A group of University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University students is striving to make a difference in the city's low-income communities by working one-on-one with struggling residents to help them achieve economic stability and pursue expanded opportunities.
National Student Partnerships was founded in 1998 by two Yale University undergraduates who saw a wide economic gap between their college and the city surrounding it. The students recognized the impact the skills they'd gained in school would have on the community, so they designed a program in which volunteers could personally coordinate access to employment opportunities and social services for people in need.
Today, NSP has grown to 12 offices located in major metropolitan areas across the country. Richmond sophomore Jaime Calero is one of the 15 volunteers working in Richmond's downtown office.
"People come to us for help on housing, legal advice -- things like that," Calero said. "We help them write their resumes, set up e-mail accounts, direct them to social services. We either help them out personally or find a place that can help them. It's great, I feel like I'm actually doing something."
Senior Leona Chan has been with NSP for three years, first getting involved with the program through the Bonner Scholars. She spent around nine hours a week at the office, seeing more than 100 people each semester, she said.
The one-on-one sessions NSP could provide to people are what make the program special, Chan said.
"If they go to the Department of Social Services, they're not going to get that one-on-one attention," Chan said. "They don't have the resources for that, so we're someone they can talk to. Sometimes they would come just to stop by and say, 'Hello.'"
Calero recalled a woman who came into the office seeking housing information and ended up talking to him about her marital problems and what to do about it.
"They come up with the challenges or the problems that they're facing and we'll come up with the solutions," he said.
Another recent client was a foreign lawyer struggling to break the language barrier that was preventing him from finding a job in Richmond. Virginia wouldn't recognize him without the proper applications, so NSP volunteers helped locate the licenses and certifications needed for him to begin practicing again.
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"There's so many different types of people we see," Calero said.
Chan said NSP fit well into President Edward Ayers' plan to establish more ties between the university and the City of Richmond.
"Our organization has been working with the Richmond community for almost 10 years and we're making a pretty good impact," she said.
But it is the current economic crisis sweeping across the nation that is keeping NSP volunteers busy. More people are coming in inquiring about homeless shelters and social services as the turmoil causes the city to cut more and more sources of aid.
"We've noticed that within the past month there's been a lot more families on the verge of getting kicked out of their homes," Calero said.
The NSP volunteers will try to raise some money to combat the city's poverty rates with a Thanksgiving benefit a capella concert, an event they've been putting on for years. The on-campus fundraiser is scheduled for Nov. 13.
Contact writer Michael Gaynor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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