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Preparing the next generation of leaders

Madison House service inspires alumna on Forbes' "30 under 30" list to become local non-profit director

When Tamara Wilkerson Dias came to UVA as a first-year student, she knew she wanted to get involved with community service programs.

“When you’re at UVA and you want to do community service, where do you go?” Tamara says. “You go to Madison House.”

As a Madison House volunteer, Tamara tutored students at local Jackson-Via Elementary School, and participated in Madison House’s Holiday Sharing — a program that collects thousands of donations like food and gifts to distribute to hundreds of local families during the holiday season. Tamara says volunteering with Madison House gave her the opportunity to get to know the Charlottesville community beyond UVA.

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"When you're at UVA and want to do community service, where do you go? You go to Madison House."

“I stepped outside of living on-Grounds and being a student here, and really saw what was happening in the community,” Tamara says. “That’s when I realized I had a passion for the Charlottesville community.”

After graduating from the Curry School of Education with her master’s in foreign language education, Tamara was accepted as a fellow in the African American Teaching Fellows (AATF)— a Charlottesville non-profit that recruits, supports, develops, and retains a cadre of African American teachers to serve local public schools. Tamara taught Spanish for four years to middle school students in Albemarle County and Charlottesville City schools

Nearly 30% of students in Charlottesville and Albemarle County are African American, yet less than 10% of their teachers are. Tamara — now the executive director of the AATF — wants to see those numbers change. She wants to break stereotypes and change stigmas, to engage students and inspire future leaders.

Fourteen educators in the Charlottesville-Albemarle region are AATF graduates, and Tamara wants to find more ways to support these alumni Fellows.

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"I want to invest in the teachers we've recruited so they want to make a long-term impact, and get our mission out into the community."

“My biggest goal is to get an alumni program off the ground, with more professional development now that [the Fellows] have been in the classroom,” Tamara says. “I want to invest in the teachers we’ve recruited so they want to make a long-term impact, and get our mission out into the community.”

Being named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in the education category has also helped shine light on Tamara’s drive and goals for AATF. Over 15,000 people nationwide are nominated, and Tamara says she was “shocked” to land on the final list.

“It came right along at a time when I needed a boost to remind myself that the work I’m doing is valuable non-profit work,” Tamara says — which isn’t easy, she adds. Tamara encourages students interested in pursuing public service to remember that their work will always make an impact.

“Look for something at the end of the day that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something bigger than yourself,” Tamara says. “We all want to be Oprah. Oprah wasn’t Oprah when she was 25.”

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"Look for something at the end of the day that makes you feel like you're accomplishing something bigger than yourself."