Ollie Harvey—the hardest High Five to summarize! I met Ollie on the 4th of July and it’s August now. I finally realized I can’t do Ollie justice in a post—but I simply have to report on what I learned—and hope that it’s good enough.
When I founded High Five RVA, I knew I was going to meet amazing people doing amazing things. But I don’t really think I understood just how diverse and wonderful the High Five meetings would be. Ollie Harvey and Kristen Cotman shook High Five RVA up. For 25 years, Ollie has run an organization called H.O.P.E.
Kristen, H.O.P.E.’s secretary, nominated Ollie for the High Five. Ollie and Kristen met when Kristen’s son attended Ollie’s home daycare.
I met Ollie in her home on a holiday because it was a day when the daycare would be closed and she would not be looking after a classroom full of children. I wanted to catch up with her the day before in Petersburg (where she was feeding families), but when I asked if that would be okay she replied, “Girl, you’d be nothing but in my way.” I decided I’d meet her on whatever terms she laid out!
To know Ollie is to love her. It’s amazing to hear about all of the things that she does for the community she lives in. In addition to providing childcare and running a small business, The Women of Richmond, Ollie is the founder and manager of a nonprofit called H.O.P.E. Though the acronym stands for Help Our People Eat, H.O.P.E. provides a variety of assistance to families in need from help with a late rent payment to new shoes and clothing to children without. A day before we visited to high five Ollie she received a request from Henrico County Social Services to provide food and clothing for a family of five. She showed me the handwritten form referring the family to her for assistance and said, “The county knows I help. They are referring whole families to me to provide basic needs.”
It’s not clear the limit to what Ollie does. My visit with her was a whirlwind of stories about running a food pantry, sending food and clothing to Africa, traveling to DC to help feed the hungry, and working to interrupt the pipeline from schools to prisons before it was even big news in Richmond. She’s been helping for more than 25 years. When I asked her about how people apply for help she looked confused. There is no formal process. There’s a need. It’s always easy to see. Ollie lives just outside of Fairfield Court. Not far from her pretty home on a quiet street, there is always a need. “How in the world do you fund this?” I asked her. “Girl, my tax man asks me the same question every year.” With no grants, no donor database, no staff to help fundraise, somehow, Ollie finds a way.
Ollie helps whenever and wherever she sees a need. I loved the story of her providing one of her daycare students with a new pair of shoes. She and Kristen noticed that the sole of the shoes were coming off and at first Ollie super-glued them back together. The little boy was delighted to not have his shoes flapping—she said he ran and ran on those fixed shoes like he had new batteries. She told the story of how hot the pavement was and how someone wondered aloud if the friction of his running combined with the heat and flammable adhesive would make him catch fire. “That’s the last thing we need someone catching on fire because we’re trying to help!” They ended up buying him a brand new pair of shoes. Even though most of us were laughing during the retelling of this story, Kristen was crying. No matter how many people you help, you don’t ever forget how great a need there is, and because she thinks of her own boys, Kristen aches for youngchildren in need.
Ollie’s home is full of many things. There are giant glass jars full of candy (her mother loved butterscotch, Ollie loved her mother, and the huge vases full of bright butterscotch candies are sort of a shrine to Ollie’s mom), giant flower bouquets, a handbag collection, and pictures. Oh, the pictures. When Ollie starts telling you who’s who in each perfectly framed photograph you get the sense that little matters more to Ollie than family. Ollie is so proud of her children and grandchildren. By the time you leave you feel as if you’ve been added to that very large circle of people considered family to Ollie. She has that affect on you.
I have a feeling if I ever needed anything Ollie would not judge—she’d simply size up my need and fill it. With H.O.P.E. That’s what she does best.
H.O.P.E. does not have a website you can donate to, but donations are tax deductible. H.O.P.E.’s tax id number is 75-3086686. Donations can be mailed to HOPE 705 Stone Throw Ct, Richmond, VA 23223.