Love Your Block

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond has always had the ability to bring people together. Whether it’s to teach new skills, solve a problem, or simply provide support, the Club is a place where families, volunteers, organizations and community partners collaborate to change the odds for young people.

Collaboration takes people willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. And, when people go all in, great things happen.

The Fairfield Court members helped create the concept and paint the mural on their Club wall.

The Fairfield Court members helped create the concept and paint the mural on their Club wall.

The Fairfield Court Club sits in the heart of Phaup Street in the East End. The Club is one of the smaller units of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, serving primarily elementary-aged youth. Yet, because of its size and its location, the Club has always created an intimate sense of community. For the last two decades, it’s been a safe place where youth know they can be themselves and for which the neighborhood can rely on.

With the Club’s 20th anniversary approaching in the fall, it became a good time to make enhancements in celebration. The timing became even better after Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond was awarded a Love Your Block mini-grant. The program, sponsored by Cities of Service and the City of Richmond, supports resident-led initiatives and projects to positively enhance neighborhoods.

“Lately, Fairfield Court has been in the media for some not-so-positive reasons, so when Love Your Block presented us with an opportunity, we thought it was important that we did something not just for the 55 kids in our building, but for the hundreds of residents in the community,” said Delbria Walton, senior program director at Fairfield Court.

How could Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond use this grant to brighten up the community space in Fairfield Court? What project could inspire neighborhood pride and action? How could the Club help improve access to well-maintained recreational areas for the benefit of the entire community?

The ideas began to flow.

When Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond met with Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), with which they share the building, one project became clear: a large mural on the side of the facility. 

The mural would make the brick building look less austere and add some brightness to the neighborhood. It was also a perfect project for Club members, most of whom live across the street in Fairfield Court. They had been participating in a mural program, learning how to create and value public art. The program, called “1,000 Words” and led by local artist Sarah Apple, explored the idea that a picture is worth a 1,000 words by translating poems and speeches into images.

“Knowing my efforts might make a small difference in one person’s day at Fairfield Court is really powerful.”

The Club approached Sarah, who’s known for her mural work around Richmond, to see if she’d lend a hand.

“I was honored to be asked and it was a fun, messy whirlwind!” said Sarah. “Having the chance to offer my experiences, knowledge and skills to people who might benefit from it is a privilege that I take very seriously. I think it’s important for everyone who can to practice ‘giving’ more. Give your time, give your knowledge, give your money (if you have it). The act of giving will make this world a better place for all of us to live. Knowing my efforts might make a small difference in one person’s day at Fairfield Court is really powerful.”

With Sarah’s guidance, the members brainstormed the idea of the mural which features a silhouette of a person and a word cloud featuring the statement, “I have a voice,” surrounded by positive words and the name of each East End Court. The message of the mural will serve as a daily, visible reminder of empowerment and unity for the community.

Members helped paint the mural during the Love Your Block celebration.

Club members and their families got started painting the mural during Fairfield Court’s Love Your Block celebration in late May,

Along with the mural, they spruced up the green spaces around the building. With the help of Duron Chavis, manager of community engagement at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Beautiful RVA, they planted two trees. Duron spoke with the community about the benefits of planted trees and green spaces. In addition, an arborist from Richmond’s Department of Public Works assisted with selecting the trees and the planting plan to create shady spots for the enjoyment of the neighborhood.

“It was important that we involved our members in this project because we want to build civic-minded individuals. We never want them to be just the recipients of good deeds, but the ones doing good deeds as well, and their home is the best place to start,” said Delbria.

Duron Chavis stands with two proud members after they planted their first tree.

Duron Chavis stands with two proud members after they planted their first tree.

Building off the momentum and energy of Love Your Block, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond teamed up with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities to make a list of needs for the recreational area behind the building. In turn, the Club was able to engage existing community partners to help complete those projects.

Altria, which had already planned a day of service training and indoor upgrades at the Club, offered to do more when they heard about the Love Your Block project. When the day arrived, the volunteers undertook the Club projects they had already planned: renovating a mindfulness room, assembling mindfulness and first aid kits, decorating bulletin boards, painting doors, creating and hanging artwork and refinishing tables.

They also got to work repairing and painting the benches around the basketball courts, mulching the swing set areas and revamping the horseshoe pits. In addition to their staff, Altria and HandsOn enlisted the help of local artist Nico Cathcart, Realized Worth, West Cary Group, Points of Light and Backyard Farmer for the projects.

The teen members of the Club also got involved, selecting picnic tables as their project for the annual DPR School of Construction. During the School of Construction in late June, DPR familiarized 20 teens with their project during a pre-build day. Then, during a hands-on workshop, Club members began to build the custom-designed picnic tables.

When completed, two of the five picnic tables will go to Fairfield Court for use by the Club and neighborhood alike. One of those tables will be dedicated in memory of Jamel Cobb, a popular member of the Club and the neighborhood who was tragically killed in 2011.

With the help of DPR, our members from Petersburg, Northside and Southside helped build picnic tables. Photo by Mia Dickens.

With the help of DPR, our members from Petersburg, Northside and Southside helped build picnic tables. Photo by Mia Dickens.

Additional projects are planned for the Fairfield Court Club over the coming months. As part of summer programming, the “How’s It Growing?”  interest club is learning how to plant and maintain gardens. They’ll be planting flowers at the base of the mural and growing vegetables in a tower garden, skills they can share with their families. Raised garden beds are also planned for later this fall.

“The look on their faces when they walked into the ‘revamped’ Club was well worth the efforts that went into putting it together,” Delbria said. “Sometimes, because of what they look like or where they live, the kids of Fairfield feel like, and articulate that, they don’t deserve cool, nice, new things and that’s simply not true. We wanted to make sure that every kid that walked through those doors for summer was proud of their Club because it is theirs.”

And when those young people leave at the end of the day, they’ll be able to share that pride with their neighbors, enjoying the playground, admiring the mural or playing on the basketball courts. All of that was made possible by the work of dozens of volunteers, community members, partners and staff who came together to brighten up a block.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond is planning a 20th-anniversary celebration at Fairfield Court in the fall. If you’d be interested in attending, please let us know! Want to get involved or become a community partner? Learn how to support our work.