Creating Community Vitality Series

The “work from home” revolution is just getting started and causing people to reevaluate where they call home. As a result, communities have the unique opportunity to better position themselves for success by ensuring that they have the amenities, infrastructure and social offerings in place to retain and attract an increasingly mobile workforce.

Join DHCD for this monthly training series, separated into three-parts, focused on building your place’s identity, supportive ecosystems and community in a format promoting monthly education, inspiration and application.

The inflection points across 2020 will likely lead to seismic shifts in our communities for years to come. In addition to prompting us to reimagine community vibrancy, culture and connection, those shifts will also require exploring whether our systems, tools and solutions have supported desirable outcomes for the communities served. This session will encourage participants to question: How do we define community? Can we create community as community developers? What have been our contributions, where have we fallen short and where might we need to reset? What tools and approaches are there to help us remain responsive to the diverse needs of our constituency?

Monique Johnson has served as a social enterprise leader, a community and economic development practitioner and an advocate for next generation leaders. Her 20 years of experience spans the non-profit and public sectors of commercial real estate development, small business and real estate finance, and organizational and talent development. In her current role as Chief Operating Officer for the Better Housing Coalition (BHC), Johnson works to formulate and operationalize the company’s strategic growth goals.


Melody Warnick is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in CityLab, Reader’s Digest, The Guardian, The New York Times and many other publications. Warnick is also the author of This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, which explains the concept of place attachment and helps people fall in love with where they live.


When we think of placemaking, we typically imagine how we dress up our favorite public space, but the concept of place is so much bigger. Place is ubiquitous. It effects everything we do and it is one of the largest determinants of the type of life we lead. We are always surrounded by place. How places are built, how they function, and how they are designed dictate how people go about leading their lives. Our places have the ability to make us proud, or make us feel ashamed. They have the ability to bring us closer to one another, or make us feel alone. The places we shape, determine our physical, mental, social and economic health. In understanding how much our places shape our lives, we begin to understand how much better we need to do in shaping our places.

Jeff Siegler is the founder of Revitalize, or Die. and a founding partner of Proud Places. Having a background in urban planning, revitalization, real estate, economics and organizational development has afforded him a unique vantage point for addressing the issues plaguing communities today. Siegler believes there is no work more important than restoring our communities back to health, and revitalization has the power to transform people’s lives by fostering a stronger sense of community, providing opportunity, promoting equality and enhancing residents quality of life.


Laura Scherling specializes in interactive design, research, and management. She has over 10 years of experience in marketing and advertising and currently works and teaches at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. Scherling is the co-founder of GREENSPACENYC, a non-profit collaborative that develops and curates free educational programming, hands-on workshops and public design projects that encourage dialogue, enliven public spaces and promote the future of a more equitable and sustainable city.


At one time, storytelling was at the center of every tribe and culture. It strengthened relationships between people, connected us to our past and future, and cultivated pride in one’s place. Stories provided strength and structure and how we knew, “These are my people.” But aided in part by the immensity of the internet and the saturation of social media, we’ve exchanged local stories for national and international distractions. We’ve weakened our places because we know each other less: an increasingly more virtual existence leads to increasingly less local lives.
But we can fight fire with fire. In this webinar, you’ll learn how to use Storyville’s simple, sustainable, and easy-to-implement framework to create beautiful and authentic local storytelling that cultivates pride, bolsters small businesses, and attracts and retains talent and investment.

Phil Eich is the founder of Storyville Social, an agency dedicated to bringing human connection into the marketing of cities across the country. Through photography, videography, writing, podcasting and social media management, Eich combines the art of storytelling with the art of marketing, putting a face on our places by telling the stories of the people who live there.


Raven Bates has a dedicated passion for nonprofits and is driven by the work they do to transform lives and communities. Spending her entire career gaining experience in all aspects of mission-oriented work, Bates brings a well-rounded and diverse perspective as a nonprofit professional. In 2017, she joined the Virginia Community Development Corporation (VCDC) and serves as the administrator of the Mission Elevation program, an extension of VCDC’s commitment to ensure communities are vibrant for all residents. Joined by Andrea Dono of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and Debbie Haight of Historic Manassas, Bates will review their experiences in the program and introduce you to tools that will help your organization thrive.


John Sarvay will speak on how Floricane aligns people to purpose to engage organizations and drive results. From strategic planning to leadership development to organizational change, Floricane’s best work happens when clients clarify their aspirations and create a new capacity to grow and thrive. Whether it’s a strategic plan, a more effective team, or a more aligned leader, their focus is to ensure individuals and organizations set their outcomes to create a future that is better than the past.

John Sarvay founded Floricane, a Richmond-based strategy, engagement and culture consultancy, in 2008 after 12 years at Luck Stone Corporation. For 12 years, Floricane has worked with organizations and communities to cast a more clear gaze toward the future, and to develop strategies to create a future different from the past. Sarvay lives in Richmond with his wife, two young children, and a rambunctious puppy.


Sarah Milston will speak on how The Spark Mill was formed with the belief that change shouldn’t be boring. They can’t promise it won’t hurt a bit, but they’re experts at helping companies and organizations of all sizes make leaps, manage transitions and plot transformative futures. Consulting is core to The Spark Mill’s work and values, and they commit to a carefully curated process that has been customized and built with you, as well as peppered with creativity!


How can you use place to solve problems? The founders of Yard & Company will walk us through how to create demand by uncovering your community assets, sparking momentum, and crafting master plans that build on what you have. Yard & Company has 25 years of global experience interweaving urban design and development strategy with hyper-local get-it-done creativity. With their guidance and “Playbook” strategies you’ll be on your way to create more neighborhood amenities where people want to spend time, interact socially, create memorable experiences, and connect with the built and natural environment.

Kevin Wright (left), Director of Operations/Strategy, and Joe Nickol (right), Director of Design/Development, are speaking on behalf of YARD & Company, which has 25 years of experience interweaving urban design and development strategy with hyper-local get-it-done creativity. They help organizations build amazing places, and their clients range from small volunteer-based grassroots efforts to multi-national developers and corporations.

Aaron Bolzle is the Executive Director of Tulsa Remote, a unique talent recruitment initiative of George Kaiser Family Foundation. A Tulsa native, Bolzle has worked in digital marketing and production for Universal Music Group in NYC during one of the most transformative times in the digital music revolution. Afterwards, he spent eight years working for Apple at iTunes where he became head of global catalog for the iTunes Movies Store. Nearly 15 years after leaving his hometown, Bolzle returned to Tulsa in 2017 with a desire to make a positive impact in the city where he was born. After returning, he launched Tulsa Remote.


Whether you’re in a rural area or a big city, housing is a critical topic and component of that place. How do we save our historic homes and neighborhoods? How do we build new in ways that balance design, affordability, human scale…and make it cute? This session will be a broad brush on the principles of small scale, incremental development and will also dive into a few case studies for more detail. Through these projects we will outline a creative and often ignored way in which we can help bring back our towns and villages to provide the much needed missing middle housing that will last and be loved for generations.

Jenifer Acosta (left), Allison Quinlan (middle) and Bernice Radle (right) are the founders of the Power of Cute podcast and contributing members of Proud Places. They’re also senior faculty of the Incremental Development Alliance. In their day to day, Jen and Bernice work tirelessly to bring vacant buildings back to life in their communities whereas, Alli builds new with cute, human scale and thoughtfulness in mind. Together, this talk will cover existing renovation and new builds to give the audience a well rounded introduction to what’s possible!

Ann Gray has been a Professional Preservationist for more than 30 years, serving in both private and public positions. Under her leadership, Cornerstones, Inc. has raised and invested over $8 million to save downtown historic properties and has seen a return on this investment of approximately $32 million. She holds two undergraduate degrees in History and Sociology and a Masters degree in History with an emphasis in Historic Preservation. Gray sits on the Tennessee Historical Commission Board of Design Review for National Register properties, Tennessee State Library & Archives Friends Board and formerly served on the Tennessee Preservation Trust Board of Directors. She serves on South Pittsburg’s Historic House Tour Committee (her hometown and home of the annual National Cornbread Festival).


Services and Infrastructure represent the core function citizens expect of government. Often residents in a community may take these functions for granted until something goes wrong or an emergency happens. Ensuring services and infrastructure are not only maintained, but also receive routine investments helps communities deliver on a consistent basis and navigate unique circumstances such as emergencies. This session will examine changes in traditional services and infrastructure, discuss emerging trends, and methods to implement new approaches. Topics will include water, sewer, broadband, citizen access to government and the changing expectations of citizens as it relates to the role of government delivering services and infrastructure.

Kevin Byrd began working for the New River Valley Regional Commission (NRVRC) in 2009. He has over 15 years of community development experience in the public sector at the town, county and regional levels of government along with private sector consulting experience. Byrd holds a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Tech and a Bachelor of Science degree from Appalachian State University. He currently serves as President of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO), Secretary and Treasurer of the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions (VAPDC), and President of a non profit focused on the holistic impact of local food systems, called Live, Work, Eat, Gather, Inc.

Jane Ferrara currently leads LISC Virginia—a program that raises capital, creates innovative programs and provides policy support to advance a broadly shared prosperity across central Virginia—as Executive Director. Previously, she served as the city of Richmond’s senior deputy director for economic development. Ferrara is on the board of the Better Housing Coalition and served on the board of the Children’s Museum of Richmond for six years. She is a gubernatorial appointee to the Business Development and Marketing Advisory Committee of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Ferrara was appointed by the mayor to serve as a fellow in the Rose Center for Public Leadership. She is also a past president of the Richmond Real Estate Group, among many other accolades and affiliations.


Too many places are stuck in a default model of economic development strategies left over from the 80’s. People and places are being left behind. It doesn’t have to be that way. This month, you’ll learn about how we can flip the model on economic development and do it in a better way. One that invests in people and places. One that focuses on action now and not just long-term plans. You’ll be shown how to build a strong and resilient economy through concrete steps to include all types of talent in your entrepreneurship efforts, why (and how) to focus on small-scale manufacturing businesses as a catalyst and how new real estate models for main street (and downtown) can be essential to your success.

In 2014, Ilana Preuss launched Recast City (RC) to make things happen for the local economy. Through RC, Preuss works with local leaders to create great places that build energy, increase the number of good paying jobs, fill storefronts and make people proud of where they’re from, all by bringing small-scale manufacturing businesses into the forefront. She knows that every local leader has just a few different hats to wear in their job, and Preuss’s goal is to simplify the process and help you drill down to the right planning, economic development, marketing or business development solution at the right time to create great places that are uniquely yours.

Lindsey Scannapieco is the Managing Partner of SCOUT, a multi-disciplinary design and development firm with a background in transforming vacant and underutilized spaces in creative ways. Scannapieco will speak about an adaptive reuse project repurposing the former classrooms of a historic school into space for makers, nonprofits, small businesses, and artists. Bok Vocational High School was built in 1936 and accommodated 3,000 students from across Philadelphia studying subjects like wallpapering, cosmetology, auto mechanics, bricklaying, and more. In 2013, the school closed due to decreased enrollment and deferred maintenance. Shortly after, SCOUT took ownership of the building, and, over the past five years, the building has become a hub for makers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.


Our neighborhood businesses and the workforce that supports them have encountered unprecedented challenges. Therefore, some of the support offered to strengthen and revitalize them may look different than it has in the past. In this webinar, participants will review ways that community organizations have and can do this successfully.

Terrand Smith has 20 years of national corporate retail experience, overseeing close to $1 Billion in revenue for some of the largest organizations in the US. Currently, she’s dedicated to leveraging this background and experience to strengthen and revitalize communities through local commerce. Smith has seen success in educating and preparing women and minority owned, small businesses around the country for growth through ecommerce, wholesale, storefront and mobile retail.

Jennifer S. Vey is a senior fellow and the director of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking at the Brookings Institution. Her work primarily explores how place-based policies and practices can support economic, social and built environments that benefit more people in more places. Vey is the author or co-author of numerous Brookings publications, including “Transformative placemaking: A framework to create connected, vibrant, and inclusive communities,” “Where jobs are concentrating and why it matters to cities and regions,” “Assessing your innovation district: A how-to guide” and “Building from strength: Creating opportunity in Greater Baltimore’s next economy.” She also co-edited Retooling for Growth: Building a 21st Century Economy in America’s Older Industrial Areas, published by the American Assembly and Brookings Institution Press.


Public spaces – ones that are truly equitable and inclusive – are essential for creating community vitality. Our continued health and racial pandemics prove the urgency of more in-depth analysis and thinking for what these spaces need to and must be. This webinar shares an applicable model titled _mpathic design, an initiative, teaching methodology, and design practice operating at the intersections of identity, culture, history, memory, and place. This webinar shares the background and creation of _mpathic design, action-based empathic design thinking methods for equitable design futures, demonstrated through current projects in Charlottesville and Lynchburg.

Elgin Cleckley, NOMA, is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at UVA with an appointment in the UVa School of Education and the School of Nursing. He is a designer, director, and principal of _mpathic design – a Design Thinking pedagogy, initiative, and professional practice focusing on intersections of identity, culture, history, memory, and place. Cleckley is also the Design Director for the UVa Equity Center, The Democracy Initiative Center for the Redress of Inequity Through Community-Engaged Scholarship. He is the recent winner of several notable honors, such as the Armstead Robinson Faculty Award, the 2020 ACSA Diversity Achievement Award and the Dumbarton Oaks Mellon Fellowship in Urban Landscape Studies, in supporting the development of his forthcoming 2021 book with Island Press, _mpathic design, detailing his empathic design thinking methodologies.

Lindsey Wallace has over twelve years of experience in historic preservation, community engagement, and project management. As Director of Strategic Projects and Design Services for the National Main Street Center (NMSC), she leads a variety of projects and partnerships, including the NPS Main Street Façade Improvement Grant Program, NPS Disaster Preparedness and Resilience Program and the Historic Commercial District Revolving Loan Fund Program. Wallace teaches the Advanced Principles of Quality Design course through the Main Street America Institute (MSAI), and, as part of the NMSC field staff team, she focuses on design related and placemaking initiatives and content.


Just about everyone loves food! And just about everyone can connect through a passion for a particular dish or food tradition. In this session you will learn about how your community can build food-focused events and promotions tied to local traditions and identity. Nicole Martorana leads a panel discussion of leaders with experience in celebrating local foodways and shared culinary culture. Whether it’s a food festival, a food tour, a chef dinner, or virtual tasting workshop, there are many ways for people to connect over their favorite dishes and learn something new.

Nicole Martorana is passionate about the intersection of food, culture, and media in helping businesses and communities share their stories. A graduate of James Madison University’s School of Media Arts & Design and the University of Gastronomic Sciences Master’s program in Food Culture & Communications, she has extensive experience in creating meaningful opportunities that connect people through cultural exploration and
dialogue. Currently based in Richmond, Virginia, Martorana has consulted and worked for organizations in the arts, education, food & beverage, government, non-profit, technology, and tourism sectors both in the U.S. and abroad.

Kirsten Moore is an entrepreneur, connector, writer, designer, and food lover. Moore is owner of The Hub Coworking in Downtown Harrisonburg; co-founder of Sub Rosa Supper Club; founder of Taste. A Food Company, and most recently, creative director and owner of The Project Studio, a firm that transforms clients’ stories into compelling designs, words, and events.


Come together one final time to review the lessons of our series and discuss how to get your community excited and involved along the way. As we look ahead, a post-pandemic new normal will lead to a far greater portion of workers having the ability to make living decisions based less on where their employer is located and more on living preferences. The result will shape much of how we think about office space, where we live and thus work, and the place-based infrastructure that is needed to support these decisions. Join us to discuss these emerging opportunities and how uniquely positioning your community will benefit all involved.

Matt Wagner has more than 20 years of nonprofit management experience in downtown development, entrepreneurship and tech-based economic development. At the National Main Street Center, Wagner serves as Vice President of Revitalization Programs, leading the launch of the renewed and re-imagined Four Point Approach, as well as helping the center reach new communities with this refreshed framework. Overseeing the field services team, he also leads the center’s efforts to expand technical service offerings and offer preservation-based economic revitalization services directly to communities.

Rebecca Rowe has more than 20 years of experience in community revitalization, working with state and local governments and nonprofits. She has degrees from SUNY Geneseo and Texas A&M University. Rowe is an avid agritourist and loves a good road trip, especially one that ends with ice cream. She lives on the Northside of Richmond, in the Bellevue neighborhood, with her husband Foster and dogs Finnegan and Franny.

Bill Huston educates entrepreneurs, nonprofits and small businesses on how to raise community capital using seed and investment crowdfunding. He has managed dozens of successful crowdfunding campaigns globally throughout his 8 years in the crowdfunding industry. In 2014, INC. Magazine named him a top 19 global crowdfunding expert. Huston provides community capital consulting and coaching that focuses on social entrepreneurs, community-level real estate development and nonprofits that are creating businesses to
solve social issues. He focuses on building engaged and excited crowds that will allow NonProfits & Social Enterprises to successfully participate in the community capital and Locavesting economy.