HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Just a few months ago, a group of educators was made up of colleagues and co-workers at Glen Allen High to help figure out how to change the culture at their school. Now they can truly say they’re also friends.
“The eight of us became very close and had a common visions about inclusiveness and really kind of knowing one another more as people,” said teacher Ryan Conway.
They were all part of a special retreat this summer that launched a way to look for ways to make sure Glen Allen High is a place for everyone to feel safe and welcome.
It’s Principal Reginald Davenport’s personal mission to build a culture of kindness.
“Kindness that comes straight from the heart. Not nice ... but being kind to one another,” said Davenport.
The workshop was held by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, an 83-year-old nonprofit with a mission to help bring schools, businesses and workplaces together.
“We’ve been turned to as a resource to help bring folks together. We get a lot of calls and requests after incidents of bias, bullying or discrimination,” said CEO and President of VCIC Jonathan Zur.
His group provides training to over 20,000 people a year, but he’s noticing an eye-opening new trend.
Between 2015 and 2017, VCIC saw a 1,300 percent increase in requests for services.
“Its overwhelming to know that there’s an increase and it feels very purposeful to be doing this work in this political and social climate where folks are feeling such a sense of division,” said Zur.
The violence in Charlottesville last year was a recent turning point for VCIC.
“We saw Charlottesville as the most visible example of a lot of tensions that had been simmering for a long time and unfortunately have continued to be a challenge,” added Zur.
The group was also called in to help with a unity rally at the Reconciliation statue in Richmond. It supported a governor’s commission on diversity and equity created in the aftermath.
Last fiscal year it held more than 363 different programs to bring people together.
Programs like the one at Glen Allen High School that’s just started, but is flourishing.
“I think the K-12 system, high school is a great time to kind of talk about inclusive communities and what it’s like,” said Conway.
“To have that courageous conversations but also a better understanding that we have a lot of differences:43 we’re more a like than different,” added Davenport.
On the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities' website is a list of ways you can get involved, volunteer, donate or even request a program at your school or business.