2021 Community Fellows-in-Residence


Edgar Lara Edgar Lara

Maria Esparza Rodriguez Maria Esparza Rodriguez

Conecta2: Latinx Leadership

Conecta2: Latinx Leadership in Charlottesville is a program designed and developed collaboratively by Edgar and María to train and mentor the future Latinx leaders of Charlottesville. At a particularly difficult time of social and political tensions, and in response to some of the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, this program will train, support, and empower future Latinx leaders from the Charlottesville area. Through his extensive contact with the local Latinx community Edgar has learned that the lack of technological literacy among low-income, monolingual immigrants, and adult Latinx people in the region is one area that requires attention and improvement. We propose to use the fellowship and the resources provided by the Equity Center to design a program to empower, educate, train, and encourage public engagement and participation among local Latinx leaders. Specifically, the program will focus on helping the participants achieve technological literacy, learn about and discuss issues that are important to the Charlottesville Latinx community, find and share resources, and learn the skills and tools to work both independently and collaboratively. The program is a response to recent and past challenges faced by the local Latinx community. Our main objective is to mentor and support a group of leaders that will learn the fundamentals of technology, research skills and digital literacy, as well as how to create and share content such as webinars and online presentations for the community. Ultimately, we hope that these leaders will gain the skills necessary to engage and share their knowledge with other people in both the Charlottesville and UVA communities.

Faculty Mentor: Jon Goodall, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences


Anna Mendez Anna Mendez

Criminalization of Mental Illness

The criminalization of mental illness is one of the leading causes of inequitable outcomes for people with serious mental illness in the Charlottesville area. The solution to the criminalization of mental illness is theoretically quite simple: stop criminalizing the symptoms and experiences of mental illness. However, “simple” is not synonymous with “easy.” While there are many possible ways to accomplish decriminalization there has never been a formal assessment of community data to determine the most effective approach(s). Interventions that would decriminalize mental illness include, but are not limited to:

  • • Developing a non-police response model to 911 calls for service

  • • Initiating a mobile crisis unit

  • • Opening a no barrier respite center open 24/7/365

  • • Developing an improved continuum of alcohol misuse treatment services

  • • Expanding the scope and capacity of the Mental Health Therapeutic Docket

  • • Refraining from charging people in crisis with felony assault on law enforcement officers

My project would entail using local data from the police department, Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the local jail, and the publicly funded behavioral health system to accurately identify the interventions that would be the most effective at reducing the criminalization of mental illness in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. These finding would be used to prose policy and practice changes to Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. This effort is incredibly timely as it coincides with the greater Charlottesville community’s exploration of ways to reallocate resources previously given to police departments in the service of improving equity and social justice.

Faculty Mentor: Richard J. Bonnie (Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy)


Marian McCullough Marian McCullough


Tutor-ish is a virtual tutoring organization that serves K-8 students in this pandemic time. Originally started by 8 Black certified teachers, the main goal of Tutor-ish was to help bridge the educational gap many students were suffering from after the abrupt end to the 2019-2020 school year. Tutor-ish works diligently to provide homework help, enrichment opportunities, and remedial tutoring services to help address students’ educational and social- emotional needs. Because we aim to provide services to students who are typically underserved and performing below grade level, we strive to provide prices that are affordable and also provide payment plans to help meet the needs of all the families that we work with. We also provide students and families with positive representation and high expectations that marginalized students may not encounter otherwise in their classroom experience. Students and families are able to choose from tutoring packages that best meet their needs and the services they would like to receive. Once a package is finalized, students and the tutor chosen to work with that student meet virtually to help strengthen the student’s educational skills and positive academic self-concept. Tutor-ish recognizes that teaching the “whole child” is an important part of the aspect of education that is oftentimes overlooked. Not only do we focus on the educational needs of the student, but our tutors also work to build relationships with all of the students that they work with as well

Faculty Mentor: Robert Berry (School of Education and Human Development)

Benita Mayo Benita Mayo

Documentary photo series addressing maternal health disparities of African American women

Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women including: preterm labor, preeclampsia, hypertension of pregnancy, gestational diabetes, membrane disorders, hemorrhage, cesarean section and infection (Shen, Tymokow, and MacMullen, 2005). Moreover, black children also face higher rates of pre-term delivery and low birth weight (Hoyert, Freedman, Strobino, and Guyer, 2001). Equal outcome is not a reality for Black women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery and everyone deserves to have equitable healthcare that addresses their own particular needs. I believe a significant number of these negative outcomes can be reduced through the use of community-based doula support. Doula care includes non-clinical emotional, physical, and informational support before, during, and after labor and birth. Doula’s support has been well-documented to improve health outcomes, enhance care engagement and satisfaction, and reduce spending on unnecessary procedures and avoidable complications. Studies have found that community-based doula support that begins during pregnancy and continues through childbirth and the postpartum period is associated with lower rates of preterm and low birthweight births and postpartum depression (ADVANCING BIRTH JUSTICE: Community-Based Doula Models as a Standard of Care for Ending Racial Disparities, 2019). Photos have a powerful impact in uncovering inequities and pushing for social change. I aim to raise awareness about the unacceptable maternal health disparities, show the positive impact community-based doulas have, and bring positive action to the issues that affect women at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. This project, which is focused on doulas of color and the birth experiences of real women in Charlottesville, will have a greater impact on the birth community than any set of tragic statistics. Moreover, the potential exists for a positive ripple effect on maternal health disparities throughout Virginia. It is important that people understand that these women and their babies aren’t just statistics. They are real people with real lives. I will follow my clients and the clients of 2-3 doulas documenting their experience, including client meetings, prenatal appointments, births and postpartum visits. Currently, due to COVID-19, doulas are not allowed in hospitals; therefore, only home births will be documented. The project will culminate in a photo exhibition at the Jefferson School, incorporating a community panel discussion, an educational presentation from Birth Sisters of Charlottesville, and a fundraising event to provide resources to train and certify more doulas of color in the Charlottesville area.

Faculty Mentor: Seanna Leath (College of Arts & Sciences)