NORFOLK, VA – Bob Rudman paused for a temperature check and adjusted his mask and gloves at the entrance to the Norfolk Juvenile Detention Center.
His delivery for the day: pizza, sweet treats and sodas for the kids housed there. In spite of changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rudman and his church, Grace Bible on E. Little Creek Road, have continued their mission – community outreach through support for schools, especially the Norfolk Education Transition Academy at the Juvenile Detention Center.
Rudman thought he and the kids at NET would have a thriving cookie business by now. Rudman began volunteering at NET last fall, just a few months after he retired as Chief Marketing and Global Purchasing Officer from Dollar Tree, where he worked for 16 years.
His business acumen combined with life and career skills such as food prep certification taught by Norfolk Public Schools teacher Raevenna Boyd.
With the kids, they developed an entrepreneurship program that led to the creation of a cookie shop – Crumbs n More – within the detention center.
“We need them to be competitive in the workplace,” Boyd said. “They are learning all different kinds of skills.”
Students designed the business plan, decided on the brand and size of the cookies, created marketing materials, and trained in food safety. They practiced making cookies – chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter – smiling at and greeting customers, exercising customer service skills, and working the cash register.
Crumbs n More filled the facility with the glorious aroma of freshly baked cookies. They sold out of chocolate chip on their first day. The kids considered with excitement the possibility of expanding to include muffins.
They held their grand opening one week before the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures of city facilities and businesses.
Rudman paused, took a breath, and came back – this time with food for the staff and the kids at the center.
Superintendent John Bell joined the JDC two years ago, and in that time worked diligently to move the center to a three-year audit cycle. JDC earned that designation this spring, following a state review that found the facility in greater than 99 percent compliance with Department of Juvenile Justice regulations.
Bell said he’s grateful for support from Rudman and Grace Bible… even though the sweets tempt him away from his diet.
“Bob said he feels the public does not know what we try to do to treat these kids like "kids" who made mistakes,” Bell said. “People like Bob and Grace Bible minister to these kids and treat them like human beings.”
Grace Bible Outreach Director Melanie Lee said she, too, is thankful to Rudman. One of Grace Church’s top goals is to establish partnerships with schools with a higher percentage of socio-economic need and lower parental engagement. Its volunteers adopt classrooms and provide mentoring.
“We believe that every social issue that exists in our world today – from homelessness to food insecurity to racial tension to family instability and so many more – all can be found in one place, a school,” she said. “Bob loves on that building and their staff so well!”
Gus Guardino, principal of the NET Academy, said Grace Bible’s commitment helps students not just with education and experience but with recognizing their value.
“These kids are worth it,” Guardino said. “These kids, given the opportunity, can do great things. And that’s what we want to instill in them. It’s so important. Bottom line: you can do it, they can do it.”
With the NET Academy, Lee said, volunteers work closely not just with the school but with all staff and residents in the Juvenile Detention Center.
“We felt led to support both parts of the building to help create a supportive environment for all involved,” Lee said. “Our volunteers love the work they do with the students and faculty of this building so much.”
Most divisions of the Department of Human Services, including the JDC, have continued to report to work or work remotely to provide crucial services to Norfolk residents, as well as the kids in the care of the Juvenile Detention Center. Acting Director Denise Gallop smiled when she saw pictures of Rudman and his wife delivering food to the JDC.
“It continues to warm my heart that community partners recognize the hard work and dedication of those who labor on the front lines,” she said.
If pizza and cookies can make kids’ hearts warm, Rudman and Grace Bible have done that, too.wealso offer several vocational options both for hand and online opportunities.