Five questions with: Claiborne M. Warner, president and CEO, Virginia Home for Boys and Girls

Since 1846, Virginia Home for Boys and Girls has been dedicated to responding to the unique and ever-changing needs of children and families in crisis. Originally known as the Richmond Male Orphan Society, the 175-year-old organization is today one of the oldest respites for children in continuous operation in the nation.

For the past nine years, the steady hand at the helm of VHBG has been Claiborne M. Warner, the nonprofit’s first woman president and CEO. Under her leadership, VHBG has become an affirming place to live, learn and work. Under her leadership, she expanded the age range of children served in order to help youth aging out of foster care (ages 17- 21); expanded programming to include youth who identify as LGBTQ and find themselves facing homelessness (ages 18- 25); and expanded VHBG’s specialized day school to include elementary-age students. She’s created a place where youth and staff can be their authentic selves, even during a global pandemic and amid a raised consciousness about racial injustice.

Culture starts at the top, and VHBG is no exception. Warner lives by the core values of VHBG, surrounding herself with the right talent and the right people. If you haven’t had the chance to meet her, here’s a chance to get to know more about her and VHBG.

What is Virginia Home for Boys and Girls’ core mission?

At VHBG, our mission is to provide a home and education to children across Virginia with emotional and behavioral health concerns. We help them begin to heal from their trauma while giving them a safe place to live and learn so they can transition to their next best level of care – hopefully to a permanent home and/or back to public school.

Can you characterize the extent of the problem Virginia Home for Boys and Girls addresses in our community?

Claiborne M. Warner

Virginia Home for Boys and Girls addresses the problem of belonging. The youth we serve need to find a place where they belong and are seen so they can find hope and healing from their trauma. A healthy place where their needs are acknowledged and supported. They often feel like they don’t belong to a family or they don’t belong at a school. We believe all children deserve to grow up surrounded by a loving, nurturing family. All children deserve encouragement, protection, and a sense of belonging that comes from supportive adult relationships in a healthy family environment and a safe supportive community. After all, a healthy family is critical to every child’s ability to live a successful life.

What don’t most people realize or understand?

Most people don’t realize we’re here. In 1957, we relocated from Richmond to Henrico County near Parham and Broad Streets when the landscape was rural. Surrounded by commercial development now and hidden from street view, our park-like campus is lined with beautiful trees that give it an oasis feeling. First-time visitors to our campus are taken back by the peaceful setting.

Many people don’t understand that some children entering the foster care system have experienced a great deal of trauma and have emotional and behavioral issues that prevent them from initially being successful in a traditional foster home. They actually need to learn how to live in a healthy family, learn what triggers their behavior, and learn to have hope for their future as they take the time they need to transition.

This is also true in our K-12 school. We serve students from all over the Richmond region who can’t be successful in public school usually because of their disruptive behavior caused by trauma. Youth we serve often need help with anger management, impulse control, and good decision making. We don’t serve bad kids; we serve kids who’ve had bad things happen to them.

What kind of work do volunteers do to help Virginia Home for Boys and Girls?

Our programs take place on a 30+ acre campus with 26 buildings, including a gym, dining hall and fellowship hall; as well as a pool and cookout shelter. There is always a need for volunteer skills and talents for campus improvements, fundraising events, collections drives, and anything that helps further our mission. Program fees paid for with public dollars only cover a portion of what is needed to provide the trauma-informed care children in crisis require. Nearly 50% of VHBG’s budget is supported by philanthropic dollars. Community volunteers and partners play a critical role in supporting VHBG’s needs.

If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, how would you spend it?

If we received $100,000 today, we would use it to directly benefit the youth we serve and could spend it in multiple ways. For most youth, our campus is the first safe neighborhood they’ve ever lived in. Maintaining 30+ acres is a big expense. For some youth, they’ve never had pride in their home. With up to eight teenagers plus adults living in each group home and two young adults in each apartment, the wear and tear on facilities is tremendous. Home makeovers are needed frequently. For some youth, they’ve never had possessions like a bike or nice home furnishings. Replacing worn out furniture and equipment while teaching responsibility for their belongings is a constant effort. For some youth, they’ve never had a caring adult in their life who was trained to realize the widespread impact of trauma. Our strength is in our staff who are essential (pandemic or not). Recruiting, training, and maintaining these high-caliber staff who care for our youth like they were their own, is life-changing for each youth. Our amazing staff who keep our kids safe, healthy, and loved is a worthwhile investment. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, visit its website or donate directly here.

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