Georgia native Katrina Fontenla came to Richmond to study art history at Virginia Commonwealth University. Despite finding a job after graduation with the New Jersey Council on Arts, she was homesick for her adopted city.
Five years later, she moved back, and started looking for a place in the arts community. Nothing seemed like a good fit, so she took a position with Virginia League for Planned Parenthood and volunteered with Curated Culture and First Fridays in their early days.
At Planned Parenthood, Fontenla says she got a taste of the public service that became her passion — and began to see helping others as a career as well. “I come from a long line of civic-minded women,” she says, “and I surround myself with the same.”
Until recently, she worked with patients and doctors as an HIV services coordinator at the Virginia Department of Health. Today she’s a policy analyst at the United Network for Organ Sharing, a move that was a personal one.
Through her church and the World Pediatric Project, she was host to a mother from St. Lucia and the son she brought to the United States for open-heart surgery. The boy had to undergo three surgeries, but ultimately died. Fontenla gets tears in her eyes when she talks about it.
“They don’t normally donate organs in the Caribbean when someone dies,” she says. “But his mother did. She was so strong and beautiful about it.”
The new job at UNOS enables her to help more people and to have a bigger impact on lives, she says. And it hasn’t stopped her from volunteering.
A single mother, Fontenla makes it a point to include her 6-year-old daughter in what she does. Up next is a Case for Hope’s Thanksgiving feast at Pasture, led by restaurant co-owner Michele Jones, with the foster children she works with. “I plan to bring my daughter along and we can have Thanksgiving with the kids,” Fontenla says.
Her transition to a new job, along with volunteering and parenting duties, hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm for helping others, she says: “It takes everyone to be engaged in their community to make the community successful.”CORRECTION: This article misstated that Katrina Fontenla's age was 39. It is 38. And the friends she hosted from the World Pediatric Project were from St. Lucia, not Haiti. We apologize for the errors.