When students leave the University of Richmond campus, they typically go to fun, trendy spots such as Carytown, the Fan district or Maymont Park. Most are unaware that the up-and-coming city of Richmond has the second highest poverty rate in the state of Virginia. 

However, UR students can help make the city of Richmond an all-around thriving and wonderful place for everyone who calls it home.

Through UR's Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), students have the opportunity to engage with more than 60 community partner organizations. One of these non-profit organizations is the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond, which mentors youth who grow up in impoverished areas.

The mission of Youth Life is to “develop leaders by making long-term investments in children from at-risk communities.”  More than 105 UR students are already volunteering on a weekly basis, Cassie Price, the Community Initiatives and Program Manager of the CCE, said.

One of the most passionate Youth Life volunteers is Cassie Gilboy, WC ’19. 

Gilboy joined after discovering the organization through tabling and speaking with Jess Gallo, the former president of Youth Life, in the Tyler Haynes Commons. Initially, Gilboy wanted to get involved with Youth Life to complement her education studies.

Gilboy was soon paired with her mentee, a first-grade girl who was struggling in school, and became immensely invested in her.

“When she first came to the learning center two years ago, she didn’t know the difference between letters and numbers and she didn’t know how to spell her name," Gilboy said.

The majority of Youth Life's students are raised in the housing projects of Richmond, which are neighborhoods plagued with highly concentrated poverty rates. Because of this, many residents do not have access to the resources and support necessary to learn and grow.


Photo courtesy of Cassie Gilboy.


With the help of the Youth Life Foundation and reliable, committed mentors such as Gilboy, children in these disadvantaged neighborhoods can get the extra help they need in an intimate setting. This model is working, as demonstrated by the improvements made by Gilboy's student, as well as many others like her.

“Now she is almost reading on grade level, which is very rare for kids in Title 1 schools, and is a year ahead in math, which is so exciting," Gilboy said about her mentee.

Gilboy has not only acted as a tutor and homework helper, but has also served as a strong and steady life mentor for her student. She helped her mentee overcome personal issues, such as when her family lost their home last year.

“She has still been able to grow and flourish thanks to Youth Life,” Gilboy said. “It’s good for her to just have someone who shows up in her life and who is constant.”

Gilboy explained how much she has gained from this experience, and how her involvement with the Youth Life Foundation has been mutually beneficial and has helped her discern her career path.

“I look forward to seeing [my mentee] every single week. She’s the reason I want to be a teacher,” Gilboy said.

Gilboy was excited to share that the Youth Life Foundation is expanding and will begin to serve neighborhoods in the Southside of Richmond in the upcoming year. With the expansion, however, comes a greater need for student volunteers to serve as mentors.

“We always need mentors,” Gilboy said. “The goal is for every child to have a mentor every single day.” 

Contact features writer Sydney Lake at sydney.lake@richmond.edu.

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