This article was contributed by Amanda Corbosiero
Cassie Gilboy came to UR with intentions of becoming a doctor. However, after she began volunteering, both her mind and her life were changed.
Gilboy has been volunteering at the Delmont Youth Life Foundation of Richmond Learning Center, an after-school mentoring program for children from at-risk communities since her first-year, and because of this experience, she changed her major to education.
“It has changed the way I think about social justice and education or just humans in general,” Gilboy said.
Gilboy has been mentoring an eight-year-old student named OH’Deja for the last three years.
“She has grown so much in reading and math and just as a person in the ways that she processes things and is kind to other people,” she said. “It’s been so cool.”
It was not an easy relationship for Gilboy and OH’Deja at first, but a break through occurred after Gilboy tried multiple times to show how much she cared.
“At first when I started, she wanted nothing to do with me. She was super sassy. She would tell me, ‘I hate you. I don’t want you here,’” Gilboy said. “Every single time I would drop her off I would say, ‘I love you,’ and she would never say it back. This one day I was dropping her off and I said, ‘I love you’ and she said, ‘I love you too,’ and I burst into tears.”
Gilboy said that volunteering has been made easy because of the many opportunities that UR offers.
UR’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) connects students and faculty members to civic opportunities that align with their interests in the city of Richmond.
“I think that they (The CCE) make everything so clear on the website, and the CCE people are willing to help you and want you to get involved,”Gilboy said.
Adrienne Piazza is the associate director of student engagement and the director of the Bonner Scholar program, which selects students to commit to four years of service in exchange for financial assistance.
“We have some really great resources at the University of Richmond, including the service shuttle and access to zip cars so students can often get to their first or second choice volunteer opportunity by transportation that is provided,” Piazza said.
David Brown is a Bonner Scholar at UR who volunteers between six and fourteen hours a week at Higher Achievement, mentoring fifth and eighth graders. The mission of Higher Achievement is to close the education gap in low-income communities.
“Higher achievement stuck out to me because I didn’t have a background in education or mentoring but I knew that in the classroom I would be focused a lot on policy,” Brown said. “And I felt like getting more on the personal interactive level would be an experience to learn from.”
Many students at UR, like Gilboy and Brown, volunteer in the field of education.
“I think right now our largest number of students are serving in the education realm,” Piazza said. “Whether that is in school or out of school.”
Amber Smith is the director of Delmont Youth Life Learning Center. She said her mission was to create strong relationships between the center and the students who volunteer.
“Our mission is to have long-term relationships with students, and we have had a number of UR volunteers start as freshman and continue on with our students until they graduate,” she said. “The only reason they stop coming, because for the most part, they get jobs in other places and move away.”
Many of the kids who attend the Youth Life program have faced trials and challenges in the past that sometimes affect their behavior, but the volunteers and workers at the center get to know them on a deeper level.
“They are filled with so much life and love and so much to offer and so much potential,” Smith said. “I think a lot of times people overlook that because they see some of the challenges that the kids bring to the table but once you get past that you just see the amazing individuals that they are.”
The kids at the center also look up to the student volunteers and can see examples of higher education through them.
“I had a student who visited UR and said, ‘What college is this?’ and I said, ‘University of Richmond,’ and he said, ‘I’m coming here.’ So, it inspires the kids and it also is wonderful to have those committed relationships with the University of Richmond students,” Smith said.
Volunteering has opened Brown’s eyes to the different factors that affect these children–including the influence comfort and convenient food has over kid’s behavior from low-income communities.
“I knew nutrition was important but didn’t consider how it was for everyone else,” he said. “When I went to the center I spent my dining dollars on some snacks for them, and it would always be pretzels or graham crackers. After reading this book I was like maybe it should be apples or healthier snacks.”
Brown did not think that a simple act of bringing in snacks for his students could truly affect them.
“One of my scholars told me I really appreciate that you bring these snacks and I’m always hungry, and then my snap call question was is there no food at home? I asked that without realizing the consequences of asking it and at that point the scholar put his head down on the table,” Brown said. “It forces you to realize you come from a different background.”
Though there is knowledge to gain on UR’s campus, volunteering has offered these students outside opportunities that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“I feel like I won’t remember what I learned in classes probably in 20 years, but I’ll remember OH’Deja forever,” Gilboy said.