Villanova Rays of Sunshine Service Group Spotlight

Shay McDowell, Staff Writer

With temperatures dropping and cloudy fall days approaching, we are all clinging to this last bit of summer sun, and the Rays of Sunshine at Villanova is on a mission to spread that sunshine year-round throughout the greater Philadelphia area.


Villanova Rays of Sunshine is a service and tutoring organization that works with five local schools, as well as two nonprofits around Philadelphia. Tutors involved in the organization visit their students once a week for hour-long tutoring sessions, which is oftentimes one-on-one. Rays of Sunshine offers training sessions for new tutors to ensure their comfort and capability, and the club sends groups of tutors to these schools and nonprofits seven days a week.


“Our main priority is to try to fill that gap in education that urban schools face,” Executive Director Anna Darling said. “Our primary goals are educational equity and service.”


Tutors focus on fostering genuine relationships with their students, an effort which is aided by the frequency with which students meet with their tutors. 


“We go to five schools, multiple times per week,” Darling said.  “You stay with the same student when you come back, so you build a relationship with them and can see their academic progress.”


Members of Rays of Sunshine interact with students of all ages, ranging from elementary schoolers to seniors in high school. In addition to their work at elementary and middle schools, Rays of Sunshine tutors provide an SAT and ACT prep course on Saturdays for high school students. The educational nonprofit that the group also works with serves students ages eight to 14. Groups ranging from 10 to 15 Rays of Sunshine tutors visit their various sites each day. 


On Villanova’s campus, Rays of Sunshine hosts general body meetings once a month. At these meetings, members have time to consider the mindset that they bring to the club and evaluate their goals regarding working with students. 


“We do a lot of reflecting just so that there’s intentionality still within what we do,” Darling said.

“We always try to work around the savior complex idea, so we do reflections to talk about that.”


The club hosts a “Rays Day” every semester, during which all of the students from the tutoring sites visit Villanova’s campus. The fall event involves the club tutors and students attending a Villanova football game, with all expenses and transportation provided by Rays of Sunshine. Darling anticipates that this year’s fall Rays Day will take place in early November, though an exact date has not yet been set. The spring Rays Day is a larger event on campus, and Darling acknowledged the purpose and hard work which goes into planning such an occasion.


“This past year, we had bounce houses, food trucks, a cappella performances, the cheer team came out, and Dada from the basketball team came out,” Darling said. “It was just a big way to celebrate all of their hard work through the school year and see them in a different place outside of their school and have them on campus to form positive experiences on a college campus. It is really integral in their motivation.” 


Darling reflected that one of her most impactful moments from Rays of Sunshine occurred when she was paired with a notoriously difficult student who often misbehaved.


“They warned me about this when I started tutoring with him at the afterschool program,” Darling continued. “He turned out to be the sweetest kid ever. All he wanted, all he needed was just somebody to sit down and talk out his problems. When you are that old, you just need someone to believe in what you’re saying.” 


The impact of tutors goes deeper than one semester. Darling fondly mentions the tight bond her and this student had formed.


“We were so close,” she said. “At the end of tutoring before winter break, he gave me a huge hug and told me, ‘I don’t want you to leave.’ I just thought to myself, ‘This kid is so loving. ”


Such an impactful experience is not uncommon among Rays of Sunshine members. Darling highlights that Rays of Sunshine tutors are not solely focused on improving the academic performance of their students. Rather, they serve as friends and role models. 


Rays of Sunshine’s cause is one close to Darling’s heart. She shared her own experience in reference as to why she felt so drawn to Rays of Sunshine at Villanova.


“I come from a struggling town, and education is not prioritized for kids because they are going to school without meals, and college is not in the forefront of their minds,” she said. “I used to work at a YMCA back home, and these kids just were trying to be kept off the streets at this point. It didn’t matter what grades they were getting in math.”


Looking toward the bright future of Rays of Sunshine, the organization is potentially adding two new tutoring sites. While nothing is set in stone yet regarding these sites, their needs were brought to Darling’s attention through a Villanova student. If they join the organization’s list of tutoring sites, Darling emphasizes that the students at these schools will need some strong support from the tutors at Villanova. 


The link to join Villanova Rays of Sunshine can be found in its Instagram bio (@vuraysofsunshine), so if one is interested in becoming a part of Rays of Sunshine, head to its Instagram, grab your sunglasses and get ready to catch some rays.