The other social network

 In tough economic times, nonprofits get pinched. As the demand for their services rises, their budgets face pressure from lower rates of charitable giving, cuts in government funding, and, as the recession extends, an over-reliance on their most loyal donors.

“Our focus has been on building fundraising skills and encouraging members to use the recession as an opportunity to review and strengthen their financials,” said Cristine Nardi, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, a resource center dedicated to strengthening nonprofits that serves 230 organizations locally. “But the bottom line is that some of them aren’t going to make it, just like some for-profit businesses aren’t going to make it. It’s a natural culling in response to a challenging financial climate.”

According to statistics provided by the Urban Institute, the number of nonprofits nationwide increased by 25 percent between 2001 and 2011, a faster growth rate than in business or government sectors over the same period, which means, for better or worse, nonprofits are carrying a larger burden of the country’s social welfare safety net than ever before.

“Nonprofits feel the personal pressure in that they see the need firsthand, but the business model isn’t letting us meet the need because we’re feeling the pressure on both ends,” Nardi said. “And that’s the challenge, because it’s not a service that you can do without in many cases. It’s food, clothing, and shelter.”

A recent national survey of over 800 charitable organizations conducted in October by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, showed that small nonprofits, those with operating budgets of less than $3 million, have been hit hardest. Food banks, women’s shelters, and arts-based organizations normally fall in this category, which represents 90 percent of the sector as a whole.

While the economy has shown signs of a comeback this year, the survey showed that 59 percent of nonprofits reported less or the same charitable giving in 2011 than in 2010 and a second study cited by the Chronicle of Philanthropy says the entire sector is off just under 10 percent since 2007.

Depending on how you count them, our region is home to between 700 and 1,000 nonprofit organizations, which means you have a lot choices as you decide where to send your charitable donations this year. Nardi believes the sector she represents is designed to deal with the challenges tough times present.

“The story that I’d like to tell is that nonprofits are also thriving given the challenges of the recession and I think part of the reason for that is that nonprofits have a unique value in the community because they alone are able to provide a targeted response to community need,” Nardi said. “To do this well, the sector has to be creative, it has to be scrappy, and it has to be innovative, and we see that locally in response to the financial climate.”

The five organizational profiles that follow offer snapshots of the sector’s range, impact, and creativity.—Giles Morris

Breaking the color barrier

AATF Fellow and Atlanta native Wes Bellamy, 25, started his own nonprofit called Helping Young People Evolve (HYPE), a program that combines boxing and mentoring to empower young black men. (Photo by Nick Strocchia)

African-American Teaching Fellows diversify faculty in city and county schools

African-American Teaching Fellows of Charlottesville-Albemarle was created in 2004 by a group of citizens concerned about the achievement gap between African-American and white students in area public schools. The nonprofit seeks to increase the number of black teachers in local school systems in response to a growing body of research that suggests that a diverse teaching staff improves student performance.

City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools employ 1,500 teachers and fewer than 150 are African-American. Conversely, the student populations in the city and county are 43 percent and 15 percent African-American, respectively.

The organization’s executive director, Scott Guggenheimer, is white and spent six years teaching at the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington D.C., a results-focused charter school that served a 100 percent African-American student body. The neighborhood had the highest poverty rates in the city and an 8 percent college graduation rate among adults. The academy sent all of its graduates to college but only one in four freshmen finished at the high school. Guggenheimer believes the lack of African-American teachers created a false choice between high academic achievement and student well-being.

“During my time there I was struck by the fact that you had an all-black student body and an all-white administration,” Guggenheimer said. “I believe fundamentally that I had a positive impact on my second period class, right, but those kids had third period, fourth period, fifth period, sixth period… all with white teachers. And at some point that’s a little weird. At some point that’s problematic for the student.”

AATF offers financial support to prospective African-American teachers to help them cover the cost of tuition, textbooks, and licensure as they prepare to become educators. In return, Fellows commit to serve as teachers in local schools for a year for each year they received support. The organization works in partnership with the leaders of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County school districts to place its teachers in classrooms where they can have the most impact on students.


One semester of tuition support for a Fellow: $2,500

Recruitment trip to speak to 20 prospective Fellows: $250

Lunch for a Fellow-Mentor pair: $25

Volunteer mentors, committee members, envelope stuffers.

In addition to financial support for school and licensure, AATF provides leadership training, hands-on mentoring, and a supportive network that helps its Fellows develop as members of their community.

In 2010, five AATF Fellows were teaching in local schools. This year, the number jumped to 10, and Guggenheimer expects that five new Fellows will be added to that number every year. He believes the nonprofit is at a critical point in its development during which it has to grow quickly in order to make a case to school districts that it’s relevant.

“Eighteen months ago I joined an organization that had a solid foundation and was ready to take the plunge. The plan was to support more Fellows, provide a more significant program, and make the case that our Fellows can impact the entire community. And that’s what they’re doing,” Guggenheimer said.—Giles Morris

Wes Bellamy, 25, from Atlanta, Georgia

Wes Bellamy teaches computer science at Albemarle High School. He came to AATF after spending a year working at NGIC following his graduation from South Carolina State University with a degree in business administration. Monticello High School Associate Principal Dr. Jesse Turner persuaded him to become a teacher and enroll in the program instead of attending law school.

Bellamy, who grew up in an all-black neighborhood and attended a historically black college, said he never thought about his skin color as a barrier to success.

“Growing up in Atlanta I had never seen a white principal, a white fire chief, a white mayor. Everything that I saw was black,” Bellamy said. “In the schools I grew up in you were expected to do well and your skin color wasn’t a hindrance. It wasn’t really a factor.”

Now studying for his master’s degree in education administration at Virginia State, Bellamy sees himself as more than a teacher at AHS. He wants to be a mentor, an example, and a confidence boost for his African-American students.

“As a kid, I just knew I was going to do well. I didn’t grow up in the best household. Our schools weren’t the best. Our neighborhood definitely wasn’t the best,” Bellamy said. “I think the kids here just don’t have the same belief. For many of them they don’t think having success and achieving in an educational setting is necessarily the route to go.”

In addition to his role as an African-American Teaching Fellow, Bellamy has started a nonprofit called Helping Young People Evolve (HYPE), a program that combines boxing and mentoring to empower young black men. He is also a founding member of Young Men With Great Minds, a mentoring program for students in local schools and a member of 100 Black Men of Central Virginia.

In other words, he takes leadership and mentoring seriously, because he knows many of his students will grow up without their fathers around, as he did.

“Do I feel like I have to pick up more of the slack? Yes, I definitely feel I do. But why not? I’m a firm believer that it takes a community to raise a young child, whether they be black, white, yellow, green. Let’s not talk about it, let’s go do it,” Bellamy said.

Brittany Sanders, 23, from Louisa, Virginia
Brittany Sanders grew up in Louisa and got involved with AATF during her senior year at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Neither of her parents finished their college degrees, and when her father lost his job, she saw AATF as a lifeline.


“It was hard at first and my mother didn’t want me to come home, because she knew there was nothing for me without a degree,” Sanders said. “She didn’t want me to be like her and my father, and she didn’t want me to be a statistic. She would have found a way, but I thank God that AATF was here to help.”

These days Sanders teaches second and third grade special education at Jackson-Via Elementary School, where she is the school’s only African-American special education teacher. It’s been a tough year.

“I’m African-American, I’m the youngest, and I’m new, so I get hit by all three of those at the same time,” Sanders said.

Guggenheimer recognizes the added pressure his Fellows feel as members of the AATF program, and he believes they thrive on it.

“We’re still a young organization. Our Fellows are still trailblazers,” Guggenheimer said.

“They’re not entering a system that after 15 years of establishing networks and partnerships they’re ready to walk into a well-oiled machine. Brittany was going to walk into a building where there wasn’t an African-American special education teacher until she got there.”
Growing up, Sanders spent time in Richmond and Henrico County schools, and she experienced life with and without black teachers.

“As a young girl it really didn’t make a difference. A teacher was a teacher,” Sanders said. “But as I got older and I had African-American teachers, I felt more connected to them. It was like, ‘You’re the same color as me. I know we can connect in some way.’”

But while Bellamy has stretched his sphere of influence far beyond his school, Sanders is focused on her students, all of whom are African-American. She got hooked on teaching special education after she was placed in a class of wheelchair-bound students with mental disabilities as a member of a Teacher Cadet program in Louisa County.

“People always figure they can’t learn but they can learn. You just have to find the right way for them to learn,” Sanders said.

To learn more about how you can help the African-American Teaching Fellows of Char-
lottesville-Albemarle visit or call Executive Director Scott Guggenheimer at 220-4264.


CHIP Executive Director Judy Smith says her organization’s biggest goals are getting children off the waiting list and hiring enough staff for top-notch, direct interaction with families. (Photo by Nick Strocchia)

3,600 children served
Jefferson Area CHIP brings committed health care and education to families

In 1991, the Roanoke-based Child Health Investment Partnership launched a companion office in Charlottesville. Initially, the office was a collaborative effort between the Thomas Jefferson Health District and the Monticello Area Community Action Agency. Three years ago, Jefferson Area CHIP (which now stands for Children’s Health Improvement Program) became an independent nonprofit, with a network of family clients in Albemarle, Charlottesville, Fluvanna and Louisa.

“Our families are primarily referred to us from other families, from UVA, from social services. Referrals come from everywhere,” said Executive Director Judy Smith.

According to Smith, Jefferson Area CHIP typically sees issues concerning inadequate access to health care or parenting practices, as well as growth and development issues in local children. “It doesn’t mean the child has a development delay,” explained Smith. Rather, “parents didn’t know what to expect and how to help the child reach certain levels.”

By providing devoted two-person teams that stick with families through health and education issues, for as long as those families require care, Jefferson Area CHIP has drastically boosted preschool and childcare enrollment rates among kids, and employment rates among their parents. Now in its 20th year, Jefferson Area CHIP has worked with more than 2,000 area families and 3,600 kids.—Brendan Fitzgerald

Executive Director Judy Smith on CHIP’s work:
“It’s hard to talk about preventative health care and immunizations if you don’t know where you are going to sleep or whether you have enough food on the table. CHIP was started as a program to bring together both the health concerns and the social concerns that low-income families face. We have a team approach, in which a family support worker and a nurse work with every family enrolled in CHIP.”

“Our biggest goal is getting children off the waiting list and having a big enough staff to meet the need that’s out there in the community… We’re living in a community and an economy right now that’s not in great shape. There’s becoming a bigger gap between those families and families in the upper end. To do that, you need a bigger staff, which means you have to have more funds. It all kind of wraps itself around each other.”

“In terms of individual goals with families, we are going to work toward financial stability in families, and we may continue to work with United Way on that. We work very closely with the UVA School of Nursing and have students who are placed with us; we may be looking for opportunities for expansion of that role with UVA.”

“I could give you lots of little things but that’s what we need. We’re pretty much a one-focus program, and that is meeting the needs of low-income children and families to help parents provide a nurturing home environment and to help their families move toward self-sufficiency.”

 By the numbers:

Jefferson Area CHIP started with an annual budget of roughly $80,000, according to Smith. During the last fiscal year, the local organization received more than $300,000 from Albemarle and Charlottesville governments.

The organization began with two full-time employees. Now, Jefferson Area CHIP employs 24.

During an average month, Jefferson Area CHIP serves roughly 250 families—a number that translates to between 400 and 450 children on average, said Smith.

“First, you’ll meet your team, which will likely work with you during your whole time at CHIP. That team will complete a family needs assessment—a lot of open-ended questions about what’s important to your family, what you would like to work on, what the family’s needs are. We are a strength-based program. We look for what each family brings to the table.”

“We go through development screens, called ‘Ages and Stages Questionnaires,’ which measure how well a child is developing. It helps us identify kids who need further help. It also helps us give the parents some educational activities that they can do with their child. We give a home safety screening —anything from electrical outlets to cleaning supplies. We do a screening that measures mother-child relationships. The biggest piece of it is to provide families with health education and health assessments. Our family support workers are all certified in a program called ‘Parents as Teachers,’ which helps parents realize that they are their childrens’ first and best teacher.”

“Families get home visits. It could be once a week, or twice a month. It depends on their need. How long do they stay in the program? There’s no exact time. It could be one year, two years, three years, six months. It depends on the needs of the family and where they are.”

“We offer the health component—helping families realize health issues and connect with health resources in the community. The second piece is the parenting piece—what you need to know to raise a healthy child, which includes playing, nutrition, reading. The third is connection to community resources. No one program can solve one person’s problems.”
“I think it’s a cost saving for the family, but also for the community. I’m not speaking only in the dollars sense, although that’s probably what a lot of people are interested in hearing… When you’ve got a child who enters school healthy and ready to learn, that child is going to be more productive down the road. That child is going to be more successful. That child is going to be able to have a better living, long-term, which again brings money to the family and money to themselves.”

To learn more about how you can help the Jefferson Area Children’s Health Improvement Program, visit or call Executive Director Judy Smith at 964-4700.


At this year’s Help-Portrait, which provided 272 of Charlottesville’s less fortunate with free portraits, CPI volunteers touch up photographs before presenting them to subjects. (Photo by Ron Dressel)

Giving pictures
The Charlottesville Photography Initiative returns the favor

As any media professional can attest, a story without pictures might as well go untold. For many local nonprofits, the Charlottesville Photography Initiative helps ensure that the medium is as strong as the message.

At its core, the CPI is a photographer’s guild, established to facilitate networking and collaboration between local documentarians. But what began in 2009 as a small network of photographers has since changed the landscape of local giving by providing cost-free photography to other nonprofits in the area, many of whom lack the resources to hire professionals.

One of the CPI’s early partnerships was with the Ishan Gala Foundation, which Mayank and Sejal Gela founded in 2009 after losing their young son to neuroblastoma. In December of that year, CPI founder Nick Strocchia documented the IGF’s first annual Splash for a Cure, a poolside benefit for pediatric cancer research, and the IGF still displays the lucid, vibrant and appealing photos on its website. In 2010, the IGF raised close to $80,000, and though it would be hard to say how much professional-looking publicity aided its efforts, the beauty of the CPI’s approach is that you don’t have to. For volunteers, it’s only an afternoon, but for the nonprofits involved, having a professional, personalized look could amount to a great deal.

Studio equipment. “Right now, our studio is built on loaner gear.”

A projector. “We don’t have anything to present with.”

By the numbers
The CPI has 327 members.

Since 2009, the CPI has provided over 20 local nonprofits and more than 5,000 free pictures.

In 2011, the CPI held more than 100 events.

“The contribution we give to these nonprofits helps take them to the next level, and in turn, they help bring attention to what we’re doing within the community,” said Strocchia, describing a karmic relationship that’s more than just PR speak. After moving to Charlottesville in 2009, he started the CPI on in an attempt to draw out the putatively large local photography community he had heard about but never seen. New members trickled in for the first few months for group shoots, retail discounts and trips to lectures or exhibits. But it was one of the organizations’s initial pro bono picture-taking sessions that triggered its first and largest growth spurt. In December of 2009, the CPI took part in Help-Portrait, a global movement in which photographers take portraits of disadvantaged individuals and families, and get them developed and delivered for free. After Help-Portrait, the CPI went from 50 members to 200 in a matter of days, and the group soon decided to make community involvement part of its mission.

The growth of the CPI necessitated its own set of changes. Meeting in coffee shops and libraries was getting increasingly harder to do politely, so the organization moved into a commercial space at 300 West Main. Today, the CPI has 327 members—a handful of professional photographers and a great many beginners, amateurs and semi-professionals—some of whom pay a $40 annual membership fee that gets them into workshops at a discount. For Strocchia, co-director Christian DeBaum, and the rest of the CPI leadership team, having a larger membership base meant being under great pressure to engage it. Today, the group hosts more workshops, portfolio reviews, model shoots and socials than ever, and its list of beneficiaries is still growing. To name just a few, the CPI has sent photographers to the Charlottesville Track Club’s Fun Run, Walk and Roll and the Ragged Mountain Running Summer Children’s Camp; held critter-focused photo shoots with the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA; and set up photo booths and provided paparazzi for the Live Arts Gala and the Bridge/ PAI’s annual Revel, only stipulating that events be all-volunteer and vendor-donated. The CPI also partnered with this year’s LOOK3 festival, providing upwards of 100 volunteers to help run and document the three-day celebration of photography.

On Saturday, December 10, 272 of Charlottesville’s less fortunate had their pictures taken at the CPI’s third annual Help-Portrait, including many immigrant and refuge families, and many of the city’s homeless. For Strocchia, the experience was an educational one. “We’re out of our comfort zone, and so are the subjects, but it’s great that we can find this common ground between the two of us. It’s a connection that we need to learn to make with anyone we take a portrait of.”

According to Strocchia, many Help-Portrait subjects haven’t had a portrait done since high school, if ever, and their first impulse is often to send it to family. If “Why photos instead of food?” is a valid question for a charity event, the answer has to something do with the dignifying effect of portraiture, and the importance of interpersonal connections. Recently, Strocchia ran into a man whose portrait he took in 2009, who said that after sending his mother the photograph, they reunited for the first time in 10 years, and she introduced him to the woman he would later marry.

“It seems so small,” said Strocchia. “Just a picture that someone can walk away with.” And maybe free pictures would be small, if CPI’s subjects didn’t walk away and share them.—Spencer Peterson

For more information, contact or visit


Harriet Kuhr is the executive director of the local chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which helps refugees resettle in Charlottesville. (Photo by Nick Strocchia)

Life 101
The International Rescue Committee helps refugees start a new life

Salvator Manirakiza and his two children arrived in Charlottesville on January 25 as three of the roughly 200 refugees the local chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps settle in the region every year.

A primary school teacher from Burundi, Manirakiza, who is in his 50s, spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Zambia where he learned English and worked as a truck driver.

Because Manirakiza had a family friend who has been living in town since 2004, he was able to request resettlement in Charlottesville. On that cold winter day almost a year ago, the family friend met Manirakiza and his children at the airport and drove them to their apartment.

“IRC found accommodation near that person to facilitate you, to integrate you in American community,” he said, in almost perfect English.

Manirakiza is one of around 70,000 refugees who are admitted legally into the U.S. every year. In 2010, the IRC, which has 22 branches throughout the country, helped resettle 9,600 refugees and offered services to more than 24,000.

“People are brought in under the sponsorship of the government, but the actual settlement work is done by nonprofits,” said Harriet Kuhr, IRC Charlottesville executive director.

When a refugee is sent to Charlottesville, the IRC is responsible for providing services and accommodations “to get their lives restarted.”

“We say when the plane lands we are at the airport. Literally, we are at the airport, staff person and interpreter at hand,” said Kuhr. (The IRC has trained interpreters in more than 20 languages).

From there, refugees are taken directly to the apartment the IRC has secured prior to their arrival, which, according to very detailed governmental guidelines, needs to be furnished with the basic necessities—down to an alarm clock and a pad of paper and pen.

“It doesn’t have to be fancy stuff, but it has to be a completely operational home,” said Kurh. “They have to be able to walk in and start living.”

According to Kuhr, the IRC receives federal funding from the State Department that is valid for the first six months after arrival. During that time, the Committee pays for rent and utilities, food, and clothing. State funding is also available, but solely for employment services, English lessons, and medical assistance.

Volunteers to mentor refugees by teaching them English and computer skills.

Cars so refugees can get to jobs that are not reachable with public transportation.

Clothing, especially for infants.

Household items such as blankets, towels, dishes, strollers, vacuums, and rice cookers.

Financial contributions. A $1,000 donation provides furnishings for a refugee family; $500 provides English classes for one month for 10 adults; $250 provides bilingual dictionaries for 25 refugee families; $100 provides a meal for a family upon arrival in Charlottesville and $75 provides bus passes for four adults.

By the numbers
The IRC’s projected budget for FY 2012 is $1,842,467.

For every $2 from the government, the IRC has to show $1 of locally raised contributions.

The IRC employs 17 staff members, three VISTA members and at least 100 volunteers.

About 200 refugees are resettled in Charlottesville every year.

Since opening its doors in 1998, the IRC has helped more than 2,200 refugees.

In 2011, 227 refugees came from Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Congo, Burundi, Iran, and Palestine.   

“If we are still supporting people after six months we are doing it out of contributions from the community,” she said. For the most part, however, Kuhr said 85 to 90 percent of the cases are self-sufficient after six months.

Once refugees are situated, the IRC helps them find employment, which usually is an entry-level position.

“People need to start over and even if they had more professional jobs where they are from, you have to start over,” said Kuhr. Most refugees in Charlottesville work in hospitality—housekeeping, food preparation, dishwashing, dining services—and are often employed by UVA.

A lot of what the IRC does is refer refugees to other local nonprofits where they can access the services they need. Kuhr said the IRC’s success depends on how the program is accepted by the community.

“I think we can only be here if the community wants us here,” she said.

Just like any other aspect of society, the IRC has also been hit hard by the financial crash. Before the real estate bubble burst, refugees were able to land stable construction jobs. The more time it takes refugees to find a job, the more private resources the IRC uses to support them.

“We don’t want to see refugees at homeless shelters,” said Kuhr. “We are taking our own private money and we throw everything at emergency housing.”

Now, Kurh said the IRC is working to direct more people towards agricultural and farming jobs, an untapped local resource.

In addition to employment, the IRC aids refugees in their integration into the local community by offering English, financial literacy, and cultural orientation classes. Most importantly, however, the IRC helps refugees navigate the immigration process, whether it’s family reunification, permanent residency, or U.S. citizenship.

Kuhr said the IRC works intensively with refugees for one year after their arrival. After that time, refugees reach out again to seek help to apply for green cards.

“The federal funding we get allows us to provide services for up to five years,” she said. “They pick a five-year point because that’s when they are eligible to apply for citizenship.”

After almost a year living in Charlottesville, Manirakiza works as a housekeeper at the UVA hospital, one of his children attends Albemarle High School, and the other has a steady job.
“I like Charlottesville because it’s a quiet place. There is peace,” he said. “It’s not like Africa. Here there is not persecution, there is no war.”

If he could have something more, Manirakiza said it would be having his wife and other children, who are still in Africa, here with him. He said he has already begun the application process to bring them to Charlottesville.

“Maybe next year my family will be here,” he said. “That is what I wish.”—Chiara Canzi

For more information on how you can help Charlottesville’s IRC or to volunteer, visit or call 979-7772.


Program Director Elizabeth Irvin leads a talk for employees of the Jefferson Area Children’s Improvement Program. The presentation is part of The Women’s Initiative’s ongoing efforts toward community outreach. (Photo by Nick Strocchia)

Cause an effect
The Women’s Initiative turns challenges into change

When The Women’s Initiative empowers one, it empowers many. In fact, it’s that sort of ripple effect concept that’s at the heart of the WI, a local counseling service for under- and uninsured females.

“Women are the gateway to their family’s health,” said president and founder Bebe Heiner. “Women are the ones who call the doctors, the ones who make the appointments. When you help a woman, it’s backed up by statistics that you are actually having a greater impact on the family.”

The program, which began in 2007 after Heiner grew tired of seeing such a shortage of counseling options for uninsured women, serves more than 1,000 clients per year. Already this year, the agency has surpassed its impact goals, serving 854 women from January to June, nearly 50 percent of whom are minorities and 70 percent of whom are under 45 years old.

The agency comprises three main parts, with the heart of the program being the individual and group counseling sessions, serving more than 250 women per year.

A house. The building that currently houses The Women’s Initiative was donated by Martha Jefferson. As the hospital moves to Pantops, the WI team begins a space search.

Donations. Unless the organization receives a generous housing donation, 2012 will be the first year The Women’s Initiative pays rent or a mortgage. With the subsequent shift in budget, WI needs more money to grow its program.

Volunteers. There are more than 30 ways someone can volunteer for The Women’s Initiative, including childcare, administrative duties, and private therapy. Specifically, Irvin says, the WI seeks more therapists with experience leading group sessions.

By the numbers
The nonprofit employs seven full- and part-time staff members, plus about 18 volunteer therapists and an additional 60-plus people behind the scenes doing administrative work, providing child care and serving on the organization’s Board of Directors.

More than 4,000 women have come through the program since The Women’s Initiative opened in 2007.

The Women’s Initiative plans to serve 1,170 women this year.

39 percent of the women served so far this year have been diagnosed with depression.

53 percent of the women served so far this year are employed, but 78 percent of the women served are underinsured or uninsured.

There’s no such thing as “not uninsured enough.” The sliding pay scale for a counseling session begins at $80, but slides all the way to $5.


“The very first session, you see someone kind of, hair in the face, slumped over, holding pillows, kind of covering themselves,” said Program Director Elizabeth Irvin. “By the time therapy is ending, women are sitting up straighter, there’s no pillow hiding them, there’s no hair hiding their face. There’s eye contact. They’re finding who they are again, finding their strength again. And I think that’s what we strive for for all of our clients.” Adds Heiner, “When you see that, it feels very important.”

The other two arms of the program are on-site activities (“People who are isolated are much more likely to have mental health issues, so we offer a place where they can come,” said Irvin), and education and outreach, providing workshops for different community groups.

Most recently, Irvin went on the Jefferson Area Children’s Health Improvement Program retreat to talk with direct service providers like nurses, social workers and teachers. “Those are ‘healing the healer’ kinds of workshops,” she said. The hope is that the workshop will not only help area professionals avoid burnout, but also that they will relay what they’ve learned to their own students, clients, and patients.

Another ripple effect. “Depression is the number one cause of disability in this country,” adds Heiner. “If we can help women deal with depression and go back to work, and to be able to raise their children and provide a healthy future for them, then it seems like a really good way to spend our money.”—Caite White

To find out how you can help The Women’s Initiative, visit or contact them by calling 872-0047 or e-mailing

Posted In:     News

Previous Post

The sky's the limit

Next Post

Who will be the next mayor of Charlottesville?

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

Notify of