Billy Ennis, The Virginia Gentlemen Foundation
Billy Ennis moved to Norfolk in 2002 to take a position with Operation Smile. As International Mission Coordinator, and later as Local Missions Manager, Billy organized and executed 10 medical missions to countries including China, Kenya, Russia, Ecuador, Peru and the Philippines. He led teams of up to 160 medical volunteers and directly impacted the lives of over 3,000 children with a host of reconstructive plastic surgery needs.
In 2009 Billy and his wife were blessed with the birth of their second child, who was ultimately diagnosed with a rare liver disease that required a liver transplant for the 6-month-old infant. Billy and his wife spent the summer 0f 2010 living in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Virginia, giving him countless hours to think about the fragility of life and what impact he could have on others. After taking a six-year hiatus from non-profit work, an opportunity to become the inaugural Executive Director of The Virginia Gentlemen Foundation proved to be the perfect opportunity.
Coastal Virginia Magazine: What is The Virginia Gentlemen Foundation?
Billy Ennis: Founded in 2007, The Virginia Gentlemen Foundation (VGF) has repeatedly delivered upon its mission to serve our fellow man and enhance the lives of our community’s residents. In just seven short years, VGF has raised over $8 million to support ALS research and patient services; the building of JT’s Grommet Island Park, the first handicap-accessible oceanfront park and playground in America; and the funding of the Grombulance, a mobile pediatric intensive care unit for the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. VGF is now working hard on its most ambitious and impactful project to date: JT’s Camp Grom. What started as a group of young friends inspired to make a difference has evolved into a purpose-driven group, mentored by some of the commonwealth’s leading philanthropists and effecting real change.
CoVa: Tell us more about Camp Grom.
BE: JT’s Camp Grom will be a life-changing destination for disabled children and adults, wounded veterans and families of fallen heroes. Focused on "rehabilitation through recreation," the facility will be an adventure day camp built within a 70-acre parcel donated by the City of Virginia Beach. All of the camp's activities, including cable wakeboarding, aquatics center, zip lines and more will offer therapeutic benefits and be scaled, fitted and designed for all ability levels. In addition to the physical adventures planned, camp participants and family members can take part in personal development activities, educational programs, entertainment and social gatherings, all designed for individuals with disabilities.
CoVa: What has been the secret to your success as a leader?
BE: In my opinion, humility is one of the most important characteristics for strong, respected leaders. I do my best to recognize everyone around me for their hard work and accomplishments, elevating them for a job well done, whether it be a staff member, volunteer or a board member. Surrounding myself with bright, motivated staff and passionate volunteers while providing direction for reaching goals has proven successful so far.
CoVa: What do you enjoy most about Coastal Virginia?
BE: When I moved to Virginia, my plan was to stay for a two-year job with Operation Smile and move back up north to the Philadelphia area to settle down. Here I am 13 years later married with two kids and no signs or desire to leave Virginia Beach. I also really enjoy the coastal community lifestyle. With so much access to water, fishing, beautiful beaches, parks like Back Bay Wildlife Refuge, False Cape State Park and Seashore State Park, it’s hard to imagine moving back inland or to a big city atmosphere.
Read this article in its entirety in the November/December 2015 issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine.