Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.
Name: Rodney Gaines
Company: Virginia Community Voice
You’re an incredible advocate for your community. How did you get started in advocacy and what inspired you to be a leader in this space?
Well, I met Lea Gibson, our (Virginia Community Voice’s) former executive director back when she was a coordinator in 2017. I was attending a civic meeting at Davy Gardens and her and Nelson Reevely came through to talk to the community. I didn’t think anything of it because groups come through all the time and talk about what they can do, but a question they asked stood out to me. That question was, “What would you like to see be done in your community?” Just giving that option was strange to me as opposed to other groups that would come in and tell us what they were going to do. Immediately after asking the question, hands flew up including mine and we just told them as a community what we would like to see done. She then stated that we wanted done would be done and I didn’t believe her at first. Following that, we had two or three more meetings and different events were held, such as cleanups.
One day, they asked for volunteers for a cleanup taking place on Richmond Highway Corridor and I thought it would be cool experience to take part in. I thought it would be nice for my kids and grandkids to see what I did and how I helped out. Ever since then, I haven’t stopped volunteering.
You’ve brought many new voices to the table to help build a greener, more inclusive and sustainable future in the Richmond region. What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve gathered through this work?
I’ve learned to definitely be open minded and patient. If you’re dealing with a specific community or the public in general, you need to be able to feed off of other ideas. You should try to be transparent because you are all working for one goal in the end. The goal that you are trying to reach may not be reached on that day, but if you keep pursuing it you will reach it. So, I would just say try to be open minded and positive in this line of work, especially if it’s something you like to do. Make sure you focus on your events and plans and definitely incorporate fun into it.
When I volunteered to do my first cleanup, I didn’t know there would be so much participation. When I saw our different communities coming together for one common goal, I believed that we could actually do it and make a change. The typical mentality in my community is that people don’t want to help if it doesn’t benefit them, but we came together, and everyone was open minded to achieve the same goal. When volunteering, everyone’s goal is to network. You want to meet new people and build connections to help with future events or endeavors in a positive manner. At that first cleanup, there were five communities working together. To me, that’s the definition of being positive and open minded.
What do you think is the biggest challenge organizations and government agencies face when trying to engage with the communities they serve?
Trust and participation are big issues and probably the biggest obstacles when engaging with different communities. Those are two things you’re going to have to deal with when trying to help in any community. You are going into communities and telling people your plans and what you’re going to do to the area in which they live. A lot of times, these communities don’t believe organizations and think there is a hidden motive. That being said, if you want to be successful in any community, you must have those two things in check.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
I’ve had a couple careers in my lifetime. Obviously, I liked them, because I didn’t keep switching, but I started off with UPS and the Department of Information Technology. I liked those jobs, but my advice is to find a job that you love. The job that I have now is the job that I love. I love getting in the community. I love taking something from nothing, like an empty lot and beautifying it. That’s the ultimate goal. I love working with people in the community and seeing the smiles, thankfulness, and gratefulness. So, I would say do something that you like very much, but if you love it, definitely pursue it.
I’ve done things that I really like. I’ve run my own cleaning company, a recycling company, and I have partially owned a barbershop. Although, I liked those jobs, nothing compares to what I am doing now because I love my job.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
When I do get the time, I love spending time with my son and three grandkids. I also love grilling and cooking, so I spend a lot of my free time doing that. I have two fur babies and my son has pit bull puppies and he loves to leave them with me on the weekends. Those are the main things I love to do, but I also love gardening and have two gardens (a personal garden and a community garden) that I love to get into. Oh, and I have a small business that I’ve been running for four years, and it’s called Mobile Kuts. It’s basically a traveling licensed barber that gives cuts to older individuals.
If we were literally “around the table” right now, what food would you have brought to share?
You know I would be like an old grandma and bring everything to the table, but I would keep it light for everyone because that’s what I do when organizing or cooking for people. There are so many choices, but I love vegetables. I would put carrots, brussels sprouts, white potatoes, turnips, and broccoli on a cookie sheet with some seasonings and oil and stick it in the oven. For the protein, I’ll probably do a smoked salmon and I would bring another protein like turkey wings and gravy mushroom sauce. I think those are things everyone would like.