Kristina Cotis Hamlett ’05 transferred to Shenandoah University because she wanted a smaller school atmosphere. “I want everyone to know that Shenandoah is what you make it,” said Hamlett. “For me, I found friends on the football team and in the conservatory. I volunteered, had a work study and even on some of those quieter nights, my friends and I still had a lot of fun.”
Some of Hamlett’s fondest memories of her time at the university were watching her friends perform, attending Caribbean Dance Night and traveling to Costa Rica on a mission trip. She also enjoyed being a religion minor with her Christianity and African American Experience class having a great impact on her. Hamlett says that former Philosophy & Religion Professor Barry Penn-Hollar challenged her to examine her faith traditions as a Haitian-American woman. In 2005, she was awarded Student of the Year by the Religion Department.
Hamlett works for the Opportunity Alliance Reentry (OAR) of Richmond, which is a reentry non-profit that assists people in rebuilding their lives after being released from correctional facilities. In her position, she interviews the clients as part of the intake process. In addition, Hamlett has helped with case management duties and created a weekly writing program for clients.
Hamlett is a writer, too. She has published two books, blogs regularly and facilitates community writing workshops. Hamlett’s newest book of poetry and prose, “She Lives Here” was released on March 15, 2021, with L10 Press. It is available on lifein10minutes.com, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is one of the proudest moments of her life.
Some of the most rewarding experiences in her position at OAR of Richmond are seeing clients feeling welcomed and hopeful about the possibility of a second chance. Hamlett feels this way when she facilitates writing workshops as well. “If a student feels like they’re connected and hopeful while engaged in the writing process, I know I have done my job,” said Hamlett.
She also found it gratifying to be selected to participate in The Storyteller Project for Women of Color at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa and have her digital story published in Liminalities.
Hamlett believes that her Shenandoah education prepared her for her career because she felt that her professors truly wanted her to succeed in finding her voice and cultivating her talent. Furthermore, her time at the university gave her a diverse cultural experience because her roommates were from Japan, she went on a mission trip to Costa Rica and she volunteered at a local non-profit for migrants in Winchester.
“Shenandoah is a small school that opened me up to a bigger world,” said Hamlett. “I believe that is part of the reason why I am not so fearful of charging down new paths.”
Hamlett’s advice to students is: “Never stop trying to find the place where you feel like you belong and don’t be afraid to fail. It took me years to find a human services organization and a writing community where I thrived. Please give yourself the opportunity to find the same.”
Written by Harley Ryan ’16
Assistant Director of Donor & Alumni Relations