Health Equity Fund Spotlight: Gateway Community Health     

This week, we continue highlighting some of the newest Health Equity Fund (HEF) recipients. The HEF—which is administered by the Richmond and Henrico Public Health Foundation and supported by the City of Richmond and RHHD—announced its most recent round of funding last month.

Gateway Community Health is a HEF recipient in the focus area of Substance Use and Recovery. The organization offers recovery services for people experiencing addiction or substance use disorder, pairing housing and transportation support with academic development.

Gateway co-founder Charlene Hinton-Watts is a life-long Richmond resident whose personal and professional experiences throughout the city have illustrated the gaps in services for people working toward recovery. She says housing is fundamental: “If you can’t keep someone in one place, it’s hard to offer services. So housing is a big piece.” Charlene and her business partner, J. Irving Dixon III, began Gateway as a single residential unit. It now functions as a sober-living campus environment in Chester. Once participants have completed the first program phase, Gateway helps them move into independent living spaces, which they call “Angel Houses.”

HEF Program Officer Saraya Perry is particularly impressed by what she calls Gateway’s “unique and effective” approach to linking residential support with academic programming—and it’s this programming that will be supported by the HEF.

Charlene and her team began incorporating education into Gateway’s mission as life skills training, things like learning how to access Social Security or to fill out a job application. But “residents wanted more reading comprehension and financial literacy,” she recalls. Charlene, a lawyer by training, began offering civics classes and others jumped in with their own areas of specialty.

About a year ago, Gateway began partnering with Love Cathedral Community Church, which had already established a Christian-based Adult Education curriculum. Charlene says that has helped add structure and a sense of purpose to Gateway’s educational philosophy: “We wanted people to feel like they were in school, that it wasn’t just a meeting but an actual class. We started with an orientation class to prepare people for being students again: ‘What does it mean to study?’ ‘What does homework look like?’”

Gateway participants came into the curriculum from a range of educational experiences—some had been to college and others had completed elementary school—but Charlene observed each participant learning and growing: “Our first class culminated with presentations that brought so much out of each student—everybody benefited from it!”

Love Cathedral’s pastor Reverend Donté McCutchen, MDiv, is now also the pastor for Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist in Jackson Ward. This relationship allows Gateway to develop educational offerings in Richmond as well as Chester. “Greater Mt. Moriah is a strong community-based church, so we’re seeking to bring more people into our program based on the community outreach they’re already doing,” Charlene says. Both Pastor McCutchen and Academy Pastor Robin Best, Ed.S, say, “we are excited about the opportunity to partner with Gateway as we fulfill our mission of being the cathedral in the community.”

Charlene looks forward to the way HEF funding will expand educational opportunities to include arts and music programming, introducing participants to Richmond’s museums and galleries at the same time as they’re connecting with health and social support services. And while she has big plans for the program, she comes back to the impact it has on each individual resident: “If I can see just one piece of it help someone succeed, it doesn’t have to be a whole lot, one piece of it makes me know it matters.”

Learn more about Gateway Community Health at their website.