Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

Strengthening and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at Virginia Commonwealth University

A group of VCU Health Hub staff and interns pose in front of a Christmas tree. Everyone is in various festive gear, from elf hats to reindeer sunglasses.

Empathy and kindness guide the community health worker’s approach to work and life.

When you walk through the front doors of the VCU Health Hub, you’ll probably be greeted by Ivy Bell’s smiling face at the front desk. Bell is the hub’s in-house certified community health worker and resource specialist, which means that she connects people in the East End to important housing, food, employment and health resources. 

Green "This or That" graphic. Bell chooses beach over mountains, cats over dogs, sweet over savory, big game over big show, movies over books and Instagram over Twitter.

Her job isn’t as simple as connecting residents to a singular resource, however. Oftentimes, people aren’t aware of the resources that are available to them, or they come in for one issue to later find that they would benefit from many of the available resources. Thus, much of Bell’s job involves listening closely to clients’  stories, reading between lines of what they tell her and following up with them regularly to help them achieve their goals.

Her advice to those who may be reluctant to reach out for help: “I always say, you never know if you don’t try. If you don’t try, then how do you know if you’re gonna get the resource? Or how are you going to find the house, or get the food, or get the help that you need if you don’t try or if you don’t ask?”

A culture of gratitude

Beside her workstation is a wall covered with cards and notes of gratitude from people she’s worked with. In the midst of those papers, a $20 bill is pinned up. Bell shares that the bill came from a resident who was struggling with drug addiction and wanted to get clean.

“The last time he came in [to the VCU Health Hub] before he got clean, he was on the verge of overdosing,” Bell confided. “I had to convince him as he dozed in and out that he should go to the ER. Once he trusted that what I said was okay, he agreed to go.”

“Before he went out to get in the ambulance, he was scared to take the $20 bill he had with him. He was like, ‘Here, this is for you, take it.’ And I just kept it. He was scared to get in the ambulance, so I walked beside him over there. I talked him through it…The next time I saw him, he was doing good, and he’s been clean since then.”

Ivy Bell and Shannon Johnson play cornhole outdoors.
Bell (left) and Shannon Johnson (right) at the first annual RVA Hopefest on November 12, 2022. The event highlights hunger and homelessness issues in the Church Hill area.

Bell understands the needs of East End residents more than most, because she’s been in their shoes before. “I’ve been the person in the community that needed help,” she shares. Bell first reached out for assistance nearly 15 years ago. The resources she received–from VCU Counseling Services to Peter Paul community programming–helped her to take care of and believe in herself again. “Other people saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time,” she said. “I always want to give back what I was given.”

Early in her career, Bell suffered from imposter syndrome. “I used to be scared,” she said, despite being qualified for her position and highly recommended by her colleagues. That self-doubt stopped her from striving for various career advancement opportunities.

“Then I had a turn for the worst in my life, and then I woke up and decided, I’m gonna do [community health work], because I love giving back to the community,” Bell said. “I love being helpful. And it always took someone else to be like, ‘You’re gonna be great. Do what you love to do.’ And that’s what happened.”

Most of all I want the East End/Church Hill residents to know that I believe in them and want to see them doing great things here as well.

Ivy Bell

Community impact

Bell’s accolades are many. She is a certified community health worker, a member of the Sigma Beta Xi sorority and a board member for Circles RVA, an organization committed to ending poverty. In just the past year, she’s also graduated from the VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Program, a 10-month program for current and emerging leaders at VCU, and became co-chair of the Greater Richmond Continuum of Care governance committee to end homelessness.

Despite her busy schedule, she gives everyone the personalized time and attention that they need. It’s clear that her presence transforms the workplace for everyone who interacts with her. “Ivy is the best,” attested Kristoffer Ricasata, operations coordinator for the VCU Health Hub. “Time and time again, Ivy exercises a level of commitment and care for our community, whether through her role at the hub or through her advocacy outside our walls. It is her compassion and her deep sense of humanity that elevates her work far beyond what my words can capture.”

“Ivy is an amazing community health worker who consistently works hard and is extremely dedicated to her clients,” shared Shannon Johnson, administrative coordinator for the VCU Health Hub. “I have witnessed Ivy go above and beyond for each community member she helps at the VCU Health Hub. Community members will frequently stop past the hub to update her on their progress towards employment, securing housing, and their overall health and wellness goals. As a new grandmother, her maternal love and dedication to serve others does not go unnoticed. We’re really fortunate to have her on our team.”

Ivy Bell, wearing a yellow and black plaid top, smiles while speaking to a community organizer wearing a red baseball cap and cream sweater.
Bell (left) speaks with community organizer Omari Al-Qadaffi (right) while filming Ivy’s Corner, a weekly livestream where Bell discusses health and wellness resources such as housing, transportation and food.

For Bell, those moments when people stop by with positive life updates are what makes her job so worthwhile. “When people come back and tell me how they’re doing and they look good and they’re feeling great, and they come up and they say thank you, that’s when I know I’ve really made an impact on someone’s life,” she said.

Through her years of serving the community, if there’s one thing she’s learned, it’s that “Everybody’s not the same. [I’ve learned to] just be open-minded and understanding. You never know, you can make someone’s day with just a, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How are you feeling?’”

“I want to show others in the community that you can do anything you put your mind to. And to trust the resources that you have in the community. And most of all I want the East End/Church Hill residents to know that I believe in them and want to see them doing great things here as well.”

Editor’s Note: Diversity Drives Excellence Profiles introduce you to some of the diverse faculty and staff members whose work makes VCU such an uncommon and amazing university. The Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) publishes the profiles on its blog and promotes them across its social media channels. Please send questions or comments about this series to  

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