Kat Blanchard, ’11, has spent her college years delving ever deeper into the impact of poverty on Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens — its children.

“My Bonner Scholars service shaped my outlook and academic interests almost from the beginning,” Blanchard said. “I became aware of a lot of the problems in the community and started taking sociology and political science classes to understand them.”

As a first-year Bonner Scholar, Blanchard volunteered at two local public elementary schools.

“The differences between the schools were striking,” Blanchard said. “The first school was more middle class and had more resources. I saw the impact of poverty on children at the second school. Because there were so many children and not enough adults, the school had to rely on volunteers. The first school had fewer children relative to the number of staff.

“The kind of food served at the two schools differed. The first school offered its students more nutritious food. The second school even had to ration the amount of soap children could use to wash their hands.”

Building upon these direct-service experiences, Blanchard became a Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) student coordinator at University of Richmond Downtown (URD) her junior year. She assisted with several of the CCE's Richmond Families Initiative (RFI) projects and connected to RFI community partner Voices for Virginia’s Children, a nonprofit dedicated to public-policy research and advocacy aimed at improving the lives of children.

Blanchard started a research and analysis internship with Voices for Virginia’s Children in February 2010. The CCE awarded Blanchard a Burhans Civic Fellowship to pursue this work full-time during the summer of 2010.

Blanchard’s research focused on health care, poverty, education, and foster care and adoption. The internship gave Blanchard the opportunity to fully explore the forces behind some of the inequities she had observed in her direct-service work.

“In order to make a change in the community, you have to dig down deep to understand the needs,” Blanchard said. “You have to talk to people on the street and in the governor’s office. You have to listen.

“Sometimes I felt frustrated when I did community service, because I couldn’t change or improve things. In policy work, I can.”

Blanchard has continued working with low-income children during her senior year. She is currently volunteering in an after-school program run by Peter Paul Development Center, an RFI partner site based in close proximity to four housing projects in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood.

She is also working on some programming for the CCE aimed at raising awareness on campus about issues affecting children. This spring Blanchard put together a panel of local educators to speak at a CCE Brown Bag about the efficacy of after-school programs in improving children’s educational outcomes.

Blanchard points to the direct link between poverty and child well-being. “Poverty affects all domains of a child’s life,” Blanchard said, “including success in school, access to health care, and risk for entering the foster-care system.”

Much as her Bonner service led her to major in sociology, her Voices for Virginia’s Children internship led her to consider a career in social work or the nonprofit sector, Blanchard said.

“I want to provide children struggling with the ill effects of poverty the knowledge to have a better life,” Blanchard said.