College Experience Spurs Sample-Jones to Success | Virginia Peninsula Community College

College Experience Spurs Sample-Jones to Success

July 28, 2022
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Virginia Peninsula empowered Yugonda Sample-Jones, who now is empowering others.

Yugonda Sample-Jones traces the origins of her company to her time at Virginia Peninsula Community College.

“Dean (Keisha) Samuels got me thinking I could change the world,” Sample-Jones said. “So, I started my own business.”

That business, Empower All, was formed in 2019, while Sample-Jones still was enrolled in the College. Empower All is based in Newport News and calls itself a “community consulting firm,” assisting low-income neighborhoods and areas affected by violence.

“We work with social services to wrap services around people who need them the most,” she said, noting much of her work is informing the community what public services and assistance are available to them.

Her company also does community engagement workshops, small business consulting, and grant allocation consulting.

When she decided to go to college in 2017, about 20 years after graduating from high school, Sample-Jones was working at a call center. He shift was from 2 p.m.-11 p.m., so she didn’t have much of a life.

“It didn’t really leave me any opportunity to be a mother, to be a wife, because I was working crazy hours,” she said.

Her goal was to find a profession where she could help people, so she entered the College’s human services program, wanting to become a social worker case manager.

However, she soon found that wasn’t for her. But, as often happens in college, she was exposed to other opportunities.

“I didn’t realize there were so many branches to caring for people,” she said. “Thomas Nelson helped me explore what other avenues were available.”

Sample-Jones, who is married and has four children ranging in age from 24-19, grew up in midtown Newport News. She moved away (graduating from Nandua High School) but came back. She’s been living in downtown Newport News for about 20 years, and has immersed herself in the community. She serves on the Newport News Choice Neighborhood advisory committee, helping the city improve Ridley Place, Marshall Courts and other areas. 

She chose the College because it was accessible, affordable and the class schedule fit her work schedule. She tried another college a number of years ago, but lasted just a few months.

“For some reason, I was able to stick with Thomas Nelson,” she said, although she still is about 10 credits shy of an associate degree, which she vows to get. “I enjoyed the classes, except for math.”

She credits her sociology classes with helping understand where she was in life. She quickly learned she was trying to fill so many roles. Samuels assisted her then, too, even thought it was outside her duties as an instructor. They discussed Sample-Jones’ roles as a wife, mother, an activist, and a community member.

“Although it wasn't something for the class, she still took that time out to work with me as a human being, and that's what really stuck out to me,” Sample-Jones said. “Thomas Nelson really helped me understand how to work with people, how to understand people, understand my own biases as a servant to the community, and just how to create a bigger outcome.”

Thanks to that, her business has taken off.

“It was the foundation,” she said of how her experiences at the College have translated to Empower All.

When she started at the College in 2017, she “was really a blank slate.” If not for the faculty, staff and others, but especially Samuels, she thinks she would still be at that call center, stuck in a dead-end job.

“I absolutely love what I’m doing now. I own my own business,” she said.”I owe it to Thomas Nelson.”

She is changing the world, one neighborhood at a time.