Richmond Home

Build It

Build It, which dates to 2005 and is the University of Richmond's neighborhood-based civic-engagement program, brings the University's resources and volunteers together with residents and organizations in Northside Richmond to work toward neighborhood revitalization and community development.

Taking a holistic approach, Build It develops long-term partnerships with public schools and nonprofit organizations to address a variety of issues, including education, health care, crime, unemployment and under-employment, affordable housing and homelessness, and urban blight.

Build It focuses on the Highland Park neighborhood and its environs.

Developed in the 1890s at the end of a trolley line, Highland Park became one of Richmond's first suburbs and was characterized by large houses and a vibrant business community. The city annexed Highland Park in 1914.

The neighborhood began to decline in the late 1940's, due in part to white flight and local, state, and federal policies that supported the concentration of poverty in Richmond's northeast quadrant. In recent years, however, the city government, residents, and nonprofits have been working to revitalize Highland Park.

Build It volunteers commit to serve for a minimum of one hour a week for a semester in Highland Park or another Northside neighborhood. Volunteers work in tandem with community partners to effect positive change.

Build It participants greatly enrich their collegiate experiences by gaining firsthand exposure to many pressing social issues. Students studying subjects such as sociology, education, psychology, biology, chemistry, English literature, political science, leadership studies, gender studies, religion, and music, to name just a few, make connections between their academics and their volunteer experiences.

Build It provides orientations and educational programming every semester to give students context for the experiences they are having in the community.


The Action Group comprises a team of student leaders who work closely with Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) community initiatives and program manager Cassie Price and community initiatives coordinator Garrett Stern to coordinate Build It. 

Action Group members:

  • Serve on the Action Group for at least one academic year
  • Volunteer weekly with a community partner
  • Act as liaisons between community partners and student volunteers
  • Meet monthly with Cassie Price and Garrett Stern to give updates on their sites
  • Assist with recruitment and orientation of volunteers
  • Assist in the planning and promotion of Build It educational programs and events
  • Attend four discussion/reflection dinners on social issues, two each semester

2016-17 Action Group members

  • Noah Clarke, '18, liaison to Youth Life Foundation, Highland Park Northminster Learning Center (spring semester only)
  • Dan Cunn, '17, liaison to Northside Family YMCA 
  • T.J. Benedict, '17, liaison to Youth Life Foundation, Remix Teen Learning Center
  • Will Stith, '18, liaison to Youth Life Foundation, Delmont Learning Center (fall semester only)
  • Tyler Montoya, '18, liaison to Northside Family YMCA (spring semester only)
  • Liz Nigro '17, liaison to Overby-Sheppard Elementary School
  • Kobie Crosley, '18, liaison to Goodwill Northside Employment Center (fall semester only)
Volunteer with Build It

Build It succeeds because of the strengths of the long-term relationships cultivated between University of Richmond volunteers and community partners, including public schools and nonprofit organizations in Northside Richmond.

Build It participants commit to:

  • Volunteering for a minimum of one hour a week for at least one semester, although many volunteer for multiple semesters
  • Serving on a consistent, regular basis throughout the semester
  • Observing community-partner guidelines, including dress codes
  • Maintaining mutual respect with community partners and their clients
Professionalism in Volunteering
Volunteering at Overby-Sheppard Elementary School
Community-Based Learning

Although many students participate in Build It out of a desire to volunteer, some participate in Build It by enrolling in a community-based learning course.

Build It partner sites provide ideal placements for students studying a variety of disciplines, including literature, science, the arts, political science, leadership studies, sociology, psychology, religion, and education, to name a few. Some community-based learning students volunteer at Build It sites on a weekly basis, while others undertake projects or design and implement teaching modules with Build It partners. For more information, see past CBL courses that have collaborated with the Build It program.

The following CBL courses utilized Build It community partners in Fall 2016:

Course Number Course Name Faculty
ACCT 312 Federal Taxation Raymond Slaughter
CLSC 201 The Classical Elements of the English Language Dean Simpson
LDST 205 Justice and Civil Society Julian Hayter
LDST 205 Justice and Civil Society Thad Williamson
LDST 368 Leadership on Stage and Screen Kristin Bezio
LLC 140 How to Write Everything Nuray Grove
MUS 220 Global Repertoires Andy McGraw
SSIR Global Health Ben Mayes

The following CBL courses utilized Build It community partners in Spring 2016:

Course Number Course Name  Faculty 
ANTH / PLSC 379  Bringing Human Rights Home  Jennifer Erkulwater and Jan French
EDUC 220 Education in America Mavis Brown
ENG 201 Children's Literature Libby Gruner
FYS 100 Democracy in Education Nathan Snaza
IDST 290 Disaster, Memory, and Popular Culture  Melissa Ooten
LDST 205 Justice and Civil Society Kim Gower
LDST 205 Justice and Civil Society Kerstin Soderlund
MLC 135 English Communication in Cultural Context  Deborah Westin
PSYC 311 Child Development Karen Kochel
WGSS 201 WILL Colloquium  Melissa Ooten and Holly Blake

Build It thrives on long-term, committed, enthusiastic collaboration with individuals and organizations working in Richmond's Northside communities. The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement is grateful for its ongoing Build It partnerships with the following schools and nonprofit organizations:


Contact Cassie Price, Build It program manager for more information about Build It partnerships and volunteer opportunities.

Student Research

Build It enables students from a variety of academic backgrounds to particpate in their community while testing their knowledge. Through internships, CBL classes, thesis research, and field research projects, UR students undertake academic research and projects informed by  the Highland Park community and surrounding Northside Richmond neighborhoods. Student work is categorized below by CCE issue areas, which can be explored further on the Community Partner Map. These projects reflect the thoughts and words of UR students, not the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.

After-school education

Leonard, Grace, '12, Case Study: NGO Staff Implement Educational Goals in Northside Richmond. Completed for the Virginia Engage Journal, fall 2012.

Community gardening and food access

Vendegna, Carly, '10, Food Accessibility in Richmond, Virginia: A Case Study in the Neighborhood of Highland Park. Completed for the course, SOC 335: Feast and Famine: Ineqaulities in the Global Food System.

Health and science

Irons, Rand, '15, Allies for Health: The Highland Park and Church Hill Healthcare Action Plan. Completed for the Sophomore Scholars In Residence Global Health program, fall 2012.

Park, Solee, '15, Allies for Health Report. Completed for the Sophomore Scholars In Residence Global Health program, fall 2012.

Public policy, research, and advocacy

Gong, Russell, '11; Bouas, Lauren, '09; Gess, Lora, '11; and Walradt, Jessica, '10, Health in Highland Park. Completed for the course PLSC 366: Poverty and Political Voice, spring 2009.

Leonard, Grace, '12, My Community, Their Community, Our Community: Musings on "Development." Completed for the Virginia Engage Journal, fall 2012.