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ASPiRE Community Partner Spotlight: YMCA of Greater Richmond

By Jenny Pedraza

YMCA-ASPiRE“As soon as the VCU ASPiRE students come through the school doors, the Woodville students’ faces light up,” said Amber Boyd, Woodville Elementary center director for the YMCA of Greater Richmond. “We see this play out week after week – the ASPiRE students volunteer consistently, which gives the youth a sense of dependability and peace through authentic and trusting relationships. It’s the very foundation of what we’re all about.”

Since 2017, ASPiRE has partnered with the YMCA of Greater Richmond, which develops programs that build a healthy mind, spirit and body for all. Founded in 1854, the YMCA of Greater Richmond has been committed to community development – working with

neighbors to bring about transformational change together. Each year, more than 170,000 children and adults are engaged with YMCA programs and activities in 16 branches, Camp Thunderbird day camp and many outreach sites in neighborhoods across the community.

More than 2,000 children participate in afterschool programs like the one at Woodville Elementary School in the Church Hill North community in the City of Richmond. Afterschool programs provide enrichment, academic support, physical activity and character development to support and strengthen families and communities.

Every Thursday from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m., between six and eight ASPiRE students arrive at Woodville Elementary to provide additional assistance that allows for lower staff-to-child ratios. They help youth with homework, run enrichment activities and work on social/emotional growth, physical fitness, wellness/nutrition, literacy and parent and family engagement.

ASPiRE students also help with “Fun Fridays,” where youth can experience different engaging, thought provoking and creative activities. Various stations introduce and expose youth to new experiences, ideas, challenges and concepts, allowing them to become “doers, crafters and solution-focused entrepreneurs.”

Boyd said the Woodville program is located in a community that experiences some of Richmond’s greatest concentrations of poverty. The Y’s out-of-school-time programs are specifically designed to eliminate disparities in opportunity and achievement for children in high need communities.

“Some of our youth experience, see or feel trauma in their lives, and toxic stress may be a part of their reality,” she said. “But we have seen that through our partnership with ASPiRE, the youth have been able to find their power, their strength and their voice. The ASPiRE students are exceptionally dependable, caring and compassionate. They’ve become like family – and that has created a very healthy, positive and energizing culture.”

In addition to supporting local youth, ASPiRE students who are involved in the sustained partnership with the Y are able to hone their own leadership skills, resiliency and knowledge. Boyd said working at the afterschool program requires ASPiRE students to utilize patience, advanced planning, a balance of nurture and discipline, healthy boundary setting and “stick-to-it-ness.”

“When college students have experiences that engage in the community, improve the lives of youth and families and stretch them to go beyond their comfort zones, we believe it can also help prepare them for life after college,” Boyd said. “It expands their minds, opens opportunities, strengthens their skillsets and also helps them narrow their own passions and think through what they want for their own futures.”

For more information, visit the YMCA of Greater Richmond or contact Nannette Bailey, ASPiRE community partnerships coordinator, at nabailey@vcu.edu.