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UMFS’ “Courage to Succeed” program recognized as Partnership of the Year

CA and C2S offer coaching and support for people with neurological differences, including autism.

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Courage to Succeed (C2S), a program of UMFS and Charterhouse School, was recognized by CA Human Services with a Partnership of the Year award. CA and C2S both work with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental or neurological challenges.

C2S helps students earn a college degree or certificate, find work in their chosen field, and achieve independence. CA Human Services offers programs for children and adults with ASD, as well as advocacy at the systems level.

CA Human Services President and CEO Jessica Philips presented the award to C2S Program Coordinator Kelly Magee and C2S Therapist Craig Simmons on the UMFS Richmond Campus last week. This presentation was made ahead of the CA Human Services Annual Conference, which is being held virtually this week because of COVID-19.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Education

‘Superheroes’ keep hungry Virginia students fed during pandemic

Many Virginia public school students are returning to the classroom after a year away, but their access to school meals never stopped. No Kid Hungry Virginia recently hosted a discussion with three administrators to highlight how their districts made school meals available despite the pandemic. 

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By Noah Fleischman

Many Virginia public school students are returning to the classroom after a year away, but their access to school meals never stopped.

No Kid Hungry Virginia recently hosted a discussion with three administrators to highlight how their districts made school meals available despite the pandemic. No Kid Hungry is an organization that works to make sure children have access to proper nutrition.

“When schools closed last March … we knew right away that we still had to feed our students,” said Chip Jones, superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools. “That was the priority.”

Cumberland schools gave children a week’s worth of food at a time to take home. The pandemic made Jones appreciate the resources at Cumberland’s disposal, he said. It also made him think outside the box for getting meals to students.

“We’ve seen how much a school means to a community, and what a school can do for a community,” Jones said.

Jones said school nutrition workers—who prepare and serve school meals—kept students fed.

“School nutrition workers are usually some of the lowest paid professionals in the school community,” Jones said. “Yet, they were willing to take on one of the biggest jobs and be on the front lines.”

Clint Mitchell, principal at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Fairfax County, also praised school nutrition employees.

“Nutrition teams are superheroes,” Mitchell said. “They never complained about coming to work. They found a way to do it.”

Larry Wade, director of school nutrition at Chesapeake Public Schools, said staff only had a weekend to come up with a plan to feed students once schools closed.

The department developed multiple distribution models to get food to families, Wade said. That included “grab and go” service at schools and used school buses to transport multiple days worth of meals to families.

Fairfax County Public Schools also utilized the bus delivery system. Mitchell said some students didn’t have transportation to get to the “grab and go” sites.

A No Kid Hungry study found that 47% of American families live with hunger. The statistics are worse for Black and Latino families, 53% and 56%, respectively.

“Students of color are disproportionately impacted by the hunger crisis,” Mitchell said. “When it comes to equity, we must focus not only on school meals, but on transportation and public health issues as well.”

Fairfax County also added weekend meal pickups for those that couldn’t make it to the weekday grab and go locations, Mitchell said.

“It’s all about access,” Mitchell said. “When we talk about equity, it’s about making sure we provide our students with exactly what they need.”

The first wave of Mount Vernon Woods students returned to the classroom this week. Mitchell said with students in the building, it will help remove the “stigma that resides in standing in line at a grab and go site.”

“We are able to now serve more kids in the building,” Mitchell said. “I’m super proud our food service staff is ready to go in the morning with our meal service and our breakfast service by delivering meals to teachers at their door.”

Chesapeake, Cumberland and Fairfax school districts are among many in the state that provide free meals for students with U.S. Department of Agriculture waivers that were extended until Sept. 30.

The waivers provide a form of “universal meals,” said Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, in a February interview with Capital News Service. Roem is part of a national effort to establish universal school meals, or free school meals for all children, not just those who qualify for reduced breakfast and lunch. The General Assembly passed eight school meal bills since 2019 that Roem introduced. She said she won’t stop introducing these bills until the problem is solved.

“My ultimate goal is for universal free breakfast, free lunch that meets all of the USDA guidelines and standards available to any student who wants it without question, without payment,” Roem said. “Anyone who’s hungry eats.”

The waivers help all 45 schools in the Chesapeake Public Schools system provide breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks through curbside service, Wade said. Chesapeake schools provided more than 38,000 meals to students during winter break, he added.

“The waivers and flexibilities that have been offered, have opened the opportunity to see our program through a different lens and perspective,” Wade said. “By allowing students to receive meals regardless of their economic status, it’s allowed our communities to come together to support a need that’s always been there.”

Mitchell said the waivers are a start, but there are still things to be addressed.

“I think all children in this country should be fed when they walk through our doors, regardless of what school they’re in,” Mitchell said. “It’s a hunger issue, it’s an American issue, it’s an issue that we have to deal with directly, and I thank the USDA for taking the initial steps, but we still have work to do.”

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Downtown

City hires former Richmond 300 project manager as the manager of new Office of Equitable Development

In her new position and in leading the new office, she will focus on working across city departments to plan for and facilitate the creation of the more sustainable, beautiful, and equitable city envisioned by Richmonders in the master plan.

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Maritza Mercado Pechin will serve as a Deputy Director within the Planning & Development Review Department and will manage the city’s new Office of Equitable Development.

Pechin formerly served as the project manager for the city’s master plan, Richmond 300: A Guide for Growth. In her new position and in leading the new office, she will focus on working across city departments to plan for and facilitate the creation of the more sustainable, beautiful, and equitable city envisioned by Richmonders in the master plan.

“Richmond 300 is a roadmap for the Richmond we want to be after 300 years of tumultuous history,” said Mayor Stoney. “This office, under the leadership of a tested public servant and planning professional, will start us down that road.”

The office is housed under the Department of Planning and Development Review but will work laterally across the entire Planning and Economic and Community Development portfolio. This will allow office staff to coordinate and collaborate with staff citywide to realize the vision detailed in Richmond 300: A Guide for Growth.

Pechin will report directly to DCAO for Economic and Community Development Sharon Ebert and work closely with the Office of the CAO and Mayor.

“The process to create Richmond 300 was expansive and inclusive, and now, the fun of implementation begins. I am honored to join the city staff to execute the recommendations outlined in the plan so that Richmond 300 is truly a guide to creating a more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful Richmond, and not just a plan that sits on a shelf,” said Pechin.

“Richmond 300 set a new bar for community engagement,” said Acting CAO Lincoln Saunders. “Establishing this office will enable the administration to work across the department to build on that model, pursuing growth in an inclusive and equitable way.”

“I am delighted to be working with Maritza,” said DCAO Sharon Ebert. “Her expertise in planning, organizing and implementing inspired great confidence throughout the community engagement process for and writing of the Richmond 300 Plan.”

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Government

Richmond health districts enter Phase B1 of COVID vaccinations, which includes first responders, teachers, other essential workers

First responders, corrections and homeless shelter workers, and teachers and school staff are among the essential workers eligible for the vaccination under phase 1B.

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The local health districts of the Richmond Metropolitan Area, which includes Chesterfield, Chickahominy, Henrico, and Richmond, will begin expanding their COVID-19 vaccination campaigns to include some Phase 1b frontline essential workers on Monday, January 18th.

Specifically, workers in the first three categories of ​Phase 1b​, will now be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines will be administered through a combination of regional mass vaccination events, as well as partnerships with various providers. Vaccination of ​Phase 1a populations​ will continue as the region opens up to Phase 1b.

“We know that the burden of this disease and the underlying social vulnerabilities that put these essential workers at risk do not end at the boundaries of our city and counties,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, Acting Director for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “It makes the most sense to coordinate our vaccination efforts and make sure all of our communities have access to the best tool we have to end the pandemic.”

The first three categories of Phase 1b frontline essential workers include:

  1. Police, Fire, and Hazmat
  2. Corrections and homeless shelter workers
  3. Childcare/PreK-12 Teachers/Staff

Individuals in these categories will start to have the opportunity to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at one of three large-scale regional vaccination clinics beginning next week.

“Many school teachers and staff in our jurisdictions have courageously shown up for in-person instruction throughout this pandemic in order to serve their students’ needs and to provide the best education possible. This vaccine offers a shield of protection and a beacon of hope for this group of essential workers,” says Dr. Tom Franck, Director of Chickahominy Health District.

Next week’s COVID-19 vaccination events are taking place in addition to each local health districts’ ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts for qualified individuals. Metro area districts are exploring ways to move deeper into the 1b vaccine eligible group as additional resources become available to distribute vaccine more broadly.

“VDH is continuing to work with pharmacies, hospital systems, and medical practices to establish the infrastructure to more quickly and effectively distribute available resources and vaccinate others who are part of 1b and beyond,” says Dr. Alex Samuel, Director of Chesterfield Health District.

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