Caitlin Manak, ’12, and Daniel Fairley, ’13, did not know each other well in college, but they had a common connection: a little boy named Leon Prescod.

When she came to University of Richmond, Manak knew she wanted to volunteer in the city. “I wanted something meaningful in my life,” Manak said, “so I went to a Build It info session and got signed up.”

Manak, a leadership studies major, talks about her first day at the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond as if it were destiny. Teachers at Youth Life, a nonprofit dedicated to helping disadvantaged children reach their academic and leadership potential, paired Manak with kindergartener Leon. For the next four school years, Manak mentored him almost every week.

It is unusual to find a college student willing to make a long-term mentoring commitment. Leon found two.

In Manak’s third year of college, Fairley also registered as a Youth Life mentor through Build It, the University’s neighborhood-based civic-engagement initiative.

Fairley hadn’t planned on making a long-term mentoring commitment, but after meeting Leon, he quickly realized he was sticking around.

“I felt like I had the easy job,” Fairley said. “Leon is incredibly smart and well-behaved.”

Mentoring comes naturally to Manak and Fairley. From swim lessons to homework help, they have both been working with younger people for years. Despite no formal mentor training, they were ready when Leon came into their lives.

At the end of this semester, Fairley will follow Manak into post-graduate life. Both are looking for ways to stay involved.

Manak now lives in Richmond and hopes to see Leon at events throughout the year. Fairley, a psychology major, will be a field manager with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., this summer and has applied for a White House internship in the fall.

Like Manak, he admits he won’t be as present in Leon’s life, but he is still committed to being a part of his future.

Recently Fairley learned of one way in which he already has helped direct Leon's future: Leon was accepted to the College Readiness Center, a new college-prep program offered at the middle school he will attend in the fall. Fairley helped him complete his successful application to the program.

When asked what advice he might give Leon’s next mentors, Fairley said, “Ask him about his Legos. Ask him about things he’s interested in so he can start to respect you in a personal way – not just as an authority figure.”

“I hope we have fun together,” Leon chimed in, amidst loud whistling and laughter.

Such a simple, yet powerful, request. Leon’s statement stands as a reminder that mentoring can bring as much joy to the mentor as it does to the mentee. Just ask Manak and Fairley.

Photo: Leon Prescod and Daniel Fairley, ’13, enjoy some mentoring moments together.