December 2017 Issue

  • Roanoke United Way CEO Afira DeVries on a mission to end homelessness

    With the arrival of the holiday season many Americans are enjoying family, food and time honored traditions. However, for many families, the chill in the air and the commercial expectations that come with the season are simply too much. Homelessness can be particularly troublesome this time of year with the added element of supporting a family.

    The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) concluded that as of 2016, families experiencing homelessness decreased by 23 percent since 2010. Despite the progress, the agency states there is more work required because, “there are still more than 206,000 people in families experiencing homelessness on any given night.”

    According to USICH, those families are most often headed by a single woman in her late 20s, with approximately two children, one or both younger than six.. They face challenges and traumas, including increased exposure to family and community violence. The effects of those experiences on young children can last a lifetime,” the organization’s findings show.

    Although Roanoke is home to myriad organizations and charities catering to community needs, homelessness is still a serious issue. Much like the national statistic provided by the USICH, Roanoke seems to be making headway concerning homelessness, according to United Way of Roanoke CEO, Afira DeVries.

    “January 25, 2017, our annual Point in Time Count identified 267 homeless individuals in the Roanoke Valley,” DeVries says. “That number is only half of what it was in 2012. This is good news and news we should be proud of.”

    Family homelessness is a multifaceted issue that requires a multipronged initiative to combat. Marie Muddiman of Family Promise of Greater Roanoke, an organization that directly assists homeless families, identifies several key factors that often lead to homelessness in the Roanoke area. Those factors include: lack of affordable housing, lack of living wage employment, substance abuse and mental health issues.

    Adding children to the equation often compounds these issues and the effects of homelessness. “Children experience trauma when they are homeless,” Muddiman says. “It can manifest in every area of their lives.  Safety, security and health should be a priority as a family.”

    This time of year can make things more difficult for a family already facing homelessness. The likelihood of local families to face homelessness during the winter months increases as utility costs go up and the climate becomes cold and wet in our region. “For these reasons and more, United Way and our partners put forth a focused effort to provide housing services this time of year,” DeVries says. These collaborative efforts by local community organizations are key in providing a safety net for families during the holidays, DeVries adds.

    “While our community is beginning to make progress, many of our partners are facing significant financial challenges. As a community we need to pull together to support United Way and the community partners who ensure services are available for families when they are in need,” DeVries says. “Another way we can address homelessness is to ensure that we have ample affordable housing options for families across our community, not only in certain neighborhoods.”

    She suggests that the community, its organizations and event families become proactive rather than reactive to the issue of homelessness. “Families should reach out for help at the first sign of need. The earlier we can partner with families, the more likely we are to prevent homelessness from ever happening,” DeVries says.

    Roanoke is host to several initiatives seeking preventive measures in the fight against family homelessness. They include: United Way’s Rehousing Youth for Success in Education (RYSE), Central Intake, a program that introduces those facing homelessness to programs of support, Salvation Army’s Red Shield Lodge, Arch’s Trust House and Salvation Army’s Angel Tree.

    “Our community has many programs in place from financial assistance and case management to shelter and affordable housing so that any experience with homelessness is brief and nonrecurring,” DeVries says.

    If you, or someone you know are facing the holiday season with a degree of uncertainty, DeVries recommends calling 211, where they folks answering the phones will refer you to a range of programs and resources.

  • Musician B.A. Scott lends his talent to tune in on human trafficking

    We began 2017 with a discussion about the impact of human trafficking, both local and worldwide. As the holiday season approaches and we gather with our loved ones, keep in mind those who do not have that option. For this reason musician B.A. Scott has chosen to lend his talents to Freedom 4/24, an organization whose mission is to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation through justice. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, from 7-10 p.m. at the Freedom 4/24 Headquarters @ Bedford Exchange, 2306 Bedford Avenue in Lynchburg, B.A. and the gang will host their very first Christmas Coffeehouse. With live music provided by B.A., there will be ample vendors, who have committed to donate a portion of their proceeds to the organization. Lynchburg has no shortage of nonprofits, so there are plenty opportunities for a musician to partner. Accepting Freedom 4/24’s invitation was an easy decision for B.A. Although this particular tragedy has not touched him personally, he is well aware that it could happen to any of us. Human trafficking is not an easy thing to discuss, which makes it all the more necessary. Not one to shy away from the difficult nuances of life, B.A. uses his voice to garner attention for this worthy cause.

    By day, B.A works at Liberty University as a professional advisor and career counselor. A glance at his social media pages will clarify that education is B.A.’s true passion. While organized education does have imperfections and potential for one to feel stifled, he feels it is important to continue learning at every phase in life. For some that means college, for others it may be trade school or even working to hone a skill of craft.

    Q: How would you respond to a person of color who does not see the importance of education because they do not see themselves reflected in the curriculum?
    A: That’s very true, so it’s a valid observation. Unfortunately, we cannot change the past. However, we can shape the future. If you want to see yourself represented in history, then make history. Leave a positive impact. Make yourself remembered. That is why education is important. So we have the understanding to create our own narrative. Education and hope are very closely related. I am very intentional about how often I post the importance of education. It is I controlling my narrative. I don’t want to be seen as just another kid who can sing or play sports or the other stereotypes that black people are supposed to do well. I’ve had papers be published in journals. I’ve had success that might surprise people, so I am vocal about that. I hope that seeing me navigate many genres will encourage the people behind me to do the same.

    Q: I have noticed on your website, there are more blog style posts than music. Is that intentional?
    A: I actually built the site to share my music. Originally, I posted some songs. There was very little traffic. Then I posted a couple of the blogs. And people responded. So I posted more of my thoughts. Now I write a new entry every week and it’s received well.

    Q: You have been very candid about some personal topics. Do you ever regret that or delete your writings?
    A: No. I post what I write. It is still me, controlling my narrative.

    Q: What sparked your interest in music and songwriting?
    A: Music has always been in my life. My family is musical. We all have our talents. You could say it is in my blood. And at times, I was resistant because of that perception. I’ve taken breaks from singing. I did not start playing instruments until about five years ago. I started with guitar, then the piano. Piano came naturally. I am self-taught and I play by ear, so I can play anything if I have the time to learn it. The songwriting was different. I used to write poems and love songs for girls in high school. But it never worked. They like the words, but always had boyfriends. I was that guy in school. The nice guy who never got the girl, so I took a break from writing too. Then one summer my roommates and I would play around with lyrics and melody. I realized I was good at it. I have added depth to my songs, but my approach is the same. Songwriting is essentially storytelling and I have a talent for that.

    Q: What is your favorite lyric that you’ve written?
    A: Here’s the thing. I don’t have a favorite line. My favorite song is one I wrote two years ago called “Home.” I love it for a wealth of reasons. If you listen to it on the surface, it sounds like a typical love song. The entire concept of coming home is a microcosm for my life. I was at a point where I felt lost. I remembered someone telling me that you could always come home, whether it be a physical place or not. There would always be someone waiting for you to come back, to come home. The line that stands out is “You’ve got the keys to my heart, just turn the knob and walk through. We’re waiting for you to come home.” During this time of year as we all prepare to go home, let us again speak for those who cannot. That is why I am excited to collaborate w/ Freedom 4/24. I am not a trained operative, I cannot go rescue people, but I can talk about it. This is a human issue. It is my responsibility to do so.

    For more info contact:

    For Booking contact:

  • Stedman Speaks: Building Your Emergency Fund to Avoid a Financial Doomsday

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial education series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances.

    Are you prepared to face a financial crisis like a major car repair, job loss, or medical emergency? All are scary realities that, if you’re not ready, could lead to financial ruin — unless you have an emergency fund in place. I’m here to help answer how much to save, where to put this money and other important details about building up your emergency fund.

    Q: What’s an emergency fund and why do I need one?

    SP: An emergency fund is money you’ve designated for financial emergencies to protect you in case of a job loss or another unexpected financial hardship. It allows you to cover bills and daily expenses while still weathering the financial storm, and it prevents you from scrambling to find money to cover these unforeseen expenses. With nearly half of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, failing to establish an emergency fund could mean not meeting financial obligations like a mortgage or rent payment, or other important bills. If these are missed, it could result in an even more serious financial problem.

    Q: How much do I need in an emergency fund and how do I build it up?

    SP: Experts say you should have three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund. While the recommended amount may seem daunting, you can start small. Make a goal of saving one month’s worth of living expenses in six months to a year. This will help boost confidence in your saving abilities while getting you to your goal. It may be tempting to use the money for a vacation or to pay off debt, but it’s important to stick to the plan. Make a list of acceptable uses for your emergency fund to ensure it’s only accessed for true emergencies. If you’re having trouble building up your fund, look for other ways to contribute like putting your tax return toward it or selling items you no longer need or use. Maybe it’s time to cancel subscriptions you don’t need (cable, magazines or the gym) or cut down on eating out.

    Q: Where should I store the money for my emergency fund?

    SP: Your emergency fund needs to be readily available, so don’t tie it up in things like investment accounts. A high-yield savings account or a money market account is a good place to start. If it has checks or a debit card, it’s a safe bet. Set up an account that’s separate from your regular savings. Some even recommend getting an account at a different financial institution altogether. Consider setting up automatic deductions into that account so you don’t even need to think about contributing to the fund.

    Q: What if I need to tap into my emergency fund to cover daily expenses?

    SP: This is where establishing a monthly budget comes in handy. Ideally, you should have enough income to cover these daily expenses with some left over to allocate toward investments, paying down debt, or savings (like your emergency fund). If you find yourself tapping into your emergency fund to cover daily expenses, it’s time to reexamine your spending habits and debts and look for ways to save money or increase your income.

    Q: I have a credit card and am pretty sure I’ll get a bonus at work this year. I can count on those as my emergency fund, right?

    SP: Using a credit card as your emergency fund might make sense in the short term, but think about how it impacts your bottom line in the long term. You still have to find a way to pay that money back and you’ll end up paying even more because of interest charges. A bonus at work might help jump-start your emergency fund, but probably won’t support the entire amount needed. Think of your emergency fund as your own personal insurance policy against the unpredictable. If your car breaks down, do you have funds set aside to pay for repairs or a replacement? It might seem like your emergency fund is simply a bunch of money sitting there doing nothing, but it’s not. The future is unpredictable, and when an emergency arises, you’ll rest easy knowing you have the money on hand to cover these unexpected expenses.


  • Scholar of the Month: Rasheed Christian

    Often time elders in a community have a wealth of knowledge and experience to pass to the next generation. Grandparents, great-uncles or great-aunts enjoy sharing stories about life when they were younger, fond memories of the ‘good ole days, or advice on a tough situation. Imagine having access to that love and practical information every single day. Rasheed Christian of Lynchburg gets a daily dose of that knowledge. Christian is a 17-year-old senior at Heritage High School and Virginia’s Governor’s School. He lives with his grandparents, Janice and Russell. With family guidance, Christian has been able to maintain a 4.4 grade point average.

    The Virginia Governor’s School started in the 1970’s as a way to give gifted students academic, visual and performing arts opportunities beyond that available in their home school. The Virginia Department of Education created the program to stress non-traditional teaching and learning techniques. As Christian headed into ninth grade he began looking for ways to expand his learning. “I wanted to explore opportunities outside of the normal high school experience, so I applied,” said Christian. He attends the science and technology program. The young scholar says he appreciates all the opportunities and exposure the program provides.

    African Americans have a long history of scientific discoveries and creating new inventions. There are not many folk who know Otis Boykin, a black man, invented the pacemaker. Therefore, Christian could certainly be at the top of the next wave of black pioneers. During his junior year at the Governor's School, he completed a project that explored the effects of active acne medication ingredients. “At the time I was having my own troubles with acne, so I thought it would be something interesting to test,” said Christian. His project looked at which products were actually fighting against the acne causing bacteria. When asked about why he enjoys science, Christian says he is intrigued by the practicability. “I love the fact that learning science explains things that go on in my day-to-day life… I like understanding why things work,” said Christian. He does realize STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses aren’t always a walk in the park. “There is so much that goes into each area of study, so many different pieces in everything,” said Christian. However, those challenges haven’t stopped him.

    Christian says he is looking forward to graduation. He is starting the college application process and is considering schools such as the University of Virginia, Harvard University and Virginia Tech. “I have family at UVA and Tech, and they always talk about how they enjoy their campus life,” said Christian. He hopes to major in biology and study neurology. “Alzheimer's and dementia has impacted my family, so I want to study the brain,” said Christian. Christian’s ambition and high expectations may just lead him to find the cure.

    Christian says he learned at a young age hard work always pays off, and that outlook carried him into his senior year. Outside the classroom Christian is an active member of the scholastic bowl team, the Lynchburg Youth Philanthropy Committee, and volunteers with a middle school athletic department.  He became a member of the philanthropic committee through his guidance counselor. “I like how we give back to the community, we decide which organizations to give grants to,” said Christian. Christian has accomplished a lot, so we had to ask what his life will look like in 10 years when he’s 27. “Not sure, but I’ll try my hardest to give back to the community. They helped me get to where I want to be now,” he said. That type of answer comes from someone who has wisdom and has taken heed to what his elders has taught him.

  • A Look at Your Health: Grieving during the holiday season

    It could be a song playing on the radio. Or someone calling out a familiar name. Or even a favorite smell in the kitchen. When a person experiences a loss, memories can be sparked in a moment and emotions can be varied.

    The holidays are often referred to as the “most wonderful time of the year,” but for someone who has lost a loved one, the season can be a painful annual reminder of what’s been lost. We all experience loss at one time or another, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The grief process can be a long one, filled with many emotional phases.

    I hope the following tips will be helpful to friends and family as you reach out to someone who may be grieving this holiday season.

    Don’t say: “Don’t be so down about the holidays, it’s the best time of the year!”

    Never put a time limit on grief. A grief experience takes as long as it takes. Everyone grieves differently. It’s hard to know what phase of grief your loved one is in, but everyone can benefit from positive support. It’s important to remember that being positive doesn’t mean being dismissive.
    Instead say: “I know this holiday season may be tough for you, but there’s a lot we can do together to make it the best possible. I’m here to support you in any way I can.”

    Don’t say: “What can I do to help you get over this?”

    Asking questions of your loved one is important, but be thoughtful about what questions you ask. You want to make sure you’re being helpful and not hurtful. Asking open-ended questions provides an opportunity for your loved one to answer based on the way they feel,  instead of having to provide a specific or immediate answer.

    Instead say: “How are you doing today? What’s been going on lately? I’m here to talk to you about whatever you feel comfortable sharing.” Then be prepared to listen. By really listening, you’ll learn how you can support them in the way they need most.

    Don’t say: “You always do...during the holidays, are you really not going to… .” (Fill in the space with any type of tradition or holiday event.)

    It’s important to remember that people who are grieving “normal traditions” or annual events may not be what they are comfortable doing this year. You need to put your expectations aside and adjust to what their needs are now.
    Instead say: “I’m up for whatever you feel like doing this holiday season. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”

    The holidays can be stressful on us all; adding the stress of grief can really push people into a dark place. Managing expectations of all parties involved can help the holidays go as smoothly as possible.

    Don’t say: Nothing.

    While you may not know what to say exactly, saying nothing can be more hurtful to a friend or loved one. Making yourself available can be the biggest help.

    Don’t just assume your loved one or friend is okay because they don’t ask for your help. Most people won’t seek help, but will appreciate support when it comes voluntarily.

    Instead say: “I’m not sure what to say and I wish I could make this time of year better for you, but I’m here for you. Let me know if you want to talk about it, cry about it or get some much needed distraction. I support you.”

    No matter how awkward or uncomfortable you think bringing up the topic of death could be, it may not only help your loved one, but you as well. When loss happens, we all know life will never be the same. But that doesn’t mean it needs to come to a screeching halt. Be sensitive with words, ask simple questions, and more importantly, listen. Sometimes a free ear is the best medicine a friend can offer. 


  • Little Green Hive, a coffee shop buzzing with flavor

    Across the world there is a beverage that is part of every country’s morning routine – a ‘cup of joe.’ No one knows exactly how or when coffee hit the scene, but one thing is certain, it has become the jolt needed by many to get the day off to a good start. Coffee houses are the center of social activity throughout the world, and in Roanoke, the Little Green Hive is a part of the morning blend.

    Little Green Hive is now owned by Sharon Ponce and Leo Jimenez. They took over the business from founders Mark and Amy Garland 18 months ago. Both Ponce and her husband Leo have years of experience in hospitality including management and culinary arts. It was a dream of theirs to one day have their own spot. “We started saving and decided to just wait on the right opportunity,” said Ponce. During a week when the couple was off together for two days in a row – a rare occurrence – they scoped out a business Ponce saw for sale on the internet. And as the old idiom goes…the rest is history.

    Anyone who has ever worked in hospitality understands you work during the times most people enjoy – weekends and evenings. As a married couple in the industry, Ponce says finding quality time can be a challenge but they carve out moments whenever possible. The couple has three children – Gabriel, Liliana and Lucas. “I am thankful I have good kids, they do their chores and they are in honors class,” said Ponce. Before the family took over the coffee shop Ponce managed a fast food restaurant and Jimenez oversaw the kitchen at a popular restaurant, so they often worked six days a week. Ponce, who is originally from California, and Jimenez, who is from Mexico, knew their goal to have their own spot would be an investment in their children’s future and an opportunity to build generational wealth. That way their children “wouldn’t have to work as hard as we did,” said Ponce.

    little green hive owners and family

    Taking over Little Green Hive has provided the step towards the life Ponce and Jimenez always imaged. Managing a business has allowed them to accomplish a dream, but here are some things they wish they had known before leaping into business ownership. “I wish I had studied QuickBooks and knew the human resource side of things more than I did,” said Ponce. Nonetheless, he is learning on the job.

    Little Green Hive has three locations: Downtown Roanoke, Grandin and Roanoke College. The couple walked into the business with an experienced staff, so that helped with the transition. Ponce said they are slowly incorporating new ideas and systems.

    Ultimately being responsible for everything was terrifying at first, but Ponce thinks it was worth the risk. “You have to ask yourself is the cake worth the bake,” said Ponce. For their family the journey into the unknown has paid off. “We have more time with our family now, our schedule is more flexible,” she added. The children spend much time at the shops. Their presence is felt even when they are not around. Liliana sells her own homemade chap stick and has designed a Little Green Hive coffee mug.

    Involving the kids is just one example of how the family is making the shop unique. Little Green Hive features local vendors whenever possible. The coffee is from Floyd County’s Red Rooster Coffee Roasters. The milk comes directly from a dairy farm, and the pastries are either homemade or provided by local craft bakers. People visiting the shop know they are getting a quality cup of coffee and well-made Danish. The shop even has fresh smoothies and specialty teas. There is something for everyone, from the health conscious to someone looking to indulge. Giving people options and having more than one location is part of the shop’s success.

    Little Green Hive is a business that not only is strengthening the bond of a family, but also the bond of other local Roanoke Valley businesses.  The family has big plans for the brand’s future. “We believe the coffee shop is easy for people to learn. We could expand, having more locations here or in other states,” said Ponce. We could see Little Green Hives popping up all around Southwest Virginia and beyond since, it has become the perfect family brew.

  • Publisher's Note

    “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

    Mother Teresa

    “Poverty is not an accident, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”
    Nelson Mandela

    The holiday season is the time of year we celebrate family and new beginnings – a new year filled with hope. It is a time when families come together or are reunited, and a sense of peace and harmony is scattered throughout the community. However, for some people and even some families, being homeless is a hard-cold blow of desperation and depression. Homelessness in the Roanoke Valley is decreasing according to officials at several local shelters. Additionally, families led by single mothers are increasing at an alarming rate. They are our silent citizens, living in shelters, cheap hotels and cars just to get through another day.

    According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on any given night nearly 20 percent of the homeless population had serious mental illness or conditions related to chronic substance abuse. A family with a full-time worker making minimum wage could not afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S. Also, a renter earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would need to work 90 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental home at the fair market rent and 112 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom. The need to increase the federal minimum wage in this country is long overdue.

    Further, the number of shelters in our area should be increased to accommodate the homeless. We need to provide additional mental health assistance to our citizens as we see them wandering our streets in despair. This is the season of giving. I hope we all have a chance to reflect on the true essence of this time of year and actively participate in its meaning.


Purchase Photos from this Issue