Making a Lasting Difference

 In Board Profiles, Stories

Early retirement left Michael Littleton in search of a way to make an impact. He found it in Richmond Promise.

Michael Littleton (second from right) poses for a group photo at the Cheers for the Promise event in 2023.

Michael Littleton (second from right) poses for a group photo at the Cheers for the Promise event in 2023.

Over the last seven years, Richmond Promise has provided resources and support to thousands of college students from Richmond. That work has benefited from the support of many community partners, but none have been more dedicated to the organization’s success than Richmond Promise’s Board of Directors. Over the next few months, we will introduce you to this passionate and dedicated group with a series of profiles that highlight their work and showcase their commitment to young people in Richmond.

When he stepped down from his post as Senior Vice President of Finance at Berkeley’s Gu Energy Labs, Michael Littleton knew he had more to give.

Though health issues forced him to re-evaluate how he would spend the remainder of his professional life, Littleton wanted to make a difference in a different way. 

He’d enjoyed his entire 10-year tenure at Gu Energy, a company that focuses on sports nutrition products, but his desire to give back to the community led Littleton to the conclusion that perhaps putting his time and energy into supporting a nonprofit organization might be a good fit.

Enter Richmond Promise.

Having moved to Richmond in 2011, Littleton knew a bit about the community even if he wasn’t exactly familiar with Richmond Promise itself. A conversation with a colleague at Gu Energy put him in touch with the Promise’s first executive director, Jessie Stewart, and he eventually joined on to provide some assistance with budgeting and financial forecasting.

As he got more involved, the mission of promoting a college graduating culture began to ring especially true. A native of the United Kingdom, Littleton attended Bristol Polytechnic (now called University of the West of England) in the mid-1980s. 

Though his parents both had completed some postsecondary education, many of Littleton’s contemporaries at Bristol did not come from that type of background. At that time, less than 20 percent of children in England went to university.

Learning alongside individuals with different backgrounds helped shape his outlook on the value of higher education. At the same time, Littleton would also find out later in life that he dealt with an undiagnosed learning disability, another hurdle for which he now understands additional assistance makes a huge difference.

“I was in a place where a lot of people were ‘first gen’ and certainly first gen in college,” Littleton said. “So, it was a big change. And I respect that I’m coming from a position of privilege. I had a learning disability, but I was able to get through because I had other resources.” 

Those experiences helped shape the ways in which Littleton would later seek to give back to his community. 

In getting involved with Richmond Promise, Littleton saw an organization that worked directly with students from all backgrounds to provide a wide range of resources. That broad-based approach stood out, and attracted Littleton to become even more involved.

“Within the city of Richmond, there’s a certain number of high school students that would go to college without the Richmond Promise,” Littleton said. “But, by reducing the amount of college loans they come out with, that’s a positive thing that gives them a few more options as they come out.

“Where I’m really sort of focused, and what I really liked about the mission, was when you create this sort of further education culture, you start to draw in the people that aren’t traditionally going to further education. And for me, that’s the real payoff.”

As Littleton sees it, the future is bright for Richmond Promise. As more and more resources become available for students from a variety of different organizations, the ability to marshal those efforts all in the same direction represents an opportunity for RP to continue to play the role of leader in the community.

And, as more Promise Scholars graduate college and return to their hometown, they begin to reinvest in the community they came from. 

That’s a cycle that not only establishes a college-graduating culture.

It also keeps on giving.

Recent Posts