The University of Virginia has opened an office in downtown Charlottesville to connect the school with community-focused initiatives.
The Center for Community Partnerships at UVa recently opened in the old Albemarle Hotel Building at 617 W. Main St. A formal community opening is expected in the coming months.
The center will be anchored by UVa’s Equity Center and include staff of the offices of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Academic Outreach and Community Partnerships at UVa Health.
“There has been a lot of really great, intentional work that has already been done and relationships that have already been built,” said Kevin McDonald, UVa’s vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and community partnerships. “This is an opportunity to make sure that we have strong coordination of those efforts, and that we’re sharing our resources to be more effective and efficient.”
The facility will have seven full-time staff members and floating offices for other staff, including university leadership. There will be a workspace for members of the nonprofit Descendants of Enslaved Communities, the Equity Center’s community fellows-in-residence and student interns and a large meeting space with a “kid zone.”
“This new center is just one of the steps we are taking to strengthen the relationship between UVa and the broader community,” President Jim Ryan told UVa Today. “And with the opening of this new space, we are fulfilling a promise we made in the strategic plan, as part of the Good Neighbor program, to have a community-based office that functions as UVa’s ‘front door’ for the community.”
Ben Allen, executive director of the Equity Center, said the kid zone will remove child care as a barrier to community partnerships.
The building once housed a hotel that stood along the road between downtown and the university. Prior to desegregation, the Gaslight Restaurant and Coffeehouse attached to the hotel was frequented by Black and white residents and students.
“This is a welcoming, collaborative space,” Allen said. “The work we’ll be doing here and the partnerships we’re building are really driven by those core priorities established by the President’s Council on UVa-Community Partnerships, which are focused on affordable housing, the local economy, early childhood education and jobs and wages.”
Allen said the center is part of UVa’s strategic plan for 2030, which calls for a physical space for the community and university to build relationships.
Louis Nelson, vice provost for academic outreach, called the facility a “physical manifestation” of the university’s relationship to the community.
“Everyone at the center is focused on building relationships with community members, including partnerships with community organizations and nonprofits,” he said. “It’s a space designed to better facilitate relationships.”
Karen Waters-Wicks, who represents the Public Housing Association of Residents on the Equity Center’s national and local advisory boards, said the community is “long overdue” for a physical place UVa can conduct outreach efforts.
“We hope this will be an inclusive and dynamic space for longstanding collaboration, where some of our community’s most difficult problems can be solved and where meaningful relationships will be built,” she said.
Allen said the space is well suited for its mission because it is accessible by bus line and has better parking than can be found on Grounds.
“I think it’s symbolic,” he said. “Anytime you’re getting a space, you’re showing it’s important. So we’re showing that community partnerships are important.”
UVa is planning a virtual opening ceremony on Dec. 7. A wider community opening will be planned after the coronavirus pandemic has cleared.