By Baton Rouge alumnus Jon Morris, proudly serving as an Impact Director at City Year Buffalo
Where I am today began with an idea of a year of service from an unlikely place. It was sometime during lunch in my senior year of college when one of my friends told me about a program called City Year and suggested that we apply to the program in New Orleans and room together. I realized that night that graduation was coming and I had no idea what to do with my International Studies degree. I did my research, liked the idea of serving students in
The Big Easy and exploring the world of education in general, and gave it a shot. Two interviews later and I got the job, not the location. I was told that site was full, but that Baton Rouge had an opening and it was only an hour or so down the road. I made it that far with no plan still so I said sure, why not? I told my friend who gave me the idea to apply the good news and that we should start looking at apartments, but he said he actually never applied in the first place.
When the time came, I loaded up my Saturn to the brim and made the trek from Richmond, Virginia to my new home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana not knowing at all what to expect. Eighteen hours later I found myself in what I thought would be my new home for a year. The week flew by and before I knew it I was in a training space with over fifty strangers learning what we would be doing. I remember getting increasingly excited to find out what school I would be serving in. I vividly remember putting no preference for the school selection, but secretly wanting to serve at the only high school choice at the time. Luckily, the powers that be placed me at Broadmoor Middle School where I ended up working with a phenomenal team with eighteen people working with equally amazing students. My most important goal for the year was to tutor and mentor eighth graders in math and English Language Arts.
That year showed me that students or young people, in general, can truly teach you as much, if not more than what you teach them. My students helped me laugh, grow, and allowed me to see education and equity from an entirely different view. What I did not learn, was to plan for what’s to come after graduation. So I found myself yet again not knowing what to do and luckily again, I had people to convince me to return to another year of service. My eighth-grade students all graduated middle school and with that, I decided to return as a Team Leader to help guide a new team of AmeriCorps Members in their year of service.
If any year taught me flexibility it was my Team Leader year. Many things changed throughout the year, but overall I enjoyed my time so much with the new team that when the opportunity to join staff presented itself I went for it.
My role shifted from the middle school setting to working as an Impact Manager at Merrydale Elementary School. One year turned to two which turned to four. In those four years, I learned how to be patient with others, to seek first to understand before being understood, to lead by example, and that learning really never stops no matter what experience you have. Helping to lead four very different AmeriCorps teams also showed me the strengths every team can bring to a school and each one taught me something different. It was also around this time that the staff in Baton Rouge encouraged me to pursue a Master’s program so I did and am still rediscovering the joys of learning about topics I am now passionate about. I will graduate from Gonzaga University this year.
If connecting me with amazing students, teammates, staff, and pushing me to return to academic studies was not enough, City Year Baton Rouge also allowed me to grow into a more confident speaker and presenter by allowing me to speak at the annual gala, promote service on a local radio station, and collaborate with multiple school partners. I could go on listing the development and growth and joy I got from working in Louisiana, but if I got anything from my time there, it’s that the organization and people showed me what supporting others is truly like.
A perfect example of what that support looks like would be when City Year announced its newest site opening up in Buffalo, NY. I was going back and forth whether I should apply or whether I would even be qualified for a start-up position, but then the kind folks in Baton Rouge asked me, “Why not? Go for it!”
I did. Here I am. I now live in Buffalo, New York only four blocks from Canada working with a new team of equally dedicated individuals ready to make better happen in another city. As we prepare for our founding year I can’t help but pause every now and then to reflect on the amazing times and work we did together in City Year Baton Rouge, look how much we have done together already in City Year Buffalo, and where we will be going in the future together.
I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with in Louisiana nor in Western New York. City Year is about so much from student growth, equity, leadership development, random yet amazing experiences, and perspective. If I was forced to say one thing about it though, it would be the emphasis on relationships. Relationships matter and City Year knows it and that’s why I love it.
It amazes me to think back when I thought I was signing up for a year of service. Well… Here’s to year seven.