at PB&J when I first moved to Charlottesville, which is how I got that connection. I was thrilled when the opportunity was presented to me to come back to Charlottesville and to be able to work with them. It’s really exciting to be doing something at a local level, that is directly impacting the community where I live. What does the PB&J Fund do? We are a nonprofit and we have a commercial kitchen downtown, across the street from the library, where we’d traditionally hold all of our programming. In a past, typical school year, we run programs that are aimed at children and families who come from historically under-resourced communities. We run three different programs throughout the academic year: Chef Kids – our traditional afterschool program, where we work with partners like the Boys and Girls Club and Friendship Court. Students come to us after school and learn how to make a healthy meal, and then actually get to sit down and enjoy it with our volunteers and with each other. Chef for a Day – designed for Kindergarten through 3rd Grade classrooms in both the city and the county. Students can come for a one-time exposure, make a simple recipe, but get to have an experience at PB&J and an introductory nutrition lesson. Chef Families – in partnership with Ready Kids and Young Lives. Parents come in once a month and learn how to make a family-friendly, easy recipe and go home with a bag of groceries to then recreate it for their families. Obviously, with the pandemic, all of that ended pretty abruptly in March. We decided to pivot to just do food distribution. We recognized the extreme financial pressures being put on families and wanted to ensure that the decision between paying the electric bill and buying groceries wasn’t something families had trouble with. So starting in March and running through August, we did a weekly food delivery for families that were identified by the city schools. They got things that were relatively shelf-stable like macaroni and cheese and canned soup, but then some fresh produce as well. With the return to the school year, we decided to go to a once-a-month model, which is more similar to what we’d do every December with our Holiday Giving program. Families receive a larger portion of food and more produce, as a way to help sustain them throughout the month. We’re focusing on trying to ensure that families have the resources they need, knowing that kids are home more during the day. While they may still have access to school food, they’ve probably lost the snack that was being provided to them or there could still be some financial hardships that families are experiencing. What makes you passionate about your work? I went to school in Philadelphia and stayed in the city after I graduated, working in a traditional healthcare setting. I came across an article written by one of the professors at Drexel that talked about a Photovoice Project with women who lived in North Philadelphia, that was tracking their experience with food insecurity. It talked a lot about the general demographics in the city, and how food insecurity can be dialed down into zip codes. There are some Congressional districts within the city that are some of the more food insecure districts within the United States. My zip code was one of the ones that happened to be in a food insecure Congressional district. That felt insane to me, because I lived in the center of the city and would pass a Whole Foods on my walk home from work every day. I thought to myself, “There is clearly something very different with my experience versus other people that live less than a mile away from me. What does this mean?” I started reading a lot and trying to understand what that meant and how that could be such a vastly different lived experience. I got really involved with an organization there called Philabundance, which is the large foodbanking network in the Philadelphia region, and just learned a ton about poverty, and racism, and how a two block radius can change things so drastically for people. I walked by grocery stores everyday, but if there wasn’t a grocery store a mile away, what would that mean for a mom who has kids and has to take the bus or public transportation and carry all the groceries back? That was my initial journey into the food system world and was the tipping point as well in terms of what I wanted to do in grad school. How would you like to impact the Charlottesville community? I think that the greatest impact that any of us could have in this social service space is to lead to policy or system change that helps create true equity in our community. The Food Justice Network has this great slogan where they want Charlottesville to become a “Food-E city” (food equitable) city. I think that there are so many of us who come from a position of privilege, who see Charlottesville as this incredibly rich community with tons of restaurants and lots of access to local producers. There are so many barriers in place and so many inequities in terms of being able to access food across our community. I think the greatest thing we could do is to think about how we can continue to use our resources in a way that begins to level the playing field, especially for kids. No child chooses to live in a lower-resource community or to be faced with systemic racism that will lead to inequities in the way they grow up. As an organization, we need to be thinking “What can we do to ensure that kids have access to healthy food on a daily basis? What sort of systems can be put in place to make sure that they’re successful in school and they’re not hungry when they show up at the beginning of the school day, whether that’s in a real school building or virtually on their computer right now?” For me, that’s the thing that I think about the most. What is something you're looking forward to? I think that there is so much potential and opportunity, not just for PB&J but for a lot of nonprofits, to use this time in history as a moment to pivot and say: “We will not go back to the way things were. Our eyes are now open from the racial reckoning that our country has had to do that got the tipping point of the death and murder of George Floyd.” My team has been doing the work to be more thoughtful about race, to figure our what it means to be an organization led by a white woman in our community, and to be more intentional about becoming an anti-racist organization. I think that having this time with the pandemic, when we’re not running traditional programming and being able to slow down and be thoughtful about what happens next, and saying “we want things to be different,” is actually really exciting. It’s also really scary to not know what exactly we’ll do or what things will look like, but I think there are a lot of organizations who are asking themselves those questions and it’s absolutely the right thing for any of us to be doing. Ready for more? We'll be highlighting a new C-villian in every edition of our Com Com Newsletter! Subscribe here.

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