BLACKSBURG, Va. — J. Pearson wanted to do something to recognize his mother for everything that she did to raise him and his two sisters.
When John Dooley, former CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, floated the idea of naming the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center’s Performing Arts Complex for Bernice Pearson, J. Pearson almost fell on the floor.
“It was just perfect,” J. Pearson said.
“To give back and name it after mom because of the performing arts she did all those years, it’s just a dream come true,” he continued. “We’re able to do it through Virginia Tech because of the 4-H connection.”
The gift from J. and Renae Pearson will fund a complete renovation and modernization of the performing arts complex, carried out in three steps.
The first is to renovate the building and amphitheater and add green rooms, a place where performers can relax when not performing. Once these spaces are functioning again, the second phase adds some short-term housing for seasonal staff, which opens up additional space for campers during the summer. The third and final phase will update the sound and lighting with state-of-the-art technology to enable performances, including a summer concert series.
After the renovations are complete, another goal of the project is to provide 4-Hers at the center with hands-on learning in the performing arts.
“Performing arts technology has changed so much over the years,” J. Pearson said. “We’re putting in the technology to give youth the opportunity to get experience and training on current audio-visual equipment to give them a leg up as they begin pursuit of their careers.”
Bernice Pearson was a longtime 4-H volunteer in Fauquier County. There, she ran a traveling 4-H performing arts group called Young Dominion that attended various competitions – including ones out-of-state. Her work gave youth new experiences and helped kick-start an interest in the arts for many of them.
One member of the group, Michael Williams, is a local schoolteacher who now brings his students to the 4-H center that will now bear Bernice Pearson’s name, showing how Pearson’s impact has spanned generations.
At the unveiling of the Bernice Pearson Performing Arts Complex – which was kept a surprise to its namesake – Dooley attended in addition to friends and family. When Bernice Pearson attended the unveiling, she was ecstatic as she relived her time as a volunteer with 4-H and the legacy she left at the ceremony.
“Renae and J.’s generous gift to the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center honors the remarkable legacy of years of 4-H volunteer service of his mother by providing current and future generations wonderful facilities in which to learn and enjoy the performing arts,” Dooley said.
Because of the Pearson’s gift, youth can run a sound system, microphones, an amplified signing and talking system, and stage lights. The center will provide multiple opportunities for youth to explore their performing arts interests and hone their abilities.
“We are incredibly thankful for the generosity of Renae and J. Pearson and of the many years of service that Bernice gave to 4-H,” said Jeremy Johnson, state 4-H leader. “It’s because of people like her that 4-H is able to have such a meaningful impact on the lives of our youth, and this gift enables us to influence youth for years to come.”
The gift also enables a lasting revenue stream for the center. The amphitheater has been available for the community to rent as an event space, but this is limited because of the available amenities. With the gift, the space will be usable by additional groups, helping the center to raise additional money while also reaching the surrounding community in new and lasting ways.
“This gift changes the trajectory of the center,” said Katie Tennant, the center’s program director. “It allows us to become a community focal point and to be a destination for the people we serve. We’re incredibly thankful for the Pearson’s generosity and for the lasting impact they will have on countless people.”
–Zeke Barlow, Virginia Tech