Kaye Monroe wears a lot of different hats.
But while the numerous initiatives she’s got her hands on may require different skills, they all focus on opportunity.
Monroe has been involved in workforce development for about 30 years. She’s been a community advocate, associate pastor and briefly flirted with a career in nursing, but changed course during clinicals. She serves on the city’s Minority Business Commission and the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Minority Business Alliance. She also started the Dream Builders Academy, an incubation company for start-ups, and shared the concept with the city for its GO Startup Program.
Monroe came to Charlottesville from New York City when she was about 25. Her grandparents lived in the area and Monroe attended Piedmont Virginia Community College, Old Dominion University and the University of Virginia.
Right now, Monroe is a workforce specialist with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, specifically in rehabilitative services.
Monroe works with people who have a wide range of disabilities, ranging from mental health problems and criminal backgrounds to developmental disabilities to surviving cancer.
Monroe educates employers on the benefits of hiring someone with a disability, including work ethic and potential tax incentives.
“Employers don’t realize that people with disabilities are often the better of most employees because they want to work,” she said. “This is a conversation about inclusion. It’s not just about Black or white or brown, it’s about everyone.”
She calls herself an architect and “blueprinter” and says she “builds programs that build people.”
“If someone comes to me and says, ‘I want to build this career, I want to build this opportunity, I want to build this life,’ then I help them navigate that conversation,” she said.
For example, Monroe had a client who had a degree in building inspection but was hearing impaired. When he tried to get certified, he was denied because officials told him he couldn’t hear floorboards creak.
Monroe said she helped the man get hearing aids and then interviewed with the city about possible job opportunities in the field. The interview led to a part-time job, with her agency paying half of his salary, and then a full-time job.
It seems with each different hat, Monroe gets another nickname.
Andrea Copeland-Whitsett, Chamber of Commerce director of member education services, calls Monroe “Mama Kaye.”
“Kaye just has this personality that draws you in,” she said. “Kaye has a way of pulling folks into her or making you feel like you’re the most important person in the world in her presence.”
Quinton Harrell, chair of the Minority Business Alliance, calls her “mother sister.”
“She has the wisdom of a mother, but she has the matter-of-factness and the forwardness of your sister,” he said. “She has this perfect blend. She clearly articulates challenging points that adds a healthy tension to discussions and decision making.”
Copeland-Whitsett considers Monroe her mentor and the two frequently work together through the Chamber of Commerce.
“When she opens her mouth, she says things that are so profound,” she said. “She had me wanting to learn more and do better. … You cannot leave her presence and not be changed for the better.”
Copeland-Whitsett advocated for Monroe to be part of what was then called the Minority Business Council through the Chamber. She said Monroe pushes people with ideas for businesses to take the plunge.
“Through her professional and personal experience, she brought a lot to the table,” she said.
Harrell said Monroe has been an ardent supporter of the panel’s mission of supporting minority-owned businesses and community wealth building.
“Kaye is the perfect example of a servant leader and a change agent,” he said. “She’s honest, she’s thoughtful. She’s cerebral and she’s a straight shooter.”
Harrell said Monroe’s approach to business is a shining example for the community.
“She’s a very valuable component of this community because of her mindset, because of her wisdom,” Harrell said. “That blend of wisdom and care and love in the midst of business is a very unique and valuable characteristic and we need more of it in this community.”