Cassie Gilboy, ’19, wasted no time getting to work. The first day of fall semester classes found her discussing volunteer recruitment strategies with executive team members of the Youth Life Mentoring Organization (YLMO), a University of Richmond student organization dedicated to recruiting and supporting UR students who mentor and tutor underserved children and teens at the nonprofit Youth Life Foundation of Richmond (YLFR).

In the ensuing weeks, YLMO president Gilboy and YLMO executive team members recruited YLFR volunteers at numerous events across campus.

Their efforts paid off. When the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) closed its volunteer registration Oct. 13, 81 Spiders had registered as tutors and mentors with the YLFR.

Gilboy, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., could not have imagined the difference the YLFR would make in her college experience when she started volunteering there her first semester on campus. She came to UR planning to pursue a pre-med track, but now she is studying elementary education.

“I realized I loved the people aspect of medicine, getting to know the patients,” Gilboy said. “But then I got to know the kids at Youth Life so well and became passionate about education.”

But volunteering has not always been easy.

Gilboy recalled her initial interactions with her mentee, Oh’Deja, a kindergartener when they first met in fall 2015: “At first Oh’Deja didn’t want me around. Then I went to a Fun Friday [a weekly enrichment outing] with her around Halloween, and our relationship began to improve.”

Sensing a growing bond, Gilboy volunteered again in the spring semester. “When I left for the summer break at the end of my first year, I said ‘I love you’ to Oh’Deja, and she said it back to me for the first time.

“We expect little kids to automatically love us, but they are people, and they need time. You have to earn the right to be heard. To form a relationship, you have to show up week after week.”

Now in her third year of volunteering at the YLFR, Gilboy shares a strong bond with Oh’Deja.

“I like to be around her, because she’s nice,” Oh’Deja said of Gilboy. “We play board games and go places together.”

This past summer, Gilboy deepened her ties to the YLFR through a teaching internship supported by a CCE Urban Education Fellowship.

“I created my own curriculum to teach reading to five rising second graders and math to two rising fourth graders. I integrated things I learned in Dr. Brenning’s Diverse Learners class and Dr. Milby’s Reading Foundations class.

“And I learned from the kids. My UR professors talk about poverty, but through my internship and volunteering, I now understand how poverty affects kids.

“Last fall I worked with a student on a skit she was creating for Youth Life’s annual I Have a Dream event. Her dream was for everyone in her family to have enough to eat. Another student talked to me about losing her home [through eviction].”

Gilboy's contributions to the YLFR have not gone unnoticed.

“Our summer program would not have been the same without Cassie as part of our team,” said Amber Smith, program director of the Youth Life Delmont Learning Center, where Gilboy interned. “I have been continually impressed by her attitude, creativity in lesson planning, and ability to manage the students she taught.”

Likewise, working with the YLFR has benefitted Gilboy.

“My summer [internship] affirmed my desire to teach,” Gilboy said, “but the number one benefit was getting to know Oh’Deja so well. One day, she wrote in her journal: ‘Miss Cassie, I want to be a teacher, because you want to be a teacher.’”