It takes a village: Community partners help VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter give back to the city

VCU Alumni Charity Challenge

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Every September, during Hunger Action Month, Virginia Commonwealth University Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter hosts the Alumni Charity Challenge, sponsored in part by Nationwide and Virginia Credit Union. The event brings together alumni chapters from 30 universities in Virginia as well as several out-of-state institutions who compete to donate the most canned goods FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank and get their school’s name on a challenge trophy.

“One in 7 of our neighbors is struggling to put food on the table, and 1 in 6 children in our region aren’t receiving necessary nutrition,” says Tim McDermott (M.P.A.’82/GPA), chief development officer at FeedMore. “Events like the charity challenge help raise awareness and validate VCU’s continued investment in the Richmond community.”

With the help of sponsors, the event provides food trucks, giveaways and more when the participating alumni groups gather at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia, to see which school’s graduates donate the most canned goods by weight.

“[Nationwide is] proud to sponsor the Alumni Charity Challenge because it gives us the opportunity to support the Central Virginia community and many of our alumni affinity partners, but it’s also at the core of what we’re all about,” says Ann Ritterspach, associate vice president of affinity solutions at Nationwide. “Supporting this basic need that affects so many is why Nationwide is proud to lend its support.”

Angela Roisten, membership development director at Virginia Credit Union, echoes the sentiment.

“We’re proud of our great relationship with VCU students, faculty and staff, and we’re glad our relationship with many students continues post-graduation,” she says. “[VACU is] happy to participate in the Alumni Charity Challenge because it encourages alumni to give back, raises awareness and contributes significantly to the fight against hunger in Central Virginia in such a meaningful way.”

Since the first event in 2013, the Alumni Charity Challenge has collected more than 16 tons of food that has benefited 200,000 children, families and seniors in 34 cities and counties across Central Virginia. In addition, a portion of beer sales at the event are donated to the FRIENDS Association of Richmond, which provides child care, developmental skills and family support services to children and families in the area.

This year, the Alumni Charity Challenge raised a record 48,335 pounds of food for the Richmond community, more than double FeedMore’s goal of collecting 20,000 pounds.

“I think that every single [VCU alumnus] wants to make the world a better place,” says Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), director of volunteering for the RVA GOLD Chapter. “It doesn’t take an organization like the RVA GOLD Chapter to make that happen. Find a cause you love and go make that change happen.”

VCU’s new La Esperanza Lab to study health disparities, impact of immigration policy on Richmond’s Latinx population

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Growing up in Arizona as the son of Mexican immigrants, Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D., saw firsthand how the United States’ immigration policies could affect Latinx communities.

Now, as a new faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, Moreno is gearing up to study how policies — including access to health care, immigration restrictions and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — are affecting Latinx students at VCU, as well as the growing Hispanic population of the Richmond region.

“The reason why I do this is because I feel heavily involved with these communities. I come from a Latin community myself. I was raised in Phoenix, the hub of immigration policies [that were characterized by] discrimination constructs, prejudice and institutional biases,” said Moreno, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Now all that’s on a national platform, impacting communities like Richmond.”

Moreno’s La Esperanza Lab (“esperanza” is Spanish for “hope”) at VCU aims to understand and address health care disparities in the United States that affect individuals from low-income and racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Read more.

VCU launches newly expanded pre-accelerator program, called VCU Pre-X, to better support student innovators and entrepreneurs

Hilton Bennett

Hilton Bennett (B.S.’16/En; Cert.’16/B), then a senior engineering student and now a Master of Product Innovation student at VCU, pitches a business idea last fall to VCU’s pre-accelerator program. Bennett’s idea was centered around an invention he designed to allow mountain climbers to practice indoors.

The da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University is looking for entrepreneurial and innovative students, as well as mentors from the Richmond area’s business community, to take part in a newly expanded and revamped pre-accelerator program that helps VCU students turn their promising ideas into viable startup companies.

VCU’s pre-accelerator program launched in 2015 to identify, support and launch high-growth and high-potential startups and student founders. Over four cohorts, the program’s teams raised more than $2 million in investment and revenue, and three student-run companies went on to be accepted into Lighthouse Labs, the Richmond region’s startup accelerator program.

Now called VCU Pre-X, the pre-accelerator program has shifted to a new model in which all VCU students who meet the minimum requirements will be able to access the program’s curriculum, tools and mentorship. As they progress through the program, participants will have to meet benchmarks and compete with one another for funding.

Read more.

VCU recognizes veterans

Timothy P. Williams

Timothy P. Williams, adjunct general of Virginia, provides remarks at Friday’s event.

Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated military veterans Friday at a Veterans Appreciation Reception held at the Commons Theater.

The event, which doubled as the launch of the VCU Military Veterans Alumni Council, featured remarks from Saif Khan (B.A.’07/H&S), an Iraq War veteran and a graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences; Timothy P. Williams, adjunct general of Virginia, who commands the Virginia Army National Guard, Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force; Stephen Ross, director of VCU Military Student Services; and Dan-Viggo Bergtun, president of the World Veterans Federation.

Khan is the first president of the VCU Military Veterans Alumni Council, which offers an opportunity for VCU alumni to connect with one another and the current student body through their shared bond of military service.

Read more.

Snap and share: Take Rodney with you

Rodney in ParisHere’s your chance to take Rodney the Ram with you! Snap a picture with Rodney wherever you go … on vacation, at work or at the grocery store. Then share it on Instagram or Twitter with #flatrodney. Don’t forget to wear your black-and-gold gear to show your school spirit.

Download Rodney, print and cut him out and take him with you today. We can’t wait to see all the places Rodney goes!

School of Business graduate’s foundation helps communities realize their full potential

Sean Powell

Sean Powell, a 2011 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business, founded Engage, the Foundation the same year.

Sean Powell (B.S.’11/B) sees family beyond family.

Powell’s mother began fostering children when he was 10 years old. Interacting with his foster siblings — who battled disabilities and misfortune — awakened in Powell a sense of social responsibility. He didn’t know it then, but this led him to find his passion in life: helping others discover their passions.

Powell champions the concepts of community, fellowship, brotherhood and mentorship — the idea of sticking together and experiencing life’s hardships and celebrations, and passing down new information and values along the way.

“If people around me need something to develop or grow, I always make it my effort to provide them access to the resources they need,” he said. “If I can’t provide that personally, then I’ll look into my network to see who I can connect them with so they can reach their goals.”

Powell, a graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, founded Engage, the Foundation in 2011. The community-based organization connects college students to their communities, and encourages them to work with families and kids on campus and in the neighborhood. Two of its main goals are developing successive generations who understand their purpose and identity, and reducing the costs of government assistance needed by unstable families. Engage has spurred growth in communities by holding fundraisers, development programs, workforce programs and other special events.

Read more.

Medical school alumna is a voice for all children

Colleen Kraft, M.D.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then Colleen Kraft, M.D. (M.D.’86/M; H.S.’89/M), might say it takes a pediatrician who knows that village to heal one.

Kraft, who earned her medical degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in 1986, believes spending time in the community is what opened her eyes to the daily issues and concerns facing the children and families she cared for in the office. Nothing, Kraft says, can replace the education you receive when you observe a child’s everyday environment. Some of her greatest insights came during conversations at the park, visits to the local library, school nurse’s office, daycare centers and church nurseries.

“Kids spend 15 minutes in the [doctor’s] office but they live in the community,” she said. “Your investment in the community is what really makes a difference.”

Read more.

VCU’s ‘changemaker in residence’ launches campaign urging people working to alleviate poverty to promise to be ‘sidekicks’

Master of Product Innovation students in VCU’s da Vinci Center take part in the Sidekick Manifesto social media campaign.

While visiting Honduras a few years ago as part of his work running a global development nonprofit, Shawn Humphrey, Ph.D., (M.A.’96/B) snapped a photo of a woman carrying water on her head, thinking the image would be perfect for his organization’s website.

The woman got angry. And, Humphrey realized, she had every right to be.

“It’s kind of a development trope. You see images like this on almost every nonprofit’s website. But I had taken her picture without permission, and she was understandably upset,” he said. “It made me ashamed that I did that. I didn’t use the photo, but essentially I stole her image. And, if she hadn’t said anything, I would have used it as part of [our organization’s] narrative or posted it on our website to try to raise awareness and funds for our work in Honduras.”

The humbling process of realizing he acted unethically prompted Humphrey to write what he calls the Sidekick Manifesto, a promise to support — and not attempt to lead — the efforts to alleviate poverty in communities around the world.

Read more.

‘Richmond Potluck’ benefits Puerto Rico hurricane victims

Steven Casanova’s exhibit, “The Richmond Cookbook,” at the Anderson.

A Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts alumnus has quickly turned his existing exhibition at the Anderson into a benefit for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.

VCUarts will host Steven Casanova’s (B.F.A.’15/A) “Richmond Potluck” on Friday, Oct. 6, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Anderson, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St. Casanova is one of six recent alumni featured in the “Reach Out and Touch” exhibition, on view at the Anderson through Oct. 8.

Casanova’s work, “The Richmond Cookbook,” is a submission-based citywide cookbook showing the diversity in culture and background through Richmond, while contrasting living situations and food access throughout the city.

Read more.

Alumni chapters collect food for FeedMore at annual charity challenge

Alumni chapters from all universities in Virginia, as well as several out-of-state institutions, will collect canned goods Wednesday to support FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumni will bring their canned goods and school spirit to the fifth annual Alumni Charity Challenge Wednesday, Sept. 20, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Established in 2013 by VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter, the Alumni Charity Challenge engages alumni chapters from all universities in Virginia, as well as several out-of-state institutions, to support FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank, by collecting canned goods. The challenge, part of the annual Day to Serve, brings awareness to Hunger Action Month.

Thirty participating schools aim to collect 20,000 pounds of food, as alumni compete to donate the most canned goods and get their school’s name on a challenge trophy. VCU earned the trophy for the second consecutive year in 2016. The family-friendly event, sponsored by Nationwide and Virginia Credit Union, includes food trucks, giveaways and music from 103.7 Play.

“It is a great opportunity for alumni groups to come together to fight food insecurity in central Virginia,” said Joseph R. Stemmle, a School of Business alumnus, co-chair of the challenge and a member of the RVA GOLD Chapter’s executive board. “Each alumni chapter tries to collect as many cans as possible in three hours, which are then delivered to FeedMore the following day.”

During the past four years, the Alumni Charity Challenge has collected more than 16 tons of food that has benefited 200,000 children, families and seniors in 34 cities and counties across central Virginia.

“One in seven of our neighbors is struggling to put food on the table, and one in six children in our region aren’t receiving necessary nutrition,” said VCU alumnus Tim McDermott, chief development officer at FeedMore. “Events like this help raise awareness and allow us to reach folks who may not be familiar with FeedMore, our mission, our programs and our impact.”

In addition to donating canned foods, alumni can make make a monetary donation online to FeedMore. For every $1 donated, FeedMore can distribute five pounds of food. Online donations are accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST Sept. 20.

Learn more about the Alumni Charity Challenge at www.alumnicharity.org.