RVA 5×5: RVA = DIY

by Jon Baliles

Jack Jacobs at Richmond Biz Sense has an update about the ongoing fallout from the collapse of the Enrichmond Foundation last summer. All of the small organizations that used Enrichmond as a fiduciary lost access to their money (which may be gone for good; stay tuned) and other things like insurance coverage.

While there are efforts underway to transfer two historically Black cemeteries formerly under Enrichmond’s purview to the city, there has not been any statement, hint, clue, concern, or any sign of emotion uttered by the Mayor about when or if the city will help restore the funding of these small groups that do a lot of valuable work to help the City and save staff time.

Since no one at City Hall seems to be interested in helping, Richmonders are doing what they do best — they are doing it themselves (aka DIY).

For example, the group RVA Clean Sweep counts nearly 1,500 people who support it by going around the city picking up trash. They lost their insurance coverage and about $3,000 when Enrichmond folded. Have they quit trying to help clean up the city? Nope.

They held fewer cleanups and told volunteers to be extra careful as they were volunteering without insurance, but they still kept cleaning and sweeping. But no insurance means they were not able to apply for grants or hold as many cleanups as they would like, according to RVA Clean Sweep Director Amy Robins.

But they still held cleanups because they wanted their volunteers to stay engaged. “Robins feared that a prolonged hiatus on activity would cause volunteers to drift away from the cause of cleaning up litter in the city,” wrote Jacobs.

So they had discussed being acquired by the city’s Clean City Commission back in early 2022 and that accelerated last fall after Enrichmond folded. The Clean City Commission is also a litter cleanup group affiliated with the city and led by City Council appointees.

Another organization that saw $29,000 disappear is the Richmond Tree Stewards. The group went ahead after Enrichmond dissolved to gain its own 501(c) status so it can continue to give away trees and help maintain many of the ones that are on city property or rights-of-way. President Dave Pohlmann said, “We were penniless and not tax-exempt. We thought it was crazy and we wouldn’t want to be in this situation again, so we went independent.”

Did the Stewards let the situation or lack of action from City Hall stop them? Nope. They gave away 2,000 trees last fall and are staying focused on their vital green mission. “We are trying our best to continue with our mission as originally written,” Pohlmann said.

And another non-profit called Verdant Richmond, tasked with restoring green spaces across the city has now stepped up as a fiduciary to small groups if they need it. Jacobs talked with the founder, Lawrence Miller.

Verdant had six groups, five of them community gardens, officially operating under its umbrella as of last week, Miller said.

Miller said the city’s parks department contacted Verdant in July to see if it would serve as a replacement for Enrichmond. He said Verdant bought an insurance policy shortly after that, and in addition to offering insurance coverage, it also holds the donated funds of its member groups.

The focus on community garden groups is intentional, as it aligns with Verdant’s own programming focus. But Miller said he expected that Verdant would cast as wide a net as Enrichmond did, with various community groups under its wing.

“Our scale is entirely different from Enrichmond and our mission is different and we’re working just to support these groups,” said Miller. “We’re happy to help. I want these groups to do well. It does diverge from the mission, but this is a slight pivot, not a total change of course.”

Some groups are hesitant to join up as they fear they might lose any new funds they could raise or have raised since last summer. They don’t want to lose the money again, which is an understandable sentiment.

But what if the city took just a tiny slice of the budget this one time to make these groups whole so they can get back to full throttle and help the city? Perhaps then those groups might take Verdant Richmond up on their offer to help or they can do what the Tree Stewards did and form their own entity.

I’m just happy to see these groups taking action on their own because waiting for our “leaders” to do something (or even say something) seems to be a lost cause.

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City Councilman. This is an excerpt from the original article posted on his blog, RVA 5×5. It is posted here with permission.