Congratulations to Our Non-Profit of the Month
By Nia Simone McLeod
The mission of Work of Art, a Richmond-based non-profit, is empowering young women through leadership, inspiration, and connections. From field trips to colleges across Virginia to hiking through the mountains of Charlottesville, Work of Art introduces young women to unique experiences that will shape them from now well into the future.
Founder and Executive Director LeKai Butler has always been passionate about empowering African American youth. She began her professional journey as a high school teacher in Washington, DC. While teaching, she began an all-female group during the school’s weekly scheduled activity hour. The group became a safe space for all those involved, where the girls talked about everything under the sun from careers to boys. After noticing the impact of being an adult mentor, Butler decided to begin her journey towards a career as a school counselor.
After receiving her Master of Education from Howard University, she soon ended up back in her hometown of Richmond, VA where she became the Director of School Counseling at the Virginia Randolph Education Center. During her time at Virginia Randolph, the idea behind Work of Art began to evolve. Butler began to teach workshops in her office to a group of female students about topics such as friendship, self-reflection, coping mechanisms, goal-setting, and connections. The group also began to volunteer together and take educational field trips,
“They began to explore and experience our world in ways that they never had before. I saw something in each of them that they did not know existed.”
Butler continued, referencing the change that she witnessed in her students,
“It was that confidence that led to graduation and college acceptances that many of them did not think was tangible especially coming from broken homes, abusive families, single-parent homes and an alternative school.”
In August 2018, Butler established Work of Art as a 501 © organization and continued her journey towards empowering and inspiring African American youth, especially young women.
Butler believes that due to the lack of opportunities and resources, many young African Americans are left behind. In 2018, the Virginia Department of Education reports that within the areas that Work of Art serves (Richmond City, Chesterfield County, Henrico County) there were 260 female dropouts. The NAACP reports that African American women are imprisoned at twice the rate of white women. Work of Art hopes to combat these statistics, and in turn, increase graduation rates and reduce recidivism.
Butler is passionate about providing young women with opportunities to grow and evolve,
“Our goal is to empower these young women to reach heights that society has otherwise deemed an impossible feat. It is our charge to arm these young women with coping skills to allow them to be a force not to be reckoned with, to be change makers within their communities, and to be sustainable citizens within these communities.”
In order to be accepted to the program, each girl formally applies to the group, attends an official interview with LeKai Butler, and at the end of the summer, receives a special gift in the mail once they have been formally entered into the program.
Throughout the school year, the group engages in fulfilling, educational, and fun events that focus on three particular sectors: career, academic, and social. Last year, the group volunteered for a variety of different organizations including #HashtagLunchbag, the Ronald McDonald House, and Heart Haven. Work of Art provides many different opportunities for the girls involved to explore their interests and learn about the many possibilities of their futures. Each of the girls in the program is given the opportunity to shadow a profession of their choice, and learn about the industry from a professional who is currently in their desired field.
As Founder and Executive Director of Work of Art, LeKai Butler states that she has experienced a multitude of memorable experiences. One of those moments, she says, was hiking in Charlottesville in Crabtree Falls,
“Our girls were so hesitant to climb this 1.7-mile mountain but once we reached the top, they were so proud of themselves and each other for making that journey. You could hear each of them inspiring others to keep going and providing hope and support as they climbed the mountain.”
Another memorable moment was their recent college tour where they visited Christopher Newport University, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University.
“To witness these girls experience something they never have seen was truly inspiring to the adults and mentors present. Many of them left with the mindset that they too can achieve greatness.”, Butler said.
Butler says that they would not be where they are today without the support of the community. The group also has exciting goals for the future. Through the support of their community and donations, they are hoping to make these goals a reality. The organization is currently planning a July 2020 trip to Morocco entitled The Work of Art Empowerment Project. During the trip, each participant will complete a service project where they will teach English to local students. The trip will be a life-changing experience for the group, says Butler, and will provide each participant with the opportunity to build self-confidence, promote community engagement, and enhance their empathy.
The group also provides scholarships for their seniors and would love to expand those opportunities to award them more for their hard work and their dedication. If you would like to donate to Work of Art and help them towards getting to their future goals, you can do so through their website.
For the 2019-2020 school year, the organization is also seeking mentors as well as a van to easily transport their participants. If you are interested in applying to be a mentor, you can find the application here.
As for the future of Work of Art, Butler hopes to one day expand the reach of Work of Art’s mission,
“We hope in the near future to have a Work of Art Bronx and a Work of Art DC. Eventually, we want to make a global impact with our curriculum and focus on volunteerism within our communities.”