WINNSBORO — Public service in small towns often requires people to wear several hats at once and that is the case for Winnsboro Chief Municipal Judge Vannessa Hollins.
Her passions in life and her ideals have led her to give back to her community in two capacities, as municipal judge and as the director of the Chameleon Inspirations Learning Center.
Back in 2008, she realized she could use her talents to make a difference in her community.
“It’s home. I felt compelled to contribute to the community and felt I should do something positive,” Hollins said.
A native of Fairfield County, she graduated Fairfield Central High School before attending college and earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration.
Hollins has served as a municipal judge in Winnsboro since 2000, and she became the town’s chief municipal judge in October of last year. As chief municipal, she has a variety of duties. Hollins embraces her position wholeheartedly.
As a child she was always interested in the educational field, and in 2008 that lingering interest in children led her to draw upon her administration background. As it turned out, her background as an administrator meshed well with her passion for children and education, a passion that led her for a time to study education in college before changing majors to criminal justice.
In 2008, she decided to help her community by founding a nonprofit service organization.
Hollins drew upon her meticulous nature, which has served her well as she follows the letter of the law in court, as she did research on how to found a nonprofit organization that would provide academic and social enrichment as well as character education for children.
Once she had the idea for the nonprofit, she researched various ways to fund it and have the program classified as a 501(c)(3) charitable group.
Her attention to detail helped when she learned of a grant funding opportunity, 21st Century Community Learning Center Grants. Those grants came with the condition that the nonprofit must partner with a school district or another organization.
So, Hollins relied on her background in administration and used the related soft skills to nurture partnerships with the school district’s superintendent and principals of the district.
“The superintendent and school principals and staff of the district have been extremely supportive of our efforts,” Hollins said.
Those efforts today include daily after school activities from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Chameleon Program students receive a healthy snack, homework assistance, educational enrichment that includes character education and enjoy fun activities. Games, written activities and group sessions where students share feelings about certain issues are some of the tools used for the character education.
Chameleon Inspirations Learning Center is a 21st Century Community Learning Center. Any student who attends a school included in the grant, in the district, that has 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch is eligible for the chameleon program.
The program has been such a success that there currently is a waiting list for students who want to attend. Registration forms are available at Fairfield Elementary School, Kelly Miller Elementary School and the Fairfield Magnet School for Math and Science. These are the partnered schools included in the grant.
Part of the grant requires parent surveys be done and Hollins said 95 percent of the parents were pleased with the program. Yearly reports of the overall grades of students, their PASS scores, discipline reports and their overall attendance are also benchmarks the program uses to measure itself.
This year the nonprofit has added a juvenile intervention program to reach out to students with behavioral issues and try to keep them on the straight and narrow. The unique approach uses visual analogies to signify particular paths and the sequence of choices that led to that outcome. The student then has the chance to play “what if,” which allows him or her to go back and undo poor decisions and replace them with choices that lead to a positive outcome.
Though the intervention program is part of the chameleon program, Hollins pointed out it was not exclusive to it. The Chameleon Program serves as a community learning center, not just an after school program. The nonprofit serves as a Benefit Bank of South Carolina site for Fairfield County.
The site assists the public with applying for assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medical Benefit Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance, into one easily accessible place. People interested in scheduling an appointment should call 803-815-0833.
The program has partnered with several other local agencies including Winnsboro Department of Public Safety, Fairfield County Library, Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department, Fairfield Behavioral Health Services, Clemson University Extension (4H) and Fairfield County Voter Registration. The listed agencies provide programs and presentations for students and families. They really appreciate the support of the agencies and would like to partner with other local agencies and businesses in the community as well.
A compassion for people and a natural inclination toward leadership, prompt Hollins to reach out to help her hometown community. With the benefit bank, the juvenile diversion program and the after school enrichment program, Hollins is giving back by helping facilitate other volunteers and educators who share the call to service.
In her judgment, these activities satisfy Hollins’ desire to serve and help elevate Fairfield County by improving the community one child and family at a time.