Sharing is RVA. It’s who we are. Over the past year Grid has covered the maker movement, collaborative consumption, social enterprise, and more. At their core, each of these movements have a common theme: sharing. It’s through sharing that we find a way forward. We talked to a handful of Richmonders who know that sharing in any form can build community, increase productivity, and simply make us happier.
Storefront for Community Design
The idea had been floating around the design, architecture, and urban planning communities in Richmond for years—a community design center that was accessible for and shared by everyone. On Valentine’s Day 2011, the idea became a reality when the Storefront for Community Design opened its doors on East Broad Street.
Burt Pinnock, principal at Baskervill and Storefront’s board chair describes Storefront this way: “For the legal community you have legal aide, for the medical community you have free clinics, for the design and architecture communities you have Storefront.
“The most common services at Storefront are design plans and community workshops. Free design plans are facilitated consultations between clients (citizens, organizations, businesses) and industry professionals who volunteer their time and expertise through Storefront. “These range in type from logo design, to assisting with with a facade improvement plans, to developing a sketch for a new porch, to rethinking an interior space, to planning a garden—pretty much anything that falls within the architecture and design fields.”
Storefront is also home to community workshops that range from public engagement to visioning sessions designed to help connect neighborhoods with resources in RVA. In addition, Storefront offers education programs that provide free information on a number of design-related topics.
“No two days are the same at Storefront,” explains Tyler King, program manager at Storefront and downtown doer. “On my second day of work, for instance, we hosted a workshop for an alternative public history project that engaged Storefront’s pedagogical arm, MoB, to design a poster campaign on buses. The next morning, I was recruiting landscape designers to take on a project for the James River Park System to enhance river access from 22nd Street. Geographically and disciplinarily, it’s all over the map.”
King points out that Storefront has worked with numerous individuals on backyard gardens, front porches, and space use issues inside their homes as well as with organizations ranging from the American Heart Association and Massey Cancer Center to the James River Park System and the Virginia Center for Latin American Art. “Our volunteers have redesigned buses into mobile galleries, built bridges, imagined thrift stores, reimagined landscapes, and designed logos for small nonprofits.”
Moving forward, Storefront hopes that Richmonders will help the organization sculpt how and where it grows in the city. “Poising yourself so that citizens and businesses first come to you—rather than the other way around—is one of the most important ideas to community design practice,” says King.
Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Washington, D.C. have similar endeavors, though King is quick to point out that no two community design centers are ever the same. Since the opening of Storefront here in RVA, the organization has completed more than 90 design plans, 10 community workshops, and more than 40 MoB projects.
“I can’t say that I have any favorites—they’re all different,” says King. “What do you find more interesting? Redesigning a preschool hallway to make it interactive, developing concepts for mobile art studios, welcoming people to Richmond neighborhoods through creative gateways, designing a thrift store from scratch? The variety of what ‘design’ embodies for our clients and volunteers is what makes all of them great.”
Sharing, bartering, and trading is the norm for Drew Little. In early 2010, Little gave away 90 percent of his belongings to the homeless and began couch surfing at co-workers’ and supporters’ homes. Little likes to call his three-year sabbatical, “The Dream Journey.”
It was during this time that he hatched the idea for an incubator startup called The Illuminated Ventures Project (IllVP).
Alicia Seay was a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in Mass Communications and trying to redefine her niche in the PR industry when she heard Little present to VCU students about social entrepreneurship. They formed an immediate connection and soon began showing others that it’s possible to build out a dream without the traditional means to do so.
Seeking a way to educate others on how to get creative when it came to gaining resources for actualizing ideas, they created a book about an evolutionary economic model called Producism. After learning about a concept called gamification (using game design to solve real-world problems), Little and Seay decided to take their idea even further.
Today Producia is a real-world social marketplace game that’s experimenting with a new kind of economy on college campuses, one that’s based on social entrepreneurship, alternative currency and finance, experiential learning, and social networking. “A pilot run is currently underway at VCU as they are looking to connect with students and their affiliated organizations, local businesses, and nonprofits to be a part of this new economy experiment,” says Little.
Doug Orleski left a cup full of spare change outside Stir Crazy on the Northside with a simple note that read, “Your coffee is on us. Need the whole cup? Just take it, no rules.”
Across town on East Cary, Patience Salgado left a collection of kindness kits behind old window grates on the Light of Human Kindness wall. Inside each box was a gift card with enough money for two cups of coffee (one cup for the person discovering the kit and one for the person to share a cup with a stranger).
Earlier this year a small group of Richmonders began to gather in hopes of doing something big—and kind. After lots of dreaming, the group hatched the #RVACOFFEELOVE concept.
On Valentine’s Day this year, the Richmond community had a chance to experience the impact of #RVACOFFEELOVE firsthand. As part of the kindness campaign, Richmonders were encouraged to buy a stranger a cup of coffee at their favorite coffee shop. Adding a social media twist, people sharing the love in RVA were asked to post their experience to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While the #RVACOFFEELOVE movement was the result of an entire community, there were key players behind the scenes responsible for spreading the love. Larkin Garbee, founder of 804RVA, gathered a rag-tag team of coffee and community enthusiasts to pull off the #RVACOFFEELOVE campaign, effectively warming the hearts of hundreds in Greater Richmond. Garbee says that she got the idea from the Suspended Coffee movement that inspired coffee lovers and community do-gooders across Europe and the U.S. to pay it forward.
Ryn Bruce, the art director at Grid magazine, volunteered her talents to design the RVA Coffee Love logo. Bruce, who runs a social experiment called Batter Up, surprises Richmonders doing good things with a homemade cake each week. “Not only was I thrilled to be an organizer for RVA Coffee Love, but bags of fresh ground coffee were a great addition to my Batter Up deliveries to the various cardiac care units around Richmond,” says Bruce.
While the initial campaign is over, Richmonders are continuing to share their stories on the #RVACOFFEELOVE community page: https://www.facebook.com/RVACoffeeLove.
Share the Garden
It didn’t take long for shoes to begin flying. The terraced lawn above the Rose Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden was too good to resist.
Lorrie Lincoln, a volunteer in the Children’s Garden since 2005, recently joined a large group of children from the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority as part of the Share the Garden program. “They just took off their shoes and started rolling down the hill. They hadn’t seen grass like that before. They have pavement in their neighborhoods,” recalls Lincoln. “There were some magical moments.”
The Garden has partnered with Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority, Richmond area Title I schools, and other need-based organizations to share not only the beauty of the garden, but also educational programming. Share the Garden is funded through grants, private and corporate donations, and from the garden directly.
Organizers say that the program serves as a vehicle for Lewis Ginter to partner with other organizations in the community to do greater good. “For many children in the Richmond area, coming to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden on a field trip for our educational children’s programming may be their first encounter with the garden. Especially for the Head Start children, this is true,” explains Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator.
Holland’s husband, John Holland, is a preschool teacher at Chimborazo Elementary School in Church Hill. He tells the story of a young boy who arrived at school when he was 3 years old unable to speak more than two words. It was at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, however, that John Holland saw a breakthrough.
“While listening to Kristin Mullen, the Lewis Ginter educator, read a story that incorporated a male and female stuffed cardinal that made sound, he exclaimed, ‘Listen to the birds!’ Later, as the class gathered fallen leaves on the ground, he said, ‘Look at triangle leaf!’ Then he broke into a contagious laughter,” says Holland.
Examples like this continue to prove the value of ensuring access for everyone to enjoy the natural surroundings RVA has to offer. Though more than 13,000 households currently have memberships to the garden, there is still work to be done to make sure everyone gets a chance to climb a 100-year-old mulberry tree, learn how to recognize seed pods, and have an opportunity to explore a “sensitive plant” called a touch-me-not. To make this possible, the garden relies on more than 500 volunteers who provide 31,000-plus hours of support each year.
“Watching the garden through the eyes of kids who’ve never really explored a place like this is pretty eye-opening,” concludes Jonah Holland.
Grove Ave. Water Stop
Living on Grove Avenue can at times feel like a parade route—there’s always a steady flow of runners, bikers, and strollers.
Three years ago, Grove Avenue resident Sheri Crowell made a simple gesture, one that has defined her stretch of Grove ever since. She simply offered free water.
“I came home from a particularly uninspired run on one of those freaky hot April afternoons,” recalls Crowell. “I was rationalizing to myself about why I had run so badly and decided that if people left water out for me while I ran, I would be a much better runner. And it struck me…I could be that person.”
Crowell quickly went to her basement and found a small table and a cooler. She placed the cooler and a collection of cups on the table outside of her house. Crowell then tacked a sheet of paper to a tree. The sign read, “GOT WATER?”
“I really didn’t think of it long term, but people started using it more and more.” Today Crowell’s cooler is widely known as the “Grove Avenue Water Stop” and it has become a community focal point.
Crowell points out that the water stop has led to other acts of giving, as Richmonders have collected hats, gloves, and socks in a drop-off box next to the water stop for donation to the local Angel Tree program and Strategies To Elevate People (STEP). The water stop also regularly serves as a meeting place for 5K and 10K runs, and other community events.
“I think the water stop is just a small gesture that has taken on a bigger mission as a meet-up spot, a goal to get to, an oasis, and a reminder that Richmond is a big city that has retained its friendly small-town vibe.”
Books Are Always Free
If you ask Shelley Briggs and Ward Tefft, books should always be free.
In 2007 Briggs and Tefft launched Books on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that brings books to children living in low-income neighborhoods, which lack access to libraries. Since that time Books on Wheels has shared more than 100,000 books to children and families in an effort to promote literacy and early childhood education, and empower people through literature.
In addition to Books on Wheels, the organization operates a thrift store on Broad Street called Books, Bikes, and Beyond. Sitting proudly in front of the shop are three, neon-painted magazine racks filled with free books for Richmonders to share. At the storefront, Briggs estimates that the books given away are in the tens of thousands.
“I opened the store in 2009 with the intention of giving Books on Wheels a home it never had,” explains Briggs. “It has served many important purposes—a donation location, a book pick-up location, and our main source of revenue for the non profit.”
Inside the shop, clothing racks are filled with donated items alongside inexpensive electronics, household items, small furniture, bikes, and of course, more free books. Best of all, the storefront also serves as a location for rotating artists to exhibit their work and for the community to gather. Proceeds from the shop fund Books on Wheels so that their brightly painted bus can continue to offer free books (and bike repair) to RVA.