As a small group of six neighbors and friends sat around my dining room table at the first “Embrace Richmond” board meeting in 2004, none of us dreamed what would come out of our collective efforts.

We had almost no board experience. I had no idea what an executive director was and we were literally making it up as we went.  Around me sat five very brave souls – our founding board of directors.  Among them was Mr. Jim Allen.  I cannot remember how I met Jim, it just seems he was always a part of Embrace.  The only thing I do know is that he was divinely appointed.

He was with us in the early days as we hauled furniture up and down those steps at what used to be Highland Park United Methodist Church.  He figured out how to set up our accounting system and served as our Board Treasurer for years.  He co-authored our by-laws and he and his wife became our first monthly donors. They are now our longest running financial supporters.  While all of these gifts made a lasting mark on our organization, it is Jim’s patient presence that made a lasting mark on me as a new often overwhelmed executive director.

Jim was never the one in the front of the room meeting our guests, teaching a class or accepting an award.  He was always in the background.  In other words, he is the guy who had my back in good times and in those tough years.  He did things like taking out the trash, sweeping the floors and for years he collected toilet paper.  Yes, Embrace Richmond was so financially strapped that we could not afford to keep toilet paper in the bathrooms because it kept going missing! Jim began collecting toilet paper for us and looked like Santa Claus with a big bag of toilet paper over his shoulder when he would come volunteer with us.  It was one of our most treasured gifts!

Ask any executive director what their most valuable asset is and I think most would agree that it is a high functioning board made up of dedicated board members.  Jim modeled this for us for more than a decade by serving on our board through two separate terms.

This past December, Jim Allen resigned from the board due to health challenges.  I told him that day that he could not get rid of us that easily.  Our board unanimously voted that we make him the first Board Member Emeritus of Embrace Richmond.

On April 30th, 2017, we surprised him during the Sunday worship service at Brandermill Church, his home church, with the award.  I was reminded as I greeted our wonderful Brandermill supporters just how impactful Jim’s advocacy for Embrace has been.  Brandermill Church was among the first to financially support Embrace Richmond and is one of the largest and longest running financial supporters.  Our longest running Board Chair, Don Reich whom Jim recruited to the board, is a member of Brandermill.  We have more financial supporters and volunteers from Brandermill Church than any other church.  Brandermill Church played a critical role in our work in Hillside Court and continues to support Hillside Court today.

This is the kind of impact that one humble, faithful, servant-hearted person can have through small simple acts of kindness and generosity of over a decade of service.

I am so thankful for Jim Allen and for the dozens of faithful board members, volunteers and donors who have stuck with us year after year.

Please join us in praying for Jim and his family.  May God bless them as richly as they have blessed us.

-Wendy McCaig