The Importance of Mentorship

The Importance of Mentorship

On today, National Mentoring Day, Aliyah shares about the importance of mentorship and her experience.


When I was in high school, my mom convinced me to join a dual-enrollment vocational program that would allow me to spend half of the school day learning drafting skills. I spent my junior year in engineering design as a prerequisite for the architectural design class I took in my senior year. Both classes were taught by a Black architect. It was the first and last time I had a Black teacher in my architectural education. At the time I did not take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the road ahead of me, and though I am not one for regrets, I do wish that I had.

I did not make meaningful connections with Black mentors or professors until my final year of undergrad at UVA.  I ran into some difficulty with my undergraduate design thesis, which aimed to design a Black student center for the school. I was in desperate need of extra opinions on my work from people who understood where I came from.  Fortunately, there were three Black faculty members at the time that I could talk to outside of class.

I am not the best when it comes to networking. However, this is not because I am not good at talking to and connecting with people. It’s because I generally prefer to be on my own, so my people skills often only come out when they must. Learning to depend on others has been an important part of my journey and takes work every day. The time I spent talking to those people in school affirmed my experiences and encouraged me to continue doing my best despite the obstacles I was facing. They helped equip me with tools to defend myself and the conditions I set for my project.

When I finally had the opportunity to talk with Black advisors, I realized how much easier my time in undergrad could have been. It changed my outlook on my future as a designer and storyteller for the better. Finding people who have gained wisdom from being in the positions that you want to be in is invaluable. They can point you in the right direction for ideas, inspiration, and solutions. Mentorship is a major key to success and using the knowledge of those who came before you can prevent a lot of heartache and headaches.

Aliyah with her teacher in highschool. She holds a poster while winning third in a high school design competition.

Pictured, Aliyah with her high school teacher after she placed 3rd in a regional design competition during her senior year.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Luncheon 2023: “It Takes Little to Be Big”

Big Brothers Big Sisters Luncheon 2023: “It Takes Little to Be Big”

Last Thursday our Harrisonburg team attended the Big Brothers Big Sisters luncheon, “Bigger Together: A Community Celebration of Mentoring.” It was a wonderful time to meet other leaders in the community and hear from Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) mentors. Speakers shared about their time mentoring youth in the community, and a theme that came through was that mentors were pleasantly surprised to be greatly impacted by the youth that they were paired with. Often, their relationships last past the program with a great respect for each other and a want to continue making meaningful connections. 

Harrisonburg team members at the Big Brothers Big Sisters Luncheon.
Big Brothers Big Sisters sponsorship sign at the luncheon.

A central theme of the luncheon was “It Takes Little to Be Big.” This simple fact was a good reminder and impactful to our team members. The speaker emphasized that it’s often not the grandiose or “big” moments that are impactful, but the seemingly small actions. A high-five, laugh together, 15 minutes supporting studying, cheering each other on, providing a listening ear, and the list goes on. Asha reflected, “I am often surprised to be going about my day and have a little voice of something someone said once go through my head. These small things impact me greatly, sometimes in negative ways, but often in positive ways. Or at least they provide me with a laugh. I was glad to be reminded of all the small things that we do that we may never know positively impact each other.”

It is always a pleasure to support such an incredible organization, and we are so grateful for all that they do to bring the community together and support youth. Consider joining the mentorship program or volunteering in other ways. Remember that you don’t have to commit to doing something huge, because sometimes it only takes a little to be big. To read more about the programs through BBBS, visit:

Big Giver Contest for Big Brothers Big Sisters!

Big Giver Contest for Big Brothers Big Sisters!

It’s once again time for the Big Giver Contest, sponsored by Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union, and for you to vote for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County! If (read: when) they have the most votes by March 31st, they will win $10,000, which will go to mentoring services to local youth. Cast your vote here today! It only takes a minute or two to vote – please vote!

Poster with a link to vote for Big Brothers Big Sisters in the COFCU Big Givers Contest.

We have partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) many times in the past and enjoy participating in their Mini Golf for Kid’s Sake and Bowl for Kid’s Sake events.

They are a wonderful organization who support one-to-one mentoring for local youth and match youth to local mentors. They have a number of program options that are based in every elementary and middle school in the area, community-based, and everything in between. Their intentional care and support for the community is evident and we thank them for that.

There are many youth waiting to be matched with a mentor, and just a simple vote will help with this matching process. BBBS is especially in need of male mentors because of the nearly double amount of boys than girls on the waiting list, so consider volunteering if you’re able. Check out this link for more ways to get involved with BBBS!

On the Road Collaborative at the Depot

On the Road Collaborative at the Depot

On The Road Collaborative students with Asha and Charles

The Gaines Group has had a long-standing partnership with On The Road Collaborative and we could not be more excited to be a part of it again this year! On the Road Collaborative (OTRC) is an organization that gives middle and high-school students educational and hands-on opportunities outside of school, and their commitment to the youth and community, both in the future and in the here and now, is inspiring.

Throughout the years, we have participated in many opportunities with students, including a class on architecture as a career option to Skyline middle-schoolers that was led by Deborah and Charles in 2016 and a sustainable farm house tour in partnership with Eric Beck with Beck Builders. This year, Deborah is teaching another class about architecture called Design Hive to middle-schoolers from Skyline Middle School.

In this class, they’ll be learning about what architecture is and how it affects our communities and day to day lives. They’ll also learn the process of becoming an architect and what an architect does by going through the design process and understanding the thoughts and decisions that go into designing a building.

This week, we hosted these students at the Depot, our office building. Here Charles gave a tour to talk about the rich history of the building that used to be a railroad station. He showed them the many items, sketches, and photos that we have preserved here, as well as details of structural preservation: sections of floor that are different colors, charred doorframes, and old windows without panes. The students enjoyed interacting with the window especially, as you can see below.

Looking through the old pane-less window.

Touring the structure outside.

When asked what made her want to teach this class, Deborah said that “it’s fun to share about what I do with a group of students that are interested in learning about architecture.” Passing on excitement for design and giving opportunities for exposure to architecture for younger students is something that is very important to us.

Deborah is also structuring the class so that in the second half of the session, students will get a taste of what a college architecture studio class might be like. Students will work to create a neighborhood of houses designed by them. This neighborhood project is based on a similar project that her studio worked on during her time at Virginia Tech. They’ll draw out plans of their houses and then make cardboard models to see the neighborhood in 3D. We can’t wait to see what they create!

Design is everywhere, and whether or not each participating student decides to go into an architectural or design field, we hope that the experience enriches their understanding of how design impacts their daily lives. Awareness of this can be applicable to any field, and we’re grateful to OTRC for giving us this opportunity to meet these bright students from the community and pass on some of this knowledge. Check out their website to see how you can get more involved with OTRC!

A healthy, vibrant, and livable community pays a Living Wage

A healthy, vibrant, and livable community pays a Living Wage

We feel the challenges faced in our community every day as we work to build a better community. In today’s climate, there is a shortage of affordable housing, flexible childcare, efficient transportation options, and food accessibility challenges. We know these problems can be solved and there are good people determined to find solutions, but complications continue to hinder progress. These are not simple challenges, but rather systemic problems with many challenges and barriers to face before finding a solution. We want to be a part of the solution and believe that paying a living wage is essential to building a healthy, vibrant, and livable community. Thus, we are encouraging business owners to begin the journey of paying a living wage and spread the message about its importance.

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Living Wage Certification serves to enhance the health, vitality, and livability of our community. Foundationally, our team at Gaines Group Architects strives to build a better community through design, this guides our decisions in projects, pro-bono work, and where we invest our time and resources. Our mission gives us a baseline in accomplishing business ethically and with care, which led us to learn more about obtaining the Living Wage Gold Certification. We understand there is a relationship between thriving team and community members who feel valued for their contributions and the subsequent positive impacts on our client’s experience.

As an architecture firm, we exceeded the baseline for gold-level certification without modifying pay scales. The process of learning about the impacts of paying a fair wage gave us the opportunity to engage in intentional and clarifying discussions concerning our most valuable asset: our team members. We are accustomed to adjusting pay rates along with advancement in careers and inflation, but this was the first time we discussed what it takes to live comfortably in a community. Some of the areas we identified as essential in promoting quality of life ranged from access to childcare, the ability to pay utility bills, or appropriately budget for groceries.

Paying a living wage directly affects the overall community and supports a robust local economy. There is a chain reaction that occurs when we invest in our workforce, and we encourage all businesses in Harrisonburg and Rockingham to consider this certification. Even if your organization is unable to currently meet the standard, it will open up a thoughtful conversation about the cost of living in our community. For more information on this program, visit or watch the video here

Small Business Week: Restless Moons

Small Business Week: Restless Moons

Today we will be discussing a favorite small business Restless Moons! Restless Moons is a one-of-a-kind brewery that opened in February of 2018, located in downtown Harrisonburg. Customers often come for the limited edition experimental brews and stay for the exceptional staff. The bartenders that work at Restless Moons make an effort to not only be friendly with customers but to build friendships beyond the bar. Aside from the people who work to keep this brewery running smoothly, the location itself provides a cozy open atmosphere, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an open backyard (now featuring igloos!).

Aside from the inviting people and atmosphere, the hand-crafted beers are something to rave about. This dream has been in the making since almost 2008 and began with an at-home beer kit and a creative brewer. Their team also features custom flavors that have been inspired by their own family members and life events/occasions. You have to be sure to keep an eye on the rotation because as soon as these experimental brews are here they’re gone and replaced with a whole new batch of flavors!

You can learn more about the history of Restless Moons here, and keep up with what they have on tap.