This is the first in a monthly series of profiles featuring our partners in the Joint Plan of Work program. The Joint Plans of Work may be a lesser known aspect of Virginia Organizing’s work, but it is another way we leverage grassroots energy by borrowing and sharing power with dozens of groups and organizations throughout our state. Groups who have a joint plan of work with us are fiscally sponsored programs of Virginia Organizing who operate under our 501(c)-3 in order to utilize our administrative resources, enabling them to focus full-time on their important work.
Cherry Henley, the founder and Director of Lending Hands in Charlottesville, has always found her energy in connecting people to resources to help them thrive. She launched Lending Hands in 2009 to be a network resource agency for those who are formerly incarcerated, and she assists people as they seek to obtain housing, employment, and other resources necessary to stabilizing their lives as they transition back into society.
Henley does this work from a place of personal experience, having been incarcerated herself for 3 ½ years. “My belief is that everyone wants to live a productive life,” she says. Her experience of personal trauma and the injustices of our criminal justice system helped her to understand how so many end up in prisons and jails.
Even while incarcerated Henley enjoyed helping others get access to resources, seeking to fill the gaps that made it harder for people to make it on the outside. After her incarceration she drove for the work release department at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail for over nine years while working out of her home office.
In addition to helping formerly incarcerated individuals navigate the system and find resources, Lending Hands provides its own temporary housing for people in transition. Henley says that “on a typical day I am responding to the needs of those who need housing, jobs, or advocacy help. Lending Hands tries to meet these needs by providing resources directly or by making connections to other organizations.” She also works with other agencies in Charlottesville to challenge the systemic injustices that hold people back. The Lending Hands women’s home has provided transitional housing for those re-entering back into society.
Henley gets her energy from watching people survive and thrive through community support. “I’ve seen people now [serve] on boards and commissions, go back to school, start businesses,” she says.
When asked what she needs from the community to make her work possible, she offered a list: “I need the community to be engaged, I need people not to stigmatize others without giving them a chance, I need accountability from legislators.” She also repeatedly stressed the importance of community support, and the value of individuals and organizations who offer help. “I am honored to do the work of making lives better.”
To learn more about Lending Hands you can visit their website at https://lendinghandsnetwork.weebly.com.