On a fall morning, dozens of Richmond students gathered in the Tyler Haynes Commons. While they waited for a bus full of families from Richmond’s East End, they talked about their college experience, and what it took to get there. They reflected on conversations with family, writing essays, and filling out applications. The remembered touring colleges, or how they never visited Richmond before move-in day.

Soon, elementary and middle school children were excitedly running around the Commons, doing backbends and cartwheels while their parents grabbed a cup of coffee. They were then paired with Richmond students for a different kind of campus tour: a scavenger hunt that sent them searching for the library, the admission building, and the football stadium.

Along the way, Richmond students offered advice, like the biology major standing in Gottwald Science Center who explained how online science quizzes could help a middle schooler get a leg up on the subject.

The scavenger hunt was one part of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement’s East End Family Day, a partnership with local nonprofit Peter Paul Development Center. The day also included panel discussions with Richmond Oliver Hill Scholars about admission and financial aid decisions, and even continuing education opportunities for adults. Games for elementary students introduced basic concepts about college life. Event organizer Kim Dean, director of Richmond Families Initiative and UR Downtown Programs, hoped that families might leave with a better understanding of what’s possible when it comes to higher education.

“Many times, college is treated as a sort of abstract concept,” says Harleen Bal, ’18, a Family Day volunteer. “We wanted to provide activities that would start a conversation. I think it is important for students to begin the discussion and contemplation of the college process and possibilities surrounding higher education, rather than treating the process as a daunting end goal.”

The day’s events targeted community-identified challenges. For instance, some parents don’t understand the college application and financial aid processes, but aren’t typically included in other school day campus visits. College tuition is high, but financial aid and scholarship options are difficult to understand. Meanwhile, introducing college experiences — even through fun activities like basketball games and music programs — at a young age can help students see higher education as something to consider.

“People think, ‘that’s not in my future,’ says Nia Cambridge, ’20, another student volunteer. “‘It’s not possible. I can’t afford it. That’s not for me.’ This was really just to show them that you can come here, that it’s an attainable goal.”

Tamika Daniel, whose children range in age from 2 to 12, says she particularly liked talking to students directly, about their passions and what they’re pursuing. “I want to get my children to see something different,” she says. “I want to give them something to look forward to, as far as going to college after school, and the importance of education.”

While much of the program aims to demystify college accessibility, at the end of the day, Dean says the program is about much more than getting students to apply to Richmond.

“I grew up in Richmond and I think I had been to campus once before I applied here,” she says. “I never thought of this as an institution that was in my own backyard. I’ve heard those same stories from families who have come over the last couple years.”

“So for me, knowing what’s possible is just as much about college-going as embracing this as a place that is a part of your city. A place that is rich in activity, and culture, and opportunity that you can access in ways that have nothing to do with you being a student here.”