College Receives Two Grants for Southeast Newport News Initiatives

In the past year, Virginia Peninsula Community College has increased its presence in Southeast Newport News.

Keisha Samuels, interim dean for community partnerships and Human Services department chair, wanted to hear directly from residents so she began organizing focus groups, with the first of five in September 2022.

One month later, officials from VPCC, the Mary Peake Childhood Center and the City of Newport News gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony on a second campus for the childhood center.

Additionally, the College was recently awarded two grants totaling $128,000 to continue its outreach in the community.

“We need to be there in the Southeast serving the Southeast community,” said Samuels, noting the College had a stronger presence there from about 2007 to about 2014, when it slowly began to fade away. “We have to re-establish our partnerships, re-establish our commitment to the Southeast Community. It is critical.”

The larger of the grants that will allow the College to do just that is from the Blocker Foundation, which is based in Suffolk. Its mission is “to inspire, empower and support the Hampton Roads community to provide all in our community wholesome nourishment, safe shelter, educational opportunity, economic opportunity, and a healthy environment in which all may thrive.”

Marian Clifton, VPCC's presidential fellow for southeast initiatives, said the $118,000 grant will allow the College to extend its reach block by block.

“We’re going to collaborate with our faith community in the Southeast, our faith leaders,” she said. “We’re going to have what we’re calling Community Block Conversations.”

Topics of conversation will include violence prevention, education, and mental health.

 “One particular leader shared with us that they were interested in mental health sessions or having someone come in and talk about mental health,” Clifton said who is also an assistant professor in the College's Human Services department.

Clifton said the College will leverage its expertise in those matters by bringing in faculty and staff to talk directly with residents about their needs.

Samuels pointed out this is a community effort with many organizations and elected officials “in lockstep with us as we continue to support them.”

The target date for opening the Mary Peake Childhood Center in Southeast Newport News is fall 2024, with a capacity of 200 children ranging from six weeks to five years of age. The College’s Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development will be based at the facility. It will allow VPCC students to work directly with children to prepare them to become teachers and earn credentials.

The second grant, totaling $10,000, comes from Bank of America. The College will work with the Peake Center and the What’s Next Foundation to attract potential childhood education teachers.

“Our focus is to recruit, train and retain these students,” Clifton said. “Because the early childhood center is going to be located in Southeast Newport News, we’re looking to build up our partnership and our promise to the Southeast Community. We’re looking at really doing focused recruitment of citizens who reside in that area.”

Clifton said the College is looking for high school students, traditional-age college students and non-traditional age college students who are interested in early childhood education. She also noted it’s a wonderful opportunity because of the shortage of teachers, especially in childhood education.

“There is a focus across the state trying to get people interested in this career field,” she said, adding she hopes to start the first cohort in the fall.

There will be tracks for an associate degree and career studies certificates.

“The goal is to get them to a degree, but the carrot in the beginning  is the CSC,” Samuels said. “We’re hoping if students can experience some level of success, they will continue on.”

A component of the Bank of America proposal was a program called SEED, which stands for Supporting Early Education eDucators. It is geared toward middle school and high school students.

“Our idea is to plant the seeds in the lives of middle school children to start getting them thinking about a career in early childhood education or in education,” Clifton said.

The SEED initiative will be held in collaboration with “The Shop,” a program at the College geared to minority men.

“We are going to extend our reach to African American males as well because there are not many African American males in the educational system, particularly early childhood education,” Clifton said.

Samuels called the Southeast community “a special, special, special gem,” and both said the grants “are a game-changer.” They send a message that local organizations recognize the potential of Southeast Newport News and want to be a College partner.

“They also see a need so they are investing,” Clifton said. “They’re partnering in our success as we are inspiring those in the Southeast community.”

But Clifton isn’t done.

“We’re not going to stop here,” she said. “We are going to continue to work and get more grants. I’m excited about the opportunity to do more.”