A spare minute with the CEI: Tito Luna, neighborhood outreach director, Center for Community Engagement and Impact
As Virginia Commonwealth University’s neighborhood outreach director, Tito Luna serves as a liaison to VCU’s surrounding neighborhoods, working closely with a team of neighborhood representatives and the VCU Neighborhood Team. Luna helps link faculty, staff and students to opportunities for collaboration with neighborhoods and other community partners, with a special focus on developing programs and activities that respond to community-identified needs, are mutually reinforcing and connect VCU staff and students to the ideals of civic responsibility and reciprocity. Before coming to VCU, he spent more than 20 years in youth-serving not-for-profit organizations and six years in Queens, NY as the county's director of youth development.
Q: What brought you to working in the community engagement field? Why do you think your work is meaningful?
Luna: I have been in youth and community development my entire career. This particular position is meaningful because VCU has a responsibility to be the best neighbor it can be. It is important to include our neighbor's voices in our major decisions, as many of them will have an impact on the surrounding community. When community members have concerns, we should listen and respond. I connect the community with appropriate VCU personnel, e.g., faculty, administration, and try to help community members navigate a large university.
Q: Give us a day-in-the-life picture of your job. What do you like the most about what you do?
Luna: One thing I love about my job is that there is no typical day. There are always new opportunities to connect with different stakeholders - whether it's students, staff, faculty and community members. There are some standing meetings that I attend, like area neighborhood association meetings, which are in the evenings. My favorite part of my job is being a connector. I have built trusting relationships with community members and organizations, as well as the VCU community. Helping our unit serve as a front door to both the community and the university is what I like most.
Q: Tell us about a recent work accomplishment or program/initiative that you’re working on that really excites you.
Luna: There are two things I'm really excited about. Our America Reads internship places work-study eligible VCU students in elementary school classrooms. We are currently working with Carver Elementary, which has been a longtime partner. The other initiative is promoting community service leave to our employees. University and Academic Professionals get 32 hours of service leave per year; non-UAP 12-month employees get 16 hours per year. I have begun to curate volunteer opportunities and send them out to a list of more than 260 employees who are interested in finding out about volunteer opportunities. I am also coordinating volunteer projects. Most of the opportunities qualify for enhanced community service leave, which is for VCU- and VCU Health-sponsored or endorsed activities.
Q: What advice do you have for students getting ready to chart out their own professions?
Luna: Expertise is not limited to the university. Community members have a wealth of knowledge, and they are willing to impart it. Building mutually beneficial relationships, either through volunteerism, internships or mentoring (as a mentor or mentee) will help you grow personally and professionally. And as someone once told me with respect to the workforce, "If you're not growing, you're going."
Q: How do you engage with the community outside of work?
Luna: I am currently the board president for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond. It is a wonderful organization that helps families whose children are being served at an area hospital, mostly the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU. We have a house on Monument Avenue where our out-of-town families can stay. With the help of thousands of volunteers, we also provide meals at the house and at CHoR and St. Mary's Hospital. Ronald McDonald House has sleep rooms at the Children's Pavilion to provide respite for families, and the Sibling Center allows us to care for siblings while parents attend to the needs of their sick child.
Q: Book/show/podcast that you’re loving right now and why…
Luna: On TV, I'm excited for the new season of The Walking Dead. Cindy Anderson at Cabell Library helped me find the books, so I've started on those! Two podcasts I'm listening to are Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics Radio because the topics are always interesting, and Kelli Lemon's Coffee with Strangers, because I get to hear perspectives from people who live or work in Richmond, some of whom I know personally!
Q: When you’re not in the office, where can we find you and what are doing?
Luna: If I'm not at a community meeting off-campus, I may be enjoying the outdoors with my family or taking care of my backyard chickens and ducks. I have 12 of them! I'm also a huge fantasy baseball player, so if that's one of your interests, let me know!
In September, the VCU Center for Urban Communities and VCU Division of Community Engagement merged to create the VCU Center for Community Engagement and Impact.
The new center aligns vital resources to build on the university’s legacy of community engagement while expanding community-university partnerships and cross-disciplinary collaboration to further influence student success, scholarship and the public good