By Nora Pehrson
Richmond Hill is an ecumenical fellowship, residence, and urban retreat center in downtown Richmond that seeks to heal and develop “the spirit of the city” through inclusive community programming focused on racial reconciliation, social justice, and contemplative prayer. The ministry is among 112 cultural nonprofit organizations to receive a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant from Virginia Humanities in 2020. Prior to COVID-19, the Richmond Hill grounds and chapel were open to the public and were the site of regular community gatherings and discussions, but the pandemic changed all that.
Below, Finance and Administration Coordinator Tim Holtz explains how the CARES Act funds have helped Richmond Hill maintain its operations and fund new projects specifically related to racial justice.
Tell me about the work that you do. What kind of role does Richmond Hill play in the Richmond community?
Richmond Hill has landmark status, is a site of historic enslavement, and in 1987 was established as an urban retreat center set within a former monastery. A diverse mixture of residents, employees, and volunteers shape and deliver on Richmond Hill’s mission to seek the healing of Metropolitan Richmond. Our work focuses on racial reconciliation, hospitality, and spiritual development. It includes historical research, storytelling, contemporary dialogues, healing spaces, and events.
Why did Richmond Hill apply for a CARES Act grant?
The operating model for our work was severely and negatively affected by the onset of COVID-19 and demanded Richmond Hill explore all options to sustain its core operations and mission.
How has your work been affected by Covid-19? How have you adapted?
Ours is a place where people gather, as individuals to participate in the life and programming of Richmond Hill, or as members of groups who coordinate their own activities within our community spaces. COVID-19 necessitated an immediate cessation of programming and of property access for all guests; this required refunding all deposits and shuttering our on-site bookstore.
As with many across the Commonwealth, our adaptation has leaned heavily on electronic and video communication. This has expanded the size and geographic breadth of our reach and the responsiveness of our program design. For example, our humanities programming includes community engagement with our African American history and archaeology project. In this new environment, we have been livestreaming (via Facebook) our archaeological digs and holding interactive conversations with viewers online. It has been an exciting and unique process!
How did the CARES grant help to enable this work?
The CARES Act grant funds helped sustain Richmond Hill’s programming. With the aid of Virginia Humanities, we’ve delivered a variety of online programs dedicated to exploring the African American experience in Richmond. We explored topics including the life of Civil War spy Mary Bowser, poverty and the pandemic, Juneteenth, and Black Lives Matter. The grant helped with program promotion and honoraria; replaced lost bookstore revenue, and supported some of our basic operational expenses.
We’ve enjoyed developing a relationship with Virginia Humanities and are grateful for the grant opportunity.
And check out the resources available on the recently launched The Judy Project blog, an exploration and re-imagining of the history of slavery at Richmond Hill.