Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Adoption, Foster Care and Great Expectations

By mid-November the days are shorter, the weather cooler, and the holidays are just around the corner.  Home for the holidays is a common theme this time of year.  But, what if you were a child or teenager in foster care without a permanent home and family? Suddenly the holidays don’t seem so warm and inviting. Did you know that there are more than 800 children available for adoption in Virginia’s foster care system?  November is National Adoption Month.

Debbie Johnston, Founder and President of Care Advantage, Inc., a home health care company, was recently named Virginia’s Adoption Champion by Governor Terry McAuliffe and she is passionate about helping children find families. Johnston was adopted by a loving Virginia family at the age of 3 and she credits her success to the strong foundation that her family provided.

 “This initiative is extremely close to my heart, and I will work tirelessly in my new position as Adoption Champion to find homes for our Commonwealth’s exceptional foster children,” said Johnston upon accepting her new role. As Virginia’s Adoption Champion she hopes to be a voice for foster care children, work to raise awareness about adoption, and help raise funds for programs that assist foster children. 

Johnston is a current member of the Reynolds Community College Foundation Board that is devoted to securing private resources to help support Reynolds and its students

One such program, Great Expectations, is offered at Reynolds. Johnston noted, “Great Expectations is such a great program!  It really fills a need for the older kids in foster care.” The Great Expectations Program works with youth, aged 17 to 24 who are or have been in foster care, to complete high school, gain access to a community college education and transition successfully from the foster care system to living independently.  Without social or family support, foster care children experience significant challenges living on their own, but with access to education foster care youth can find satisfying, well-paying jobs.

Sophia Booker and her twin sister Bridgette entered foster care at the age of 7 after being removed from an abusive home.  After living in multiple foster homes, the twins were adopted at the age of 14 by their then foster mother. Sophia, currently a Great Expectations student at Reynolds, credits her GE coach Dedra Hampton with keeping her on track in pursuit of her education. She plans to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University next fall and pursue a degree in social work, and although she will be leaving Reynolds and moving on to VCU, she knows that her Great Expectations coach will continue to play a big role in her life.

Booker’s long-term goal for her career is to give back and help other foster care youth – particularly the older foster youth who need help with education and independent living skills. In fact, she is already giving back - by working at Project LIFE as its Youth Network Coordinator. Project LIFE (Living Independently, Focusing on Empowerment) is a partnership with the Virginia Department of Social Services and United Methodist Family Services whose mission is to enhance the successful transition of older foster youth to adulthood. 

Let’s hope that by next year when we approach the holiday season most of the 800 children waiting for a permanent home in Virginia will truly be “home” for the holidays.

For more information on the Great Expectations Program at Reynolds Community College please 
For more information on National Adoption Month please visit

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Local author and war veteran highlights Reynolds “Around the World Through Books” discussion

Over 100 people recently filled the Lipman Auditorium of the Massey Library and Technology Center on the Parham Road Campus as Reynolds hosted local author and war veteran Kevin Powers at an "Around the World Through Books" discussion.  

The event featured Powers' novel "The Yellow Birds", which focused on 21 year-old Private Bartle and 18 year-old Private Murphy clinging to life as their platoon launched a bloody battle for a city during the Iraq war.

“I love to read and write for the same reasons now that I did as a kid,” noted Powers when asked about how he got started writing. “I can go and have any experience and try to understand the lives of people totally different than me.” 

Through his book and during the book discussion, Powers examined the reactions of soldiers and his own life after military deployments.

"What do you do or what do you say when a loved one doesn’t come home,” noted Powers. “For me, it was important that people were listening when I had something to say – that meant a great deal to me.”

During the book, Powers said he wanted to show the whole picture “It's not just: you get off the plane, you're back home, everything's fine. Maybe the physical danger ends, but soldiers are still deeply at risk of being injured in a different way. I thought it was important to acknowledge that.”

The program was a free community event sponsored by Reynolds’s Multicultural Enrichment Council for the purpose of encouraging cultural diversity throughout the Reynolds campuses and communities.

"Around the World Through Movies" presentation of The Intouchables

On Friday evening, November 7, 40 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at the Workforce Development Conference Center to view the French film, The Intouchables, the first film of the year in the Multicultural Enrichment Council’s Around the World through Movies series.  

The movie brought attention to people who live with physical disabilities, which was a fitting topic coming at the end of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

Based on a true story, the movie explores the relationship between a French aristocrat, who became a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, and a young immigrant man from the projects in Paris who is hired to take care of him.  

The pre and post movie discussion was led by Reynolds adjunct professor Toney Lineberry.  A popular motivational speaker, Toney has traveled throughout North America speaking about safety belts, drunk driving, and responsibility to high schools, colleges, business organizations and the military. 

The audience was moved by Toney’s story of how he became a quadriplegic after a car accident and how this event turned his life around.  After his accident, Toney completed his associate’s degree at Reynolds and then earned a full scholarship to Randolph Macon College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Virginia, where he completed his law degree.  From the heartwarming story in the movie to Toney’s own life experiences, the entire program was a resounding success. 

Reynolds partners With VCU Humphrey Fellows Program

In collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University, a partnership has been formed granting Reynolds Community College the opportunity to become an Associate Campus Partner of the Humphrey Fellows Program.
The Humphrey Fellowship Program, a division of the Fulbright Fellowship of the U.S. Department of State, brings talented researchers and scholars from throughout the world to American colleges and universities for exchange and scholarship.

“This opportunity allows Reynolds faculty and students to interact and engage with the visiting Fellows in order to learn about their areas of specialization - especially those areas that are also part of curricula here, including healthcare, social work, substance abuse and so forth,” noted Reynolds professor Ghazala Hashmi who is serving as the college’s liaison with the VCU Program.

VCU is currently hosting 11 residential scholars and researchers in 2014 – 2015.

“The Fellows are also considered to be cultural ambassadors of their countries, and so they are interested in sharing information about their respective cultures and societies,” Hashmi added. “The Fellows have already participated in some individual (Reynolds) classes – as guest speakers – and they have served on a panel for the VCCS Peer Conference on Nursing and Health. The benefits to the students, especially in the areas of the Fellows’ expertise, are the opportunities to gain a global perspective on critical concerns. We want to help students to understand that these concerns may be local and regional, but they are also very clearly international.”

Reynolds plans to use the program to promote the furtherance of scholarly study and cultural recognition by bringing together academic researchers and scholars from a variety of backgrounds. The partnership will also provide Reynolds with prominent guest speakers and an even higher quality learning environment for the students.

“Many students have not had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States, and these guest lecturers help community college students to see the broader scope of contemporary issues,” said Hashmi. “Inclusion of outside perspectives also helps our students to develop an understanding of the skills and resources that they may need to develop personally in order to be more engaged and competitive in the career fields they have selected.”

            Any faculty interested in learning more, or in having a Humphrey Fellow speak during a class or at a campus-wide event, you can reference, or contact Professor Hashmi at

Celebrating and Supporting Reynolds Nursing Students

On Monday, November 10 Reynolds Community College hosted a Nursing Scholarship Luncheon honoring the talented students who will serve as the nurses of tomorrow and the generous community members and alumni who serve as scholarship donors of the school. 

The luncheon provided an opportunity for scholarship recipients and their donors to meet face-to-face, sit together and share not only a meal, but their appreciation and goals for the future.

The luncheon featured three speakers – Nursing student Chantal Fleming, Nursing Alum Abigail Rose, and Deborah Johnston, RN, President and Founder of Care Advantage, Inc. a home health care company.

Nursing student Chantal Fleming returned to school as a self-proclaimed “career-switcher.”  After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and working for a large corporation performing quality assurance testing, she realized she wanted a profession where she knew she was making a difference at the end of each day.  She remembered feeling exactly that way when she had volunteered at local health clinics and she decided to switch careers and return to school and study nursing.

Abigail Rose graduated from Reynolds in 2013 and is now working to attain her bachelor’s degree in nursing through the University of Virginia.  She told the audience that without the scholarship she received she would not be a nurse today.   She is already “paying it forward” by tutoring other nursing students and she hopes to fund a nursing scholarship at some point in the future.

Care Advantage President and Founder Debbie Johnston began her remarks with a simple statement:  “Nurses Rock!”  She studied nursing at the encouragement of her father who told her that a career in nursing would always afford her a job in good times and bad.  She told the audience that with skills that are always in demand, nurses can work any schedule and in virtually any location.  Noting that patients are being discharged from hospitals much sooner she told the audience “You know, we are all going to need a nurse!” 

In his remarks Reynolds President Gary Rhodes noted that one out of every 3 health care workers in the Richmond area has taken at least one class at Reynolds Community College.

If you would like more information on the Nursing program at Reynolds Community College please click here.