Hampton Roads Academy Philanthropy Project: Academy and community

Beside the Point

The Hampton Roads Academy Student Philanthropy Committee met last year with Karen Joyner, CEO of Virginia Peninsula Foodbank, to discuss hunger and the challenge of providing food security in our community. Pictured here in the Foodbank warehouse are, left to right: Cassady Dornan, Ethan Steider, Blaine Hutchens, Emma Doherty, Chloe Cone, Monroe Middleton and Karen Joyner. The Philanthropy Committee will be awarding its 2023 grants to area nonprofits in May.

One of the greatest rewards in life is the opportunity to give to others in ways that make a difference, creating a long-lasting impact or legacy. And, sometimes, those gifts may come from the most unlikely sources or entities, such as educational institutions.

Hampton Roads Academy (HRA), located off of Oyster Point Road, is one of those places leaving an indelible mark on the lives of those who pass through its hallways, sit in its classrooms, play in its fields and perform on its stages.

Through its student-led Philanthropy Project, funded by the Mary P. Blalock Endowment Fund, created in her memory, HRA recognizes what were Mary’s twin passions — the academy and the community. 

Jaik Henderson, director of advancement at HRA, helped establish the structure for the Philanthropy Project by creating a curriculum to teach students about the history of philanthropy, which grew out of the industrial revolution, and ways it has changed in the modern technological age. The work of the project is for students to “get a clear understanding of the needs and challenges of the community and how nonprofits address those needs and challenges,” says Henderson. From there, they delve deeper into the unique challenges of nonprofit organizations, including fundraising, volunteer recruitment and an understanding of what makes nonprofits sustainable into the future, continues Henderson.

The goal of the Philanthropy Project is to accept grant applications from nonprofits and decide which four companies will receive funding by looking at their stories, their stability and the way they are managed. At the end of the application process, a committee of 12 to 15 student volunteers, ranging in age from 14 to18 years, comes to consensus on distribution of the $500 to $1,000 grants. 

Last year, the committee solicited applications from nonprofits in five areas of interest: education, environment, culture (i.e., arts and theatre), health and wellness and economy (i.e., poverty and development initiatives). After examining 28 applications, the grants were distributed to the Gweedo Memorial Foundation (i.e., foundation dedicated to teaching safe driving habits), a safe house for domestic violence; Tidewater Friends of Foster Care; and Meals on Wheels. 

For many students, the experience of working on the Philanthropy Project is eye opening, forcing them to “see beyond their sphere of reference,” says Henderson. Through volunteer hours, they have the opportunity to see how a community works and how to address common problems nonprofits face. 

Once the philanthropy committee decides on which nonprofits will receive grants, the students present the checks during an HRA assembly to the nonprofit executive directors. During the presentation, a brief description of the nonprofit organizations is provided and executives are invited on stage to receive the checks. “These are kids who genuinely wish to give to the community, they self-select for the committee, demonstrating their innate impulse to reach out and help people,” says Henderson.

“As just one part of HRA’s overall mission to teach our students how to be leaders through compassionate service,” says Henderson, the Philanthropy Project “encourages our students to be mindful of the larger community in their daily interactions with their peers and with faculty to seek out ways to be of service to others.”

The positive response from the school, parents and donors ensures continued success with the next round of grant application submissions, running January 10 to March 7 this year. Applications can be submitted online at www.hra.org/mary-p-blalock-fund.

When Henderson isn’t governing student volunteers in the Philanthropy Project, he shifts his passion to the water. “I love to get out on the water in any form,” says Henderson, “whether it’s on a motorboat, kayak, sailboat or paddleboard. And being an Englishman,” he says, “I’m supposed to have a passion for my garden, but I don’t think that part of the genetic heritage stuck with me, so I await instructions from my wife.”

Henderson believes whether at the academy, on the water or in the garden, new experiences continue to create great opportunities to do good. 

Hampton Roads Academy Philanthropy Project
Address: 739 Academy Ln., Newport News, VA 23602
Contact: Jaik Henderson, director of advancement
Phone: 757-884-9135
Website: www.hra.org

About Terilyn Goins, Ph.D. 66 Articles
Dr. Terilyn J. Goins is a motivational speaker/vocalist, trainer and coach. She offers a wide variety of training and motivational music programs. Goins creates programs that educate, inspire and challenge participants. Visit www.terilyngoins.com or reach her at 757-303-7807 or by email at terilyngoins@cox.net.