Toby Desch, Executive Director of UP RVA, is a 28-year-old Richmonder who graduated from Collegiate in 2006. When I asked him about his time at Collegiate, he replied, “I loved my Collegiate experience. It was like a second home to me. I spent the majority of my time there up until the age of 27. I had a lot of friends, loved sports and roaming the halls, but I was not a great student.” It probably won’t surprise the Collegiate community that Desch “liked the snack bar more than I liked the science classes.”
Desch enjoyed sports at Collegiate, especially football, which he played 7th grade through 12th grade. Tori O’Shea (‘08), a Lower School Math Specialist and a long time friend of Desch, describes him as “the best center Russell Wilson ever had.” I asked O’Shea about Toby in high school. “Toby was a friend to everyone. He was a lovable guy who had a way of making everyone feel comfortable.” She continued to describe Desch as extremely protective: “He would literally yell at boys down the hallway that were talking to me at my locker…” His academic performance in high school was by no means spectacular; however, his friendly and caring reputation remains steadfast and genuine ten years later. Dean of Student Activities and Associate Director of Admission Beth Kondorossy worked closely with Desch when he worked at Collegiate after his graduation from VCU in 2012. She said, “To know Toby is to love Toby. He would do anything for anyone, and it would be out of the kindness of his heart, and he never looks for anything in return.” His personable nature and true desire to help and provide for others is something that makes him so successful.
We commonly associate success with wealth, power, and a prestigious, reputable title. As a high schooler, Desch thought he would be a in business after graduating college. When I asked him why, he replied, “I thought that was what people were supposed to do if they weren’t doctors or lawyers.” Success does not solely stem from an esteemed job and stellar transcript. There are infinite possibilities and opportunities and more than one path to success. After the death of his father in December of his freshman year at Hampden-Sydney College, Toby took time off away from school to be closer to Richmond. During that time, he spent much of his time working in Ms. Mary Stone’s Kindergarten classroom at St. Christopher’s. Desch knew after working with the kindergartners that working with kids was something he loved. Desch returned to school and graduated from VCU in 2012. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary science with a focus on elementary education. He then returned to Collegiate to work closely with Beth Kondorossy as the Assistant to the Dean of Student Activities.
When Desch left Collegiate after the 2014-2015 school year, he began taking flight on his idea to “give back to the inner city and merge it with [his] love for Collegiate.” With the help of Mike Maruca, the head of Anna Julia Cooper School, and Amanda Surgner, Vice President of Advancement at Collegiate, his idea became a reality with the creation UP RVA. UP RVA is a non-profit organization that works with students from all over Richmond, especially those from the East End and living in public housing. UP RVA helps these students transition into independent schools. It also provides transportation to and from school, along with after-school tutoring, a place to work, and dinner. “UP RVA is the middle man between the family and the school,” says Desch. “We try to empower families to speak with the school and give the schools productive information to better communicate with the families.” As of right now, UP RVA is providing transportation to and from school for 16 students in the Richmond area. Toby and UP RVA “keep track of” eight of these 16, providing them with after-school care and daily transportation. Four independent schools in the Richmond area have UP RVA students enrolled: Collegiate, St. Christopher’s, Trinity, and St. Gertrude.
UP RVA seems small in numbers, but the impact it is making on the lives of the students involved is immense and invaluable. “I am happy with the progress of UP RVA so far. It’s a grassroots thing. We’re working to figure it out and get better at some things, and as of now I think we’re really doing a good job of meeting certain daily needs,” says Desch. When I asked him about his hopes for the future, Desch replied “My hope is to be able to place between 10 to 20 kids per year in independent schools and have a successful program that works with kids starting in preschool and follow them through until they graduate college.”
It is common for people to feel like there is a set path for them to follow; a path that will lead them to success. We often associate success with wealth and a prestigious title. Starting at a young age, we are bred to work hard in school and excel in multiple extracurriculars. We are supposed to stand out while maintaining a high GPA and focusing on our futures. When we have graduated college and have a job and money we will be there, we will have reached the end of the path, the path to success. I don’t deny that following this “path” is a reliable way to become successful; it is without a doubt important for students to challenge themselves and work hard to create the building blocks for their future. However, just because someone doesn’t have a stellar GPA or a typical college experience, doesn’t mean they won’t find success later in life. It is important to acknowledge the different ways success can be measured and perceived. Tobias Desch has undoubtedly found success in his selfless and philanthropic work with UP RVA. He was definitely was not the highest achieving student; however, his incredible generosity and friendly, approachable character has without a doubt made Toby one of the most successful and highly regarded people I know.