Virginia Health Care Foundation Makes Community Change Possible

November 2, 2017

Our work cannot be done without community  partners and supporters. As a nonprofit organization with nearly 100 years of commitment to Richmond, we know that our work can not be successful in isolation. That is why it is important for supporters, like the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF), to be able to align their values and resources with our mission. According to the VHCH, they are, “a public/private partnership, [which] helps uninsured Virginians and those who live in underserved communities receive medical, dental and mental health care. VHCF support helps free clinics, community health centers and others to expand both the types of care offered and the number of patients cared for each year.”

The VHCF has made it possible to bring a valuable community member on board as a mental health clinician. Brie Jordan-Cooley is a licensed clinical social worker whose work and dedication is deeply rooted in her commitment to social justice and the community.

Community Commitment from an Early Age

Brie Jordan-Cooley has always felt the pull of community. She grew up in Church Hill in Richmond’s East End. However, while life took her far from home this dedication ultimately brought her back to her roots.

Brie’s parents were deeply involved in the community. Her mother was a midwife who worked at community centers in Gilpin Court and Broadrock. As a child, Brie would play in the neighborhood parks often bringing new friends home with her for dinner. She recalls that her family extended beyond her front porch. To her, family could be found in the neighborhood, a sentiment instilled in her by her parents at an early age.

After graduating from Richmond Public Schools, Brie started her secondary education at Boston University in the Northeast. There, she says she deepened her knowledge about workers’ rights and the history of class in the United States. Her focus at the time was centered on environmental preservation and its relationship to community health. She left Boston University, seeking a curriculum that better aligned with her objectives and she headed out to the Northwest to Olympia, WA to attend The Evergreen State College.

How Past Injustice Inspired Brie’s Work

At Evergreen, Brie continued to expand her concepts of social justice and equal representation. Brie learned about the Japanese internment camps of the 40’s, situated not far from Seattle, as well as the strength of Native American tribes that endured despite the attempts of Western Expansion during the 19th century.

These historical revelations expanded her understanding of contemporary issues that were an echo of past injustices. This made Brie want to do more and it resonated with childhood experiences in her own neighborhood. Authority figures in the community would treat her, a white child, differently from her black peers. She recalls being asked if she was lost while the authority figure turned to her black friends, demanding to know what they were doing. She remembered recognizing this disparity in treatment as a child and now as an adult, Brie wants to facilitate change.

Upon receiving a dual degree in Political Economy and Political Theory in June of 2003, she came home.

A Welcome Homecoming

“I came back because of my community. The families I grew up with and who were a part of my life are so strong.” In an interview, Brie spoke of a neighbor she had known her whole life. This woman was a second mother to her.

“When I heard her laugh, I felt calm. I felt I was where I was supposed to be.” Brie describes her beloved neighbor, now deceased, as sharp-tongued but loving. “She made me feel like I mattered. I felt safe with her and she was always there for me. You could rely on her. I wanted to be follow her example.”

So inspired was Brie by this feeling of belonging that her education and career led her to a life dedicated to helping communities and children thrive. She said, “When I returned, I was uncertain the course my life might take at that point, only knowing that it was my responsibility to give back to the community that had nurtured and supported me as a child.”

Brie was elated to return not only to her neighborhood, but to the very house where she had lived as a child. “I welcomed my neighbors as they welcomed me. Once more I was reminded of the power of human connection my parents had fostered in me. In order to respect this connection, as my parents had taught me, it was necessary to ensure that it was reciprocal, offering support as requested by neighbors while affording the autonomy required for healthy boundaries.  It means being a good listener as well as being proactive.”

For Change to Happen, You Must Listen

Brie listened to her neighbors and their concerns. She wanted to serve their needs and make sure their voices were heard. To take her work a step further, Brie decided to go back to school for a graduate degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2010, she graduated with a Masters in Social Work and a certificate in Gender Violence Intervention.

After graduation, she served as a one-to-one counselor, substitute teacher at an alternative school, direct care staff (and later therapist) at a residential facility, trauma trainer, IIH counselor, and group facilitator. For Brie, these experiences were direct investments into the community. But she did not stop with her work. Brie also volunteered for Parks and Recreation after school at Chimborazo Elementary and she supported the Robinson Theatre as it expanded its programs. Additionally, Brie conducted trainings about trauma and its effect on the individual, family, and community.

Aligning Community Commitment with Dedicated Funders

Brie received her license in social work. She began the work of seeing outpatient clients at a local nonprofit in Richmond. However, she wanted to increase her engagement in the community and applied for a position at ChildSavers supported by a grant from the VHCF. Thanks to VHCF, Brie is now a full time clinician. She says, “If it were not for support of the Virginia Health Care Foundation, I would not be able to build on my own experience as I gain knowledge from my colleagues as well as community members.”

Brie is humble in her work, a true servant leader. ChildSavers is lucky to count her among our hard-working, dedicated mental health staff. VHCF’s commitment to community is what makes our work possible so dedicated and talented mental health professionals, like Brie, can reach those who need them most.