Get to know JC Poma – Community Outreach Manager for The Doorways, and this week’s ConnectVA Spotlight!
Tell us about yourself.
My name is J.C. Poma and I am the Community Outreach Manager for The Doorways, formerly known as Hospital Hospitality House. I attended the University of Virginia undergrad (Go Hoos!) and received my master’s degree from Georgetown University four years ago. I worked for a nonprofit in DC called TEAM Coalition before my lifelong mentor, Jim Ukrop, invested in a local company called Arena Racing USA and persuaded me to come back to RVA in December 2012. Ultimately, the Arena Racing venture was not as successful as we would have liked and I wanted to return to the nonprofit world, which is my passion. I was very lucky that our President/CEO, Stacy Brinkley, offered me a job at The Doorways and I could not be more honored to work for such a great organization with such a dedicated staff!
What is the focus of your work?
The Doorways provides lodging and support for patients and their loved ones who need to be close to Richmond area hospitals, but not far from the feeling of home. I think one thing that many ‘Richmonders’ do not realize is that we improve access to health care. The Doorways empowers families to travel to Richmond for the advanced medical care they need and not have to worry about where they’re going to sleep or how they are going to afford to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner while their loved one is in the hospital. We see so many patients undergoing trial treatment at Massey Cancer Center or coming to us from the Veterans Administration Hospital. Would these people be able to receive this specialized treatment without The Doorways? Many times the answer is no, and I think that single-handedly shows how important our mission is to the Richmond community.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Our guests. There are so many stories that stick out, but one in particular sits close to my heart. I don’t know if it is because J.J. is so close to my name, J.C., or if it is because I still feel like a kid at heart and it hurts to see such a vibrant young boy struggling with an awful disease. Anyway, J.J. is a 6 year old brain cancer patient. He was first diagnosed with cancer when he was only 17 months old, and he and his dad have been staying at The Doorways on and off for the last 4.5 years during J.J.’s many treatments. They live in the Northern Neck and J.J.’s dad says traveling back and forth “would just be too much for J.J.”. “It’s just like home,” says his dad, and “it makes things just a little bit better for me and J.J.”. When J.J.’s not in the hospital, he is always “zooming” around the house, just a six year old boy who loves cars. J.J, like all of our guests, brightens my day and that is why all of us here at The Doorways love what we do – because of the guests!
Tell us about your biggest accomplishment in this position?
I think my favorite accomplishment has been the start of our Young Professionals Council (YPC). It is a fantastic group of young professionals (over 30 from various companies large and small), all united by a desire to increase the visibility, understanding and support of The Doorways in the RVA community. The group aims to increase visibility through fundraising and awareness events and all proceeds from Young Professionals Council events are donated to The Doorways to support the cost to house guests during their stay.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
Like any successful venture comes challenges, but the biggest challenge we face here at The Doorways is awareness. We hate to be called the ‘best kept secret in Richmond’, one of the many reasons why we rebranded from Hospital Hospitality House to The Doorways, between healing and home. We serve over 8,000 people a year, but all who live at least 30 miles outside of Richmond. If you lived within 30 miles, you would want to be in your own home in your own bed. Our core constituency is our guests – they see our mission up close and personal, but leave Richmond at the end of their medical crisis. Yet Richmond is where we are raising the majority of the money needed to fund this fantastic organization. It costs $6,200 a day to operate The Doorways. We are continually trying to tell our story to corporations, community/civic groups, churches, school etc. The Doorways is a fantastic place to #GiveShareVolunteer! We have over 15,000 volunteer hours a year – wow!
What’s coming next for your organization that really excites you?
We began the process of rebranding to The Doorways with a makeover of our first floor social space in February and March, followed by a formal ‘Launch Party’ in April. Now is time to continue to enhance our facility. We have a fantastic team in place and are so excited about all of the changes and renovations. We are in the process of raising $1.7 million to fund these renovations and just received a $200,000 challenge grant from The Cabell Foundation to get us started. Apple Hospital REIT’s SpringHill Suites off of Gaskins road recently donated all of their ‘soft goods’ as they renovate their property and those donations will go a long way toward enhancing our guest rooms.
What excites me most is continuing to tell our story! The rebranding, thanks in part to Big River Advertising Agency, has reinvigorated everyone – staff, Young Professionals Council, Board of Directors, volunteers etc.! I greatly look forward to new community partners, volunteers and really just spreading our mission in the RVA community. Who cannot connect to an organization like The Doorways?
How are you leveraging ConnectVA to achieve your mission?
ConnectVA and all of the programs of the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence are a huge resource for our staff! Even though I knew the former CEO of The Doorways, I saw my job listing posted on ConnectVA. Our current CEO, Stacy Brinkley, posts every one of our jobs on the platform.
HandsOn has single handedly made my job easier and more productive. We utilize volunteers for every facet of our organization and the HandsOn platform is our most visible recruiting tool. We also had over 150 volunteers at HandsOn Day last October.
Anything else you would like to share?
Having grown-up in Richmond right down the street from the former CEO of The Doorways, I always had a general idea of the mission of our organization, but it was not until I was down here for my interview that it hit home. Anyone of us could need an organization like The Doorways tomorrow. It really hit home around Thanksgiving last year when we had several I-95 accident families stay here while a loved one was recovering at VCU Health System. We are a critical part of the healing process for the people we serve and to be the second largest hospitality house in the country and the only one that still operates on donations alone means a lot to our staff and Board of Directors. While the cost for a night’s stay (at full occupancy) is around $52, we still only ask for a donation of $15 per night. Last year, close to 53% were unable to make a contribution towards the suggested donation of $15. To be able to provide this accommodation and still operate on donations alone is a huge part of our story and a story that we hope to continue to spread around the RVA community.
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