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THRIVE Participant Perspective--St. James's Children's Center

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Each Friday, we'll bring you the perspective of a nonprofit in our THRIVE accelerator program and share a little about their organization.

St. James's Children's Center

This session, facilitated as always by our partners at The Spark Mill, covered Community Engagement and was presented by Mariah Williams of Housing Opportunities Made Equal. We asked the team from St. James's Children's Center to tell us about their experience this week.

What are you hoping to get out of this program?

Diahann Whittington, Executive Director: It seemed like an opportunity, as a new ED, to learn how to tell a better story, one more respectful to families, that also touched on what the donors needed to hear to want to support our mission. I wanted to be able to get more comfortable being the face of the organization. [And to do it all] with board members that I trusted and wanted to get to know better. I had to be intentional with who I wanted to be here and thankfully they said yes.

Tell us about your experience in the program overall.

Dick Bennett, Board Member: I've enjoyed the speed networking to meet people I didn’t know. It surprised me--most of the organizations I'd never heard of.

Diahann: I enjoyed seeing the different organizations in the cohort, ones I wasn't aware of. Through speed networking, I was able to connect with people I'd been emailing for years. I also reached out to the [program] facilitators to have follow up meetings, to see what I can do to grow our mission, to partner. For networking, it was beautiful.

from Mariah's presentation

Holly Chasan-Young, Mentor: It has been a joy to get to know this organization--everyone has such a huge heart. It’s inspiring to be with the team. I’ve learned so much from each session. There are so many different use cases that the things they spoke about apply to. It has been a real privilege to hear what the team is thinking about, the vulnerability they bring.

Diahann: It was nice to be able to have conversations with our mentor. We would not have had the dedicated time [otherwise].

What did you learn, or feel spoke to you about today?

Winnie Canup, Development Director: It’s nice to have thinking time. You think you can’t carve this time, but we did! Let’s think of a way to continue to carve the time out about where we’re going in the future.

Diahann: The intentionality of how we go into communities and have community involvement.

from Mariah's presentation

Dick: It became clear to me as a board member, where we have parents we don’t relate to, how difficult it is to find out what’s on their mind. As a board, we’ve been saying, we need a parent as a board member, and now I'm thinking, what’s realistic to ask of them?

How do you see this applying to your organization?

Diahann: So many things, I don’t know how we’d narrow them down! Every week, we think of something that can help us going forward. When future opportunities arise, we can think back on this and say, I remember that session!

Winnie: The value of those intentional conversations and recognizing the value when clients share their stories. That this is their gift to us.


St. James's Children's Center prepares young hearts and minds for life.

We love. We teach. We nourish. We explore.

We provide the highest quality early childhood and summer education programs available to any child in metropolitan Richmond—regardless of a child’s developmental ability or the family’s financial ability to pay. Our weekly tuition rate is well below comparable high-quality programs. Additional tuition assistance is available with demonstrated need. Located in the heart of Richmond’s Fan District at 1205 W. Franklin Street, the Children’s Center is close to VCU and downtown.


The THRIVE accelerator program provides an opportunity to look beyond the current challenges and obstacles and plan out a direct and streamlined path forward. Organizations will spend concentrated time planning and executing real-time solutions with guided facilitation.

The second cohort focuses on helping organizations engage leading practices in program design, community engagement, board development, fundraising, storytelling, and HR/operations with a racial equity lens. This experience creates a set time for teams of boards and staff to come together to look at their organization holistically and then apply what they are learning to their specific context.

THRIVE was created through collaboration between The Collaboratory of Virginia and The Spark Mill, and is currently sponsored by Carmax, Robins Foundation, and Virginia Community Capital.

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