Hometown Heroes 2020

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.

This year we are dedicating the program to all those people making a difference and working tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each person selected as a Hometown Hero is using their time, talent and resources to care for our community in a new way.

After careful consideration, these 28 nominees were chosen to be the 2020 Allen & Allen Hometown Heroes because of their commitment to making a difference during these unprecedented times.

Our Heroes

Cameron Bailey

Since 2002, Pastor Cameron Bailey has told his congregation at Kenbridge Christian Church to “be the good”. When the pandemic hit, he saw lots of churches in the area shut down. He knew he could not do that; he needed to be the good for his congregation and community of Kenbridge, Virginia.

“I remembered when I was in college, I went to a drive-in church service and thought it was so cool. I just knew we had to do it here,” says Cameron.

So, Cameron bought a FM transmitter and started offering drive-in services when the stay at home orders began. Since the end of March, their services have averaged 266 participants per week. They post the weekly bulletin on the church website and pre-record the service for anyone who is not comfortable coming to the drive-in service.
The idea quickly grew, and other churches knew just who to contact. “I have had a lot of conversations with other churches around the country to help them set up a similar service,” says Cameron.

The church has been creative beyond regular services, too. They have started a food pantry for neighbors in need and have a place where people can come pick up communion cups and Bibles. On Easter Sunday, Cameron, who is also a volunteer firefighter, got the drop tank to use for baptisms outdoors.

“Every preacher I had growing up was boring and I wanted to be different. I want to challenge people to grow in their faith,” said Cameron. He says his favorite part about what he does is seeing what God is doing through others.

According to Cameron, “Church is doing what it should do. People are coming together and having a good time. I love seeing the work God is doing around here.”

Click here to learn more about Kenbridge Christian Church. 

Jennifer Burns

Jennifer Burns started Open Arms Helping Hands, a caregiver and homemaker service in Ruckersville, after observing the care her father received before he passed away.

“My father was sick with cancer. During that time, we had caregivers coming into take care of him. I thought that I could do a little bit better,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer noticed her father’s caregivers would change from time to time, which is why the most important thing to her business is consistency.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to close businesses and limit services, Jennifer saw how it was impacting elderly citizens.

“There were so many people who were getting overlooked,” says Jennifer. “Meals on Wheels limited their services. Friends and family, who would typically look after their loved ones, experienced income cuts.”

Jennifer and her team began to provide free wellness checks to anyone who requested them, including people who were not current clients. The team also began grocery shopping for those who could not leave their homes.

With the help of fellow Hometown Hero Doris Gelbman, Jennifer has collected food and monetary donations for people that depended on Meals on Wheels. This has helped many get through the temporary pause in services.

“I have to say that I accept being selected as Hometown Hero for all the caregivers. This is definitely not something that I do all on my own,” says Jennifer.

For more information about Jennifer and Open Arms Helping Hands, visit their website here.  

Carina Carden

As a teenager, Carina Carden thought little of her mother teaching her how to sew. Little did she know, that skill would come in handy years later.

Carina is considered high-risk for COVID-19. Her husband works as a paramedic in the federal prison in Petersburg. When the pandemic began, she saw and understood the need, and wanted to help in some way.

“I had a little bit of sewing knowledge from my mom, so I went to WalMart and bought a sewing machine,” Carina says.
Since that day in March, Carina has sewn over 800 masks for those in need.

“You can do a lot with very little,” says Carina. “You don’t have to have a lot of background to make it work. You can always learn something new.”
Armed with that mindset, she learned how to sew headbands and scrub caps. She has sewn over 800 of those, too. She works from the moment she wakes up until she goes to sleep.

“If me sewing for hours on end helps people feel like they’re not risking their lives, it’s worth it. I’m happy to relieve people of just a little bit of stress,” says Carina.

Carina doesn’t just help those in her town of Jarratt, but all over the United States and the world.

“A hospital in Ohio could not find anything local and had no PPE at the beginning of the pandemic, so I was able to send 40 masks there,” she says. The same happened with a hospital in Boston. Carina has even shipped masks to Canada and France.

“It’s so rewarding. I have hit a few brick walls. I’ve woken up hearing my sewing machine in my head. But anytime I take any time off, I feel so guilty. There are people that need these masks,” she says.
She also does not want people to feel uncomfortable in their masks.

“You should have a mask, but you shouldn’t hate wearing it. I’ve been sewing a lot of prints, such as comic books and Star Wars prints for men. Someone told me they were so excited to get a mask without flowers on it,” says Carina.

Carina said she is humbled by the nomination, but never expected to get recognition for what she was doing.

“I’m touched there are people that care that there are people behind the scenes trying to help. I can’t be there physically, but it means a lot that people see what I’m doing.”

Terry Ebright

Terry Ebright lives in Goochland, the 20th wealthiest county in the country. However, the wealth is not spread equally.

“People don’t realize that some living in the western parts of the county are living without indoor plumbing,” she says. She wanted to do something to help this population.

She started working at the Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services as the Food Pantry Manager seven years ago when they were serving residents one day a week out of a basement.

“Goochland is an amazing community. They are generous and believe in neighbors helping neighbors,” she says.

Since opening, they have expanded into a building which incorporates all Goochland free Clinic’s services. This means that a family can come in for a dental appointment and get food in the same trip, or any of the 12 critical assistance programs they provide.

“There is no public transportation where we are,” she says. “it’s also beneficial for security and privacy reasons.”

The food pantry is a different model from what one would expect. It is set up like a grocery store.

“Clients can come choose what their families will eat. Some people prefer rice over macaroni and cheese,” she says.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Terry and her team have not experienced any interruptions in service. Still open five days a week, the pantry now pre-packs bags for clients to take home via curbside pickup.

“In just a few days we implemented a preorder system on our website. Goochland is not only a food desert, but also a broadband desert, so clients can also call in their orders,” she says.

Terry and her team feed 300 families a week with the internet and phone orders.

“Anyone can make a difference in someone’s life, $1 provides food for three meals,” she says. “That’s a huge impact and it means more now than ever. Just being able to be a part of this community helping and supporting one another is just amazing.”

To learn more about Goochland Free Clinic or to donate, click here.  

Kate Ellwood

After spending most of her career in restaurants, Kate Ellwood knows the industry can be unpredictable. In Charlottesville, the restaurant industry is the second leading employer after the University of Virginia. Those who depend on the work were greatly impacted by COVID-19.

Starting as a hostess at Citizen Burger, Kate worked her way up to General Manager. In the fall, Kate left the industry to spend more time with her daughter and take an investment course with the Charlottesville Investment Collaborative. When restaurants began to close at the onset of the pandemic, she could not stop thinking about the people she worked with who relied on tips to support themselves and their families.

“When I was the GM at Citizen [Burger], my proudest moment was talking to the staff and helping them on a personal level,” said Kate.

At her kitchen table at six o’clock in the morning, Kate launched the Charlottesville Restaurant Fund. After just one week, people from the community had donated $10,000. Restaurant owners could nominate their staff members to receive $200 grants. These grants provided a boost, allowing people to fill up their cars with gas or pay pending bills.

Although the grant program ended on June 11th, Kate has continued the momentum on the Charlottesville Restaurant Fund’s social media. She now works to connect people to mental health resources, job postings, and assists with unemployment applications.

As restaurants slowly begin to reopen, Kate plans to combine her passion for the restaurant industry and what she has learned in her investment class in an organization called The Industry Collective.

“The Industry Collective is an intentional space for those in the hospitality industry,” she says. Her goal is to bring together people in the hospitality industry to share their voices and make improvements in the food community.

For more information about the Charlottesville Restaurant Fund and Kate Ellwood, follow them on Facebook.

Laura Fielden

After her grandfather suffered a stroke, Laura discovered her passion for occupational therapy. Laura graduated from Christopher Newport University with her bachelor’s degree, but she knew something was missing.

Her mother reminded her how fascinated she was with the occupational therapists at the retirement facility where grandfather was treated years ago. Immediately after getting her degree in May 2019, Laura started working in retirement communities.

She now works at Williamsburg Landing. During the time of COVID-19, Laura has treated patients recovering from the virus. She works on the isolation hall, which helps treat those coming straight from the hospital.

“To me, I’m just coming to work every day,” said Laura. “I don’t feel like I am a hero.”

Laura’s work focuses on getting people back to doing what they do every day. She helps them get out of bed, do their laundry, put on their socks, and more.

“I hope people learn what occupational therapy is and that there are many people out there helping COVID patients to get back to whatever their normal looks like,” said Laura. “At the end of the day, it makes me happy when I make someone else happy.”

To learn more about Williamsburg Landing, click here.

Doris Gelbman

In 2009, after practicing litigation law in Boston for several years, Doris Gelbman relocated to Virginia to take care of her aging parents. After seeing the legal challenges that they faced, she decided to transition her practice to elder law.

When the pandemic started to become serious in the U.S., Doris knew drafting wills for her clients would become much more difficult.

“Most of the process can be done by phone,” says Doris, “but the signing has to be done in front of witnesses and a notary.”

To provide a safe environment for each client, Doris developed a ‘drive-thru’ will service. Masks, sanitized clipboards, and individually wrapped pens are at the ready when a client pulls into the parking lot.

Doris’ compassion for the elderly expands beyond her legal practice. She partnered with another 2020 Allen & Allen Hometown Hero, Jennifer Burns, to collect food donations for people who could not or did not feel safe going to the grocery store.

The front porch of her office served as a collection center for donations that Jennifer could then distribute to anyone who made a request.

For more information about Doris, the clients she serves and her community outreach, visit her website here.

Julie A. Goodman

Julie Goodman always knew she wanted to be a nurse because she wanted to help others. Now serving as a nurse practitioner at Iron Bridge Family Practice, Julie and her team adapted to serve their patients in new ways during these unprecedented times.

“We spend half the day doing virtual visits for patients,” says Julie. “The other half of the day is spent outside in the COVID-19 tent educating families and testing anyone who needs it.”

Julie and her team are testing anywhere from 10-20 people a day for the virus. On top of that, Julie is eight months pregnant. She said doing her job is the least she can do during this time.

“I would be so upset if I couldn’t help in some way,” says Julie. “I kept thinking if I wasn’t pregnant and didn’t have a toddler at home, I would have gotten on a plane to New York City to fight on the frontlines. Everything that’s happening is heartbreaking.”

She hopes that people will learn that people can do anything they put their mind to.

“Even in moments of weakness, take a deep breath and keep going. I’m just trying to make a little bit of difference,” Jennifer says.

At the end of the day, she has one goal: “there are a lot of people that want to be involved with the COVID-19 response but cannot. I want to make them proud.”

Virgil Gray

After serving in in the Army for 25 years, Virgil Gray began working for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. For the past four years, he has served as the Division Chief for Stafford County Emergency Management.

“Since COVID-19 began, we have been coordinating the response efforts for both the region and the county,” Virgil says.

The response includes working with all state and local communities, particularly nursing homes. Receiving over 200 different donations for community members, they established a warehouse filled with supplies from these donations. From there, the team was able to distribute over 500 masks to first responders and the public. They have also worked with grants, making sure the CARES Act grants were well distributed throughout the community.

“I really enjoy doing this work, because it’s meaningful,” he says. “I appreciate the opportunity to help where I can in emergency situations. I try to anticipate emergencies before they happen. It makes me feel like I have a purpose.”

After anticipating emergencies for years, Virgil says the most important thing is to be prepared.

“Try to save up money in case you are laid off or furloughed. Have a supply,” he says. Although it looks different for different people, he encourages everyone to save as much as they can for situations just like this.

When asked about his selection as a Hometown Hero, Virgil says he is pleased that someone recognizes that he and his team have done a lot of hard work. “Recognizing me recognizes all of the team for their hard work as well. It is certainly a team effort,” Virgil says.

Bobby Haller

Bobby Haller is the owner of Sandston Smokehouse in Sandston. When COVID-19 began and they ceased regular service, he and his General Manager, Zach Pettrey, knew they could help.

“Zach had the idea to go around to local fire departments and offered to cook hot meals for them,” Bobby says. “We wanted to do what we could to help keep Henrico sustained.”

After garnering a positive response from the fire departments, Bobby reached out to county officials to see if they could assist in covering the cost of food. “We weren’t interested in making a profit, we just wanted to help. It was a ‘we can help you, you can help us’ mindset.”

After reaching out to county officials, Bobby realized this could be a county-wide program. Within three days, it turned into a full-blown initiative with over 90 restaurants in Richmond and Henrico receiving approval by the county to participate.

“We are just passionate about feeding people,” Bobby says. According to Bobby, now more than ever, people need to look at what they can do to help others.

“Be kind to people. Ask yourself what you can do to help someone other than yourself. Everyone is human and deserves help.”

Bobby says he is humbled by the selection as an Allen & Allen Hometown Hero. “It’s not just me, though. We’re all a family.”

Click here to view the Sandston Smokehouse website.

Neesa Hart

Neesa Hart is the programming director of Stafford’s Bells After School Program. The handbells program allows student of all ages to learn to play music without ever needing to purchase an instrument.

“What I love about handbells is that everyone is equal at the table,” said Neesa. In hand bells the music is played as a group and each member is responsible for two to four bells. The bells program is largely funded by grants and they offer free after school care and free lessons to children with incarcerated parents.

Since schools closed in March, the after school program has been put on pause. Graduation plans for schools were altered and many schools chose not to have an in person graduation ceremony at all.

“We live in a time when things are so divisive, but graduation day is something we can all feel good about,” said Neesa. Two seniors are graduating from the Bells After School program this year. Neesa knew that they came from difficult situations and probably would not receive a graduation celebration.

Instead of letting the graduation come and go without any celebration, Neesa contacted a local sign company to have yard signs printed for every senior in the county. She also worked with a local business to fund the project.

Now anyone driving through neighborhoods in Stafford County and see all of the yard signs proudly displayed in front of senior’s houses. To Neesa, after all of their hard work, the seniors of Stafford County are more than deserving of being celebrated.

For more information about the Stafford Bells After School program, visit www.bellsafterschool.com.

Robert Helms

Robert Helms grew up on welfare in the housing projects and was always close with the police officers in his neighborhood.

“It inspired me to come out of where I grew up in a positive way,” he says.

And Robert did just that. He served for 29 years as a police officer, most recently in the City of Colonial Heights where he was an officer and sergeant. During that time, he arrested over 500 drivers for DUIs, among other accomplishments.

Now, Robert works at the Veteran’s Affairs Office in Richmond as an officer for the McGuire VA Medical Center. He works with COVID-19 patients arriving there.

Over his long an impressive career, Robert has focused on one thing to get him through: “don’t give up. Nothing will be handed to you, but if you work hard to get what you want, you will get there,” he says

Kim Hill

After working in sales and finance for 15 years, Kim Hill knew she was supposed to serve Chesterfield County in a different way.

“I knew in my heart I was supposed to help start this food bank”, Kim says of the Chesterfield Food Bank, which she helped start in 2012.

Located at 12211 Iron Bridge Road in Chester, the Chesterfield Food Bank aims to serve those who do not qualify for government assistance yet go to bed hungry every night.

“Food is the most basic need of life,” says Kim. When people don’t have the right nutrients and amount of food, they don’t function well. I knew I was supposed to be a part of fixing this need.”

During the time of COVID-19, the number of people Chesterfield Food Bank serves has doubled and almost tripled at every distribution.

“It was so surreal to walk to our parking lot and see cars as far as the eye could see. I was floored. The only thing I could say was ‘Please, let us have enough food to feed everyone,’” says Kim.

They have had enough food to feed everyone and enough volunteers to help keep the program running during the pandemic.

“I know Chesterfield was a strong enough county to take care of its own residents and that has proven true during COVID-19. Volunteers are taking care of their neighbors,” she says.

Kim says that although she is honored to be recognized this year, the work is a team effort.

“I like to inspire the people around me to live in kindness and help others,” she says. “None of this happens because of just me, it happens because others choose to walk in this themselves.”

Click here to learn more about the Chesterfield Food Bank.

Donna Howard

Growing up with a mother who worked as a chef, Donna Howard always knew she would work with food. She began working in a college setting but took a career change and started working with the elderly. Now, Donna serves as the Director of Food and Nutrition at The Laurels of Bon Air.

After over 35 years of working with the elderly, Donna says her role is more important now than ever.

“Everyone needs to eat and drink,” she says. “But everyone needs love and companionship, too. Our team is making sure our residents stay safe during this time, but also seeing that they are getting the love they are unable to get from their families during this time of COVID-19.”

Right now, the residents cannot hug or see their own families. Donna and her team have scheduled Skype calls for residents and their families as well as set up a Mother’s Day parade outside to bring a bright spot to them in these dark days.

“To love and care for someone doesn’t cost anything. My motivation is our residents and seeing that they are not forgotten about, that they are taken care of. They need someone, especially now,” says Donna.

One of the best parts of Donna’s job is getting to know the residents.

“I have learned so much from them. The things they used to do, he stories they tell. The knowledge you gain by talking with them is phenomenal,” said Donna.

When asked about her nomination and selection as a Hometown Hero, Donna says: “It’s weird, because I don’t feel like I’m a hero. I’m doing what I was raised to do, which is to love and take care of people.”

To learn more about The Laurels of Bon Air, click here.

Angie Hutchison

When the pandemic first began, Angie Hutchison knew she needed to help.

“I’m a lifelong Richmonder,” she says. “I have a pretty wide network of friends, so I know a lot of people in many different industries. I found out the need [for masks] pretty quickly.”

Angie calls herself a lifelong amateur seamstress, having sewed costumes for school plays and Halloween for her children for many years. Not only did she have the experience, but also lots of supplies to help get her started.

“Originally we were donating masks to healthcare and other frontline workers. We were donating them as quickly as I could sew them,” Angie says.

Once the community found out about Angie’s work, she became the unofficial mask coordinator for others sewing masks and other supplies in the Richmond area. Those who would sew a few and not have anywhere to drop them off would give them to Angie. She then could fill large requests more quickly than if she were operating on her own.

“It snowballed,” says Angie. “People would reach out saying they could sew, cut fabric, deliver masks, and order supplies online. Everything helped.”

Since early March, Angie has sewed about 2,000 masks for people in Richmond, as well as all over the country. She said her motivating factor is seeing people in the masks she has sewed.

“It definitely has helped me move from one to the next,” Angie says. “This has given me a sense of fulfillment. I’m just a community member and this is something I could do to help. It’s humbling to know I have played a little part.”

Casey Kerrigan

A graduate of Harvard Medical School and former director of one of the most advanced 3D human movement labs, Dr. Casey Kerrigan is a problem-solver. From a young age, she both witnessed and experienced how women’s shoes were negatively impacting overall female health. Her peer-reviewed research helped to explain the connection between women’s footwear and the higher incidence of disabling foot and knee issues in women.

Using her research and experience, Dr. Kerrigan opened OESH Shoes in Charlottesville. Her mission is to design 3D printed footwear with women’s health in mind. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a shortage of masks in the U.S., Kerrigan knew that OESH Shoes could help.

“I was in China in December and I could see the shortage coming before it happened. They were experiencing a complete standstill in manufacturing,” says Kerrigan, recalling her trip to visit the facility to that manufactures some of her shoes.

For Kerrigan, it didn’t require second thought. Her manufacturing facility in Charlottesville had the capability to print masks and that was what they were going to do.

OESH Shoes is producing N-95 masks that have been donated to healthcare workers across the country. Kerrigan is especially thankful for OESH Shoes’ neighbor, Luna Innovations, which has helped assemble many of the masks.

Her mask donations have not just been for those in healthcare. They have also been giving knit masks to the homeless. Using machines that usually knit shoe uppers, the team can create a four-layered mask for maximum coverage.

One word that came to mind for Dr. Kerrigan about her Hometown Hero nomination is “humbled”. “I see so many people in the community doing the exact same thing that I have been doing,” says Kerrigan, “Everybody is doing what they can to help, I am just doing my part.”

To learn more about OESH Shoes, click here.

Jennifer Lewis

Jennifer Lewis knew she wanted to become an EMT after she took her first course in High School.

“My father was an EMT in the military. I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world to be there for people when they need it the most,” says Jennifer.

After starting with the Southside Virginia Emergency Crew in Petersburg as a paramedic 15 years ago, Jennifer now is the Planning Coordinator for the Crew. During COVID-19, she works to develop directives and protocols to keep the crew safe.

“With all of the changing information it’s a daily process to keep things up-to-date,” says Jennifer.

Even though the days can be long and hard, Jennifer says that meeting new people and hearing different stories every day is what keeps her going.

“Everything is about the patients you impact,” Jennifer says. “Sometimes they call about something serious, and sometimes something minor, but every contact you make with someone is different and that is what makes this job amazing.”

Something Jennifer has witnessed during these trying times is people coming together to serve the greater good.

“I hope we continue to look out and protect one another,” she says. “When you work together as a big team you can accomplish a lot.”

Learn more about the Southside Virginia Emergency Crew here.

Renee Lundgren

Renee Lundgren’s favorite part about her job is helping and empowering people, especially children. She has worked in social services for over 30 years, and for the Albemarle County Schools for the past 15 years. During the pandemic, she has had to find ways to support her students even though she is not seeing them every day.

“I just want to help others during this difficult time,” says Renee.

Renee knew she needed to keep a connection to her students while they were learning remotely. Living in rural communities, she realized that many of her students would not have access to food as they would if they were attending school each day.

“I decided to pick up food and deliver lunches every single day to those who needed them.,” she said. ”I represented something constant in their lives when other things were not.”

On top of delivering food every day, Renee also has worked with public leaders to advocate for better internet access as much of the county is an internet desert, too.

“I want to get our students better internet service, so they can keep up with their academics,” she says.

Renee says that she hopes others realize that there are many kind people in the world trying to do good, especially during difficult times.

“This isn’t just about me,” Renee says. “Understanding the resiliency and kindness of human beings keeps me moving forward.”

To learn more about the work Renee has done during this time, see this article.

Maria Martin

Maria Martin started Juan More Taco as a food truck in the Fredericksburg in 2016. In 2019, she decided to turn the mobile truck into a brick and mortar restaurant. When restaurants were no longer allowed to host patrons because of COVID-19, Maria decided to take what would go to waste and deliver meals to the elderly.

“If I am going to lose my business, I am going to do something good,” thought Maria when Juan More Taco converted to take-out only. Fourteen elderly people signed up for the free meals from Juan More Taco within the first 24 hours. For three months, they served more than 60 people monthly in the Fredericksburg area.

Juan More Taco was not only able to serve the elderly, but also sent meals to the hospitals for healthcare workers. The boxes included restaurant favorites such as tacos and quesadillas. Other restaurants followed her lead and began taking days to make deliveries and contributing their own meals.

“I wasn’t looking for the recognition. It is very humbling that people are watching what we are doing,” says Maria. Many other restaurants have jumped in to help by taking over delivery days and contributing their own items to meals.

Through this project, Maria has come to realize how the elderly community is drastically underserved. After the pandemic, Maria plans to continue to feed the elderly by starting her own nonprofit. She hopes to continue to bring the community together in service to the elderly.

For more information about Juan More Taco, visit their Facebook page.

Kevin Michalek

For Kevin Michalek, becoming a police officer was a lifelong dream. At age 16, he became a junior volunteer firefighter in Dinwiddie. When he turned 18, he was hired by the City of Petersburg.

Now, Kevin serves as the Division Chief for Petersburg and he was named as the Incident Commander for the Incident Management Team. Kevin’s day-to-day work consists of coordinating the response to COVID-19 by the fire department. He works to determine how the city will respond to changing situations and protect their personnel.

“This community is elderly and low income. They do not have resources like other counties and cities,” says Kevin, which means the resources and information they are distributing are even more valuable.

When the worst of the pandemic is over, Kevin hopes that people will remember the importance of being prepared. He says the number of people that have stepped up to care for their communities is remarkable.

“Even though we are all different, we have the ability to come together in times of need and support each other and get through almost any crisis,” says Kevin. He attributes much of his success as Incident Commander to the team he works with every day.

Elaine Miller

Elaine Miller has been feeding the homeless for over nine years. Although she has had to change how she distributes food during the time of COVID-19, it has not stopped Elaine and her team from feeding between 80-125 people per day.

“I don’t want to see anyone hungry,” she says. “If you come to my door and you’re hungry, I’m going to find a way to give you something to eat.”

She and her team typically serve hot meals in the basement of Broomfield Methodist Church in Richmond through Richmond Friends of the Homeless. To comply with social distancing guidelines, Elaine and her team now assemble bag lunches to give out to anyone who needs it.

“We don’t turn anyone away, regardless if they are homeless or not,” says Elaine.

When she was younger, Elaine used to help her mother feed the same population. She took over when her mother passed away and has been doing the same work ever since.

“Once you start dealing with people, you learn a lot from them. I really enjoy talking with them and listening to their problems. I just try to give them encouraging words,” she says.

Click here, to learn more about Richmond Friends of the Homeless.

Craig Rasmusson

Craig Rasmusson was always close with his grandparents when he was growing up. He was working as a financial advisor when he found the Medicare field and realized it was where he needed to be.

“I’ve always had a passion to help people,” he says. “When I found this niche industry, I knew it was a perfect fit.”

Since then, he founded his company, Active Medicare Solutions. He works with seniors to help them select the best Medicare plans for their needs.

When the pandemic hit, Craig put aside his worries as a small business owner knowing he was working with the most sensitive demographic. He started wondering what he could do to help. With the help of a friend, Craig quickly sourced and ordered 8,000 masks for hospitals and seniors.

“Someone mentioned that we were ordering masks to give to hospitals and I thought we should get masks to give to this sensitive demographic, too,” said Craig.

Craig says his clients experienced a mind shift when COVID-19.

“Basics such as surviving and making sure they didn’t catch the virus are their priorities. Their anxiety is higher than before,” he says.

He wants people to know there is more to Medicare than just filing claims.

“There are 10,000 people a day who turn 65 and they need advice. We work to enhance their lives.”

Craig says he is honored and humbled by his nomination. “I think just bringing light to those doing nice things will inspire others to do the same.”

Learn more about Active Medicare Solutions by visiting their website

Tracey Reynolds

Tracey Reynolds has spent most of her nursing career in Nephology. Starting in a hospital, she has worked in various aspects of Nephrology which, she believes, set her up well for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had worked so long with my patients, I had a rhythm down. When COVID-19 hit, it was a complete 360-degree turn. There was anything but a rhythm,” Tracey says.

Tracey is currently at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville where she was asked to help lead the COVID-19 team.

“Our main goal is to prevent clinical outbreaks with our employees and contract providers. The collaboration between the risk management team, providers and employees has been amazing. We have done very, very well.”

When asked about what motivates her to continue doing her job, Tracey says it is all about the community.

“I’m a local girl. This is my home. This community is a piece of me. If I can work hard to make this unit safe, then I absolutely want to be a part of that,” she says. Although there have been frustrating and stressful days, Tracey is thankful for what she has witnessed during the pandemic.

“I have seen a tremendous amount of people come together. I have certainly seen my colleagues stretched thin, but I have also seen the community pulling together to take care of people. You cannot do anything alone.”

“Sometimes we cry, sometimes we just try to keep people’s heads together. Humanity is good for the most part and I feel very fortunate during this time,” said Tracey. She says she is honored by the nomination but says there are amazing people in her community that should be commended.

Kerry Richardson

Kerry Richardson comes from a family of educators and immersed in education from an early age. She has always been a creative teacher for her first graders at Barack Obama Elementary School in Richmond, but when the schools closed, she had to navigate new challenges.

“Now that the kids are home, their parents can’t dedicate the same amount of time to their education as I would have,” says Kerry.

When in school, Kerry describes herself as a hands-on teacher rather than a worksheet teacher. She wanted to continue her unique teaching philosophy while she and her students were home.

“I send my kids a message about once a week via an app to keep them enthusiastic about school,” says Kerry. “I send them little things, like books and street signs I see when I go out. I am always thinking about them.”

She says her philosophy is that learning is everywhere.

“Learning isn’t just about what you get in the classroom. I may assign homework that consists of looking at the moon, telling me what phase it is in, and drawing it,” she says.

When asked what motivates her to continue, Kerry said, “seeing the kids happy and enjoying what they do is the best part. When they hug you it’s like they’re saying, ‘thank you.’”

She urges her students and students everywhere to learn no matter where they are and no matter when it is.

“Learning is everywhere. Don’t fear virtual learning and not being in school,” she says.

To learn more about Barack Obama Elementary School, visit their website here.

Rhonda Sneed

In 2013, Rhonda Sneed moved from New York to Richmond. She faced a surprising reality.

“I was shocked at the amount of homeless people I saw in Richmond,” she says.

It was not long after that she knew she could make a difference. Armed with a slow cooker, Rhonda would stop when she saw people sleeping in doorways and under bridges and give them a hot meal.

Now called Blessing Warriors, Rhonda and her team pack up 200 bags of food per week for the homeless. They also try to provide tents and sleeping bags, so they can have some form of shelter, as homeless shelters are currently closed.

“We all need help one time or another and it’s important for us to help our neighbors,” Rhonda says. “We don’t ask any questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or live in a big house. If someone needs something, they just have to ask.”

Rhonda has been feeding the homeless since she was six years old.

“My mom used to let me make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for them. Now my kids and grandkids do the same thing to help me,” said Rhonda.

She hopes people will ask how their neighbors, friends and families are and ask if they need anything.

Click here to learn more about Blessing Warriors and how you can help.

Michelle Sutton

A nursing veteran of 24 years, Michelle Sutton was asked to be a member of the team that set up the COVID-19 clinic at the University of Virginia Hospital.

When Michelle was in high school, her stepmother was diagnosed with cancer. She participated in her care which inspired her to become a nurse.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle served as a nurse manager at the University of Virginia Hospital. Her work consisted of managing other nurses and working with the providers at the hospital.

“I really love taking care of people and the connection that you make with them,” says Michelle. Making a difference in people’s lives is what keeps her going each day.

During the pandemic, one of Michelle’s biggest tasks has been educating herself and the providers she works with on how COVID-19 symptoms present in a patient. She remarked that much of her fear around the virus has been alleviated after strategizing who to test and how to test them.

“I hope that we will be able to educate about COVID-19 and the outcomes. Hopefully people won’t live in such fear,” says Michelle.

Patrick Terry

Patrick Terry started his new role as the Supervisor of Materials Management for Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center on December 6th, 2019. Since then, it has been full steam ahead.

“My team’s job is to make sure all of the partners have the necessary items they need to protect themselves and their patients,” Patrick says. “We give them all of the proper attire including masks, gloves and whatever else they need.”

Although they have not run out of PPE, he says it has been difficult to maintain sufficient supplies. A lot of research has gone into ensuring they do not run out.

“It has been tough,” he says. “I stay motivated knowing that we help those on the frontlines to do their jobs. A house is nothing without the foundation. We lay out that foundation, so things can flow as they do. We are nothing without the doctors and nurses.”

Patrick says the most important thing is to not give up. “I want to be an example to younger brothers and sisters that, ‘if Patrick can do it, I can do it,’” he says.

To learn more about the Bon Secours Memorial Medical Center, click here.

Martha Trujillo

For more than 20 years, Martha Trujillo has continued to serve the Charlottesville community by organizing health fairs, translating anywhere she is needed, providing a free tax preparation service, and connecting people in the Latino community to resources.

“I just love helping people,” Martha says. Her drive to be an asset to the Charlottesville community began when her daughter became very sick and was hospitalized. It opened her eyes to the challenges non-native English speakers face.

Currently, Martha serves as the community engagement specialist for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville in the Southwood neighborhood. Her goal is to listen to the people she works with, so she can better appreciate their values and perspectives.

During the pandemic, she has spent much of her time helping people in her community file for unemployment and file their tax returns, including one woman who was hospitalized for COVID-19.

“People don’t like asking for help, but I want them to know it is okay,” says Martha. Her proudest moments are when she gives someone the confidence and knowledge to achieve something independently.

For information on Habitat Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, visit their website here .

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