Some families can spend years saving for their children’s college educations and send them miles away to private prep schools. But as Toria Edmonds-Howell knows, that isn’t a reality for many Richmond students, even if they have the same smarts and big dreams.
She saw it while growing up in Church Hill. “There was a stark difference between what we saw in our communities and our schools,” she says. “We drove 45 minutes out to attend schools because our parents wanted the best education.”
That perspective helped develop her passion for helping students to achieve despite the circumstances, and it’s what led to her position as executive director of RVA Future.
The organization is one of the initiatives launched through Mayor Dwight Jones’ Office for Community Wealth Building, an effort to lower the city’s 26.3-percent poverty rate.
Edmonds-Howell leads a team that helps Richmond’s public students to plan for life after high school. And eventually, RVA Future could provide assistance with college tuition.
Edmonds-Howell received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. And while working on her graduate degree from the University of Richmond, she worked as a college adviser in programs serving Armstrong High School.
Her work didn’t end with the school day. If a student needed a ride to Norfolk State University for an interview, she was there, keys in hand. She attended church with her students, ate dinner with them at her family’s home and spent hours poring over their college essays.
One of her former students, Myrtle Mines, says she didn’t think college was an option because of financial issues. But Edmonds-Howell helped her with an essay that earned her a full ride at James Madison University, which she now attends.
“She’s a mentor to several, a guide to most and an inspiration to all,” Mines wrote of Edmonds-Howell.
“I think a lot of my students have this mindset that there is no way that I am going to win that scholarship,” Edmonds-Howell says — “some kid out in the counties is going to get it.”
But she works to combat those doubts. And as a newly minted graduate again, in a management role, she has the opportunity to take that message beyond Armstrong to Richmond’s public high schools.