Written by Mia Ruffin, AmeriCorps member serving on the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation Team at Winbourne Elementary School. 

The winter break is now upon us. My break will hopefully be a loosely regimented cycle of hugs, naps and thoughtfulness. The first half of our year lagged behind and the rest of it is rushing moments ahead. This is a time of reflection and reaction that I cannot compare to any educational, service or leadership experience I have ever had before. A first-year AmeriCorps member’s  City Year experience is so dynamic that I think it may be more effective to pick a single artifact and view the past six months through its presence. With that, I choose the famous Staples' Easy Button included in our team supplies kit.

Any given service day for an AmeriCorps member will undoubtedly include tests of patience, persistence and spirit. Many City Year AmeriCorps members spend a majority of their day in the classroom, which makes their tests of self as internal as they are external. Every lost temper or supportive word to a student is coming from an authority figure, role model and friend. Interventions, data meetings and afterschool programming demand different skills and awarenesses from morning to early evening. The word “easy” has seemingly no place in our day, and that is exactly where the magic of service exists.

Most obviously, the humor of the button cannot be overlooked. An automated voice cheerily saying “That was easy” yells in the face of PITW #159 [This Is Hard. Be strong.]. They do not negate each other though. Successfully completing a task on time with measurable impact is a sizable victory. It takes forethought and follow through. Hearing “That was easy” reminds you of how much work you had to do to be successful, and how absurd it is to call it easy… And it reminds you to laugh, and to be joyful. The long days are hard, but there is no rule against laughing at the odd, misunderstood and understated. One of my favorite parts of the past few months have been the tears of laughter shared between my teammates and I. We crack up over silly mistakes, keen human observations and everything else strange in the universe. We save each other from weariness with conversation. Humor is our strength.

The Staples' Easy Button is as red and obnoxious as a one function button could be, but that is not a fault. It adds color to our already handsomely decorated workspace. It is bright and, most importantly. always visible when wanted, or needed. In a similar way PITW #176 [Front Most, Center Most] asks that corps members seek chances to be noticeably engaged in their community. We sit where we can be seen. We are attentive when guests and peers address us. In public spaces, our bright jackets are hard to miss. Our strong circles and Unity Rally exercises in city centers bring attention our way.  I have grown comfortable with the awareness that I am being watched for the good I do; I have become protective of the duty of respect.

Lastly, the sensation of pushing the button is only an eighth of the fun of a high-five from a cute kid. Without doubt, the button has its moments of cleverness. Nothing replaces a toothless smile or a warm hand covered in dried grits or a palm to forearm collision, though.

Next semester will not be easy, and that is okay. City Year’s expectations of its AmeriCorps members can develop skills into life changing paradigms. Next semester will begin with fidelity and end with grace. It will chew a few lesson plans into shreds and a few students may transfer to other schools. It will be filled with laughter and red uniform pieces. It will include potlucks, salutations and confirmations.The moon may come out before I get home from service; the moon may be out when I leave to start my day.  Next semester will not be easy, and for that, I am grateful.

Happy holidays to all.

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