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  • Writer's pictureAnika Horn


When you first visit RISE Organization in Waynesboro, you don’t simply walk into an office. Upon entering, Founders Sharon Fitz and Chanda McGufiin will take you on a tour of Black history and culture that comes to life in the four walls of their space. When the two opened their doors on Ohio Street, they intentionally designed their space to be a representation of the community they serve: Bold colors, quotes, and affirmations combined with an all-Black library featuring close to 2,000 works by Black authors. Their space, in turn, is also a representation of how Chanda McGuffin and Sharon Fitz show up for and in their community: with conviction and determination, giving a voice to the Black community in Waynesboro and beyond.

RISE Organization was officially established after the terrorist attack in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017, and since has become the culmination of both women’s lifelong efforts to raise up the voices of the unheard. Today, RISE offers after-school programming, a Black History program, tutoring services, and an advocacy program for Black students and their families in Virginia. The organization is best known for its annual Women’s Summit, which brings women from all over the country to the Shenandoah Valley, its anti-racism trainings, and its yearly Community Stakeholders Conference. This holistic approach has allowed Chanda and Sharon to work effectively with community members who want to start a business. “The largest hurdle that we must overcome when offering support to entrepreneurs from underserved communities is gaining their trust. Their success is defined by their ability to transform their dreams into a profitable business. To do that, these entrepreneurs must first overcome their stagnating fears which is no small feat. We help them navigate these fears through one-to-one consultations and in large group settings such as our Annual Women’s Summit and Community Stakeholders Conference.”, Sharon explains.

During its first year of the Community Navigator Pilot Program, RISE served over a dozen local entrepreneurs through one-on-one consultations and provided close to 60 hours of business training and education to more than 230 entrepreneurs in the Shenandoah Valley.

One of these entrepreneurs is Varlina Jackson. As a Black single mom of two boys, Varlina started a hair braiding business during the pandemic when daycares closed. While she went to cosmetology school, Chanda coached her on several occasions and listened to her business aspirations. Varlina shares, “Chanda really helped me figure things out and she shared SCCF’s business bootcamp with me. I loved it and I greatly appreciate this opportunity. It's what I’ve literally been praying for!” Her business goes deeper than hair styling, “I’m not at Terry Court barber shop only for hair! While braiding hair, I talk to my clients about hair care and how our hair affects everything BLACK. Those conversations aren't just talking but I’m trying to bring light on hair discrimination, racism, prejudice, and all the above. Virginia is deprived of many Black stylists for a reason. That has to change.” RISE is helping its entrepreneurs go beyond opening businesses, and making its community a better place.

Join RISE in celebrating their upcoming fifth anniversary as part of their Annual RISE Women’s Summit on May 20 and 21, 2023, at the American Shakespeare Theater in Staunton, or join their annual Community Stakeholders Conference in September.


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