In just three days, staff at the Sacred Heart Center — a full-service nonprofit for the central Virginia area’s Latino population — turned around a winning application for the Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders award reserved for advancing economic mobility and providing leadership to solve community challenges.
Both the Sacred Heart Center in Richmond’s South Side and Habitat for Humanity were recipients of this year’s award, which grants each organization $200,000 over the next two years, in addition to leadership training for the nonprofits’ executive directors and an emerging leader alongside nonprofit peers nationwide.
“Every winner that has gotten the grant says the money is great, but the leadership training is priceless,” says Victor Branch, Bank of America’s Richmond market president. “The training — they get into this network of other like organizations that really drive their ability to connect and think through things strategically and call on other CEOs and help them build their capacity within their own organizations.”
The grant will allow the center, which provides services spanning adult education, youth and children’s programming, and community initiatives, to expand to satellite sites in Chesterfield and Henrico counties. It serviced 11,000 youth and adults in the last fiscal year.
“[The award] is super-competitive as you can imagine,” Branch explains. “Sacred Heart is the envy of all because it just does not happen that often where an organization can submit an application first-year and win.”
Executive Director of the Sacred Heart Center Tanya Gonzalez says when she received a phone call from Branch inviting it to apply with a three-day turnaround, the opportunity seemed perfect given the internal conversations surrounding expansion due to space constraints.
“We have a lot of families coming from the counties and a lot that aren’t able to get here because of transportation barriers,” Gonzalez explains while sitting at one of several round tables inside a room painted bright red that serves as an adult education classroom. “And we do provide some transportation but it’s primarily from points in south Richmond.”
It’s one of the few quiet hours at the center when the rooms are not packed with children and adults, some of whom travel from as far as Amelia and Goochland, counties and Petersburg for the programming offered in the South Side, such as GED classes in Spanish.
The center has hired Spencer Turner, an existing staff member who works with the adult education curriculum, to take on the expansion into the counties, the first of which will be in Chesterfield, which has the largest Latino population among the city, Chesterfield and Henrico. The organization is currently in talks with several groups for sharing space with existing, functioning facilities to provide services.
Turner says one of the special aspects of the work the nonprofit does is that it allows people to make contact with the organization to meet a wider range of needs.
“So some people contact us for social service needs or legal needs and then find out about our education programs,” Turner explains. “All those things sort of support each other to capacitate themselves in general. They need all those services and support and the beauty is we can provide that all here, which is why so many groups and partners come to work with us.”
Gonzalez rattles off a list of local partners that visit on-site to provide further services outside the center’s wheelhouse of classes and after-school programs, as well as school-readiness and child care.
“Today’s Tuesday, so on-site we have Safe Harbor doing services, mental health support groups. Tomorrow, we’ll have United Way here with free tax-preparation assistance. Saturday we have the caravan here with Bon Secours,” she says. “We have a food pantry on site that’s open daily. … It’s really a full-service community center and the goal for the satellites would be realistically starting small, but ideally growing that work in each location depending on the site and resources available to do similar work to what we’re doing here.”