Finding the comfort of home in the midst of change

Richmond has always had a special place in my heart. I was born in Richmond, but after only two years my family moved to Kansas. Every year my family traveled from Kansas to visit our loved ones in Richmond. Towards the end of our trip I always expressed to my family that I would one day return to Richmond. I kept my promise and began my undergraduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2013.

Like many students my undergraduate experience consisted of many twists and turns. Following my graduation in 2017, I decided to take some time to reflect on these experiences and determine my next steps. During this time, I took off on a cross country trip, traveling from Virginia to California. This trip allowed me to visit exciting new cities, explore the great outdoors, meet new people, and reconnect with old friends. After four months of exploring new cities, my heart was still in RVA and I was ready to return home and apply for graduate school to study urban and regional planning.

When I began applying for urban planning graduate programs there was no doubt in my mind that Richmond and VCU was where I wanted to be. In recent years, Richmond has experienced a great deal of growth and development. In 2019, the city was in the process of developing their new Master Plan – Richmond 300 . This comprehensive plan provides the city with recommendations that guides development decisions. With access to the beautiful natural environment, outdoor recreational activities, delicious local restaurants, summer festivals, and more the community has something to offer everyone. Having the opportunity to live, work, and study in Richmond during this time has allowed me to develop as a young professional and reinforces my desire to pursue a career in planning.

Today, I am in my final year of my graduate studies as an urban and regional planning student at VCU. I am also a Wilder Fellow working for PlanRVA , the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission (RRPDC). The VCU Wilder Fellowship program provides students with a unique opportunity to gain firsthand experience in their profession prior to graduation. My placement with PlanRVA has done just that and more!

Given the global health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, my graduate school experience has been extremely different than expected. Halfway through my second semester, myself and my classmates received word that our spring break would be extended. At first, this was a nice little surprise as many of us did not understand the severity of the virus. Adjusting to this virtual reality, or “new normal,” has presented many challenges. Spending most of my day in front of a screen and less time connecting with others starts to take a toll. It has forced everyone to get creative with various ways to stay connected and support others during this difficult time.

Although my graduate school experience has been much different than expected, I feel excited to complete my degree and continue working in Richmond. When I think of Richmond, I think of opportunity. I see a city rich in history with residents who are currently wrestling with the past to create a community that reflects their experiences and hopes for the future. I look forward to my continued involvement in this process and to support community members who want to see a better Richmond for all people.


Rebekah Cazares (VCU ’17) is a grad student and Wilder Fellow currently working for PlanRVA. She grew up visiting Richmond, and no matter how far she travels, she’s always known that she would end up in RVA.