RICHMOND, Va. — Whether it’s ending homelessness or providing support for families of prison inmates, local nonprofits work to make Richmond a better place for everyone. On Wednesday night, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network celebrated the rising stars of the local nonprofit scene at the Hippodrome Theatre.
“There’s not many people, me included, that said they wanted to grow up to be a part of a nonprofit,” keynote speaker Beth Panilaitis, who is the executive director of youth empowerment organization ROSMY, said. “But I think each person here can think of that one defining moment that led them to this path.”
The event, which was sponsored by the University of Richmond, featured a panel of six young leaders of the nonprofit sector, who had been honored on Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40 list this year.
The panelists shared many personal stories, including who their mentors were, the struggles that led them to their career path, and what keeps them motivated. Evandra Catherine, Director of Community Engagement at VCU’s Department of African American Studies, detailed growing up homeless from age of nine to 18 before joining the Air Force to escape an abusive relationship.
“My life was the single greatest contributor to my success,” Catherine said. “Being abandoned and homeless as a kid is really hard to do. I realized that I didn’t fit in with the rest of the world. I never got to experience genuine love. After experiencing that type of life, I realized that my ultimate goal is to make sure that no one else goes through what I had to go through.”
Moderator Kelli Lemon prompted the panelists to explain the ultimate goal for their organization. Responses included eradication of homelessness, making a cure for cancer available over the counter, and statewide video visitations for inmates and families.
“It’s not about what one person can do for the other,” said Panilaitis. “I truly believe that it’s through those relationships that we have, and we will, make really incredible community change.”
Meet the rising stars of the nonprofit sector in Richmond. All of them were featured on Style Weekly’s 2015 Top 40 Under 40 list:
Name: Sean Monroe
Organization: HomeAgain, which provides shelter and life skills to Richmond’s homeless.
“My work in a nonprofit also reflects what I’m trying to do in life, so I’ve overcome obstacles in life to be able to do my work in a nonprofit. The experience that life has given me has helped me in my nonprofit career.”
Name: Amanda Hall
Organization: Community Food Collaborative, which focuses on youth activism. Hall gets students involved in food services and security.
“Get help! It’s a daunting task, but it’s definitely worth the struggle for the good.”
Name: James Wasilewski
Organization: VCU Massey Cancer Center as the Director of Annual Giving and Community Relations
“Explore what you’re passionate about because it really helps energize you and get you out of bed in the morning. If you’re passionate about what you do and you’re excited about going to work every day that adds to it.”
Name: Evandra Catherine
Organization: The Identity Project and VCU Department of African American Studies, where Catherine mentors young black women in community engagement.
“Do volunteer work, a lot of community work first. Nonprofit is a different ballgame than government or private sector.”
Name: Fran Bolin
Organization: Assisting Families of Inmates, which provides support for the families of incarcerated persons. The program provides services such as transportation to visitation and video chats with inmates.
“Just keep in mind the reason and the ideal that got you into the work in the first place because it’s not always easy. Learn to be flexible and creative. The scope of the work can change easily.”
Name: James Wallace
Organization: Virginia Community Capital, a community development financial institution, and Feed RVA, a farmer’s market that raises money to provide healthy food for families on food stamps.
“Find what you love because it’s very challenging. Make sure you have a passion and that you’re enjoying what you’re doing because it will help on those tough days.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story.