Malori Holloman, ’13, has witnessed poverty’s effects on traumatized children, homeless adults, and troubled teens through her community work in Northside Richmond. Yet she finds reasons to hope.
Tyreek Barnes, a Henderson Middle School seventh grader she has mentored since January 2012, is one of those reasons. “His reading has improved from where we started,” Holloman said.
This semester Holloman and 75 other University of Richmond students volunteer weekly at Henderson, a Richmond public school with a predominantly low-income student population.
Having experienced poverty during her childhood, Holloman can relate to the challenges facing low-income families, including sometimes-chaotic home lives.
“When you grow up in a chaotic home, you go one of two directions,” Holloman said. “You either do well in the classroom to restore some type of order for yourself, or you act how it is at home, which may not be suitable for the classroom.”
Holloman chose the path of academic achievement and now helps others in difficult circumstances reach their goals.
Since her first year at college, Holloman has volunteered with Build It, a program coordinated by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). Build It partners with public schools and nonprofits to address education, health care, and employment issues affecting low-income Northside Richmond neighborhoods.
Initially Holloman volunteered as a reading tutor at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School. She made connections to her WILL coursework, especially the Women and Work course.
“In WILL, we discussed issues from the mother’s end,” Holloman said, “but I could see the effects on the children. If there’s no one at home to read to a child, it shows in the child’s school performance.”
Domestic violence also can affect a child’s school performance.
“I was reading ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ to a kindergartener,” Holloman said, “when she stopped me in mid-sentence and said, ‘I saw my mom get killed and now I live with my grandma. My dad’s in jail because of it.’
“What do you do with that? It was obvious she was experiencing post-traumatic stress and needed to process it. This was not something I was just reading about in a textbook — it was right there in my face.”
The next semester Holloman volunteered at the Daily Planet Medical Respite, a nonprofit that provides a safe refuge for homeless individuals recovering from surgery or chronic illness.
“I have always been wary of stereotypes of homeless people as lazy moochers,” Holloman said. “Some may be homeless because of drug use, but we all make mistakes. Some pay more than others.”
As a sophomore, Holloman volunteered in a mentoring program for adolescent girls at Henderson.
“I shared some of my childhood stories, which helped break up stereotypes of UR students,” Holloman said. “There are more similarities between us than you may think. I’d tell them they could get further than they think.”
A film studies major, Holloman believes media can play a role in alleviating poverty. “When we paint a dark picture all the time, people pull away from certain neighborhoods,” she said.
“If we put positive stories about low-income neighborhoods in the media, we might be able to attract more resources to the neighborhoods. Positive press makes people think about the good things going on in their neighborhood.”
Mentoring Tyreek for the past three semesters has had a positive impact on her, Holloman said. She can’t imagine not volunteering.
“It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself,” she said. “When I’ve had an incredibly stressful week, I’ll spend time with Tyreek and leave a few hours later with a smile.”
When asked about her commitment to helping others, Holloman said, “If there’s a place where I can do some good, why not?
“What does it say about society when we’re so excited to praise someone for being kind? It should be the norm.”
Photo: Henderson Middle School student Tyreek Barnes, left, and Malori Holloman, '13, right