Ever since JFS’ predecessor, the Ladies Hebrew Association, added “Benevolent” to their name and began serving the community beyond its own members, we have continued to expand our reach to more and more Richmonders in need.
In 2019, JFS was particularly concerned with two intertwined problems facing residents of Richmond’s East End: elders with Medicaid insurance needed care, and adults needed more jobs with paths to advancement and a living wage. While we successfully hosted Personal Care Aide (PCA) training classes at our Patterson Avenue office, we knew offering accessible PCA training to East End residents would take more than simply copying our previous model. JFS convened numerous community partners working in the East End, as well as individuals interested in the course, to design a PCA training program tailored to its participants needs, concerns, and feedback.
It was our PCA school partners – especially the Community Health Workers (CHW) assigned to the Resource Centers of Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) communities – that planted the seed of the Partnership for Behavioral Health in the East End. JFS’ Chief Impact Officer Becki Mann remembered, “It was in those conversations that we heard about the impact of trauma on children and youth living in RRHA neighborhoods. Building the PCA program was all about identifying and overcoming barriers. With great partners by our side, I knew we could collaborate again on a counseling program to serve these children, youth, and their families where they live, with the care they want.”
A gift from the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation allowed JFS to invest countless hours in close collaboration with not only our organizational partners in the East End, but also in focus groups with CHWs and youth interested in getting counseling. The CHWs expressed frustration with short-lived programs built without community input. Youth named obstacles they faced to getting counseling: stigma about seeking help, lapses in Medicaid coverage, long bus rides to appointments. One CHW laid out the need in no uncertain terms: “If you live here, you’ve experienced trauma.”
But, as the Partnership for Behavioral Health in the East End came into focus, the pandemic struck. Children, youth, and their families living in RRHA communities – all low-income and almost all Black – are among the hardest hit by Covid’s emotional and economic impacts. A worrying lack of accessible mental health care became an extreme need overnight. Just as the program was ready to begin, the pandemic made hiring a counselor nearly impossible.
As the search for a counselor dragged on, Keandra “KeeKee” Holloway, the CHW of Fairfield Court, never lost hope. “I added it to my nightly prayers.” JFS was determined to stay involved, even in small ways. The BB&T Scott & Stringfellow team provided 25 boxes stuffed with Thanksgiving dinner essentials to deliver to Fairfield Court, and we added several neighborhood families to our Lights of Love menorah. It was that dedication KeeKee remarked on. “I can’t tell you how important it is that JFS is with us on the ground here.”
KeeKee and JFS were determined to make the program succeed, no matter the obstacles. When doors closed, they opened windows. Finally, one window led to partnerships with Denise Hall and the VCU School of Health Professions and Dr. Lakesha Roney of Inner Self Counseling and Consulting. Both jumped at the chance to offer the Partnership for Behavioral Health in the East End as a place that counseling graduates could work to earn their statewide licenses. We hoped to find one person, and ended up finding an entire pipeline of potential counselors for the program.
JFS is humbled to announce that in July children, youth, and their families in Fairfield Court will be able to walk to the Resource Center in their neighborhood and receive compassionate, competent, and convenient mental health care at no cost. As the program gathers steam, it will expand to the other three East End RRHA communities: Whitcomb, Mosby, and Creighton Courts. “I want this thing to be so big,” KeeKee said, “And I know it can be.”