Preventing young people from dropping out of school is Damon Jiggetts’ mission. It’s also part of his job description as vice president of operations for the nonprofit Communities in Schools of Richmond.
Every school in Richmond holds pupils who are affected by issues that administrators simply don’t have the resources to address. Behavior issues, for example, may prevent some children and those around them from learning. Caring for other members of their family might cause them to regularly miss classes.
Jiggetts and a staff of 32 in-school program coordinators act as their safety nets. Communities in Schools of Richmond is part of a national network that local schools rely on to connect pupils whose educations are threatened with the tutoring, counseling and financial-support programs they need to succeed. “We take the burden off the schools and teachers so that they can focus on the academics,” Jiggetts says.
A Danville native, Jiggetts graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1998 with a degree in education. After working with the Boys and Girls Club, he decided he preferred working with youth outside of the classroom.
In 2007, when the national office sent down word that each branch organization would have to separate from its then-partner organization, Jiggetts and a handful of employees were forced to rebuild the organization from the ground up. The group has since expanded its reach from 13 to 30 schools across Richmond and Henrico County.
The organization’s now in talks with the Richmond Public Schools to start a project to track the progression of every pupil in part of east Richmond.
Outside of Communities in Schools, Jiggetts is organizing a group to support the professional ambitions of young black men. The Black Men’s Empowerment Network, or B-Men, is a natural progression of a talking group started in 2009, Jiggetts says. Held in barbershops, Jiggetts says the sessions were open to any and all black men willing to speak candidly about how to empower themselves and a younger generation. “To see the positive impact, to see others be successful, that’s what keeps me going,” he says.