Hometown Heroes 2019

Hometown Heroes

For more than 100 years, our attorneys and staff have been inspired by those in the community who make Virginia a great place to live and work. That’s why each year, we share the stories of the Hometown Heroes that generate positive change in our community or in the lives of others.

A community is so much more than just a group of people: it’s the spirit we create when we work together with our neighbors to help one another. Everywhere in Virginia are individuals who are driven to volunteer, motivate, create, and donate to their hometowns. We call these special people Hometown Heroes.

“We find our lives in spending them in the service of others.”
-George Allen Sr., founder of the Allen Law Firm.

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary in 2010, Allen & Allen recognized outstanding members of the communities we serve who embody and demonstrate the ideals of service and action that our firm was founded upon. Honoring these dedicated citizens was so fulfilling and uplifting for both our firm and community that it became an annual event. 2019 marks our 10th Anniversary of the Hometown Heroes Program.

After careful consideration, these 15 nominees were chosen to be the 2019 Allen & Allen Hometown Heroes because of their untiring commitment to helping others.

Our Heroes

Mary Birkholz

After working in animal shelters since her early 20s, Mary Birkholz was heartbroken to see the number of pets euthanized each year. That’s why, in 1987, Mary founded Caring for Creatures, a nonprofit rescue sanctuary and no-kill shelter for dogs and cats.

“My goal is to have a sanctuary where every animal is protected and their mental, physical, and emotional wounds can be healed,” says Mary.

Caring for Creatures, located at 352 Sanctuary Lane in Palmyra, features a spacious and secluded environment, affording the pets the ability to roam until they find their forever home.

“I just thought that if the animals had a little more time they would find a home,” says Mary.  At Caring for Creatures, if a pet is not placed into a home, the shelter will provide care and companionship indefinitely.

The organization rescues animals from high-kill shelters and is currently caring for around 200. Mary, along with her staff of 15, spends time getting to know the animals in order to rehabilitate them in the hopes of matching the animals with an appropriate home.

“It's such a reward to see animals come to us in an awful condition and then see them recover to become a family companion,” she says. “You see them come full circle. That's why we do this -- so many that were thrown away eventually blossom into awesome companions.”

Consisting of a staff of volunteers and medics who are working towards their veterinary license, Caring for Creatures has been in operation for more than 30 years. Unlike some shelters, Caring for Creatures offers prospective fa

milies the ability to take an animal home for a sleepover or to foster an animal for a short time before adoption.

Caring for Creatures also gets involved in the community, promoting programs like spaying and neutering in order to help lower the number of animals entering care facilities.

Mary believes that when you help animals, you also help people.

“These are not just dogs or cats – they have feelings. They feel pain, happiness and sorrow just like us. I feel that animals are here to help humans and to teach us, and I encourage others to view animals from a different perspective,” she says.

In addition to volunteer opportunities, the shelter also seeks donations.  To learn more about how to foster or adopt an animal, or to volunteer or make a donation to Caring for Creatures, click here.

Gail Crawford

Gail Crawford believes the easiest way to empower underserved members of the community is through education. That’s why, when considering her legacy, Gail decided to start a nonprofit that offers tutoring services to those in need of support.

“I thought, before I leave this planet, I want to make a difference,” says Gail.

In her time off from working as a senior technical consultant at Bank of America, Gail founded MAD4YU, or Making a Difference for You. The one-on-one free tutoring service seeks to strengthen the Greater Richmond community by providing computer literacy and study skills to underserved youths, adults, and senior citizens.

“We support youths and seniors because I feel like those groups are the ones who need it the most,” says Gail. The goal of MAD4YU is to increase independence and job readiness, while reducing dropout rates and homelessness.

“It's a beautiful thing to see the success of the program,” says Gail. “Kids are improving in school and the parents love it.”

Currently, MAD4YU has nearly 60 students on its roster, and has helped more than 300 in the last five years. In addition to tutoring, the organization also offers free services like homework help, GED preparation, PC training, and resume writing at their office located at 827 East Parham Road in Richmond.

Gail thanks her volunteers – made up of high school and university students and working adults – for the program’s success.

“One of the most rewarding outcomes is to see the volunteers working with the students and seniors. To know they feel the same way I do about helping others gives me the inspiration I need to continue,” says Gail.

When asked how she feels about being nominated as a 2019 Allen & Allen Hometown Hero, Gail recognizes the importance of the nonprofit instead.

“Although I don’t do this for recognition, I think being named a Hometown Hero is a great thing, especially if it helps get the word out about MAD4YU,” she says.

Click here to learn more about the services offered at the Making a Difference for You Community Enrichment Resource Center, or to find ways to get involved. 

Annie Dodd

When Annie Dodd quit her job as an Occupational Therapist to help her aging parents in their time of need, she soon discovered a path toward helping others as well.

“After my mom passed away, I was left with a lot of her medical equipment,” says Annie. “We couldn't find anywhere that would accept what we had. Then I called social workers to get rid of the equipment, and all of a sudden I got a ton of calls.”

Annie’s mission became clear. Beginning in her carport and then working out of a small storage unit, Annie and her husband started collecting used medical items to donate to people in need.

The operation would later become known as All Blessings Flow, a nonprofit that recycles medical and mobility equipment, and then redistributes those items to people in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and the surrounding counties.

“There are many individuals who have a great need for these very things. But for many reasons they have limited access to them, whether due to insurance-related issues, financial difficulties, or just a lack of resources,” says Annie. 

All Blessings Flow expanded for the second time in December, when, through the help of a grant, they acquired the space necessary to move their mission forward.

Their new location at 2335 Seminole Lane in Charlottesville is outfitted with a water source to properly clean the equipment, as well as a large repair area so Annie and her team of 33 volunteers can ensure the items are in proper working order before redistribution.

Today, All Blessings Flow distributes over 500 items per month to people with disabilities. They have helped more than 3,500 people and saved over 155,000 pounds of equipment from landfills.

“We feel led to do this,” says Annie. “There are so many people in dire need. We need to do

 something about it, and that’s how all blessings flow.”

The organization accepts small equipment donations like canes and crutches, unopened wound care supplies and gloves, and adult briefs and bed pads, for drop off at any Kroger Pharmacy in Charlottesville. Larger equipment like walkers, wheelchairs, and electric hospital beds, can be dropped off at their location. For a full list of accepted equipment, visit allblessingsflow.org.

 

“Everyone can be a hero,” says Annie. “Whether they’re giving equipment or their time, everyone can be a blessing to someone else.”

To learn more about Annie’s story, to donate equipment, or to find out ways you can become a volunteer, visit AllBlessingsFlow.org.

Rick Ecker

After serving for more than two decades in the United States Marine Corps, Rick Ecker founded the Veterans on Track program, a nonprofit to help veterans and first responders transform their lives by transforming their homes.

“I learned these folks were being placed into housing with nothing. They were given the keys to a place with four walls without the basic comforts of a home,” says Rick. “I wanted to change that.”

Though he started the foundation in 2013, Rick didn’t furnish his first house until three years later with the help of his wife and daughter. Since then,  Veterans on Track has taken off, furnishing some 350 homes in cities ranging from Baltimore to Virginia Beach.

While it’s hard to get an accurate count due to the transient nature of homelessness, recent estimates by the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs puts the number of homeless veterans at 37,900. While stark, the number represents a 5 percent decrease from January 2017 to January 2018.

“Through our efforts, 98 percent of our vets remain in their homes and don’t go back into the streets,” Rick says.

Solely made up of volunteers and donations from the community, Rick hopes to one day expand the program to multiple cities across the country in order to develop a nationally-focused donation network of household items.

“No one can understand what we do unless you go with us on a mission and watch the change in that person when we start unloading and making an empty house a home. They’ve suffered loss in their life and in our small way, we are able to give something back to them,” says Rick.

“We collect donations throughout communities and keep furniture from going to landfills. We have to collect, store, and redistribute donations based on need and referrals,” says Rick, whose warehouse is located in South Stafford.

Due to the recent overwhelming support of donations filling the current warehouse, the organization is seeking monetary donations. Click here to donate, volunteer, or learn more about Veterans on Track Foundation.

Shonda Harris-Muhammed

Shonda Harris-Muhammed has had a passion for helping children for as long as she can remember. An educator for 27 years, Shonda believes in starting students off on the right foot.

Armed with that belief and only $25, Shonda founded Northside Coalition for Children in 2009. The organization provides free school supplies to any child attending public school. 

“People don’t think about the necessary resources that a child needs to succeed in school beyond the obvious: shoes and clothes. They need supplies in order to be successful throughout the year,” says Shonda.

Before the beginning of each school year, Shonda, along with a group of volunteers, hands out backpacks to children throughout the City of Richmond. To date, the organization has provided free school supplies to over 10,000 students. 

Shonda continues the outreach during the school year when she donates supplies to different organizations such as Women Ministries at local churches, as well as sororities, fraternities, and local schools. 

However, Shonda’s biggest event is the Back-to-School Rally, held annually in August. At the Back-to-School Rally, students can receive a free eye exam, dental kits, haircuts, clothing, and a backpack full of school supplies.

“We can come together to say two things: good morning and have a great school year, as we give them free school supplies so they don’t have to worry about it on the first day,” says Shonda of the event, which will be held this year on Saturday, August 10, 2019.

The Northside Coalition for Children also provides free services to teachers, giving educators pens, printers, paper clips, file folders, and more.

“Teachers spend up to $3,300 a year on supplies for their classrooms,” says Shonda, “and we want to alleviate some of that burden.”

Founded on the value of servant leadership, the organization has been around for 11 years with Shonda at the heart of the operation.

“It’s not me; it’s about the services we provide. I never think about who is watching or listening, I just serve. I know there’s a need and I make sure that need is fulfilled. I love what I do,” says Shonda. 

Click here to donate, volunteer, or learn more about the Northside Coalition for Children.

Lynne Hughes

Oftentimes tragedy can lead to a greater sense of purpose, as was the case with Lynne Hughes. When she lost her parents at a young age, she discovered there were few resources for grieving children in the community.

“People look at a child’s grief and it looks different than an adult’s grief. Kids need a voice and a place where they can go that allows them to get back to being a kid again, rather than an adult before their time,” says Lynne.

Born out of a desire to help children learn healthy ways to process grief, Lynne founded Comfort Zone Camp in 1998. The nonprofit helps children ages 7 to 17 who have experienced the loss of a parent, sibling, or caregiver to attend the camp at no cost.

“I get to see kids blossom, grow, and heal right in front of my eyes,” says Lynne. “To put a smile on their face and see them be a kid again -- you know what's happening is bigger than you.”

Comfort Zone empowers children experiencing grief to fully realize their capacity to heal, grow, and lead more fulfilling lives. Comfort Zone has seen campers from nearly all 50 states, as well as from Canada and the United Kingdom.

“The need is so great that we currently have kids on the waiting list,” says Lynne.

Based out of Richmond, Comfort Zone hosts weekend camps throughout the U.S. Attendees play games, hike, sing karaoke, and eat s'mores, all while sharing as much or as little of their stories as they feel comfortable sharing.

Licensed counselors and grief therapists facilitate the age-based Healing Circle support groups, and registered nurses administer medications and serve as on-site on-call throughout the weekend.

To help their programming, Comfort Zone enlists around 85 volunteers for each weekend camp program. Adults ages 18 and older serve as Big Buddies, who are paired one-to-one with a camper, and teens ages 15 through 18 serve as Junior Counselors.

“I never dreamed that kids would want to come back to help out as counselors, but right now, one child who was at the very first camp came back to help. Since, he has gone on to be a Junior Counselor then a Big Buddy. Now he is on the Board of Directors,” says Lynne.

She adds that throughout the years she has seen more than 25 former campers volunteer in some capacity.

The nonprofit hosts weekend camps throughout the month, as well as fundraising events. Their upcoming 2019 Virginia Grief Relief 5K will be held in Scotts Addition on Saturday, September 21.

To learn more about Comfort Zone Camp, or to make a donation, volunteer, refer a family or host a fundraising event, click here.

Gail Hyder Wiley

Gail Hyder Wiley’s interest in politics began when her son started taking classes with a renowned professor at the University of Virginia. The subject led her to begin volunteering and ultimately start her nonprofit organization. 

“In 2008, I got involved in campaigns as a volunteer and was tasked with helping people who were having issues getting to polls,” says Gail.

Through the assignment, she realized that segments of the community were alienated from exercising one of their democratic rights due to difficulties accessing transportation.

That’s when Gail and a fellow campaign volunteer started Charlottesville Albemarle Rides to Vote (CAR2Vote), an all-volunteer group that matches those who need rides to the polls with nonpartisan volunteer drivers.

“I’ve realized there is a lot of disenfranchisement because of transportation difficulties. It may be a half a block to a bus stop, but if you have medical needs, that’s hard,” says Gail.

Since 2012, CAR2Vote has provided rides in every election, including the primaries. Gail estimates the program has helped between 500 and 600 people get to the polls.

“I think every election gives us all an opportunity to be more of a community,” says Gail. “Take Election Day to reach out to your neighbor who maybe isn’t as mobile and make sure they have a ride to the polls. We overlook people with different needs than ours.”

Though CAR2Vote mostly helps the elderly or those with mobility issues get to the polls, the program has also helped college students.

“We would run shuttles for them and the students really liked that,” says Gail. “It became a coalition with the student council, where they petitioned to the university to get their own shuttle.”

Some of those students have since started paying it forward. “I even have university students who are drivers.” she says. “Retirees are helping students and students are helping the differently abled. It’s very cool to watch how it happens.”

Volunteer drivers with CAR2Vote provide rides with one goal in mind: helping people exercise their democratic right to vote, regardless of party.

“People feel like connected citizens when they’re at polling locations,” says Gail.

Click here to volunteer, learn more, or access safe, nonpartisan transportation during the next election.

Jeff Katz

Some may know Jeff  Katz as the radio personality who shares latest headlines on Newsradio 1140 WRVA in Richmond. However, it’s what Jeff does off the clock that makes him a 2019 Allen & Allen Hometown Hero.

“It’s really not about me,” says Jeff of his work in the community. “It’s about other people who have challenges or difficulties, or who are putting their lives on the line every day.”

Whether Jeff is making surprise deliveries of coffee and donuts to sheriffs for Katz’s Coffee with Cops, or supporting FBI Field Officers as the president of the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association in Richmond, he is always looking for ways to serve those who serve others – a decision he made 16 years ago.

“When my daughter was born – she has severe disabilities – it became clear to me that life was about helping others and giving back,” says Jeff. “She is 16 years old, but developmentally about 18 months. She doesn’t speak or walk, but she’s an inspirational girl. She is like seeing the face of good.”

Because of his daughter, Jeff has also dedicated much of his free time to serving on the Board of Directors at Friendship Circle, a nonprofit that provides monthly activities for families, children, and teens with disabilities.

“We team disabled individuals with developing kids so that they can make friends with someone they wouldn’t normally meet,” he says.

The nonprofit also organizes activities to create meaningful social experiences throughout the community. The Friendship Circle’s first bowl-a-thon, which was organized by Jeff, raised more than $30,000.

“I’m here for a short period of time,” he says, “and I would like to make other people’s lives better.”

Throughout his journey to serve others, Jeff has experienced many milestones. In early May, he was the recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leaders Award, a national recognition for his leadership and involvement in the community. This August, he will celebrate the 3rd anniversary of Blue Friday, which he started as president of the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association to honor a law enforcement officer who has gone above and beyond. Blue Friday has recognized about 40 deserving officers since its inception.

“People’s free time is overrated,” he says. “Take some time and come bowling to support Friendship Circle, or thank a law enforcement officer; buy a coffee or a sandwich for someone who may not have one otherwise.”

To learn more about Jeff and the organizations he is involved with, please visit the following links.

Kelly Lane

Kelly Lane has volunteered with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) for 25 years. When she began her three-year term as president in 2018, she was tasked with selecting a theme for her administration.

“I learned that Virginia is ranked number 6 in human trafficking, and I knew I wanted to do something about it,” says Kelly. The result is “’Step Up’ to Stop Human Trafficking.”

A 2018 report released from the Human Trafficking Institute states that, out of 783 active criminal and civil human trafficking cases in the federal court system, 33 are in Virginia, the 6th highest state for human trafficking cases on federal court dockets. The problem is likely exacerbated by the highway system, which allows for easy transportation of victims.

Kelly wanted to use the might of the GFWC, a federation of over 3,000 women's clubs across the country dedicated to volunteerism, and her platform as president of the Virginia chapter to combat the problem. As such, Kelly tasked all Virginia members with helping to raise awareness and funds to combat the issue of human trafficking. 

Her first step was to partner with the Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI), a nonprofit that seeks to eliminate human trafficking through its Prevention Project, which educates youths on how traffickers lure victims, and also provides character and leadership development.

“As part of the partnership, club women across Virginia perform outreach in local schools in order to bring the Prevention Project to that area. We also do outreach with youth groups and churches,” she says.

Schools as well as to support the current programming in the Henrico County School system. The Prevention Project provides the curriculum and the schools implement that curriculum into their current course load.

While much can be done to combat human trafficking, Kelly stresses that awareness can play the biggest role in prevention. Youths can be kidnapped and forced into human trafficking, but oftentimes they’re slowly coerced.

Throughout her time at the GFWC, Kelly has held myriad positions at the national, regional, state, district and local level, working on causes from homelessness to raising awareness about cerebral palsy, which affects a person's ability to move and maintain balance and posture. She is described by her peers as a “lifelong, tireless volunteer committed to improving her local, national and world community through hands-on, meaningful projects and programs.”

When asked how she feels about being named a 2019 Allen & Allen Hometown Hero, Kelly reflects again on the ultimate goal.

“I think it’s great, because I believe in the mission of living the volunteer spirit. I hope people will learn about the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and how they can get involved. The world needs more volunteerism,” she says.

Click here to learn more about the GWFC and how to donate your time or funds to the cause.

Joe and Celeste Logan

With a family of six, Joe and Celeste Logan have their hands full. Despite their busy lives working in education, the couple serves as therapeutic foster parents, having fostered 12 children in the past 11 years.

“We’re just about making sure young folks are taken care of,” says Joe.

As therapeutic foster parents, the Logans have been trained to foster youths with mental, emotional or behavioral issues, whose physical and emotional needs require more attention than a traditional foster care setting can accommodate. 

“We see the conditions of our community and believe we have a certain power to overcome those conditions,” says Joe.

One way the Logans want to strengthen the community is by giving children a sense of belonging – a sentiment that came full circle three years ago when the couple decided to adopt a foster child.

In addition to having three children of their own -- Joseph, Joelle and Jolie-- the couple adopted Jahem Emmanuel Logan in 2016. Before joining the family, Jahem had endured 27 surgeries to correct of a variety of conditions, spending most of his life in and out of the hospital. Jahem’s speech is also difficult for others to understand, so he often uses a speaking computer.

Working day and night with Jahem, the Logans helped him understand he was not defined by his medical needs. They admit that it hasn’t always been easy, but that it’s always been fulfilling.

“It’s scary to adopt children with special needs when you’re already a family with two working parents and you’re not sure you can handle what’s required. But we want people to know that it is possible,” says Celeste.

And the possibilities seem endless for the veteran foster parents, who are now in the process of adopting two more special needs children who have been living with them for three years.

“All children need a stable environment. Our thinking is that if you have space, open your home and heart and work towards introducing that child into your family,” says Celeste. And she should know.

“My parents were foster parents,” she says. “They fostered 24 children in 23 years.”

To learn more about Joe and Celeste’s story, visit http://lfsva.org/patient-to-little-boy/

Jocelyn Marencik

Jocelyn Marencik’s passion for computer science and community service led her down a path to volunteerism.

When the recent Center for Information Technology at Deep Run High School grad learned about the lack of computers in classrooms, particularly those in the inner city, she decided to use her skills to make a difference.

The result is Got Tec, an acronym for Gifts of Technology for Teachers, Education and Children. Got Tec launched in 2016 when Jocelyn donated two Chromebooks to teachers at J. L. Francis Elementary in south Richmond.

Since then, Got Tec has grown to donate more than $42,000 worth of technology to classrooms primarily in grades 3 through 5. Jocelyn also utilizes equipment donations and crowdfunding.

“I talk to teachers and principals and do giveaways on Facebook,” she says. “I also visit donorschoose.org, where teachers post what they need for their classroom. If someone wants a Chromebook, I’ll surprise them with it!”

In addition to technology, Jocelyn donates her time through “Learn to Code” days in local schools.

“Learn-to-Code days are usually in the afternoons when the kids are in school. I come teach them an animation project. I will go through a coding tutorial and graphic tutorial,” she says.

The children she helps are her inspiration. “Watching them get excited is the best. One school started a Coding Club after a Learn-to-Code day. That was really exciting,” she says.

In the fall, Jocelyn plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and pursue a degree in Computer Science and New Media & Design. Though she is beginning a new chapter, she doesn’t plan on turning the page on Got Tec anytime soon.

“I plan to replicate this mission in Greensboro while continuing it in Richmond with the help of younger students,” she says. “I hope that my selection as a 2019 Allen & Allen Hometown Hero will help me find more types of technology to donate, opportunities to bring more Learn-to-Code days to schools, and continue to grow the impact.”

For more information about Got Tec, visit their Facebook or Twitter pages. To learn ways to donate to the program, click here.

 

Chuck Pugh

Like his father and cousin, Chuck Pugh became a firefighter because he has a deep-rooted commitment to service. Beginning in Albemarle County in 1974, he has spent his free time volunteering as a firefighter for nearly 45 years.

“Giving back to the community is the way I was raised. Both of my parents worked hard, and I like to think I do the same,” says Chuck.

That’s why in 2012, after retiring from his full-time job in Facilities Management at the University of Virginia, Chuck decided to dedicate all of his time to service. Now he volunteers as the Assistant Chief and Training Officer at the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company, where he trains new members.

“The group of people we have now is amazing,” says Chuck. “The way they come together and work together to protect the community is amazing.”

Chuck also uses his platform to educate youths about the importance of service. Through programs like Bright Stars, which provides comprehensive early-childhood learning experiences for students with risk factors that may prevent academic success, Chuck hopes to emphasize the importance of volunteering.

“We show students different vehicles and teach them about the engine and its uses. We also show students what a firefighter looks like in gear, and let each child experience what it feels like to flow water,” he says.

North Garden Volunteer Fire Company has as many events with schools as possible because, according to Chuck, “schools are the best place in the world to get kids’ attention.”

“Hopefully, somewhere down the road we will make an impression on someone who will decide to make firefighting their career,” he says.

Likewise, Chuck is constantly educating others on what it takes to be a firefighter, and he encourages members of the community to give of their time, no matter the cause.

“There is still time in today’s busy schedule to volunteer somewhere. You don’t have to be a firefighter, but volunteer somewhere where you can make a difference. Whether it is a school, little league, or a fire station -- there are places for everybody,” says Chuck.

The North Garden Volunteer Fire Company accepts membership applications on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at the station located at 4907 Plank Road in North Garden. To learn more about volunteering or to donate, visit the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company website.

Dr. Sarah Scarbrough

When Dr. Sarah Scarbrough started pursuing her masters in Criminal Justice and Public Policy, she didn’t have the same mindset she does today.

“I had a more narrow view of criminal justice,” says Sarah. “But through all my research for my PhD, and getting to know the humans behind bars -- that’s what inspired me.”

Sarah began her career as the Program Director for the Richmond City Justice Center in 2013. During her four years there, she was continuously confronted with the same problem: the seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing those exiting incarceration in Richmond.

Those obstacles included things like access to cell phones or bus tickets, hindering people’s ability to apply for jobs, as well as access to safe and stable housing, resulting in homelessness and desperation, and almost guaranteeing the continued cycle of addiction and incarceration.

Inspired to create change and reduce negative stigmas and stereotypes, Sarah opened a recovery house for men in Richmond. The REAL House, which stands for Recovery from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles, provides a structured and safe environment for up to nine men.

“Still, we knew the house was just the first step, as it was not near enough. There were many others in dire need of assistance,” says Sarah.

As such, in 2017 Sarah created REAL Life Community Center. The nonprofit seeks to assist individuals who have been impacted by incarceration, homelessness, or who are battling addiction.

“The unique attribute of the Community Center is that we provide our clients with a path to thriving, not just recovery.  It is the idea of recovering to something greater than what was lost,” says Sarah.

The Community Center achieves this goal by helping members cultivate stronger family relationships, gain meaningful employment, and improve personal interaction skills, all while building upon a foundation of faith. Additionally, the center provides case management, an expectant mother program, mental health services, job preparation and placement, transportation assistance, substance use disorder support, educational opportunities, and more.

In its first year, the 5,000 square-foot building located at 406 East Main Street in Richmond served 411 people.

“We've seen our fair share of failure,” says Sarah, “people who just couldn't overcome their circumstance. But we have also seen tremendous success. We’ve seen miracles -- people that ‘never would make it’ and do. When you see families reunite, or a dad being a dad for the first time -- that's the motivation to keep going.”

When asked why she remains so passionate about the cause, Sarah instead poses a question: “If we can provide an intervention to help adults overcome adversities, can you imagine the generational change?”

To learn about ways to get involved with REAL LIFE and its programs, click here.

 

Michael Tillem

The cycle of addiction is one of the most difficult to break, but Michael Tillem did.  His journey to recovery and subsequent nonprofit is an inspiration for those still struggling with the disease. 

“I want addicts to know there is a better life out there for them,” he says. That’s why Michael founded the Journey House Foundation, which helps recovering addicts and also provides coaching and support to their families. 

Located at 6401 Horsepen Road in Richmond, the Journey House offers sober living housing for up to eight people, as well as transportation, peer recovery programs, and counseling and healthcare services.  Additionally, the nonprofit provides mentorships to help place members of the Journey House into jobs.

“Our goal is to teach individuals to live a recovery lifestyle and to achieve a thriving life,” says Michael.

 Since its founding in 2017, the nonprofit has served more than 200 people. In April of this year, its founder celebrated another milestone: 17 years of being clean.

“I’ve been where they are and I know the way out of that deep, “dark hole,” says Michael. “I just want to show them the way out.”

Michael, who has run recovery and detox support services and sober living houses for over 10 years, has helped countless individuals realize their worth and find successful recovery. His goal is to expand the support network in order to reduce recidivism and the stigma of addiction.

Not only is Michael an amazing father, stepfather, and husband,” says his wife, Kimberly Tillem, but he is always giving back to our community, never expecting anything in return.”

Michael beleives that by being of service to others and always making recovery a priority, an incredible, faith-driven life is possible.

To learn more about ways to get involved, or to make a donation, visit the Journey House Foundation website at https://journeyhouserecovery.org/.

 

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