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 threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.
The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.
A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”
The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.
The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.
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CalendarLewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Ave., will present Flowers After 5 on Thursday evenings through August. Stroll through the gardens and enjoy wine, music and dining al fresco. There… Full text