Hometown Heroes 2023

Hometown Heroes 2023

After careful consideration, these 19 nominees were chosen to be the 2023 Allen & Allen Hometown Heroes because of their commitment to making a difference in their communities.

Our 2023 Heroes


Alex-Zan is a member of the Charlottesville 12, the name given to 12 Black students who first attended Charlottesville’s previously all-white schools. This unique life experience inspired him to be a self-described “Edu-tainer.” His goal is to educate, entertain and motivate members of his community.

“You may be one person in the world, but you can be the world to one person,” he said. With initiatives such as YOGO, an anti-violence program that encourages people to think before they act, promoting Black History Month events and booking motivational speaking engagements, his light shines bright in Charlottesville.

Website: https://alex-zan.com/

Charles Barker

Charles Barker is an army veteran and a consummate good Samaritan in the Richmond area. During the pandemic he helped build over 1,200 desks for children who had to work from home but could not afford a desk. They were even collapsible in case space was an issue. He also built picnic tables for schools when they reopened, so that students could eat together while socially distancing.

He also works with Senior Connections, a program that invites grandparents to visit classrooms and read with the students, keeping their cognitive skills sharp. Barker also collects used medical equipment for seniors, and those with disabilities. He sanitizes and repairs the donations for future users.

“Everyone might soar in a different environment; we must give them the opportunity to soar. All I am doing is planting the seed, and showing people that they can take over,” says Barker.

Website: Website: https://seniorconnections-va.org/

Don Koonce

Don Koonce volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and has become the vice president of construction for the Richmond area. Partnering with Home Depot, he procures affordable construction materials to make repairs for those in need and build affordable homes for lower-income households. He is a retired engineer that still has a passion for building, which he has combined with his enthusiasm for giving back.

He also volunteers with Goochland Cares, another organization recognized by our Hometown Heroes program. “I love to see the reaction of our buyers. I also love the people that I get to work with. When you work with people who love to volunteer their time, you know they are good people,” says Koonce.

Website: http://www.goochlandhabitat.com/

Jason Tickle

Jason Tickle not only works with Habitat for Humanity in Caroline County – he has revitalized it. The charity had not built a home in 10 years prior to Tickle, who does the time-intensive task of securing grants. The housing initiatives benefit mixed income neighborhoods, veterans, and more. They aim to build 20 homes over the next two years.

He strongly believes in the organization’s mission; that homes should be affordable to everyone. The former youth minister has witnessed first-hand the benefits of homeownership, and how it can transform the circumstances of a lower-income family. “When you get behind an idea, anything is possible,” says Tickle.

Website: https://habitatofcaroline.org/

Joanne Sherman

Joanne Sherman is the artistic director of Joyful Voices, a chorus for adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. With a mission to stimulate the mind, energize the body and elevate the spirit, she even took a dementia class to better understand the choir members. With weekly gatherings, helpful volunteers, and two concerts a year, this aids the older, more isolated choir members in getting outside and socializing.

“The medical community is all about health and survival, but it has to also be about well-being. There is still a lot of living left. I hope that we are helping to relieve the stigma of Alzheimer’s in the community. A diagnosis is not the end of the world. There is still a lot of light ahead,” says Sherman.

Website: https://joyfulvoiceschorus.org/

John & Leslie Leahy

John & Leslie Leahy founded the Ceili Leahy Day of Service, in honor of their late daughter. Ceili was passionate about public service, and in her honor, her parents created an organization that helps high school students discover how rewarding it is to give back. Local high schools and the greater Fredericksburg community have championed this day of service, which has helped charities such as Hope House, The Fairy Godmother project, and Friends of Rappahannock.

John and Leslie stay motivated by the participants, saying, “The students have opened their hearts to us. We want to help them experience the impact they can make as an individual. After they experience it, there is an aha moment.”

Website: https://clserviceproject.org/

Karen Coppage

Karen Coppage is the founder of Madison Day, an annual volunteer day where hundreds of people gather to work on community projects. With their motto of “Putting love into action through service,” they help neighbors with small home repairs and yard work. The local sheriff’s office and social workers provide leads, and many of the Madison residents they help are widows and retirees.

Madison Day recently had 300 volunteers working on 19 projects. Coppage understands that small acts of kindness can have a significant impact on the community, and her dedication is admirable. “One half day per year makes an impact, and I want people to see that impact,” said Coppage.

Website: https://www.madisondayva.com/

Karen O'Brien

Karen O’Brien developed CARITAS’ Furniture Bank program, which provides essential household items to families in need. The team accepts donations, then cleans and refurbishes the furniture to pass on to new families. It’s a major part of the overall mission at CARITAS; creating a safe space for people to heal and rebuild their lives. This charity benefits many segments of the population, such as former homeless individuals and people in recovery from substance abuse.

“At CARITAS I witness the miracle of transformation and selfless love every day. If you do something you love you will never work a day in your life, and that is how I feel about CARITAS,” says O’Brien.

Website: https://www.caritasva.org/programs/furniture-bank/

Latara Ragland

Latara Ragland is the co-president of Families Helping Families Fund, which aids each child in reaching their full potential in and outside of school. With a master’s degree in counseling, Ragland thrives in this role. Families Helping Families Fund seeks to remove academic and emotional obstacles by fostering connections between the child, school resources, and local organizations.

Ragland’s goal is to help break the cycle of negativity, which is a dynamic in some families. She wants to provide today’s children with the support they need to feel hope, and their own value. “Families and youth – that’s where my heart is,” said Ragland.

Website: https://www.albemarlefhf.org/

Linda & David Jackson

Linda & David Jackson have a passion for giving back to their community. To ensure that no child feels left out, they organize an annual Easter egg hunt for visually impaired children, hosted at a local church. The Jacksons also want the elderly to feel special over the holidays, and create themed gift baskets for them, celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.

While the couple sends letters to large companies seeking donations, the gifts and events are mostly funded by the Jacksons themselves. Regardless of the expense, the feeling of offering a connection to someone in need is priceless.

“I hope more people catch on to these honorable deeds. Then we can do more inclusive events so everyone knows that they are loved and welcome,” said Linda.

Maurice Lambert

Maurice Lambert is a founder of the RVA Bulldogs football league, a nonprofit that brings inner city kids together for a sense of belonging. This organization offers a holistic experience, with volunteers at local food banks to feed the children in the communities they serve. They also treat the children to outings around the city, exposing them to cultures and performances that they may not otherwise experience.

“My partner and I worked in detention centers and spoke with kids who needed support. Then we would find out that they went home that same evening and got killed. This was heartbreaking. Our motivation is to keep kids alive - this program gives them something structured and helps keep them off the streets. We want people to be encouraged and positive,” says Lambert.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RVABulldogs/

Natalie Jenkins

Natalie Jenkins is the founder of Finally Home Animal Haven, at just 13 years old! This animal rescue is a safe haven for horses, donkeys, ducks, cats, and every creature in between. During the pandemic, Natalie volunteered for animal rescue groups, and while at an equine rescue, Natalie said to her mother, ‘Mom, we can do this on our own!”

Finally, Home Animal Haven is a family affair, with all members helping. They visit wineries and farmers markets to educate and encourage new people to volunteer, allowing these animals to enjoy the comfort they deserve. “I get up at 6 a.m. to get my schoolwork done early. Then I can spend the rest of the day with the animals,” says Jenkins.

Website: https://www.finallyhomehaven.org/

Patrice Shelton

Patrice Shelton is the founder of Hillside Court Partnership, an organization dedicated to strengthening the community of Hillside Court in Richmond. Working hard to provide access to education and resources, Patrice has already launched more than 14 programs.

This includes basketball, baseball, and football sports teams, as well as cheerleading. She has also organized a food pantry program, health awareness events, and a committee for seniors.

“We are here to help community members become leaders and see their full potential. Your address does not define you,” says Shelton.

Raphael Seligmann

Dr. Raphael Seligmann is a board member on various nonprofits, and provides mentorship and skill-building to underserved communities in Central Virginia. Raphael learned of the Latinos in Virginia Empowerment (LIVE) Center, through his job at Bank of America. Raphael volunteers on Bank of America’s Hispanic/Latino Organization for Leadership and Advancement (HOLA) committee and thanks his co-chairs Liz Ojeda and Eric Morales for their support. At LIVE, Raphael serves immigrants from Latin American countries that are escaping domestic violence or sexual exploitation. Through HOLA, he helps to foster career opportunities for Latino American community members and financial literacy through Mejores Hábitos Financieros (Better Money Habits) counseling. He also volunteers at Sacred Heart Center in Richmond, among many other organizations.

“There is such a need. I am not Hispanic but when I see the need I am motivated to help refugees and new immigrants. I want to take care of the strangers among us because we were all strangers once. I want to be part of an organization that treats people with dignity,” says Seligmann.

Employee Networks - Connecting at Bank of America

Ronnie Mongold

Ronnie Mongold is a leader of the Caroline County chapter of Young Life, which offers mentorships and support for local teenagers. Making it easier for teens to make smart choices, the non-profit provides opportunities for wholesome fun. The group partakes in camping trips, scavenger hunts, and trivia nights.

“In spite of being 42, I still remember how difficult my adolescent years were. I struggled with acceptance, which caused me to compromise my potential. Kids need to know that they don't have to lose themselves to feel accepted and be loved,” says Mongold.

Website: https://carolinecountyva.younglife.org/

Stephan Hicks

Stephan Hicks founded My Brother’s Keeper because he saw a strong need in the community – a mentoring program to guide men through life’s storms and transitions. The organization holds classes for new fathers and also mentors individuals in correctional facilities. These programs are research and evidence-based, and include fellowship workshops, youth summits, business training, and more. My Brother’s Keeper has garnered many awards and community recognition.

“I had an absent father growing up. I had a lack of guidance, so I want to help other men with fathering skills. I am passionate about seeing fathers connect with their kids and healing families,” says Hicks.

Website: https://www.mbkgrva.org/

Timika Cousins

Timika Cousins is the founder of The Faces Behind a Purpose for You, an organization that supports survivors of domestic or sexual violence. She was inspired to create this non-profit when she lost her aunt to domestic violence in 2014. This organization provides enrichment activities, strategies, and advocacy for individuals and families that have suffered from these traumatic experiences.

“I am motivated by our community. And by teaching our children how to avoid these types of relationships and speak up. I love the trust I have built in the community,” says Cousins.

Website: https://thefacesbehindapurposeforyou.org/

Tom Bannard

Tom Bannard is a volunteer with Rams in Recovery, an organization that supports students continuing their education while in recovery from substance abuse disorders. Motivated by his own journey toward recovery, he works with this non-profit to ensure that students never have to decide between their education and healing from addiction. Rams in Recovery offers scholarships, housing, group trips, and a safe space for recovery meetings.

“People have a lot to teach the world. We are a lot more than our worst moments. You must believe in people and give them second chances,” says Bannard.

Website: https://recovery.vcu.edu/

Vanessa Crawford

Sherriff Vanessa Crawford has served five terms as the Petersburg Sherriff and has instituted over 30 programs in Petersburg. This includes TRIAD, which works to reduce senior-targeted crimes in the area. She re-started drivers’ education courses in Petersburg schools, created a gun safety program for elementary school-aged children, delivers presentations on human trafficking and bullying, and much more.

She is also no stranger to fun, and recently took 50 seniors on a cross-country road trip that stopped in Chicago, Flagstaff, and Las Vegas. “My mom was my role model. As I grew up, I did not know I wanted to be like her, but I have become her clone. You listen to your calling, and you follow that. You go where you feel the call and do good work,” says Crawford.


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