Personality: Jessica B. Brooks

Spotlight on Peter Paul Development Center board chair

8/3/2023, 6 p.m.
Four years ago, Jessica B. Brooks joined the board of the Peter Paul Development Center after hearing her husband speak …

Four years ago, Jessica B. Brooks joined the board of the Peter Paul Development Center after hearing her husband speak of the East End facility’s positive impact during his youth.

Keith Brooks, Dr. Brooks’ husband, grew up on Peter Paul Boulevard, and later lived near the Peter Paul Development Center that was located at the corner of X and 22nd streets.

“[My husband] shared with me first-hand the positive impact Peter Paul had on the community and his neighbors,” Dr. Brooks said. “When offered an opportunity to contribute, I accepted the call and committed in my heart to make a difference.”

Last June, Dr. Brooks became board chair for the organization that was founded by John Coleman in 1979 and is the oldest continually operating community center in the area. Last month she agreed to stay on for a second one-year term, believing that Peter Paul’s mission of education and supporting its neighbors is a natural extension of her work as a licensed clinical psychologist and educator.

As the co-owner and CEO of OLA Family Services and an associate professor of psychology at Virginia State University, Dr. Brooks’ work at OLA and VSU involves individuals from diverse and sometimes storied backgrounds.

“A word of encouragement, a smiling face and the means to educate oneself biologically, psychologically and socially can make the difference in most anyone’s life,” she recently explained by email. “[Working with Peter Paul] is an opportunity to be the change I want to see and maybe even offer the assistance, encouragement and interventions that I believe I would have benefited from if I were in their shoes.”

The center also allows her to appreciate how people from all walks of life can come together to achieve a common goal despite their differences. She says it is rewarding to work with so many passionate and dedicated Peter Paul families, staff, volunteers, donors and board members. That type of collaborative effort is part of the bottoms-up approach that Peter Paul places at the center of every program it offers.

“The people of the East End don’t need to be dictated to; they need to be heard and understood,” Dr. Brooks said. “Empathy has to do with walking in the other person’s shoes. When we have empathy as well as compassion, we are in a better position to hear what others are saying and collaboratively work toward solutions that truly meet the needs of people.”

While Dr. Brooks employs such qualities daily in her personal and professional lives, they also are lessons she was taught by her parents, as well her six older siblings who often teasingly called her the “runt of the litter.”

Through them she learned love and discipline as well as the importance of treating everyone with respect, and giving people the benefit of the doubt.

“We are all a year apart and thoroughly enjoy having one another as best friends,” Dr. Brooks shared. “Despite my mother and father having passed away, when I spend time with my siblings I see bits and pieces of my parents through them. It’s pretty awesome.”

Meet an advocate for education and community support and this week’s Personality, Jessica B. Brooks:

Volunteer position: Board chairperson, Peter Paul Development Center.

Occupation: Associate and tenured professor of psychology at Virginia State University; co-owner and chief executive officer of OLA Family Services, licensed clinical psychologist.

Date and place of birth: Sept. 28 in Ahoskie, N.C.

Where I live now: Mechanicsville.

Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, Elizabeth City State University; master’s in business administration, Virginia Commonwealth University; master’s of science, VSU; doctor of philosophy, VSU.

Family: Husband, Keith Brooks, two children, Alexus and Ellis, two step-loves, Keith and Adam, and two grandchildren, Jalen and Eden.

Peter Paul is: A place where children can be educated and their ability to succeed is improved, families’ well- being can be strengthened, relationships can be cultivated, and additional supportive programming and services are available to empower the community.

Mission: Our mission is one of empowerment through education to residents of the East End and its students, equip- ping them to serve as positive contributors to their families, community and society.

When and why Peter Paul was founded and by whom: Founded by John Coleman in 1979, Peter Paul is the oldest continually operating community center in the area. When the center opened its doors, it was housed in St. Peters Episcopal Church at the corner of X and 22nd streets. This neighborhood in the heart of the East End faced below-average income and high crime and drug use rates. Mr. Coleman wanted to provide a safe program for the area’s youths. With a love for the neighborhood, he aimed to support and rebuild the community by strengthening its families.

When and why I became involved: Partnering with Peter Paul affords me another opportunity to sow positive seeds in the lives of others while helping to make a difference in the lives of our youths.

No. 1 goal or project as board chair: Continue the work started by John Coleman, which is to support and build the community by strengthening its families.

Strategy for achieving goals:

Educate the child: Improve a child’s ability to succeed through individualized educational support outside the classroom.

Engage the family: Strengthen families’ well-being by cultivating stronger relationships between parents, children and other families.

Empower the community: Deliver additional supportive programming and services for our neighbors through partnerships with other nonprofit organizations in the greater Richmond community.

No. 1 challenge facing Peter Paul: Having the resources to fully equip Peter Paul’s youths and families to work toward their desired goals as we continue to emerge from the pandemic and face new and unforeseen challenges.

Peter Paul serves: Students in grades 2 through12 through our youth programs, in addition to families, community members, and senior citizens who live in the East End of Richmond.

How Peter Paul is funded: For years at Peter Paul, we have leveraged our demonstrable success to secure ongoing support from grants and partnerships with individuals, churches, foundations, community organizations and area businesses.

How Peter Paul meets its community needs: Our mission is accomplished through a holistic approach — providing our neighbors with nationally recognized out-of-school-time educational youth programming and programs that engage and strengthen families and the community that surrounds them.

How to get involved as a client: Visit our website www.peterpaulrva.org for more information on our programs or contact info@peterpaulrva.org and we will direct you to the right place.

To volunteer: Visit our website www.peterpaulrva.org for a list of current volunteer opportunities or reach out to volunteer coordinator Daiyonna Tretina at dtretina@peterpaulrva.org.

How I start the day: Prayer and positive affirmations.

The three words that best describe me: Disciplined, committed and kind.

If I had 10 extra minutes in the day: I would share them with others. Time is one of our most precious commodities and should be used wisely.

Best late-night snack: Extra Toasty Cheez-Its.

The music I listen to most is: Traditional gospel.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Play pickleball.

A quote that inspires me: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

At the top of my “to-do” list: Live a life that Jesus Christ would be pleased with!

The best thing my parents ever taught me: Love and discipline.

The persons who influenced me the most: My parents, six older siblings and pastors.

Book that influenced me the most: I can apply principles of the Bible to every aspect of my life, as a wife, mom, relative, member of the community.

What I’m reading now: “Disruptive Thinking: A Daring Strategy to Change How We Live, Lead, and Love” by T.D. Jakes, Kyle Chapel, et al. I am only through chapter one but appreciate how the author takes an internal locus of control view, acknowledging that we may not have a choice about what happens to us, but we do have a choice in how we respond and what we make of unfortunate circumstances.

Next goal: Assist Virginia State University with having its health psychology doc- toral program accredited by the American Psychological Association.