Jepson seniors Audrey Fulkerson, Mark Johnson, and Sofie Conway at the VSH office.

Jepson seniors Audrey Fulkerson, Mark Johnson, and Sofi Conway interned at the Richmond-based nonprofit Virginia Supportive Housing this past summer. 

Ending homelessness

November 2, 2023

Mark Johnson, ’24, got his first real-world lesson on homelessness while riding a bus. The day before starting his Virginia Supportive Housing (VSH) internship in Richmond, he made a trial run on the public bus to be sure he knew how to get to work. Two fellow passengers — who coincidentally were former VSH clients — helped him figure out the best route. They also gave him a new perspective by sharing their personal stories of homelessness.

“I learned that not all ‘homeless’ people are without a home,” Johnson said. “Some would rather live on the streets than in a place where they are suffering sexual or physical abuse.”

This summer, Jepson School of Leadership Studies seniors Johnson, Sofi Conway, and Audrey Fulkerson explored the many reasons for, and solutions to, housing insecurity during their academically grounded Jepson internships at the Richmond-based housing nonprofit. In its drive to end homelessness, VSH uses a “housing first” strategy that prioritizes getting individuals into stable, permanent housing and then addresses their other needs through wrap-around support services.

Headshot of Allison Bogdanović

VSH executive director Allison Bogdanović

As mission advancement interns, the students managed social media, conducted donor research, wrote newsletter op-eds, and created orientation materials for new volunteers and employees. But they said it was the chance to interview residents of VSH properties that was most rewarding.

“It's incredibly powerful to hear firsthand about how homelessness has impacted people and how the housing first model has changed lives,” Conway said. “I'm grateful for the opportunity to study a major social problem and see how other social factors, such as poverty and substance abuse, contribute to homelessness in Virginia.”

A strong alumni network connected the trio to their VSH internships, which were funded through the Richmond Guarantee, a University of Richmond fellowship program for undergraduates. Both VSH executive director Allison Bogdanović and communications officer Kate McCarthy are Jepson alumnae.

“Jepson interns bring fresh perspectives in helping us tell our story of ending homelessness,” Bogdanović said. “I hope interns will consider careers in the nonprofit industry. There is always the possibility of a Jepson intern joining the Virginia Supportive Housing team permanently — like Kate McCarthy, our talented communications officer.”

Headshot of Kate McCarthy

VSH communcations officer Kate McCarthy

McCarthy completed her Jepson internship with VSH in summer 2019 and went to work full-time for the nonprofit after graduating from Richmond in May 2020. For the past three summers, she has managed leadership studies student interns, including Conway, Fulkerson, and Johnson this summer.

“The Jepson School helped me understand how principles of leadership manifest in a role like communications, with decision-making power about whose stories I tell, how those stories are framed, and what motivations and aims I’m centering in telling them,” McCarthy said.

Under her supervision, the Jepson interns came to appreciate the role of storytelling in understanding and addressing a major social issue.

“I now see homelessness as an obstacle that can and must be solved rather than pushed to the side,” Fulkerson said.