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."
Holman Middle School student Victoria Nguyen recently was named Miss Virginia American Coed Junior Teen after competing in the Miss Virginia American Coed pageant in Williamsburg. She was the youngest competitor in her division. Nguyen now will advance to represent Virginia at the 2015 Miss American Junior Teen Pageant at Walt Disney World in Florida in November. > Read more.
Companion Extraordinaire Home Care and Skilled Services will be honoring veterans and current military members May 14 at 11 a.m. The event will take place at 5311 Lakeside Avenue.
Companion Extraordinaire dedicated a hall in its new Lakeside office as a “Wall of Honor” and will be presenting 13 military service men and women with certificates as well as placing their service photos on the wall.
> Read more.
Public vote open through Friday to select winner
Citizen Staff Reports
Henrico resident Haley Malloy is one of three national finalists for a $10,000 scholarship, whose winner will be determined by the vote of the public.
Malloy is a finalist for The Goddard School Anthony A. Martino Scholarship, which is open annually to any high school junior or senior who graduated from a Goddard School pre-kindergarten or kindergarten program. Applicants are evaluated based upon the work ethic and perseverance they have demonstrated – two key characteristics of Martino, the founder of the Goddard School franchise system. > Read more.
Disneynature’s ‘Monkey Kingdom’ is its strongest yet
“Did you know monkeys could swim?” asks Tina Fey in Monkey Kingdom. While she’s asking, a toque macaque (a two foot-long monkey with red-white fur and great hair) breast-strokes under the surface of a pond, yanking out lily pad flowers by her teeth and dragging them ashore to munch later.
Turns out monkeys can swim. And slide down telephone poles. And do the thing from Flashdance where you bring down a cascade of water on your head and shake it off in slow-motion.
All will happen in Monkey Kingdom, the eighth film in nine years from Disneynature, Disney’s wildlife documentary outlet. > Read more.
Relax this holiday weekend with Fridays Uncorked at Southern Season – taste wines from the Roman Empire! Or at James River Cellars who is hosting “Experience Virginia” – sample Virginia wine, beer, cider and mead. And what goes better with wine than strawberries – an annual tradition in Varina, the Gallmeyer Farms’ Strawberry Fields Festival is tomorrow. Other fun happenings this weekend include: “A Little Princess” at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen; weekly dance at American Legion Post 125; and National Theatre Live’s “Man and Superman” at the University of Richmond. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Final performance of 2015 season – ‘Quartet’ – starts this week
CAT Theatre’s final show of its 51st season – Quartet by Ronald Harwood – will open May 22 and run through June 6. It will be the show’s Richmond-area premiere.
The theatre also announced its four-show schedule for its 52nd season, which will begin in October and continue into June 2016, and announced a new partnership with The Bifocals Theatre Project, an outreach program into senior communities in the Richmond region. > Read more.
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CalendarThe Richmond Choral Society will present “Sentimental Journey III” from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Henrico Theatre, 305 E. Nine Mile Rd. The concert includes jazz and swing music… Full text