Teen queen

Niasia Ellis made asthma awareness her platform in the Miss Virginia Teen Essence competition, which she won earlier this year.
On the surface, it appears as if Niasia Ellis is a typical teenager. She is a rising sophomore at a high school in Richmond, is involved in athletics at school and programs at her church and loves making new friends.

A deeper look, however, reveals that she is anything but typical.

Ellis attends Open High School, an alternative public high school in the city of Richmond that emphasizes community service, college-level coursework and student self-governance. She plays not one sport but six – basketball, track and field, swimming, gymnastics, tennis and cheerleading – and has been rock climbing, rappelling, zip-lining, canoeing and kayaking. She participates with the Mime Ministry and is a soprano member of the youth choir at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church, but still finds time to spend with friends and family.

Earlier this year, Ellis was crowned Miss Virginia Teen Essence. And recently,as part of the Chickahominy YMCA Leader’s Club (which teaches teenagers how to better serve their community), Ellis attended the Blue Ridge Leaders School, a week-long school that focuses on physical fitness and helps students build and form stronger leadership skills.

Although Ellis has only been part of the Leader’s Club for three short months, she has already positively affected the group, Chickahominy YMCA Teen Director Adam Burgess said.

“She has made a huge impression, as far as her input and relationship-building skills with the rest of the team is concerned,” he said. “She brings in a positive energy filled with laughter and a higher standard for academics and physical fitness. She is a blessing to our group and we have enjoyed her passion for the club and what it stands for.”

Considering that she is so involved in athletics, it may be surprising to some that Ellis has suffered from asthma since being diagnosed at the age of four. But by taking preventative measures and learning exactly what triggers an attack,she’s been able to achieve her athletic and personal goals despite the affliction, said her mother, Ayasha Sledge.

“She is committed to making sure other young people who suffer from this condition know that they do not have to live in constant fear of having an attack or limit their goals due to asthma,”Sledge said.

Because of this, Ellis’ platform that contributed to her Miss Virginia Teen Essence title was asthma awareness, and her motto was “You Can L.I.V.E. (Lead, Inspire, [be] Victorious and Empower) with Asthma.”

Ellis explained that the Essence Pageant is different from others because it helps women build confidence and self-esteem and has no restrictions on age or size.

“I feel my platform picked me, I didn’t pick it,” she said. “I wanted others to know that you can not only live with asthma,but you can have a life. Asthma has made me a stronger person. It is something I can’t get rid of, so I might as well make the best of it. I have suffered from it for as long as I can remember, and I wasn’t going to let asthma hold me back.”

Developing young leaders
At the Blue Ridge Leader’s School, Ellis and other participants began their days at 5 a.m.,when they rose to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and later attended daily 90-minute classes about character development.

“You find out who you really are, learn the components of being a leader and how you should become a role model,” she said.

After lunch came aquatics, during which she completed five out of the six levels, and gymnastics, in which she got three stars out of the six components.

She also had to take a health and fitness class and a midterm and final exam in every class.

“We had really long days packed with different things,” she said, “but I made a whole lot of friends. I connected with all of them and I would love to go again because it was not like a regular school. This was a school where everybody gets along and everybody knows each other. I would recommend it to anyone.”

The school, established in 1922,welcomes 750 students between the ages of 13 and 18 from all over the world each year.

Attendees must have accomplished a variety of club activities, earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher and passed a physical fitness test.

Sledge said that she could not be more proud of her daughter. “She is an awesome young lady,” she said. “She is always willing to try new things and take a chance. I admire her for not having any fears. She is very involved with her church, she sings with the choir, she is part of the Black Achievers Club, she loves to take pictures and is so fun-loving. We truly are blessed.”
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A safer way across


A project years in the making is beginning to make life easier for wheelchair-bound residents in Northern Henrico.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is completing a $2-million set of enhancements to the Brook Road corridor in front of St. Joseph's Villa and the Hollybrook Apartments, a community that is home to dozens of disabled residents. > Read more.

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Five years ago, members of the Friends of Bryan Park were facing the apparently inevitable development of the Shirley subdivision in Henrico, adjacent to the forested section of the park near the Nature Center and Environmental Education Area.

As part of the Shirley subdivision, the land had been divided into 14 lots in 1924, but had remained mostly undisturbed through the decades. In 2012, however, developers proposed building 40 modular houses on roughly 6.5 acres, clear-cutting the forest there and creating a highly dense neighborhood tucked into a dead end. > Read more.

Meet the men running for governor


Virginia will elect a new governor this year.

The governor’s position is one of great power and influence, as the current officeholder, Terry McAuliffe, has demonstrated by breaking the record for most vetoes in Virginia history.

However, during the last gubernatorial race in 2014, the voter turnout was less than 42 percent, compared with 72 percent during last year’s presidential election. > Read more.

RISC to address reading, childhood trauma, job training at assembly

On May 1, more than 1,700 community members representing Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities will gather at St. Paul’s Baptist Church (4247 Creighton Road) at 7 p.m. to address elementary reading, childhood trauma and job training in the greater Richmond region. Community members will speak about each issue and proposed solution.

For three years, the organization has sought implementation of a specific literacy program in Henrico County that it believes would help children who struggle with reading. > Read more.

Henrico to begin update of zoning, subdivision ordinances April 26


Henrico County is beginning a comprehensive update of its zoning and subdivision ordinances — the first such effort in six decades — and will introduce the project as part of the April 26 meeting of the Henrico County Planning Commission.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Board Room of the Henrico Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road. The ordinance update project will be featured as the final item on the agenda. Project consultant Clarion Associates will give a presentation, and meeting participants will be able to ask questions and provide comments. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
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Weekend Top 10


For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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