ConnectVA Spotlight: Scott Kocen, Virginia Voice
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Scott Kocen and I’m the Development & Communications Director for Virginia Voice. I graduated from the George Washington University with a B.S. in Political Science and Psychology. I went to Graduate School at Virginia Commonwealth University for Sociology and have been fortunate enough to spend my career raising awareness and support for worthy causes in the political and nonprofit sectors. I’m a lifelong Richmonder and have the pleasure of seeing the best our community has to offer and how it constantly evolves to showcase service, culture, and inclusion for everyone.
What is the focus of your work?
Virginia Voice strives for equitable access to information, cultural events, and well being through a free radio service, airing 24/7/365 whereby over 100 volunteers a week read articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch and over 70 other periodicals. With people aging and losing their eyesight or anyone with challenges that makes getting connected more difficult, we offer a source of comfort with a human voice and provide local content as well as news and information. Additionally, we’ve been rolling out a new program: Live Audio Description which invites anyone to participate in live theatre by participating in a pre-show tactile tour, followed by live describers who really connect you to the action on stage! It’s really cool. Currently, we’re partnered with The Virginia Repertory Theatre, SPARC, and the Science Museum. Ideally, any venue with sound and action should have all forms of interpretation for those wishing to share in our collective enjoyment of the arts. I’m part of the team to make that happen and to find people who want to help.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I’ve always loved connecting people who want to make a difference with those making that difference. I get to see how people are working behind the scenes to make a positive impact then I get to witness other folks getting involved and helping improve that mission. At Virginia Voice, we have volunteers who, for years come to our studio to read the newspaper and other articles to people they’ll never meet. On the other side, I’ve heard from plenty of people who have changed their daily schedule just to hear these voices and feel connected again. On a theatre stage, I get to see the smiles of performers as they describe their costumes and the set design, and you can share in their joy as the patrons get to experience live performances most of us take for granted. I’m also really happy to thank supporters when they place their financial trust in us. Really, really happy.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
Personally? Two teenage daughters. Professionally, sometimes we get associated with the Virginia Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and while we enjoy a great partnership with them, we are a stand-alone non-profit dependent on public support.
Our team strives to make sure we’re constantly getting the word out and updating the public with performance schedules, partnerships, and programming information.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
Lots of folks are surprised to learn we’ve been around for 40 years!! Also, our services are not just for the visually impaired. Any one with difficulties accessing information on their own can be qualified to get our radio receivers. Same with our Live Audio Description program, we have staff ready to help guide anyone through the process of receiving our programming, free of charge.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
We are in the midst of our first year rolling out the Live Audio Description program, and that is our focus right now. We started by supporting four performances with live audio description services and will be ending our first year with over 30! This service is new to Richmond and, over time, will become a standardized accommodation. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of something that will permanently change the way many individuals receive access to the arts and culture. We still have a lot of work to get it there, but it just makes common sense to do it and we have the know-how and the volunteers willing to make it happen.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Virginia Voice is extremely fortunate to have several sustaining partnerships. The Richmond Times Dispatch has been with us since the beginning as has WCVE radio (it was WJFK when we first started working together). The MEDARVA Foundation has been a consistent source of support, both financially and through service referrals, and of course, The Virginia Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired have been vital to expanding our listener base. Our partnership with VA Rep in developing the Live Audio Description program has been exciting and rewarding. Eventually, we want to have partnerships with every venue in town that has some form of live cultural or entertainment event.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA and the Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
There’s no question the Community Foundation has been integral in our ability to connect with concerned individuals. The support we have received from them can directly be tied to our programming expansion and equipment replacement. They are also a great source to help us find other like-minded community partners. ConnectVA publishes our Live Audio Description event calendar and helps us spread the word about this availability.
Anything else you would like to share?
Virginia Voice would like to be the source for anyone with specific mobility, visually, or other challenges and offer them equitable access to information, culture, and community. It doesn’t matter your age, condition, or ability, EVERYONE should have access to the same things we all take for granted. I’m a huge music fan, I love to go to live shows and I want everyone, regardless of ability, to be able to enjoy everything Richmond has to offer. It reminds me of a favorite song written by Frank Turner:
“So why are you sat at home?
You’re not designed to be alone
You just got used to saying “no”
So get up and get down and get outside