Elk Hill Blog

Stories and updates from the Elk Hill: team, partners, and supporters.

By Gillian Kunkel / October 10, 2018

Notes From the Field

Katie Cox, Elk Hill’s PowerSchool Systems Administrator Retires after 35 years of service.

“I remember my first day at Elk Hill like it was yesterday.” Says Katie Cox. It was the fall of 1983 when Katie began her 35-year journey with Elk Hill, as the part-time Food Service Manager at the Goochland Campus. Katie recalls “Cooking has always been a passion of mine and working in kitchen at Elk Hill was one of the best times in my career. I was able to develop relationships with our residents and see the joy on their saves as they enjoyed a homecooked meal.”

Katie was known for relentlessly resolving issues. A previous performance evaluation stated that “if (she) was given something to do, she completed it.” This led Katie to taking on a full-time Office Assistant position, and as she laughingly recalled she was the ‘voice of Elk Hill’ as she was the recorded voice on Elk Hill’s answering machine. In those days, she also handled some human resource duties, responded to client file requests, transported clients to appointments, completed Request for Proposals (RFPs), and a host of other things.

And, as Elk Hill started to integrate technology into the workplace, there was only one ‘go to’ person to do it. She said, “I did a lot of OJT (on the job training) with no experience. Katie started setting up, installing software, troubleshooting and fixing computers. When a computer broke down, I had to find out what to do with it.” She took college courses, asked other technology experts, and she just did not stop until she figured it out.

As she reflected over the last 35 years with Elk Hill, she will miss seeing the youth day to day and watching their achievements, going whitewater rafting, catering annual award banquets, interacting with coworkers, and being a part of the positive Elk Hill culture. When asked to provide parting words she said, “Thank you Elk Hill for the opportunity to work at such a great company. I have enjoyed being part of making a lasting difference in young lives as they discover their skills and the courage they need to make positive changes.”


By Gillian Kunkel / October 10, 2018

Volunteers like you make an impact!

My experience with the boys at Elk Hill broke my heart and gave me The boys were precious; the challenges they face were heartbreaking. I met the boys through a project called [email protected], in which Capital One employees visited several Richmond area non-profits to learn about the needs in our community and the vital work that organizations like Elk Hill are doing to serve those needs.

One aspect of the project included conducting mock job interviews with 10 or so Elk Hill boys to give them a taste of what it feels like to sit across from a prospective employer and answer questions. I recall, with more than a little embarrassment, the anxiety I felt during the long drive from my home in Goochland County to the Elk Hill school in Varina, about what the boys would think of me and the questions I asked. Mr. Lawson, the school counselor, explained the obstacles the boys have to overcome just to make it to school on a given day: lack of transportation, no parent to help get them out of bed, no breakfast, guardians who take their government aid and use it for their own purposes – and worse.

When the introduction concluded, and the boys slowly paraded into the classroom for their mock interviews, I was struck at how little eye contact they made. They were cautious and diffident. Almost without exception, their heads were bowed and their eyes were fleeting. When they sat down in the 10 chairs stretched across the front of the classroom, most began to look up, a glance at a time, but none smiled. They were dressed in their finest business attire: jeans or khakis, wrinkled, button-down shirts (tucked in in random places), a bow tie or two and tennis shoes. The results were mixed, but the effort was endearing.

During the interviews themselves, the boys began to transform. Some slowly at first, but a couple shone from the get-go. One boy smiled broadly when he introduced himself and shook our hands. Another articulately answered our questions and even made us laugh. Most were able to look us in the eye and share a little about their story – things they did well, things they need to overcome.

One boy’s face remains with me today. Before the interviews began, he sat at the front of the room, hunched over, looking only at the floor. His sadness seemed palpable. When he came to our table for his interview, he offered us a weak handshake and a stole a quick glance at each of our faces. Wondering how quickly we could conclude the interview, I worried about what questions to ask that would open him up without making me uncomfortable. When he began to talk with us, after a slight hesitation, he spoke softly but in earnest. He answered our mundane questions about strengths, weaknesses and work experience with deliberation and care – as if something really rode on the answers. He explained how his janitorial duties at school were teaching him responsibility and the importance of doing a job well. He shared with all sincerity how he would need to set two alarms to make sure he got out of bed on time and how he thought he could rely on his aunt for a ride to work. His innocence and honesty were moving, but his physical transformation was compelling. He began to sit up a little taller and lean a little more into the conversation. Most of all, he began looking us in the eye and smiling a bit, carrying on a genuine, heartfelt conversation with people he had only just met. Before he moved on to the next table, he shook each of our hands and boldly thanked us for our help. His transformation wasn’t huge or miraculous, but it was special and moving and real.

As I left Elk Hill that day, I felt deep sadness for the boys and the circumstances that brought them there. I also felt gratitude to the teachers and staff who stand by those kids, teaching, mentoring and loving them every day. There are resiliency factors that can mitigate the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences. Some of them are as simple as feeling that a non-familial adult is there to help the child, or seems to like the child, or notices the child is capable and able to get things done. I was honored to provide some of those resilience factors in my two-hour visit to the school, but Elk Hill provides them every day – and it shows.

Months after our visit, we invited the boys to the Capital One campus to conduct a second round of interviews and to give them a taste of what it feels like to work for a large organization. As that same boy exited the bus and walked into the room on that day – he strolled in with his head held a little higher and his eyes a little brighter. He looked directly at each of us and, without a word, nodded hello. My heart soared. Thank you Elk Hill for allowing me to see a glimpse of the way you are impacting lives, through the eyes of a young man who experienced a small, but transformative moment.

Time In Outdoors
By Gillian Kunkel / June 28, 2018

Time In Outdoors Summer 2018

Elk Hill Mentoring Coordinator, Liz Knotts organized the first ever “Time In, Outdoors” Summer session. The group visited Wildrock, an amazing three-acre nature playscape in Crozet, Virginia, where people of all ages can experience a personal connection to the natural world that is supportive of health and happiness.

Led by an Eco Therapist, youth were introduced to sensory mindfulness exercises. They explored and looked for treasures and special trees, played in the stream and looked for macroinvertebrates to make a nature mandala. They walked the labyrinth and ended their visit with a transitional gratitude circle.

That same day they visited The White Pig Animal Sanctuary in Schuyler, Virginia which provides rescue and haven for abused, abandoned and neglected pigs as well as promoting vegan education.

Thank you Liz Knotts for putting this special day together for the youth we serve!

Elk Hill Summer Camp
By Gillian Kunkel / June 22, 2018

Elk Hill Staunton Summer Camp S’Mores

Elk Hill Staunton Summer Campers built a pizza box solar oven! Using these warm summer days, campers learned how to trap the sun’s natural heat to make a homemade oven resulting in a tasty treat. This experiment taught the kids about energy, solar power, heat, cooking and recycling!


Elk Hill Summer Camp
By Gillian Kunkel / June 21, 2018

Elk Hill Summer Camp 2018

The 2018 Elk Hill Summer Camp for 7th to 12th graders is going fantastically well. Campers spent the day on Browns Island, Belle Isle, touring city art followed by a delicious lunch at Casa Del Barco to work on restaurant etiquette and budgeting skills. Almost the entire day was spent outside and at the end, Camp Counselors tracked that everyone had walked 6 miles! It was a special day for the campers to appreciate the wonderful art, architecture, river and food of Richmond, Virginia.


By Gillian Kunkel / June 20, 2018

HandsOn Greater Richmond

HandsOn Greater Richmond and their corporate partner volunteered at Elk Hill on a very creative and engaging project that will be revealed in its entirety soon! With the help of Richmond artists, Nico Cathcart and, Shaylen Amanda Broughton, this installation will bring brightness and joy to the Harambee School and its students.

We are incredibly grateful to HandsOn and their ongoing support of our volunteer projects. We admire HandsOn and their commitment to our community, encouraging teams to learn, engage and connect in ways that are both meaningful and effective. To find our more about corporate volunteer projects through HandsOn Greater Richmond click here.


By Gillian Kunkel / June 15, 2018

CarMax Cares

Elk Hill is so grateful for our amazing CarMax volunteers. Every June during CarMax Cares month, we are honored to be chosen as one of the nonprofit organizations to have the help and support of their hard-working Associates.

This year a tremendous amount of effort and volunteer hours have made our Goochland Campus look stunning. Our youth deserve a beautiful and well-kept environment and CarMax helps makes that possible.

Thank you to CarMax Foundation and their Associates for supporting our mission and serving our community.

By Gillian Kunkel / June 13, 2018

Elk Hill 31st Awards Ceremony & Graduation

Last Thursday, June 7, 2018, Elk Hill Staff, Students and Friends came together for the 31st Annual Awards Ceremony honoring the achievements of our youth and celebrating our graduating class of 2018. This year’s event was held at the Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville.

We were so honored to celebrate our youths’ accomplishments. The support of our Staff, Trustees and generous Donors helped make it possible for 9 graduating seniors to receive their diplomas. For young adults facing overwhelming challenges, this was an amazing triumph and no small feat.

The celebrations continued with light refreshments and cake in the commons area, where everyone congratulated our amazing kids on their hard work and dedication to creating successful futures.

Click here to read more about our 2018 Annual Awards Ceremony and Graduation

By Gillian Kunkel / June 29, 2017

Summer Camp Tours

Donors, Volunteers
By Gillian Kunkel / April 18, 2017


Volunteers make a difference!

Thanks to the Alpha Phi Omega Theta Chapter at UVA for spending the day beautifying our Charlottesville Group home!