Family Lifeline Young Professionals (FLYP) are passionate about Family Lifeline. Hear from them in their own words why they give their time, talent, and treasure to support our work of bringing health and hope directly into the home:
I was introduced to Family Lifeline through Virginia Repertory Theatre, where I’m employed as Associate Director of Development and Education. Family Lifeline is one of our community partners on a service initiative called FIELD (Family Involvement in Early Language Development)®.  Like several of Virginia Rep’s educational efforts, FIELD uses the resources and skills of theatre companies and artists to address a vital community need.  In the case of FIELD, that need is the 30 Million Word Gap.
The term “30 Million Word Gap” was coined by developmental psychologists in the 1990s, when it was discovered that children raised in low socioeconomic status families, on average, heard 30 million fewer words from their principal caregivers during their first four years of life than did their more affluent peers. This deprivation during such a pivotal time of brain development is believed to be the principal reason that so many of these same children enter preschool without the precursor skills that would qualify them as “reading ready.”
When Virginia Rep began work on FIELD, part of the national Talking as Teaching movement, Family Lifeline was identified as an ideal access partner because of their long established leadership and expertise in early home visitation. Virginia Rep’s other community partners on this project are ExCELL, Smart Beginnings Greater Richmond, and Richmond Public Libraries.
I was born into the theatre, and both my parents have worked in professional theatre my entire life. Growing up, I was committed to the belief that theatre was the best (or maybe the only) way of connecting with, understanding, and responding to the world. Theatre was the medium that broadened my perspective past the insular confines of middle school drama and bad outfit choices, and offered the persistent reassurance that the world was a whole lot bigger than it seemed. Theatre artists spend their lives determined to understand others and see the world from the perspectives of others. Every theatre artist I’ve ever known would likely be characterized as a bleeding heart liberal. There are exceptions of course, but almost everyone I’ve known growing up looks upon connecting with the community not as an afterthought, but more as a calling.
As my experiences have broadened, I’ve been realizing more and more that theatre isn’t the only way of connecting with and understanding the world. Theatre can be a very effective medium, but practiced in the traditional manner, it only takes you so far.  It was with this understanding that Virginia Rep launched its Community Health and Wellness Program (of which FIELD is a part) 34 years ago.  And it’s with this understanding that I’ve begun to discover the power of other mediums – whether social services, faith, or even politics – through which people are achieving that same sense of connectedness that I’d grown up thinking only theatre could provide.
After joining FLYP, one of my first opportunities to see Family Lifeline’s mission in action was in the fall of 2015 when all new FLYP members were encouraged to shadow a staff member on a home visit.  Family Lifeline is RVA’s leading provider of in-home services, so this was a chance to see part of that impact first-hand and understand what sets the organization apart.  I got in the car with Lavater Walker, a parent educator at the time, and rode with her to visit two of her clients in Henrico who had just become new parents. Feeling like I hadn’t earned any right to be at one of these visits, I was trying to put my intruder fears aside as Lavater was telling me about the busy, unpredictable, and incredibly rewarding work days that made up her week.
When we arrived at the home, I was pleased to see how happy the parents were to see Lavater and how casual and friendly their rapport had become.  Despite my fears, my presence seemed to be welcomed, which I could only attribute to the family’s trust that Family Lifeline would respect their home and protect their privacy.  The family’s welcoming spirit seemed like a huge testament to Family Lifeline’s reputation in the community.
Though the vibe of the visit never stopped feeling like old friends catching up, I learned a lot about the best practice-based tools and resources that Family Lifeline offers to new parents who would not otherwise have access to the information. I also began to appreciate Lavater’s skillful art of incorporating that information into a style that felt familiar and comfortable to the individual family being served. I couldn’t help but think that the ability to communicate so effectively felt a little like theatre, recalling how an actor’s mission is to incorporate concrete information into a communication style that’s personal and genuine and adaptive to the world around them.  Remembering how deceptively hard that second part is, I was impressed.
Over my last two and a half years on FLYP, I’ve connected with dozens of other volunteers, all of whom come to Family Lifeline for different reasons, and I’ve related to them through our shared enthusiasm, and the knowledge that our involvement will make a lasting impact on our careers.
I support Family Lifeline because it reminds me of why I love theatre. I think when I say that, people might perceive that I’m talking about everyone dressing in costumes and singing showtunes all day, and that wouldn’t be accurate. What I mean to say is that I can recognize in every staff member that same desire I’ve always felt to better connect with, understand, and serve the world. Getting to know the Family Lifeline team and seeing how they make that mission a part of their daily lives has made me feel at home.
What I love most about working on programs like FIELD that combine the work of theatre artists with the expertise of organizations like Family Lifeline is that, by necessity, you have to draw upon the skill sets of multiple vocations.  You can’t rely on one medium to have all the answers.  I think there’s a tendency for anyone who settles happily into one particular vocation, as I have with theatre, to see the “calling” that brought them there to belong to their vocation alone.  We tend to silo ourselves into a particular career or a particular skill set, whether it’s because of the context in which we were raised, the major we chose in college, or the way our career is perceived by others. Working with Family Lifeline has allowed me to expand my opportunities beyond my silo and explore the connections between two different mediums which, I believe, ultimately serve the same purpose – to help us all begin to understand each other, and serve each other, and become one with each other, a little bit better every day.
In recognition of Family Lifeline’s 140th year of service to the Richmond community, FLYP is seeking other passionate young professionals — find out how you can help bring health and hope into the home locally.