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by Davis Shafer, Manager and Founder of Vresence Media and City Year Chicago ’14 Alumnus

Service has always been a bit of a tradition with the Shafers. It all started a few years back when my brother Jeffrey, who served with City Year as an AmeriCorps member and now works at City Year Kansas City as Development Director, enlisted the artistic talents of our brother Phillip to paint a mural at a Chicago School. A year later, I would join them in painting the mural as a City Year Chicago AmeriCorps member, in the middle of my service year at Dulles School of Excellence in the Greater Grand Crossing community.

Today, I run a digital content company called Vresence Media, which offers high-end, digital production services ranging from 360-degree photography, videography and interactive 3D scanning. We capture interactive experiences ranging from entertainment-based content, including concerts and festivals like Lollapalooza to capturing real estate or interactive retail spaces for our clients.

One might wonder how someone can go from serving students as a City Year AmeriCorps member to capturing virtual experiences and creating original digital content.

After graduating high school, joining City Year felt like a natural step. I wanted to do something meaningful and I wasn't in a rush to go to college. While I knew I was interested in a profession other than education, I found that City Year to be an extremely productive part of my professional path. Here are just a few of the ways serving with City Year had a positive impact on my career.

Davis Shafer, Manager and Founder of Vresence Media and City Year Chicago ’14 Alumnus with his brothers. The Shafers (from left to right: Douglas, Jeff, Davis and Phillip) take a family photo in front of one Phillip’s finished murals.
The Shafers (from left to right: Douglas, Jeff, Davis and Phillip) take a family photo in front of one Phillip’s finished murals.

Learning skills that translate to any field

My time as a City Year AmeriCorps member allowed me to develop skills in leadership, communication and time management. Most of all City Year pushed me and my team to be innovative and to adapt to any situation because every student has unique needs, whether they are academic, social or emotional in nature.

Innovation is a critical component of my work today. When I saw my first 360-degree video as a Columbia College student, I initially wanted to use this technology to capture experiences in music and entertainment. Thinking innovatively has allowed for Vresence to leverage 3D imaging for a variety of clients in fields such as retail, hospitality and real estate. For example, we designed an experience for a custom suit store where anyone can tour the store on their computer and actually select a suit to purchase.

Working together toward a common goal

Learning how to work on a team was definitely an important aspect of my City Year experience. My team members and I did not always agree on our approach, but we realized we all have the same goal and vision for our students. Similarly, my team at Vresence consists of people with different roles ranging from CFO to marketing director, from content creator to scanner. Still, everybody on the team is able to operate the equipment because we need folks to go out there and capture spaces for clients. We all pitch in to support each other, as all teams should.

Understanding the importance of giving back

Service was always part of my family’s priorities. I went on mission trips through church when I was in high school and City Year became another way to give back before I started college. Being a part of City Year has opened up a lot of opportunities for me, exposing me to a new city, building on my leadership and teamwork skills and the relationships I built with my students.

Soon after my brother Phillip agreed to create another mural as part of City Year Kansas City’s Martin Luther King Day of Service at Northeast High School, Jeff (by then a City Year Kansas City staff member) said to me, "I think it would be really cool for you to get involved in some capacity, too."

I ended up creating an interactive virtual walk through of the school so anyone could experience the transformation that City Year volunteers brought to Northeast High School, much like Vresence does our real estate clients. The day after MLK Day, I came to the school, and I worked with the City Year staff to create a route through the building. Then, I set out to capture all three floors of murals with the 3D camera.

I’ve been drawn to virtual reality because it allows you to step inside a different world, real or imagined, and explore it as if you were actually there. I also see potential for this technology to support nonprofit organizations like City Year—maybe one day, supporters or even applicants will be able to see what it’s like to serve in a school or community through virtual reality. Still, nothing compares to what it feels like to make a difference directly working with students in a school. I encourage you to experience the new reality that service will expose you to by applying to City Year today.

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