VCU captures national honor for community service efforts

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VCU School of Dentistry students, faculty and staff volunteer at the Wise County Fairgrounds as part of the Virginia Dental Health Foundation’s Missions of Mercy Project, an initiative to provide dental care for uninsured and underserved populations of rural Virginia.

VCU School of Dentistry students, faculty and staff volunteer at the Wise County Fairgrounds as part of the Virginia Dental Health Foundation’s Missions of Mercy Project, an initiative to provide dental care for uninsured and underserved populations of rural Virginia.

The Corporation for National and Community Service named Virginia Commonwealth University a finalist for the 2015 General Community Service Presidential Award, recognizing the university as one of the top higher education institutions in the country for its commitment to community engagement.

VCU was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the ninth consecutive time, but this marked the first time that VCU earned finalist recognition. VCU was one of four finalists in the General Community Service category. The honor, which was announced in September, covers service during the 2013–14 academic year and represents one of the highest acknowledgements a college or university can receive for its community engagement endeavors.

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President’s Forum on Social Justice draws hundreds to discussions

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Photos by Julia Rendleman/University Marketing

Photos by Julia Rendleman/University Marketing

More than 100 chairs were pulled close to tables and the volume of conversation pitched upward as the Virginia Commonwealth University community delved into the first of several challenging conversations at the President’s Forum on Social Justice.

Three sessions attracting approximately 500 students, faculty and staff were held in the Commonwealth Ballrooms in the University Student Commons on Thursday.

“We need to continue to hold ourselves accountable and be responsible for ensuring that VCU is everything we say that we want it to be,” Rao told the group. “Climate is really about all of us, how we all take a step forward and lead. All of you have significant input.”

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Program provides students with intellectual disabilities an inclusive college experience at VCU

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Education coach Camille Spencer, a senior environmental studies major, helps ACE-IT participant Sarah Lancaster study and work on astronomy homework.  Photos by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Education coach Camille Spencer, a senior environmental studies major, helps ACE-IT participant Sarah Lancaster study and work on astronomy homework.
Photos by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Ever since he was in middle school in Chesterfield County, Teddy Robbins dreamed of one day getting the opportunity to attend college. But Robbins was enrolled in special education classes in middle and high school, so he figured his chances of getting into college weren’t great.

“I’d always wanted to go to college,” he said, “but I didn’t think it was going to ever happen.”

During his senior year of high school, however, Robbins heard about a program at Virginia Commonwealth University, called ACE-IT in College, that provides students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend classes at VCU, work in a job and participate in all aspects of the college experience.

“I feel great about being at VCU. I’m really enjoying my time here,” said Robbins, who is taking courses this fall on forensic science, choral arts and LGBTQIA studies.

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Monroe Park renovation to begin in November

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Photo by Thomas M Kojcsich/University Marketing.

Photo by Thomas M Kojcsich/University Marketing.

Mayor Dwight Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Monroe Park Conservancy have announced completion of a multiyear campaign to raise $3 million in private funds to renovate Richmond’s oldest city park. The announcement sets in motion procedural steps to allow construction to begin later this year.

“Many of us have labored for more than a decade to launch the renovation of Richmond’s oldest park,” said Alice Massie, president of the Monroe Park Conservancy. “I’m grateful to the mayor, VCU and the many generous Richmonders who have brought us to this moment. It’s exciting to know that the work can now begin.”

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At VCU Broad Street Mile, ‘a great way to build connections’

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The Broad Street Mile allows participants to support local charities by running in a 5K or several 1-mile fun runs.

Running is part of Joseph DiPiro’s morning routine. The dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy is typically on the road around 6 a.m., logging his daily miles — 4-5 on weekdays, 8-10 on the weekends.

DiPiro tries to run five days a week as part of his fitness regimen. But he also sees running as a way to build community.

“I’m really impressed by the social nature of running,” DiPiro said. “If we make a commitment to meet up on a Saturday morning, then that’s always going to be a higher-quality run. We’ll run maybe a little bit faster, a little bit farther. And you have more time to talk to people — when do you get an hour just to explore the world’s issues these days?

“It covers a lot of ground — the social, the health, the physical part of it.”

DiPiro is one of 577 runners already signed up for the Sept. 24 VCU Broad Street Mile — the annual fall street festival and road race held on the Monroe Park Campus. The run this year is part of a series of events launching the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, a comprehensive fundraising campaign with three priorities — people, innovations and environments. The campaign aims to touch every aspect of VCU: students, alumni, faculty and staff, patients, caregivers, researchers, schools, libraries, centers and institutes, athletics, and the community.

‘Beat the dean’

DiPiro is bringing his social philosophy to the race this year by issuing a “beat the dean” philanthropic challenge to pharmacy school students, faculty and staff participating in the 5K run. All proceeds from DiPiro’s challenge support the School of Pharmacy scholarship fund.

“It’s pretty simple: If I beat them they have to put up $5; if they beat me I have to put up $10,” DiPiro said.

The challenge is an initiative of the school’s Student Philanthropists Alumni Network, a new group formed to raise awareness of philanthropy among current pharmacy students. The school awarded $623,650 in scholarships to 183 students during the last fiscal year.

The Broad Street Mile, now in its fourth year, doubles as a fundraiser for local organizations. VCU announced in July that, in an effort to expand community impact, this year’s event does not require participating groups to have a 501(c)3 designation. Several university offices and schools, including the Grace E. Harris Leadership InstituteVCU ASPiRE and the School of Pharmacy, are participating as fundraising organizations in the Broad Street Mile for the first time as a result of this change.

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As presidential election approaches, VCU students seek to register to vote classmates, disenfranchised populations in Richmond

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From left, Camilla Harris, a sophomore international studies major; Anthony Jones, a junior sociology and international social justice double major; and Cove Soyars, a junior bioinformatics majors, discuss felon voter rights restoration with Sylvia Clute, who teaches restorative justice at Virginia Union University.

From left, Camilla Harris, a sophomore international studies major; Anthony Jones, a junior sociology and international social justice double major; and Cove Soyars, a junior bioinformatics majors, discuss felon voter rights restoration with Sylvia Clute, who teaches restorative justice at Virginia Union University.

At a table loaded down with stacks of voter registration forms at the Mosby Court public housing development on Saturday, Virginia Commonwealth University student Anthony Jones is encouraging residents to get registered and vote in the upcoming presidential election.

“What’s up my man, you want a button?” he asks a young boy who has wandered over, curious about what’s going on. “We’re out here registering people to vote. We don’t care who you vote for, just that you get registered and vote for somebody.”

Jones, a junior sociology and international social justice double major, and Camilla Harris, a sophomore international studies major, are working this semester as part of a grant from the Andrew Goodman Foundation to promote election engagement among VCU students and disenfranchised communities in Richmond.

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Coffee bike helps Rams in Recovery stay on the road to wellness

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A cargo tricycle outfitted with a custom coffee station will create a moveable space for conversations about addiction and recovery at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We are building a bike to ride around campus and around Richmond to share our project and experiences in recovery over cups of coffee,” said John Freyer, assistant professor of cross-disciplinary media in the VCU School of the Arts Department of Photography and Film. “Students from the Rams in Recovery group will be riding this coffee bike around and making pour-over coffee for people.”

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VCU Broad Street Mile returns for 4th annual event

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Virginia Commonwealth University returns as the signature sponsor of the VCU Broad Street Mile. The event will allow participants to enjoy a free festival, compete in a series of 1-mile fun runs or a 5K, and raise money for local organizations. The fourth annual event will take place on Broad Street between Belvidere Street and Hermitage Road on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The VCU Broad Street Mile will offer an opportunity to support VCU and many other community organizations in the Richmond area. And this year’s event is part of the launch of the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, a comprehensive fundraising campaign to support students and faculty, spark creative partnerships and expand the university’s research capacity by providing world-class facilities, equipment and materials.

“With VCU’s upcoming comprehensive campaign, we are focusing on faculty, staff and alumni engagement paired with community involvement,” said Chris Ritrievi, senior associate vice president for campaign leadership and constituency relations at VCU. “VCU’s continued engagement with Richmond is pivotal to the campaign’s success and the success of the Broad Street Mile.”

The VCU Broad Street Mile provides a unique opportunity for people of all ages and fitness levels. Athletes ranging from novice to elite can choose to run or walk the 5K or one of the 1-mile fun runs. Each of the fun runs has different themes, including the Spirit of Giving Mile, Kids Mile, No Limits Mile and Doggy Dash. In an effort to expand the community impact, this year’s event will not require participating organizations to have a 501(c)3 designation.

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Community Roots

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The new Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden supports the Center for High Blood Pressure and VCU’s RamPantry one tomato at a time

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It could have just been a few parking spaces. Instead, a townhouse-sized lot tucked behind the West Cary Street Parking Deck at Virginia Commonwealth University houses a new garden that grows food for students and community members in need.

“Because of its location there are a lot of people walking by, and I get the opportunity to talk to people all the time,” said Hannah Wittwer, learning garden coordinator in the Office of Sustainability and resident farmer-in-chief.

At around 1,500 square feet, the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden was laid out to maximize productivity and soak up the sun. As July approaches, crops are sprouting from eight wooden raised beds, vertical planters, old whiskey barrels and dozens of large coffee bags.

Produce from the garden goes to RamPantry, a food pantry for VCU students, faculty and staff in need, and the nearby Center for High Blood Pressure, a free clinic serving uninsured Richmond residents. Wittwer said she aims to grow and donate 800 pounds of food this year.

“The garden doesn’t have a fence around it intentionally, so people will feel more welcome to come in and explore,” said Erin Stanforth, director of sustainability.

Growth spurt

This lush, green scene was quite different just a year ago. Originally purchased as part of a parking project, the space was gifted to the Office of Sustainability from VCU Parking and Transportation.

“We did a survey in 2014 at our annual flagship event, Campus Sustainability Day, and we asked students from freshmen to seniors if they would be interested in an on-campus learning garden,” Stanforth said. “Overwhelmingly the response was ‘Yes.’ Coupled with RamPantry’s lack of access to fresh produce, we decided to see if we could create a learning garden on the site.”

Sustainability applied for a grant from the Council for Community Engagement and received a stipend for the project last summer. That, combined with office funds, allowed the site to be graded and piped for water, and also allowed for the addition of an accessible parking spot.

Wittwer brought years of agricultural experience to the role when she joined VCU in January. But gardening between a four-story parking deck and a privately owned apartment building presented new tests.

“My background in rural agriculture made it feel more challenging. Rural farms are typically wide open space,” Wittwer said. She reached out to local gardeners at places such as Tricycle Gardens and the Sacred Heart Community Center, finding “an enormous amount of support from local gardeners.”

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Social work students deliver ‘extraordinary’ help to families at pediatrician’s office

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From left: Stephanie Lizama, a senior social work major; Ted Abernathy. M.D., of Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners; and Sarah Presley, a second-year Master of Social Work student.

From left: Stephanie Lizama, a senior social work major; Ted Abernathy. M.D., of Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners; and Sarah Presley, a second-year Master of Social Work student.

It was one of the worst days ever experienced by the staff at Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners in Midlothian. That morning, a young patient had died from an illness, and everyone was grieving. And in the evening, a parent losing custody of her children was scheduled to transfer custody to the father at the pediatrician’s office.

“The staff was dealing with the death of this child, we were trying to get all of our work done and at the same time seeing our kids in the office,” said Ted Abernathy, M.D. (M.D.’70/M), who founded the practice and graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “And then a dad [in a divorce situation] walked in with a stack of medical records that was at least 2 1/2 inches high. He told us that he had concerns that his child was in danger.”

With just a few short hours before the custody transfer and with the staff preoccupied with grief, Abernathy took the stack of medical records and handed them to the practice’s two interns, Sarah Presley and Stephanie Lizama, both students at the VCU School of Social Work.

“We had a full load that day with a lot of emotions,” Abernathy recalled. “I took that stack of papers and I put it on their desk and said, ‘Ladies, I need your help. I need you to go through these records, and figure out how we’re going to help this family.’”

Presley, a second-year Master of Social Work student, and Lizama, a rising senior social work major, dug into the child’s medical records, placing a sticky note on each page to track every medical visit that might be relevant to any possible danger facing the child.

“They jumped right into it as a team,” he said. “When they were done with it, they handed it back to me and I was able to quickly go through the chart and figure out what was wrong. We now were able to report this to the authorities – and they did it all. They talked to the authorities, they talked to the lawyers, they talked to all the people involved.”

“That day, with everything being so horrible, they went to just extraordinary lengths to help these people,” he said.

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