October 27, 2020 News & Features » Cover Story


Kristen Johnson, 38 

Director of Development for Real Life

click to enlarge feat44_kristenjohnson3.jpg

Scott Elmquist

In 2008, Johnson was working as a magistrate in Hanover County and pretty much hating her job every day. She would see people at their lowest point, they would ask for help and she could do nothing. She quickly realized that she wanted to switch careers to work with nonprofits.

A skillful fundraiser, she went to work for the Virginia Community College System and Virginia Home for Boys and Girls. She also was volunteering with Real Life, which provides prisoner re-entry and homeless transition services and programs. Realizing this was her best shot at making a direct impact, she became Real Life’s first development director full time. Résumé work, job prep, employment support, transition and recovery housing, a motherhood program: It does a lot for people in dire need.

Before the pandemic, they had three recovery transition houses that were always full – they might turn away four to five people, she says. “Since COVID, we’ve seen an explosion and since August, we’ve opened two new houses and significantly increased the number we could house up to 45 individuals,” she says. “[And] we’ve still had to turn away 80 individuals.”

Johnson volunteers on the Junior League board and was instrumental in incorporating the nonprofit Punks for Presents. She sewed more than 700 face masks in a project that raised over $3,500 for the Richmond Public Schools and other nonprofits. She even made masks for Mayor Levar Stoney and School Superintendent Jason Kamras.

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