2014 marked the 50th year of my life in Richmond. I moved to this city in 1964, and since then I’ve seen some things change, but many have stayed the same. New people moved here, but the city’s community has remained just as divided, and so have the city’s community organizations. New organizations have popped up, but are just as isolated and unwelcoming as the older organizations. Often, these divisions have come at the expense of those who need the most help.
For most of my time here I have felt separated from the community. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that I first got involved in the Panhandle Annex Neighborhood Council. I wanted to know what was going on in the community, and I wanted to help.
Now I’m not so connected. I do the things that I see need to be done. I volunteer for neighbors’ and co-workers’ projects, but they are individual, very separate projects from other things happening in the city. There is no real sense that community organizations are connected in the city. I don’t feel like the work that I do for projects is connected to a broader community in the city. It’s pocketed and everyone has their own little niche.
There are people that work together, but it rarely goes beyond their own group. The RPA, for example, has a lot of projects, but they don’t overlap with outsiders’ endeavors. I work with the Holiday Toy Program. We give toys and food to at least 1,700 families in West County. However, instead of building on to that and making it bigger and better, many other groups have their own give-away. There are some private citizens who do toy give-aways, too, but there is no connection between any of these groups. If we all cooperated, many more families could be served instead of a few getting something from each group.
In my opinion, many people who do charitable things in Richmond don’t do it for the people who are benefiting. It seems to be more about getting personal credit. That’s the way it has always been, as long as I have been observing. If you've got someone teaching 3rd graders to read, someone else will come along and they’ll do it a different way, instead of collaborating with the previously established group. It works like that in every aspect of the City of Richmond that I know of.
Instead of joining already-established organizations and improving upon them, people just want their own projects. They want their own credit for the work. That’s why Richmond remains disconnected. Throughout the city there are several community organizations that all do the same thing. If they banded together they could help so many more people. Instead, people choose to separate themselves to satisfy their egos. It also makes it harder for the people who need the services to find them.
These divisions are inefficient and they hurt our citizens who need help the most. Each time someone wants to start a new organization, they have to pay overhead and gather the resources that are already established elsewhere. It’s just a waste of time and money. And for what? So the organizers can get credit? In the end it’s just making it more difficult for the people who would benefit from the programs to receive help.
The problem in Richmond is, in my opinion, that it has never been any different. I volunteer at the things that I like to do, and I am involved in programs that are local to me. I don’t feel like what I do is connected to the projects in other parts of the city, because there is no cooperation. If there was an established network between these different groups that share common missions, perhaps a list so that if you wanted to teach 3rd graders to read, you could find out about the groups already doing that, join them and help make that program more successful, then we would finally begin to establish a real community across the city. If we do that, maybe we can really begin to help the people who we say we are trying to aid.
By: Bea Roberson, Richmond resident