POLI Alumni Spotlight: Evan Kaufman

*Original article published on HAS.VCU.EDU can be viewed here*

Alumnus Brings Diplomacy Skills to Local Downtown Project

Evan Kaufman began his student career at VCU thinking he would pursue a degree in business. After a few courses in the Political Science department, he declared the subject as his major and earned his degree from the College of Humanities & Sciences in 2007. Evan remembers that VCU was an amazing experience and his “time at a four-year institution was so important as a period of personal growth.” To complete final credits for his degree, Evan committed his last semester of school to a study abroad program in China. Splitting time between Shanghai and Beijing, Evan took courses at Fudan University and Beijing Foreign Studies University and perfected the two semesters of Chinese that he had taken back at VCU. The group of ten students on the trip formed a great bond during the semester, traveling the country, some ultimately extending their stay to look for teaching positions. Rather than continue in an urban center like a number of his classmates, Evan opted to move to Lanxi, Zhejiang to get a better taste of the authentic Eastern culture that he had grown to love. For a span of six months, Evan taught English to the community through a local school, mentoring elementary through adult students, and also had the opportunity to teach and receive training in a neighboring Shaolin Kung Fu school.

After returning to the states, Evan spent a brief time in Northern California before deciding to venture to Israel for a visit with family and ultimately a master’s degree in diplomacy and conflict resolution from The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Looking to settle into a career, Evan once again headed back to the states, landing in Richmond because of the unique opportunities available to young graduates.

After a chance visit to a Rotary Club meeting, Evan learned about the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, a grassroots effort to revitalize and reinvigorate the downtown area of Hopewell, Virginia. He began as a volunteer for the project, helping the city to write an application for designation as a Virginia Main Street site, a preservation-based economic and community development program offered through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. Growing his role from volunteer to independent contractor, Evan was granted the position of Executive Director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership by the Hopewell City Council in 2011.

Over the past three years, he has seen a number of improvements in downtown Hopewell including a rising occupancy rate in commercial spaces, the opening of a branch of the Regional Appomattox Library and the historic Beacon Theater, as well as a growing sense of civic pride amongst Hopewell’s citizens. “The downtown is a representation of its community and its economic revitalization is a process without a deadline.” Working with local citizens, building owners, potential entrepreneurs, grantors, developers, city council members and volunteers, Evan has brought together a community under the banner of a common goal. He notes that it was helpful to come to the project with a fresh perspective, “making everything possible,” from shepherding grants to rehabilitate storefronts, meeting with prospective retail tenants to hosting city festivals and managing a new entrepreneurial startup competition called “Ignite Hopewell.”

The scope of Evan’s experiences that began on an international scale may have narrowed to focus on a local community but that doesn’t undercut its impact. ”The biggest change I’ve seen is the community’s attitude about their downtown which is, in a lot of ways, the face of their community.”

To learn more about Evan’s work on the Downtown Hopewell Partnership, visit http://hopewelldowntown.com/.