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Service-Learning Trip Explores Virginia’s Past and Works Toward Racial Reconciliation

May 19, 2022
Categories: Our Community

More than two years in the making, a group of VMRC Independent Living residents and staff members embarked on a first-of-its-kind service-learning trip to Virginia’s capital earlier this month. 

The trip, Racial Reconciliation: Finding Hope, Meaning and Growth, allowed participants to explore African American history, be inspired by current leaders in racial reconciliation and volunteer alongside one another as a service to the community.

Originally in the final planning stages just as the COVID-19 pandemic began, this important journey came to fruition through the perseverance and commitment of a team of VMRC staff members and participants. 

Arts and Education program manager and trip facilitator, Lolly Miller said, “Our initial reasons for planning a trip of this kind were to respond to the racial climate nationally and on a more local level with intentionality so that we could develop a deeper understanding through active learning and hands-on service.”

“We can’t just talk about VMRC being a community of hope, meaning and growth without ensuring that we’re being authentic and creating experiences that hold us accountable to our mission,” added Emily Shickel, trip facilitator and VMRC Volunteer Services manager. 

Participants made new connections and learned tangible ways to work toward racial equity and social justice. 

"I'm grateful to VMRC for organizing and leading us in gaining awareness of the social injustice and racial inequity in the state of Virginia. It was sobering and inspirational. Added to facing Virginia's unjust racial history, was a positive time of relationship building with other participants," said resident Lois Beck. 

Over several days, the group was immersed in history and hands-on learning. They traveled the Trail of Enslaved Africans with local historian Reverend Ben Campbell and had a learning session with Coming to the Table RVA. There was a service project at historically black Woodland Cemetery where the group worked to unearth buried headstones, took a guided tour of the Black History Museum and spent time examining racial reconciliation issues with social worker, activist and consultant Chelsea Higgs Wise.

“We were able to journey together through an experience that helped us find meaning and process parts of our state’s heritage that are quite violent and painful. It challenged us to grow and get outside our comfort zones and ultimately, gave us hope for the future and energized us to return home and work harder at being agents of change,” said Emily Shickel.

A balm to the heavy realities participants were working through was time spent at Richmond Hill, a Christian Retreat Center committed to racial reconciliation, where the group stayed.

“While we were coming to terms with horrific racism in our nation’s history, it was so meaningful to gather in the chapel three times a day - to be centered in Christ, hear the words of Scripture and share in prayer," said Chaplain Steve Landis. 

The trip was very personal for all those who experienced it and participants came away feeling inspired, educated and with a deeper connection to one another.  

Resident Carolyn Nowlin summed it up well. “It was a profound experience and a rare privilege. Nothing I can say will do it justice!” 

This meaningful trip was made possible in part by sponsor Everence Financial


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“The response from the VMRC community of staff and residents has been quite welcoming.  We've enjoyed meeting friends old and new which has been very enriching.”

- New VMRC Resident, 2018