Supporting a cause ‘worth fighting for’
When Pendle Whisnant used to drive past the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls (VHBG) entrance on Broad Street, she often wondered what went on inside those entrance gates.
As Whisnant was to find out, not that much was happening – other than a few dozen lives being changed.
Established in 1846, the non-profit VHBG has served since then as a home for more than 20,000 at-risk youth, with significant challenges ranging from mental illness and abandonment to abuse and neglect.
Approximately 50 teen-agers at a time live on the campus, guided by a married couple residing in each of the six group homes. With the help of those surrogate parents, the youth experience what is for some the first healthy home environment or stability they have ever known.
VHBG also serves as an alternative school for teens who have not succeeded through the traditional educational system. About 60 children, including some from the home, attend John G. Wood School on the campus; others attend J.R. Tucker High School.
It was at John G. Wood School that Whisnant – the mother of two teens, including an autistic son – found her home as well.
"I have tutored for years," she says, "and thought it might be a good fit for me and my background."
Growing up without a father, and with a mother widowed with three children under the age of five, Whisnant says she feels "a special affinity" for residents who have lost parents or been permanently or temporarily removed from their homes. Her mother, she says, also led by example in finding ways to keep her children "ever mindful of the needs of others."
In addition to tutoring in math at the school, Whisnant helps students prepare for standardized tests, and volunteers in the online learning class tutoring other subjects.
"I help students with everything from Spanish to science," Whisnant says. "Most of what I do is to encourage them and make sure they really try. I also try to identify their strengths and learning styles so we can build on them."
On Feb. 6, at an awards event held to recognize key members in the VHBG community, Whisnant was honored as the organization's Volunteer of the Year. But much as Whisnant appreciated the honor, she says she finds the everyday moments and rewards just as sweet. She has seen students move from reluctance to delight at the chance to work with her – even to the point that they kiddingly tell their classmates that Whisnant is there only for them.
"[My reward] is the light in their eyes when they see me at the door," she says, "and the moment that I show them they are capable of doing something that they just finished telling me they didn't know how to do."
Another supporter recognized at the Feb. 6 award ceremony was Michael Harlow, director and founder of Endorphin Fitness, who was named VHBG Partner of the Year. Harlow and his staff organized a youth triathlon event that raised $6,500 for the organization last year, and they plan to hold the benefit event again – as well as lead a fitness day for the VHBG community every quarter.
Harlow says that after founding Endorphin Fitness, he searched for many years for an organization for his business to get behind.
"Nothing really pulled on my heart," he says, "until I learned about the VHBG."
Immediately drawn to the VHBG mission and to the youth at the home, Harlow and his staff set up a program that used energy bar wrappers to produce recycled items, which were sold to benefit VHBG.
To raise additional funds and build community awareness, the staff organized a youth triathlon, preceded by a one-week youth triathlon camp with both VHBG residents and community members participating.
Held in August on the VHBG campus, the 2012 triathlon attracted 70 children; Harlow expects at least 100 this year, and hopes for more memories like the one he cherishes of two VHBG residents crossing the triathlon finish line.
"At the beginning of camp, both had doubts on whether they could complete the race," Harlow says, "so it was a great celebration to see them accomplish their goal."
He and his staff have developed a close attachment to the youth at VHBG, Harlow says.
"We have a heart for kids who are put in tough situations [through] no fault of their own," he says. "They are all good kids who can accomplish greatness if given the means to do so. They need positive influences in their lives . . . and catalysts to make change.
"These kids are worth fighting for."
The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.
The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)
The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.
For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.
The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.
The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.
Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.
Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.
‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise
Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.
They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.
As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.
Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.
There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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