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Local nonprofit receives $2.5 million grant from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos’ “Day 1 Families Fund”

The grant from the founder of Amazon and his wife will help nearly 500 children and adults exit homelessness into permanent housing over the next four years.

RVAHub Staff



Local nonprofit Housing Families First announced last week that it has been selected to receive a $2.5 million grant from the Day 1 Families Fund, which will help nearly 500 children and adults exit homelessness into permanent housing over the next four years.

Funding from this grant also will provide space and furnishings for an additional 160 family members to access emergency shelter over the same period. Critical to this expansion are shelter modifications and upgrades made possible by the grant.

“This investment from the Day 1 Families Fund will transform not only the lives of literally hundreds of families who will be able to quickly move out of shelters and the streets into permanent homes, but also the long-term effectiveness of homeless services for families throughout the Richmond region,” said Beth Vann-Turnbull, Executive Director of Housing Families First. “We could not be more honored, humbled, and excited about this amazing opportunity from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos.”

Housing Families First is one of 24 nonprofits to receive the first Day 1 Families Fund grants, totaling $97.5 million.

Founded by Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Bezos Day One Fund consists of two programs: the Day 1 Families Fund that provides grants to nonprofit organizations fighting homelessness, and the Day 1 Academies Fund that will fund and build a network of pre-schools in low-income communities across the country.

The Day 1 Families Fund’s vision comes from the inspiring Mary’s Place in Seattle: no child should sleep outside. A small group of expert advisors provided input to the Bezos Day One Fund team to select these organizations.

The Day 1 Families Fund will be awarding grants annually.



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For two weeks, Douglas Freeman students can enter an immersive portal and meet people around the world

It’s long been the stuff of science fiction: step into a portal and be instantly transported to the other side of the globe. And while students at Douglas S. Freeman High School won’t technically be leaving their Three Chopt Road campus, a new student-driven project might give them the next best thing.

RVAHub Staff



It’s long been the stuff of science fiction: step into a portal and be instantly transported to the other side of the globe. And while students at Douglas S. Freeman High School won’t technically be leaving their Three Chopt Road campus, a new student-driven project might give them the next best thing. From Feb. 17 to March 1, students at the school will be able to step into an immersive, audio-visual chamber and interact with residents of Afghanistan, Uganda and other places far from Henrico County.

The Douglas Freeman portal is constructed from a repurposed steel shipping container, painted gold. It and similar portals are dimly lit and include a floor-to-ceiling screen, giving people at each location the illusion of being in the same room. The portal will sit at the front of campus, where the HCPS Technology and Facilities departments have run power and internet lines.

The portal, one of more than 60 worldwide, is the creation of Shared_Studios of Brooklyn, NY. Douglas Freeman students proposed bringing one of the portals to campus, and funding from the Henrico Education Foundation made it happen. The Foundation supports innovative teaching and learning in Henrico’s 72 schools and program centers.

“One of our roles as a school is to expose students to new ideas and different ways of thinking — to broaden their view of the world,” said John Marshall, Douglas Freeman principal. “The school’s diversity is a strength in this regard, and embracing that is one of our core values. The portal gives us the chance to do this at an even greater scope. It highlights the fact that we’re creating global citizens who learn much more than just facts and content during their time at DSF.”

Douglas Freeman is the first public school in Virginia to host a portal. Teachers plan to use the portal to add a new dimension to coursework. For example, Freeman students studying art, geometry and Spanish plan to talk with street artists using a portal in Mexico City, who use ratios in their designs. Photography students hope to learn from artists in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, who use that medium to tell their stories.

The public is invited to use the portal on two successive weekends to interact with people in other nations:

  • Feb. 22 (9-11 a.m. with Herat, Afghanistan; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. with Mexico City)
  • Feb. 23 (Noon-2 p.m. with an Erbil, Iraq camp for displaced persons)
  • Feb. 29 (10-11:30 a.m. with Lagos, Nigeria; Noon-2 p.m. with El Progreso, Honduras)
  • March 1 (Noon-2 p.m. with Kigali, Rwanda)

Find out more about the Douglas Freeman portal at A short video produced by Shared_Studios explains more about the project below.

The portal project is an example of the concepts laid out in the Henrico Learner Profile, the school division’s framework for the skills students need and how they can best attain them. It uses many concepts included in the Henrico Learner Profile, including global citizenship and the idea that learning should be student-owned, authentic, connected and take place anytime and anywhere.



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Bill advances to grant undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses

Legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to possess a driver’s license advanced in the this past week.

Capital News Service



By Ada Romano

Legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to possess a driver’s license advanced in the Senate this past week.

Senate Bill 34, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would allow immigrants to obtain a driver’s license regardless of legal status. The applicant must prove they don’t have a social security or individual taxpayer identification number and submit a certified statement that their information is true. The bill had several amendments this legislative session.

House Bill 1211 introduced by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, is an identical bill that also extends these rights to undocumented immigrants. Tran introduced a similar bill that died in subcommittee last year. If approved, the bills will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Nayeli Montes said she came to the United States illegally from Mexico in 2005 for a chance at a better life. She worked 12-hour shifts at a restaurant back home earning the equivalent of $6.50 a day. Today, Montes is involved with the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, which lobbies lawmakers for immigrant rights.

Driver’s licenses can be required to obtain certain resources such as credit cards and car insurance. Currently, 13 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico provide driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. VACIR believes providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will make roads safer because drivers will be educated, trained and tested. The three states that adopted these measures the earliest experienced a 30% decrease in traffic fatalities, compared to a nationwide 20 percent drop, according to The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, which studies issues affecting low-income residents.

The coalition said the bill will increase state revenue through vehicle registration, license plate fees, and title fees. According to The Commonwealth Institute, allowing undocumented immigrants to drive would produce between $11 million and $18 million in revenue from car registration fees, title fees, and license plate fees. The institute estimated that between 124,500 and 160,800 drivers would seek Virginia licenses within the first two years if immigration status was not a factor.

Humberto Rodriguez, the owner of a painting company and an immigrant from Mexico, said he came to the U.S. for better opportunities for him and his family. He said his son is the only person in his household who can legally drive and he would like for this privilege to be extended to all immigrants. His son is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. DACA allows undocumented children who entered the U.S. before they turned 16 to work, attend college or university and obtain a driver’s license.

“I just want to make it clear that we came here to make a living for ourselves,” Rodriguez said. “Undocumented immigrants will go out and work no matter the weather conditions and we do our work with dignity.”

The House bill has received more support this year than last year, but one representative worries it may misrepresent an immigrant’s legal status.

Del. Terry L. Austin, R-Botetourt, said he voted against the House bill because the driver’s license that would be issued to an undocumented immigrant is identical to a citizen’s driver’s license and could misrepresent the legal status of an immigrant.

“I think we need to be very careful with this,” Austin said. “This could misrepresent an individual’s identity and could compromise safety in the United States.”

Undocumented immigrants also have concerns. They worry the DMV could potentially release their information to the federal government and that they could get arrested or deported. However, both bills state that an individual’s name won’t be released unless ordered by a court. Additionally, no photograph would be released to law enforcement or federal authorities unless a name or sufficient evidence was presented; the commissioner could still decline to release the photograph.

Tran also sponsored HB 1700 which limits the release of information such as proof documents, photographs of an individual and signatures from the DMV to government agencies. Additionally, the bill would prohibit a federal immigration law enforcement agency from accessing information stored by the DMV without a court order or warrant. A subcommittee shelved that bill Tuesday.

The fate of HB 1211 hasn’t been determined. The bill has been shuffled among House panels, with two recommendations, and is currently in an Appropriations subcommittee that meets next week.



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United Way offering free tax preparation service for low income households

With a mid-April tax-filing deadline just a few months away, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg is once again offering free tax preparation for households with incomes below $56,000.

RVAHub Staff



With a mid-April tax-filing deadline just about 10 weeks away, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg is once again offering free tax preparation for households with incomes below $56,000.

United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program officially begins today with 16 tax sites across Richmond, Hanover County, Henrico County, Chesterfield County, Charles City, Goochland County, and Petersburg.

United Way’s local team of more than 200 IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers assist taxpayers with completing and electronically filing both federal and state returns. This program also encourages customers to think about ways to save, implement financial best practices and make plans for achieving financial independence. And for those with low to moderate-income, the service helps eligible taxpayers take advantage of potential tax savings through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

“United Way’s tax assistance program not only helps ease the anxiety and stress that comes with tax preparation, but the service also promotes financial well-being, one of our nine Steps to Success,” said James Taylor, president & CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. “Over the past decade and a half, this service has made a tangible difference for local families, particularly those who have taken advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. This program saves money, reduces tax bills and increases the size of refunds for people who need it the most. We encourage all eligible families to take advantage of this free service.”

In 2019, local United Way volunteers helped secure more than $3 million in tax refunds for 3,667 households in our area. Families who took advantage of the service received a total of $838,300 in EITC funds from the IRS. The average household income for customers was $22,900.

The 16 United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance partner locations across Greater Richmond and Petersburg are open at different times and days in order to accommodate a variety of schedules. Find more information here, and a list of sites with operating times is available here.



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