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2008 Richmond History Makers Honorees

Creating Quality Educational Opportunities

Geraldine Johnson, Director
St. James’s Children’s Center

“Geraldine developed a program that incorporates language, math and science in every activity throughout the day, as well as the cultural arts…Social skills and behaviors are addressed.  Parent training is a key component.” Duriechee L. Friend, nominator

St. James’s Children’s Center in Richmond provides pre- and after-school care for children from middle to low-income Richmond families, including those identified as at risk or having special needs. Director since 1986, Geraldine Johnson is considered a pioneer in the holistic approach to educating young children from underserved populations, relying heavily upon experiential learning, weekly field trips, creative self-expression and big picture thinking. Ninety-eight percent of the 2,000 graduates of the Children’s Center have graduated from high school, many with honors, and approximately half have enrolled in college level courses. They are proud to have alumni graduates from William and Mary College, North Carolina Chapel Hill, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University, just to name a few.

Demonstrating Innovative Solutions

Max and Garth Larcen
Positive Vibe Café

“After Max graduated from high school, he and his father discovered that Max faced challenges being hired into the work force. Max has muscular dystrophy. Max and his dad decided to make a difference in the community and began working on a vision for the restaurant. They created a place that provides hope and inspiration for employees and customers alike across the Richmond region.” Holly and Robert M. Stallworth III, nominators

Founded in 2002 by Max Larcen and his father Garth, the Positive Vibe Café is the public face of Get Lost MD (Muscular Dystrophy) Foundation, a 501c3 charity that provides hands-on training and meaningful employment in food services to individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. A full service restaurant, Positive Vibe has graduated more than 200 students from its training program, many of which now have industry jobs across the region, and offers a delicious menu, daily specials and live music. Max, who has muscular dystrophy, serves as greeter and host while Garth is the executive director of the foundation. Together they have appeared as keynote speakers at the Kennedy Space Center in celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have been recognized by local and national media, including in the Wall Street Journal, CBS’s The Early Show and NBC Nightly News. Most notably, however, is the organization’s effect on the Richmond region’s attitude toward employing individuals with disabilities and the self-confidence its training program instills in its participants.

Fostering Regional Cooperation

John V. Moeser, Ph.D.
The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement

“For over thirty years, John has been serving as an expert on regional government. This includes the relationship government bodies have with each other and with other community entities, the state constitution that regulates them and the history of efforts of regional cooperation. He is always optimistic about the Region’s ability to grow and become a better place for its citizens to work, play and live.” Tina Egge, nominator

Dr. John V. Moeser is Senior Fellow at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies and Planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. The author of several books and papers on racial politics in post-World War II Richmond, demographic trends in central Virginia, and city-suburban relationships, Dr. Moeser advocates creative collaboration among city, suburban and rural communities and is known for his objective analysis of the region’s racial issues. In 2003, Gov. Mark Warner appointed him to the Urban Policy Task Force, which assessed challenges facing Virginia's cities and urban areas. Dr. Moeser is a frequent volunteer lecturer for organizations such as Leadership Metro Richmond and is founder of the YMCA’s Metro Teen Program. His work with the Bonner Center includes research and related professional activity pertaining to metropolitan Richmond, assisting faculty and students who are studying Richmond politics and regionalism in Central Virginia, and making presentations to a wide array of government organizations, business groups, and non-profit organizations.

Improving Social Justice

Alexander Lebenstein
Volunteer Educator and Advocate, Schools Without Racism
Virginia Holocaust Museum

"In Central Virginia, after school presentations or groups led at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, students wrote letters, drew pictures, and created a book about Alex. They email him for facts but they also email him for encouragement to fight the woes of society and to learn how to live and act civil with others." Miriam Davidow, nominator

Alex Lebenstein is a Holocaust survivor and volunteer at the Virginia Holocaust Museum who spreads a message of tolerance to schoolchildren worldwide. His speaking career began with a request from students in his birthplace of Haltern, Germany, where he and his parents were forced to flee from their home by Nazi hoodlums on Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. After losing his parents to violence and barely surviving deprivation and cruelty in forced labor and concentration camps, he swore he would never return to Germany, and he was consumed by anger for many years.

But when he accepted an invitation from the students in Haltern, and saw how they were suffering from the burden of the horrible actions of their grandparents, he realized that they shared a common pain. Over the next 12 years Alex inspired these youngsters through a variety of projects to fight racism. He also began accepting requests to speak about his experience throughout Central Virginia, and he continues to campaign for a statewide Schools Without Racism movement. Alex accepts no compensation for his time or travel and returns to Haltern regularly, where the school was recently renamed in his honor.

Promoting Stronger Communities

T.K. Somanath, Executive Director
Better Housing Coalition

"BHC saw the potential of what our neighborhood [Fairmount in the East End] could become, so the residents were encouraged as they held on to their dreams that nothing was impossible…The addition of new homes that are of high quality and attractively designed, as well as renovated houses, enhance the entire neighborhood and have brought new families to the neighborhood…Property values are up, aesthetics are favorable, and there is crime reduction." Beth Hopkins, nominator

Better Housing Coalition (BHC) is a private, non-profit organization established in 1988 by local civic leaders to provide creative, collaborative long-term solutions to increase affordable housing resources and revitalize communities in the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area. The BHC has a 20-year track record of forging partnerships with businesses, public agencies and neighborhood organizations, resulting in the development of more than 1,000 affordable housing units in the Richmond region and hundreds of secure, attractive apartments.  Through its Community Social Work Department, the BHC works with residents to improve their social and economic health, while its property management company ensures responsible and timely upkeep of its assets.