Richmond youth who have faced homelessness and housing instability use research and advocacy to help others in similar situations

Share

Advocates for Richmond Youth members Tiffany Haynes (left), and Elaine Williams, a senior social work major at VCU.

Dmitri Blair, a 16-year-old junior at Richmond’s Armstrong High School, began experiencing homelessness and housing instability the summer before he entered the fifth grade when he, his mother, sister, brother and stepfather found themselves living in a local shelter.

“I think I was 11 at the time,” Blair said. “Then I was in a hotel for most of middle school and beginning of high school. Just recently, we’re getting housing and it’s starting to get a little better.”

As a young person dealing with uncertainty over housing, Blair said it was difficult to understand how to navigate the social services system and how to find, ask for, or even be aware of, resources that might be available to help.

Now, Blair — along with a group of other Richmond young people who have dealt with homelessness and unstable housing called the Advocates for Richmond Youth — is working to improve the support of young people in similar situations.

Read more.

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

Share
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.

Read more.

Lost in translation: Social Work student researches how overlooked refugees find ways to cope

Share
Jessica Gaddy

Jessica Gaddy

Jessica Gaddy spent three weeks last summer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, researching the psychosocial challenges and coping mechanisms of refugees, and she found the experience to be eye-opening. Her interest in the field has not dimmed since her return to the U.S. and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Gaddy — a second-year student in the Master of Social Work Program — became involved in refugee research through Hyojin Im, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work, who trains health care and service providers about mental health care needs for victims of trauma in Kuala Lumpur.

“I soon found so much purpose and interest in this particular research field because refugees are such an underrecognized population that faces insurmountable daily challenges,” Gaddy said.

Among the refugees Gaddy interviewed and studied in Kuala Lumpur were Syrian, Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani, Kachin, Chin and Somali. Gaddy knew very little about the refugee population prior to the research, and her interest continued to grow with her involvement.

“Despite their conditions, I couldn’t fathom … how they were the most hopeful and positive people I ever met,” Gaddy said.

Read more.

Program trains the next generation of leaders in addiction studies from around the world

Share
Kyle Dyer, Ph.D., programme director at King's College London; Mary Loos, Ph.D., program director and leader of the International Programme in Addiction Studies; and Femke T.A. Buisman-Pijlman, Ph.D., senior lecturer in addiction studies in the School of Medicine and programme director at the University of Adelaide.

Kyle Dyer, Ph.D., programme director at King’s College London; Mary Loos, Ph.D., program director and leader of the International Programme in Addiction Studies; and Femke T.A. Buisman-Pijlman, Ph.D., senior lecturer in addiction studies in the School of Medicine and programme director at the University of Adelaide.

After graduating from the School of Social Work in 2008, Amira Turner worked as a wellness coordinator at an assisted living facility, and also helped her dad – a licensed clinical social worker himself – with co-facilitating substance abuse group therapy sessions.

Now, Turner is back at Virginia Commonwealth University, pursuing not only a Master of Social Work, but also a Master of Science in Addiction Studies degree from the International Programme in Addiction Studies — a partnership between three of the world’s top research universities in the field of addiction science: King’s College London, the University of Adelaide in Australia and VCU.

“Nearly every aspect of social work involves addiction. You’ve got people dealing with psychological problems they’ve experienced, dealing with trauma and maybe abusing substances as a result,” Turner said. “There are a lot of people who are affected by addiction. So I feel like having a specialized understanding of everything involved in addiction — not just that it causes neurobiological changes or that it’s genetic or that it’s very stigmatized — but it’s such a large issue, that the more I learn, it feels like the bigger it gets.”

As students in the International Programme in Addiction Studies, Turner and her classmates from around the world are taking online courses on such topics as the biological basis of addiction, pharmacotherapies, psychosocial interventions and public health and policy related to addiction, as well as courses focusing on research.

Read more.

Two VCU programs ranked No. 1, Arts rises to No. 2 in updated U.S. News & World Report national rankings

Share

overheadSeveral graduate programs at Virginia Commonwealth University are ranked among the top 50 of the nation’s best in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released on March 16.

Among the graduate schools with updated rankings for the 2017 edition, the School of the Arts is tied for the No. 2 overall fine arts ranking in the nation. Also, the School of Pharmacy is tied for No. 17, the School of Social Work is tied for No. 22, the School of Education is ranked No. 33 and the School of Medicine is tied for No. 40 for best primary care.

Within the School of the Arts, a number of fine arts graduate programs are ranked: Sculpture is ranked No. 1, ceramics is tied at No. 9, glass is No. 3, graphic design is No. 3, painting and drawing is No. 7 and printmaking is tied at No. 10.

Several graduate programs in the School of Allied Health Professions also fared particularly well in the report. In their categories, nurse anesthesia is ranked No. 1 in the nation, health care management tied for No. 3, rehabilitation counseling tied for No. 4, occupational therapy tied for No. 17 and physical therapy tied for No. 20.

Read more.

Botanical art helps professor find fulfillment both inside and outside of the classroom

Share
Judy Thomas, Ph.D.

Judy Thomas, Ph.D.

Judy Thomas, Ph.D., a faculty member in the School of Social Work, splits her time between two passions: teaching the next generation of social workers at Virginia Commonwealth University and creating beautiful botanical illustrations.

Thomas, an assistant professor in teaching, is an accomplished botanical artist and instructor who teaches classes at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where her artwork is currently on display.

“In addition to my job at VCU, I teach colored pencil for botanical artists in Richmond,” she said. “I am a member of several art guilds: Central Virginia Botanical Artists, the Botanical Art Society of the Capitol (DC) Region and the American Society of Botanical Artists. Oh, and I started the Chickahominy Color Pencil Group and teach drawing as a volunteer at a local library.”

epenthes alata

epenthes alata

Thomas, who was an art minor in college and painted abstracts for years, became interested in botanical illustration and art in 2006 when she took an introductory course on botanical illustration at Lewis Ginter.

Botanical illustration, she said, is a scientific discipline, requiring the artist to measure and draw the botanical specimen with accuracy.

“In botanical illustration, we have many rules, [such as] to draw on a white or off-white background, to depict all parts of the plant, in all stages of development, and to dissect the flower and draw the parts,” she said. “We also try to draw the specimen in all seasons and stages of growth and understand, and depict, the mathematics of repeating botanical structures. The goal is to aid in plant identification and produce a thing of beauty.”

Read more.

VCU valentines: As these couples can attest, love is in the air at VCU

Share

cache-8809-0x0

Universities have a knack for bringing people together, whether it’s to collaborate on a research project, play on a Quidditch team with similarly fanatic Harry Potter fans or pull an all-nighter in the library studying together for an exam. And sometimes, with no advance warning, sparks fly. We hope you’ll enjoy these eight stories from happy couples who first connected at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Jessica Moise and Jowan Burton. Photo by Terri Baskin Photography.

Jessica Moise and Jowan Burton. Photo by Terri Baskin Photography.

Jessica Moise (B.S.W.’08/SW) and Jowan Burton (B.S.’06/H&S)

At a Friday night dodgeball game at the Siegel Center in fall 2006, a team of regulars led by then-VCU junior social work major Jessica Moise was joined by a new player, criminal justice major Jowan Burton.

“One of the rules was that you had to sit down if you were hit by the ball. Well, Jowan didn’t sit, he would kneel down,” Jessica recalled. “For some reason this bothered me like crazy because he was breaking the rule. Talking about it now makes me realize how silly it was but at the moment I was annoyed at this new guy messing up the game.”

That chance meeting, Jowan jokes, turned out to be “power struggle No. 1” in what would eventually grow into their relationship.

“Jessica stood out, mainly because she was the ‘medic’ and she was yelling commands at her teammates,” he said. “I joined her team just to enrage her and to disregard her commands.”

Fast forward a few months, and the two met again at a party. And after attending a step show — Jessica is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Jowan is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. — they became a couple.

“I believe she sang a song during the step show and afterwards she was very concerned if I believed she did well,” Jowan said. “I couldn’t break her heart and tell her no, so I told her that I thought she sounded great … [Later on, we went out with] with a group of friends at what was formerly New York Fried Chicken. After seeing her eating fried chicken late night, I was very impressed and believed she was very down-to-earth and funny.”

This past April, Jowan, a probation officer and high school football coach, took Jessica, who works for child protective services, to Tarra Winery in Loudoun County to ask her to marry him.

“As we were getting ready to leave, Jowan came around the table, got down on one knee and proposed,” she said. “He gave a wonderful speech, which I don’t remember because I was too excited and crying at the same time. After I said yes and stopped crying he proceeded to tell me how he’d made several attempts to propose but I — unknowingly — blocked every attempt.”

“No matter what she tells anyone, I was NOT nervous,” Jowan added. “I was cool as a cucumber … Her not hearing my speech isn’t so bad because that means I get to ignore a few of her speeches.”

The couple visited VCU in the fall for an engagement photo shoot.

“VCU is the place where I forged great relationships with VCU students and within the community of Richmond through working with the Phi Delta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.,” Jowan said. “I received my first promotion at VCU working for Rec Sports, I met my best friends and the woman who I intend to marry at VCU. VCU will always be the place that made Richmond a home away from home for me.”

For Jessica, VCU was where she joined her sorority and made memories living in Johnson Hall, eating at Shafer Court, hanging out in the Fan and playing dodgeball every Friday night.

“I learned a lot about myself, made some amazing friends and met my future husband,” she said. “I can’t wait to say ‘I do’ on March 5.”

Read more VCU love stories.

New agreement between VCU and Reynolds Community College to make social work degrees more accessible, affordable

Share
Jenni Church transferred to the VCU School of Social Work under an articulation agreement with John Tyler Community College.

Jenni Church transferred to the VCU School of Social Work under an articulation agreement with John Tyler Community College.

Virginia Commonwealth University has signed a deal with Reynolds Community College to allow eligible Reynolds students who earn an associate’s degree in pre-social work to transfer to VCU and complete their bachelor’s degree at the School of Social Work in as little as four semesters.

The School of Social Work’s new articulation agreement with Reynolds Community College is the second such agreement with a Richmond-area community college. The School of Social Work entered into a similar agreement with John Tyler Community College in 2012, and the first cohort of transfer students from JTCC is currently studying at VCU.

“Our articulation agreements with both JTCC and Reynolds provide a direct pathway or bridge for students to begin their social work degree at the community college level and then transfer to VCU School of Social Work in the B.S.W. program,” said Ananda Newmark (M.S.W.’02/SW), B.S.W. program director for VCU’s School of Social Work.

So far, 12 graduates of JTCC’s Human Services, Pre-Social Work Specialization Program, have transferred to VCU and are pursuing a B.S.W. degree.

“Many students who begin their college coursework at various community colleges do so for a variety of reasons: convenient geographical locations, flexible schedule of classes to accommodate life, online courses and cheaper tuition,” Newmark said. “These agreements decrease the amount of time and money needed to earn their B.S.W. degree, ultimately contributing to increasing retention and graduation rates.”

Read more.

Alumnus’s graphic novel seeks to inspire children with learning disabilities

Share
Featured photo

“Nelson Beats The Odds”

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work alumnus has authored a graphic novel that he hopes will inspire children with learning disabilities and help destigmatize special education.

In “Nelson Beats The Odds,” Ronnie Sidney II (M.S.W.’14/SW)  tells the story of a boy named Nelson who is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and placed in special education, but who overcomes his disability and eventually studies social work in college and graduates at the top of his class.

Sidney, who received a master’s degree in social work from VCU in 2014, spent seven years in special education while growing up in Tappahannock, Virginia. “Nelson Beats The Odds,” he said, is written for children in a similar situation today.

“When I was in special education, there were no books, movies or cartoons with characters with learning disabilities or ADHD, so I felt alone,” he said. “I never talked to my friends, parents or teachers about it. I wanted to write a book that inspired kids diagnosed with disabilities and lets them know that they are not their disability.”

Read more.

Social work students explore Richmond’s struggles with race, injustice

Share
Featured photo

Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work took a tour of Richmond last week to better understand the city — as well as social work — through a racial justice lens.

“I consider myself a radical social worker,” said Rebecca Keel, a master’s of social work student, speaking to her fellow students at Richmond’s slave burial ground. “The word ‘radical’ means ‘root cause.’ As social workers, we need to be thinking about the root causes of issues. Structural racism, social oppression and how that manifests in people’s lives – that’s what being a social worker is.”

As part of the daylong “Richmond [Re]Visited: An Orientation to Racial [In]Justice in RVA,” VCU social work students of all levels — undergraduates, master’s students and doctoral candidates — packed into four buses and traveled to sites in Richmond’s Greater Fulton and Shockoe Bottom neighborhoods, both of which have been marked by racial discrimination.

In Shockoe Bottom, the students visited the slave burial ground and Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, where they learned Richmond was early America’s second-largest slave market and heard the story of Gabriel, an enslaved man who planned a slave revolt in 1800 but was hanged once the plan was discovered.

“Shockoe Bottom is a place that we are coming to understand is as significant to the history of the country as St. John’s Church up the hill [from the slave burial grounds] where Patrick Henry gave the ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech,” said Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality.

Read more.