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Longstanding Philadelphia residents Bob and Debbie Fleischman have always believed in the importance of community investment. In raising their three young children, Matt, Sarah, Abe, the Fleischmans often reflected on how best to ensure their children understood the importance of creating positive change and giving back.

“I believe every young person should consider a year of national service after graduating high school or before completing their college career,” Bob says. “Paying it forward through service is a tangible and direct way to help us all become better connected to the communities in which we live. I’m so happy Debbie and I have been able to instill that value in our children.”

The couple came across City Year Philadelphia by chance, during the site’s start-up period a little more than 20 years ago. They liked City Year’s focus on high-need communities and its mission of bringing young people from diverse backgrounds to serve together. Little did they know when they became familiar with City Year in 1998, that the organization would be something akin to a family tradition for all five members of the Fleischman family.

Matt Fleischman (Washington DC, ’03) was the first to take a gap year after high school to serve with City Year. During his year of service, Matt gained leadership and organizational skills that complemented his natural extroversion, managing projects and sticking to a robust daily schedule. His parents say that City Year challenged him to think critically about his future, which they knew would involve helping others in some way. Matt has lived and worked in South Korea for the last five years, three of them with the U.S. Armed Forces. Bob and Debbie agree that Matt has used the skills City Year taught him to build his own “beloved community” abroad. This year, he completed the Global MBA program at Keimyung University in South Korea.

Sarah Fleischman (New York ’05, Los Angeles ’08) completed two service years, one with City Year New York and one as a founding AmeriCorps member with City Year Los Angeles. The coast-to-coast move within two years certainly was a transition for her, but Bob and Debbie say it was the right move for her: Sarah knew she wanted to teach, and working as a City Year AmeriCorps member supporting teachers in the classroom and connecting with kids as a mentor, tutor and role model was a great way for her to explore her interest in education. After her time with City Year Los Angeles, Sarah worked as a lead teacher for several years. Recently, she has shifted her professional focus to the nonprofit sector, completing a master’s program in nonprofit management and now working in her home city of Philadelphia as part of the development team of the Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options (JAFCO).  She continues to be involved with City Year, serving for several years on the City Year Philadelphia Alumni Board.

Bob and Debbie say that for their youngest, Abe Fleischman (Milwaukee, ’17), Matt and Sarah’s transformative experiences with City Year sparked his desire to take the same path. Abe served with City Year Milwaukee, challenging himself to expand his worldview to outside of Philadelphia. Though Bob and Debbie say that Abe’s service year was demanding, they say they saw him focus on building relationships with students and colleagues, and that he was proud of the work he did with City Year. He even went back to his high school to present City Year to seniors, encouraging them to commit to their own year of service. Abe is now a full-time student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, majoring in business administration and management.  During his first year in Madison, Abe would often travel back to Milwaukee to visit the students he had mentored and to reconnect with his City Year friends who were doing a second year of service.

Abe Fleischman participating in “morning greeting” with a student during his year of service with City Year Milwaukee.

Even though their children served in different cities and in different years, Bob and Debbie see many commonalities in each of their children’s journeys. The three wholeheartedly believe in the importance of educational equity. Bob and Debbie agree that although Matt, Sarah, Abe each came in with different perspectives and have now diverged to follow different paths, their City Year experience will forever connect them.

“This is an experience they've all had, which is really nice because when you have children with different likes, dislikes and an age gap on top of that, there's not many things you can say, well, they all did this,” Bob says. “My three children are the people they are today because they did City Year.”

Sarah, Abe and Matt participating in a City Year service project on MLK Day.

In addition to sharing their personal connection to City Year with anyone who will lend an ear, Bob and Debbie continue to be involved with City Year Philadelphia as a financial supporter and often take part in local events, like the location’s 20th Anniversary gala this past May. The family is also recognized at City Year headquarters in Boston: the Alumni & Families Conference room inside the building bears the Fleischman name and is a physical representation of their philanthropic investment and passion for national service.  Recently, Bob was elected to serve on the board of City Year Philadelphia.

Bob and Debbie say they will always stay connected to City Year in some way, as a family.

“When I talk about City Year, I have an immense sense of satisfaction that’s not possible to describe in any other way except overwhelming pride that my kids have thought outside themselves, and have done something bigger than themselves,” says Debbie. “And every parent should experience the joy of knowing their child took that path for the greater good.”

City Year is always looking for more inspiring young adults to join the corps. Refer a young person to learn more about joining City Year today!

City Year’s network of AmeriCorps alumni, now 30,000 strong, are increasingly are taking on leadership roles in their communities, and are mobilizing and leading diverse groups to tackle complex challenges across a range of professional fields, including education. Read more about how alumni are making a difference nationwide. 

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