Carver Promise volunteer aids Richmond youth
It has been about 30 years since a group of Richmond higher education and corporate organizations started the Carver Promise.
VCU and three other universities — J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the University of Richmond and Virginia Union University — announced plans on Feb. 20, 1991 for a project for students at George Washington Carver Elementary School. The two-part promise provided the students with college mentors, according to the VCU Division of Community Engagement.
Nigel Brooks, a senior mass communications major with a concentration in strategic advertising, is a mentor in the volunteer program. Brooks also serves as the vice president for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
The Commonwealth Times: When did you first start volunteering with the Carver Promise?
Brooks: I first started volunteering fall semester of my junior year after picking up a brochure at the SOVO fair.
The CT: Was it difficult to start volunteering?
Brooks: Volunteering was easy to start.
The CT: Who do you primarily work with?
Brooks: Casey Rogers – Carver Promise Program Coordinator and Willnette Lightfoot – CIS Site Coordinator.
The CT: Did you go through any training before volunteering?
Brooks: A mandatory training session that was only for a couple hours.
The CT: Can anyone volunteer?
Brooks: Yes, it is open to all college students who have an interest in making a difference in a child’s life. I have even seen people who are not in college donate their time to the program. They do conduct a background check to ensure the safety of the children.
The CT: Why did you decide to volunteer?
Brooks: I decided to volunteer because I had free time that I wanted to use constructively. Another reason why I volunteered was because of the lack of African-American males the program had at the time. I wanted to make a difference in a young man’s life.
The CT: Why have you continued to volunteer?
Brooks: I continued to volunteer because I have seen how the program enhances the mentees’ math and literacy scores. As mentors we form bonds with the children. If I didn’t continue to volunteer in some shape or fashion I would feel as if I let my mentee down as well as myself
The CT: What does volunteering entail?
Brooks: Activities that improve math, grammar, reading and spelling skills. Sometimes the kids have a rough day and need someone to talk to so they talk to us to vent. Being that it’s Black History Month, I read to my mentee about Jesse Owens. To improve his listening and comprehending skills I had my mentee draw a picture of what he heard me read to him. I also tested out my comprehension skills as well and drew my interpretation of the story.
The CT: What are the benefits of volunteering? What are some of the challenges?
Brooks: Knowing you made a difference, smile on a kids face makes you forget about your problems, looks good on resume (shows you are an involved citizen and that you want to make the community better).
Challenges — being patient and remembering that their attention span is not as long as college students.
The CT: Do you find it is difficult to balance volunteer work and school?
Brooks: No, all they ask is one hour a week. You can always volunteer more.
The CT: What is your opinion about community-serving programs?
Brooks: They are much needed.
The CT: What do you think these programs do for VCU and its students?
Brooks: Programs like this build ties with the community that surrounds VCU. Programs such as carver promise, know that the VCU students are willing to offer their time to children who will one day be the future advertisers, teachers, doctors, engineers and actors of tomorrow.
The CT: Describe the types of relationships you developed within the program.
Brooks: Good relationship with Casey Rogers (Known as Ms. Casey to the kids) – we always share a good laugh together, Ms. Casey and Ms. Lightfoot are easy-going, down to earth people.
The CT: Do you have any particular experiences that impacted you?
Brooks: When I first started mentoring, I had a mentee whose reading level was well below what it should have been. I knew I had to make a difference. Since then I have been committed to enhancing the literacy skills of youth.
The CT: How have you changed since volunteering?
Brooks: I have become more humble, less judgmental, and more appreciative of what I have.
The CT: Do you plan to volunteer for any other programs in the future?
Brooks: Yes, volunteering has become part of my personal manifesto.
The CT: What kind of impact do you hope you have had by volunteering?
Brooks: I hope my volunteering has encouraged the kids to believe in themselves even if the people closest to them don’t. To let them know you don’t have to be a product of your environment but rather a success story from your neighborhood.
The CT: What kind of feedback do you get from those you assist?
Brooks: Ms. Casey lets me know about what the kids are struggling with and she suggests ways in which I can help them. She sends friendly emails that keep volunteers informed.
The CT: Would you say volunteer opportunities are widely available at VCU?
Brooks: Yes, students can find out about all kinds of volunteer opportunities in the Student Orgs room in the commons.
The CT: In the Richmond community?
Brooks: Yes, people just need to ask and look around.
The CT: Is the Carver Promise volunteer staff short-handed? Or do they have a lot of participants?
Brooks: There are a good number of participant but always looking for more volunteers especially men.
The CT: What would you say to fellow VCU students about volunteering?
Brooks: Get out and volunteer … We need you but most importantly the kids need you.
The CT: What are your career plans and how has volunteering affected those plans, if at all?
Brooks: My ultimate goal is to be a Chief Marketing Officer of a Fortune 500 company. Carver Promise has made me want to start my own program that will benefit minorities in low-income neighborhoods. The programs focused will be preparing pre-teens and teenagers for Corporate America.