A local nonprofit has opened its first outpost outside of the Richmond region.
The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC), which works to address prejudices in workplaces, schools and the community, last month opened a new office in Norfolk on the campus of Virginia Wesleyan University.
CEO Jonathan Zur said VCIC, which is based at 5511 Staples Mill Road in Henrico, has grown from five to 12 employees in the past four years. He cites an increase in hate crimes reported by the state, particularly in the Hampton Roads area, as reason for the expansion.
“We’ve seen an increase in requests due to bias-based bullying or discrimination,” Zur said. “As we saw that trend emerge, our board sat down and discussed what do we need to do to address this and also get ahead of it.
“First and foremost, I think the best way to serve a community is to be of the community and to be in the community,” Zur said.
VCIC opened for business in the new office in November, with Paula L. Bazemore serving as program manager.
Bazemore is a resident of Hampton Roads and previously served as executive director of Peninsula Reads, an adult literacy organization. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for much of her career.
VCIC’s offerings include a workforce inclusion program that has been used in Richmond by entities such as SunTrust, Dominion Energy, Allianz and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Dominion has sponsored a recurring program called Diversity Dialogue Day, a day-long forum hosted in schools where facilitators guide students through activities and discussions. The goal is for students to explore discrimination scenarios and develop conflict-resolution skills.
Since its launch in Hampton Roads last month, Bazemore has taken the organization’s programs, including Diversity Dialogue Day, to Hampton Roads schools.
Hampton Roads institutions that have worked with VCIC prior to the opening of its Hampton Roads office include Huntington Ingalls Industries, Norfolk Academy, Old Dominion University and Virginia Beach City public schools.
Zur said VCIC’s early programs in the Hampton Roads area also will work with religious communities, K-12 schools and universities. The group also plans to lead a new professional development seminar for teachers in Hampton Roads called “Teachable Moments,” which will address bullying in schools.
The relationship between VWU and VCIC goes back 20 years to when the latter became a sponsor of the school’s Center for the Study of Religious Freedom’s (CSRF) Nexus Interfaith Dialogue program. VCIC continues to sponsor the program.
VCIC and VWU agreed to a trade for the office space on campus, with the nonprofit providing some free programs to the university.
VCIC’s own formation stems from religious tolerance. The organization was created in 1935 at Lynchburg College (now University of Lynchburg) to engage interfaith groups as a response to anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic activity. Through the years, the organization has worked to address discrimination and promote inclusivity.
“The work that we do helps us break down barriers” Bazemore said. “People are not always going to agree with each other, but it helps if people talk to find out where they’re coming from.”
VCIC brought in $1 million in revenue in its fiscal year that ended in June 30, according to its most recent tax forms on file with nonprofit tracker Guidestar. It had expenses of $870,000 in that same period.