The “Portrait of an Alum” blog series gives a glimpse of life after graduation, with a particular emphasis on our students’ readiness for the transition to college and how their affections and outlook have been shaped through their experiences, teachers and Christian community at Veritas. For this portrait, Director of Communications Sara Kennedy interviewed Class of 2015 graduate Kelly Norfleet. This is a summary of their interview.
On a sweltering July afternoon, I met Veritas alum Kelly Norfleet at the door of The Lighthouse, one of CHAT’s (Church Hill Activities and Tutoring) many tutoring sites in east Richmond’s Church Hill community. Summer camp for the Little Tykes was wrapping up, with five, six and seven year olds enjoying a snack and a few last games with their leaders before heading home. Kelly was grinning from ear to ear, proud of her young campers, passing out much appreciated cold water and encouraging words as she moved from room to room.
A graduate of the Class of 2015, Kelly became interested in serving vulnerable communities through the Leadership class at Veritas. This interest has taken her to South Africa to teach classes at Mukhanyo Christian Academy to the Urbana Missions Conference in St. Louis to the University of Virginia where she will mentor students in a dorm for international students, and this summer, to Church Hill as an intern with CHAT.
The CHAT internship is a ten week neighborhood immersion program that consists of twenty college aged students from many different schools and backgrounds. While interns are expected to invest in and learn about the community in a variety of ways, their main role is running a summer long day camp for the youth of Church Hill. Days are full, with devotions and planning for interns, street leaders (teens in the community who serve alongside staff) and CHAT staff kicking off at 9 AM. By eleven, Leigh Street Baptist Church is rocking – outdoor games, a full lunch, music, dancing, Bible stories, skits, read-alouds, crafts, Legos, snacks and more keep group leaders and Little Tykes busy until four when a fleet of CHAT minibuses fan out across Church Hill, delivering students to some of the most challenged neighborhoods in our city.
During our interview, Kelly drove me around the streets that have now become familiar and well-loved – from the home she shares with an amazing CHAT staff member to several public housing communities to the Robinson Theater, where CHAT team members worship each Sunday at East End Fellowship. The intense heat drove most neighbors inside, but the drive was instructive. Deep poverty stubbornly remains in much of Church Hill, particularly in poorly conceived housing projects that date back to the 1950’s. Fresh food stores are rare; corner markets are ubiquitous. Driving south toward Broad Street, signs of a gentrification are everywhere – rising home values and home ownership rates … and raising taxes on folks already struggling. It’s a complicated reality, one that Kelly is learning every day she invests as a CHAT intern.
We decided to continue our interview on a shaded bench at the Soldiers and Sailors Confederate Monument on Libby Hill. From this vantage point, you can see Richmond’s history … the bend in the James River that reminded William Byrd of Richmond on the Thames (and hence, the name), the Negro Burial Ground at Shockoe Bottom, St. John’s Church, site of Patrick Henry’s passionate plea for liberty, the State Capital building, the Medical College of Virginia … an amazing view, full of contrasts, of wounds and of healing.
Kelly spoke of the brokenness that too many of her young students experience, and cycles of hopelessness that feel so powerful. She spoke of the hope of the gospel and love of Jesus that she gets to share as a summer intern, and the gratitude she feels for the profoundly meaningful opportunities for spiritual, academic, and emotional growth CHAT offers. Facing big and complicated questions about the nature of suffering, of hope, of equity, of justice, Kelly expressed gratitude for the theology classes required at Veritas, and the servant-hearted men and women of integrity on the faculty, whose teaching and example are an anchor and an inspiration.
We capped off our time together with a tangy arugula pizza at Anthony’s on the Hill. I asked about her transition to UVA; for this quiet and introspective young woman, moving from a small school setting to a major state university has been quite a change. Like so many graduates I interview, Kelly found her first and most important connections through campus ministry. She jumped into InterVarsity, joining a small group Bible study and will serve on the chapter’s prayer team beginning this fall. Continuing her love of sports, she joined a team of student managers for the women’s basketball team. She also committed to a local church (Trinity Presbyterian) and will be a mentor in the IRC (International Residential College) dorm for the coming school year. Amid these extra-curriculars, she is working on a degree in Systems Engineering, earning a highly coveted spot in a discipline she loves.
For those who had the privilege of knowing Kelly throughout her many years at Veritas, from kindergarten to twelfth grade– yes, she is still quiet, a little shy, soft-spoken and sometimes at a loss for words. She is also courageous, compassionate and committed to the life-long learning we so deeply desire for our graduates.
As we finished our last slices, I asked Kelly to share some advice for the students coming behind her. As we hear over and over, she felt strongly that Veritas high-schoolers should take full advantage of their time, of faculty who want to invest in them, of a unique curriculum that considers a life well-lived. Most importantly, she wants to encourage her fellow students to ask what the Lord would have for them, and to pursue His will whole-heartedly.
Kelly heads back to Charlottesville this month; we can’t wait to watch her continue to flourish as a scholar, a mentor and a servant of Christ.