A group of students used fall break as an opportunity to break out of the campus bubble and engage with the city of Richmond through a university-sponsored program focused on the environment, arts and community.

Over three days, the group's activities included visits to the James River, Folk Festival, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Capitol.

The first trip, on Saturday was to the South of the James Farmer's Market, an open-air market in Forest Hill Park where farmers and artisans sell locally grown and handmade items, such as baskets, wine and t-shirts, said senior Jolmi Minaya Suriel. Each vendor had a unique product that somehow represented Virginia, he said.

The group explored the VMFA on Sunday, followed by a visit to ArtWorks, a center that provides local artists with studio space, Minaya Suriel said.

"We were walking into each artist's creative space and observing their works," Minaya Suriel said. "Some of the artists were there working and we could see them in the act of putting to life their creativity."

The art-focused day continued with a visit to the Folk Festival, which featured musicians from countries throughout the world, including Haiti, Cuba, Brazil and Iraq, Minaya Suriel said.

The multicultural presence was not limited to the Folk Festival, Minaya Suriel said. Most of the students who attended the program were international students, including people from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said.

On Monday, the group participated in a service trip to the Rollerdome, an indoor roller skating area, with Church Hill Activities and Tutoring, Jess Hofbauer, a coordinator from the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, said. CHAT provides a safe place for children to go after school and receive homework help, one-on-one tutoring, and mentoring in practical skills, she said.

Five Richmond students, including four international students and one American, skated with about 100 children aged 5 to 18, Hofbauer said.

"We held the hands of the little ones as they learned how to balance," Hofbauer said. "And we did the cha-cha slide with the older kids to earn the grand prize of a snow cone."

CHAT staff members also showed Richmond students the Church Hill neighborhood during a driving tour, which highlighted the entrenched poverty of the area, she said.

"The event was a success and not only helped the UR students see another side of Richmond, but also showed them the joy to the human spirit," Hofbauer said.

Finally making the time to get to know the city of Richmond beyond Richmond's campus before graduation was the main benefit of the trip, Minaya Suriel said. The university's distance from the city and student-athlete obligations had made getting off campus hard over the years, he said.

"I did not want to graduate without knowing the city I have lived in for the last three years," Minaya Suriel said. "Students should not take their time here for granted because there is so much to do and see other than the clubs and bars, and it would be to their benefit to explore it."

Fall Break in Richmond is a collaborative effort between the Division of Student Development and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.

Contact reporter Jenna Robinson at jenna.robinson@richmond.edu