6th Annual Giving Back Awards: Top 25 Hampton Roads Nonprofits
These 25 Nonprofits Serve As The Silver Lining For Those Who Need Hope During Their Darkest Days
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It’s easy to list all the negative concerns we wish we could eliminate from the world: domestic violence, racism, cancer, poverty, terminal illnesses, homelessness, sexual abuse, human trafficking, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, infant loss, inadequate care for the elderly, unequal educational opportunities, insufficient care for veterans, neglected animals. The list goes on.
It’s easy to sympathize for those who endure any of the above circumstances, and it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves if we or a loved one experiences a hardship. But it’s not always easy to know how to help. Sometimes it’s not easy to even start the conversation.
That’s why nonprofit organizations like the ones listed below exist. A person or group of people saw a need, and now they work passionately, tirelessly, sometimes without any pay, to fulfill the need and make life better for someone (or some animal). These organizations bring hope and serve as the silver lining to individuals who may be experiencing their darkest days.
The majority of them work quietly and efficiently as true unsung heroes among us, doing their part for the greater good of humankind. So that’s why we dedicate our Giving Back feature to them each year—shining a spotlight on the organizations that truly make a difference. See below about 25 organizations that inspire, and then decide how you can be a silver lining in someone’s life.
1. Help And Emergency Response, Inc. (H.E.R.) Shelter
Established: H.E.R. Shelter began in 1983, with the first shelter opening in 1985, in response to local police and hospitals reporting on the problem of domestic violence. It was founded by seven ladies who started the organization from nothing and eventually had a house donated to them in downtown Portsmouth. A Portsmouth shelter, which houses 42 people, was built in 1995. A Chesapeake shelter, which houses 10 people, was built in March 2016. “We opened our Chesapeake shelter on March 9, 2016 at 2 o’clock. By 6 o’clock, every bed was filled,” says Executive Director Beth Cross. “I can build 15 more shelters, and we will fill them up. It’s people in need. It’s people experiencing this."
The demographic of clients at H.E.R. Shelter is 18–24. All of the clients housed in the shelter are female, but the shelter assists male victims of domestic violence as well. They treat approximately six to 10 male victims a year, and these victims are placed in hotels rather than in the shelter.
Mission: Help and Emergency Response, Inc. provides leadership, advocacy, and resources to survivors and communities affected by domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking.
The work of Help and Emergency Response, Inc. will create a safe and prosperous future for all through awareness, service, and training for lasting change in the communities we serve.
Key people: Beth Cross, executive director; Sharon Paxton-Eddins, operations manager; Olivia Smith Berger, crisis services director; Joy Shaffer, program director.
Programs: A regional hotline, housing services, employment services, case management, counseling, legal advocacy, children’s programming and workforce development through Sweet Haven Bakery. H.E.R. Shelter also offers group sessions for children’s therapy, art therapy, life groups, and they’re starting a group which will teach positive parenting skills: less discipline, more positive reinforcements. Once a person leaves H.E.R. shelter, the care doesn’t stop there: the organization keeps up with clients for 9–12 months to ensure they are becoming stable and sustainable.
Volunteer Opportunities: A big need is in the organization’s childcare program. “Moms can’t get jobs or go to counseling or get housing if they’re pulled in five different directions by sometimes five different kids,” explains Wynn Horton, public affairs and volunteer coordinator for H.E.R. Shelter. Three days a week, they offer daytime childcare, four days a week they offer tutoring programs, and Tuesday evenings are support group meetings, all of which need volunteers for childcare.
Groups of volunteers can also pitch in to help with yardwork, repairs, maintenance, etc.
H.E.R. Shelter accepts donations of food, clothing, sheets, blankets, towels, pillows, bus passes, gift cards and general donations. Volunteers are needed to help organize these donations.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “Mental health is a huge one,” says Executive Director Beth Cross. “Even when we can remove you from the violence and we can help build the blocks of sustainability, that is such a huge barrier for people. You can’t mother like you want to, you can’t work like you want to, you can’t think like you want to, when you’re dealing with high trauma or mental illness. That’s something we can’t fix in 30–60 days.”
“Cultural taboos are also a problem we still face,” Horton says. “We’ve had conversations with African American coworkers about … still just kind of a sense of what happens in the family stays in the family. Some people don’t seek help for things like domestic violence. We’re only 45 years since the beginning of the international domestic violence movement, so as it moves further along, it will be less shameful for a lot of people to seek help.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your non-profit does? “The first time someone gets their own apartment, gets a first job—those are huge,” Horton says. “Obviously our people and our kids. You can’t beat that,” Cross says with a smile.
2. SMILE (Samantha Makes It A Little Easier)
101 West Main St., Suite 7000, Norfolk. 757-333-1219. SMILEasier.org
Established: December 2010; assisted the first SMILE Kid in 2011
Mission: To enhance the lives of children impacted by a life-threatening condition through education, encouragement and empowerment.
Key people: Kristen Mantlo, executive director; Melia Trost, board president; Joseph Trost, board vice president; Ellen Hundley, board secretary; Diane Hughes, board treasurer; Thomas Gorman, board member-at-large; Summer Kernan, board member-at-large; and Wayne Pollock, Ph.D., board member-at-large.
Programs: SMILE Kids Program, which provides assistive and adaptive equipment—hearing aids, wheelchair lifts, therapeutic tricycles and much more—to children impacted by a life-threatening medical condition. They are looking forward to expanding and creating new programs for the SMILE Kids and families as they continue to grow.
Volunteer Opportunities: In need of skilled volunteers who can help grow and share SMILE (marketing/PR, finance, legal, donor relations, videography and photography, website design and management, social media management, etc.); fundraising committee members and chairs (5K, Golf Tournament, SMILE Gala and Silent Auction) as well as day-of-event volunteers; SMILE Ambassadors (individuals willing to help promote SMILE by sharing stories of the SMILE Kids as well as promote events, recruit participants/attendees and build connections with individuals and businesses in the Coastal Virginia community); and board members.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? "We are currently a 'work from home' organization, which makes expanding services as well as assembling and delivering equipment complicated, as we are limited by space as well as the vehicles owned and operated by board members or volunteers. Also, visibility within the community—we would love to be able to grow as an organization, but in order to do so we need to increase the number of individuals and companies who are working with SMILE to enhance the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions, either through partnerships or donations."
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does? "The most rewarding part of what SMILE does is creating a lasting impact on a child and their family's life. Through the SMILE Kids Program, we don't just provide assistive and adaptive equipment, but we help to alleviate many of the daily struggles children and their families face due to their life-threatening medical conditions. When SMILE provides an item at no cost to a family, an item they might have to fundraise for, we know that we've made their lives a little easier, and that is what we are here to do."
—Melissa M. Stewart
3. Peninsula READS
11832 Fishing Point Dr., Suite 200, Newport News. 757-283-5776.
4207 Victoria Blvd., Hampton. 757-727-1097.
Established: Peninsula READS was established in 1968 under the organization’s legal name Peninsula Literacy Council. In 1971, Peninsula READS became a member agency of United Way of the Virginia Peninsula.
Mission: To help adult learners reach their literacy goals and provide the skills for them to function more effectively in their lives and communities.
Key People: Executive Director Paula L. Bazemore, ESOL Coordinator Manola Dobbs and Basic Literacy Coordinator Khristina Reid.
Programs: Peninsula READS serves Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson and York County and has locations in Newport News and Hampton that provide one-on-one tutoring services for adult basic literacy learners with instruction focusing on reading, writing, computer skills and math, small group classes for adults learning English as a second or additional language and a 12-week citizenship course preparing students to take the U.S. Citizenship Exam.
The Peninsula READS Newport News location primarily focuses on its English For Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program for foreign-born adults learning to read, write and speak English fluently in small classes taught by trained volunteer tutors. Upon entry to the ESOL program with a $50 intake fee, learners take an assessment given by a volunteer at Peninsula READS and are placed in either a beginner, intermediate or advanced course with no more than 12 students that meet twice weekly with interactive lessons and a textbook for learning exercises.
The Peninsula READS Hampton location focuses on Adult Basic Literacy at its private learning area at the Hampton Public Library, where American-born English speakers learn literacy and math skills with a personalized curriculum that is relevant to their individual needs and goals. Tutors can also meet with Adult Basic Literacy learners at their convenience in suitable public places outside of the Peninsula READS locations. Learners also take an assessment of standardized Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) given by a volunteer with a $40 intake fee to establish their goals, including earning a GED, joining the military, college enrollment, employment opportunities and promotions, social and survival skills—understanding written medical instructions, filing insurance claims or submitting tax forms—and reading to family members, friends or themselves. Tutoring is one-on-one and includes textbook and reading exercises and computer learning.
Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteering at Peninsula READS is usually a long-term commitment, typically for a minimum of a year if volunteers are tutoring since they are teaching others to learn to read. Tutoring can include basic reading and writing, math, ESOL, spelling and job-specific tasks, online pen pals, social and survival skills for interviews, registering to vote, library membership; test-taking, book discussion groups, conversational and specific language skills and assisting tutors for individualized help. Short-term volunteer opportunities are also available through public outreach as a guest speaker at events, staffing an information table at community fairs and persuading civic, social, religious groups and leaders to support Peninsula READS.
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “We don’t receive any state or federal funding. Any funds that we receive we raise through events, grants, soliciting private donations from corporations, businesses, individuals.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does? “We literally change lives. Once that person gets the ability to read, their life is forever changed. New doors open for them, new opportunities open for them, they have a better sense of purpose, their sense of self, their self-esteem soars. You can see the difference in people that come here for an assessment, which is the first step in the process, and after they’ve been in the program, for sometimes even six months depending on their start point, they carry themselves differently. They’re learning and beginning to not be so tentative about the day-to-day things that they do because now stuff is making sense, or it’s clicking. They’re not afraid to try something new. That’s the most rewarding thing. You see that progress; it’s life-transforming.”
Birthday cards for the Birthday Brigade, handmade by Connect With A Wish's
4. Connect With A Wish
2492 N Landing Rd., Suite 102. 757-337-2657. ConnectWithAWish.org
Established: Joy Rios founded Connect With a Wish in 2014. For about 13 years, she had been a sponsor for the Holiday Project run by Virginia Beach’s Human Services Department. Through this program, children in foster care make a holiday wish list, and then volunteers work to get community sponsors to grant those wishes. Having three adopted kids of her own, Rios wanted to give back to those in the foster care system. As she became more involved, she realized she wanted to start granting wishes year-round, not just during the holidays. “I was taken back by the entire system and process of how these kids go through life,” she says.
Mission: Connect With a Wish works to connect the wishes and needs of children in Virginia Beach foster care with the generosity of our community. They provide the resources and support needed to give these children the opportunity to grow into positive and productive members of our community.
Key people: Joy Rios, founder and president; Colleen Luksik, vice president; Heather Breland, secretary; Susan Anderson, treasurer. The organization also has an active board of directors.
Wishes Program—Kids in foster care can make a wish, and volunteers from Connect with a Wish work to procure items or lessons (sports, martial arts, clubs, music lessons, etc.) that the kids have requested.
Supporting Success—This program supports the transition of children to successful, productive adults in our society by continually collecting items—bedding, towels, pots and pans—to help kids that are getting ready to move out on their own. They also assist those preparing to go out into the work world, college and trade schools with the supplies needed to be successful.
Birthday Brigade—This committee works to ensure every child in foster care is remembered on their birthday. Each child receives a birthday card, along with cake mix, candles, icing and party napkins, as well as a small gift.
Youth Council—This committee is responsible for providing a small motivational gift for each youth every month. Youth Council also works to support the group with field trips they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience.
Handle with Care—Connect With a Wish provides large duffel bags partially filled with comfort items based on age and gender. These items help ease the transition of the difficult time when the child is being removed from their home.
#GirlCode—This is the organization’s monthly youth group for girls ages 14–18, with 18–21-year-olds as mentors. The meetings include guest speakers, fun activities and field trips, aiming to provide experiences, empowerment and positive relationship building.
Boys Youth Group—This group provides mentorship and fun experiences for foster care boys ages 14 and up. There are monthly field trips, fun activities and guest speakers, while offering boys the opportunity to bond with other foster children and providing positive role models.
College Support Program—Only about 2 percent of youth in foster care attend college. Connect With a Wish is working to correct these statistics by providing support for those who plan to or are attending college. With community support, they set up college tuition funds to aid in covering the various expenses associated with attending college.
Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteers can participate in the continual, monthly programs, The Birthday Brigade and Handle with Care. The youth groups have a committee of volunteers in charge of coordinating activities. Connect With a Wish also hosts events where volunteers can assist. The holidays are especially busy, and volunteers are needed to help sort toys and organize a holiday party, Santapalooza, for the kids. “There’s opportunities from writing a check to doing service, with or without the kids,” Rios says. “Whatever you want to put into it, we’ll take.”
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? Rios explains that funding is always an issue and that the organization was a recipient from the Pungo Wine Festival last year, a partnership which will continue this year. “That’s been a real blessing,” she says.
“Transportation for the kids has been a continual issue. We can’t just pick up foster kids and bring them wherever we want them to go. The awareness of having more foster families so that that’s available is the roadblock. We need foster families so that [kids] have a foster family that they can count on.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does? “When I get the ‘thank you’ or when I get the excited kid who runs up to me and tells me how awesome their summer camp was or I get pictures of them doing something that we’ve provided for them. Those aren’t things that the community can’t see. At the end of the day, I know that I’ve made somebody happy somewhere.”
Photos, Right Top: A group of volunteers poses with an #amazonsmile sign to help promote CWW on Amazon Smile; Left: As part of CWW's annual Prom event, teens in foster care are invited to enjoy a day exclusively for them. They get to choose from over 300 dresses, receive shoes, accessories, hair and makeup done along professional pictures to prepare them with the self esteem necessary to go and enjoy their prom; Right Bottom: Duffel bags are kept at human services to be picked up by the agent who is removing a child from their home. The bags are filled with items necessary to make it through the first night or two at a stranger's house when the child doesn't have any of their own items.
Vigilant Watch and representatives from Mission BBQ and Tidewater Regional Fire
Association Class 156.
5. Vigilant Watch
P.O. Box 68264, Virginia Beach, VA 23471. 757-718-8527. VigilantWatchInc.org
Established: Co-founders Joe Long and Wayne Sandlin, both former Virginia Beach firefighters, established Vigilant Watch nearly 12 years ago, in response to two of their brother firefighters—Carl “Alan” Barber and William (aka Duke) Lee—being diagnosed with lung cancer at the same time. Long and Sandlin, who both played in an adult league in the Iceland Family Skating Center in Virginia Beach, decided to hold a benefit hockey game, where they raised $8,000 in three weeks. “We split the money between the two families,” Long says, “and at that point, we said, ‘It’s going to be other people, not just Duke and Alan. Maybe we should try to find a way to keep doing benefits to help the next guy and the next guy and the next guy …”
Mission: Vigilant Watch, Inc. provides support to our regional public safety officials, active duty or retired, and their immediate families, who have suffered a hardship based on injury, illness or catastrophic event, which has created a financial or physical hardship. They support the seven cities of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They work solely on contributions and donations to offer financial, advisory and moral support.
Key people: Joe Long, president; Wayne Sandlin, vice president of expanding operations; Kim Sandlin, treasurer; Carol Barber, executive board and secretary.
Left Top: A team works together to build a wooden wheelchair ramp; Right Top:
Vigilant Watch sets up tables at community events, including ones that promote
breast cancer awareness; Bottom: Joe Long and Wayne Sandlin with representatives
from Mission BBQ.
Programs: Vigilant Watch provides monetary aid to help qualifying first responders with medical expenses, and they’ve purchased portable ramp systems for those who are wheelchair bound for short or long periods of time. The organization also provides money to be used toward counseling or life coaching services for those who need it. “We’re finding a lot of public safety people suffer from PTSD, just like soldiers do,” Long says. “Accompanied by that is alcohol problems, marriage problems and all the other issues that can be associated with it.” Qualified individuals can attend sessions with Life Enrichment Solutions Specialist Ronald S. Jacobson or Certified Professional Coach and Behavioral Health Consultant Talya Gershon.
Volunteer Opportunities: Those possessing skills in carpentry or electricity are welcome to help install handicap-accessible amenities in people’s homes. Volunteers are also welcome to come assist and support some of the events held by Vigilant Watch, including golf tournaments and races. And, of course, monetary donations are what keeps the organization going. “Our biggest supporter to date has been Mission BBQ. They’re a very patriotic company, and they support the military and first responders,” Long says. “They have been absolutely amazing in supporting us.”
What are the biggest struggles your organization faces? “We are by nature a very reactive group of people. We react when the bells go off or when we get a call, and that kind of gets instilled in you. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get people involved proactively. If there’s a crisis and somebody has an issue in their precinct or on their shift, everybody rallies and comes together, and we make whatever we need to make happen, happen. But, it’s very difficult to get people to come on board and plan for the next one and to help raise the money and that type of thing.”
What is the most rewarding part about what your nonprofit does? “Every time we write a check, every time we make somebody’s life better. You don’t realize how fortunate you are walking up the steps to your home until you can’t do that. We go and we put a ramp in or we write a check or help somebody. It’s just immediate gratification. It’s an incredible feeling.”