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Why Bobby Junes wants to be voice for Richmond’s voiceless

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RICHMOND, Va. — While Bobby Junes is far behind the frontrunners in the Richmond mayoral race, he still wants to be a helping hand for the city’s less fortunate residents. Over the years he has built a reputation for doing so.

Junes has been a familiar face at the Red Door Soup Kitchen, a weekly program that helps feed the homeless on Friday afternoons at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Despite his decision to run for mayor, the retired real estate consultant can still be found there every Friday helping out and keeping the homeless company.

“He does a lot,” said Molly Howle, head volunteer of the program’s soup kitchen. “He helps serve, he cuts and serves the cornbread, he helps with the washing and the drying, and he comes out and talks to some of our guests.”

She praised Junes’ eagerness as a volunteer, saying he is “enthusiastic, a hard-worker, interested in what we’re doing and interested in our guests.”

Junes feels a personal connection to the people that he helps. After all, the 60-year-old Henrico native is no stranger to living in poverty, having grown up poor himself. He was raised with meager means by his single mother. His father passed away when Junes was just two years old.

“Most of my clothes were my brother’s clothes. I had to wear his jackets, his pants, and his shoes. We slept in bunk beds,” Junes said. “Those years of having nothing really made me astute to the plea and ply of the lower income and people in poverty.”

After graduating from Hampden-Sydney College and still living in Richmond, an old girlfriend convinced Junes to join her in feeding the homeless.

“I just got out of college. My whole life has been through low income and low poverty,” Junes said. “I finally felt like I got out in life and got, you know, as a young person, you wanna get out and go do things.”

But he reluctantly agreed to go with her anyway.

It was during his first volunteer experience feeding the homeless that he realized the extent of which many Richmond residents lived in poverty.

“We were looking at people who were unemployed, homeless, mentally ill, or had some type of addictive problem,” Junes said. “That was where I got my first exposure.”

While he had grown up on the poverty line, he felt that the people he was helping had it much worse than he did.

“It’s heads or tails when you have to go out every night on the streets, get a place to sleep, food, clothes, the whole nine yards,” Junes said.

Junes’ political career was sparked by his upbringing in poverty and a single-parent home, and his experience feeding the homeless in Monroe Park. It started to take off when he helped Pat O’Bannon get elected to the Henrico Board of Supervisors, her first time running for office.

“I was basically her campaign manager,” Junes said. He added that O’Bannon was extremely grateful for the help he gave her, and told him she would put him on any board he would like to serve on. It was at this point Junes became the Recreation Parks Commissioner for Henrico County, serving for 10 years.

“It’s an inside shot when you can work with the Board of Supervisors,” Junes said. “It’s one thing to work for the city, but it’s another thing to work with the Board of Supervisors who are actually making the major decisions on what’s going to happen. I really had an inside perspective.”

Junes worked with Habitat For Humanity in the Richmond area as well.

“My development experience really came into play there, big time,”said Junes, who had earned a Master’s Degree in business administration from VCU. “That was exactly what they needed, someone in the role of project director, and that was the role I was able to play.”

While working for Habitat for Humanity, Junes said his friend Alex Alexander, a local developer and apartment complex owner, donated 25 lots to Junes, who in turn donated them to the organization. It marked the first time Habitat For Humanity built a resident sub-division in the Richmond area.

“Typically it would be a mother, a single-parent, with two or three kids, who would get the house,” Junes said. “A two-bedroom or three-bedroom house with about 1,200 square feet is what we would build.”

Junes added that all the people had to pay for were materials for the house. There were no building costs, because Habitat For Humanity’s volunteers built the houses themselves.

Junes said he feels that the people living in poverty and homelessness need someone to represent them in government, and he thinks he’s the best person to represent them.

“I’m starting to pick up my political aspirations, because I see such a discrepancy between those who have and those who do not have,” Junes said.

Junes was one of those who opposed the Maymont Park Foundation’s plan to put a new maintenance facility in Byrd Park. He became a third party advocate for the issue because of his background as Henrico County’s Recreation Park’s Commissioner, attending many meetings over a span of 14 months.

“The situation was not typical, but not atypical of what I would have to handle in Henrico County,” Junes said.

Byrd Park is adjacent to Hampton Street which is a single-family home neighborhood. Neighbors, homeowner’s associations and nonprofits stood up against the building of the facility in Byrd Park. But in the end, the planning commission allowed Maymont Park Foundation to build the facility in Byrd Park, despite the complaints and protests of surrounding residents and other organizations.

“When that many people stand up in opposition to something, the planning commission certainly needs to see the voter, not to Maymont Park Foundation’s goals and wishes,” Junes said. “Not only that, Maymont Park Foundation had 100 acres and Maymont Park could go stick the maintenance facility anywhere they wanted to, but they decided to stick it right in Byrd Park.”

What happened with Byrd Park was a major reason why Junes decided to run for mayor. The education issue in Richmond was another.

“Education has fallen way down. Currently 38 percent of the students in city schools come from impoverished, lower income or poverty neighborhoods,” Junes said. “You also have single-parent families, which means typically it's a mother with two or three kids, and this is for about 45 percent of the population.”

Junes said he has experience in both areas, believing he can bring his personal experience to the table when planning to revamp the public school system in the city.

“What typically happens is a young couple moves to Richmond with no kids,” Junes said. “They get married, then they have kids, and by the time the children hit middle school, most of them, seriously considering either one, put the child in a private school, which is a rather expensive proposition, or they move out of the city. And why should a city lose this?”

Junes wants to get a commission together which would include the School Board of Supervisors, the School Board and City Council. He wants the different boards to work together to improve education in Richmond.

“At the beginning of each city council meeting, we would take on those items that are related to the education department,” said Junes.

With recent polls showing Junes with less than one percent of the vote in the mayoral race, he still stands by his idea of doing whatever he can to help people in the Richmond area. Junes feels strongly that the people living in poverty need someone to represent them in government, and that he should be the one to do it.

By James Miessler and Natalie Quinn (Special to WTVR.com)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story. The class will profile each Richmond mayoral candidate in the coming days.