Caitlin Ameral is a City Year Alum '08 and now works on staff as Regional and Site Operations Manager for City Year Inc.
The first word that comes to mind when I think about City Year is community. I knew that my “city year” would take me on a 10-month journey of service and self-exploration but I had no idea the types of people I would have the privilege of serving with or the lifelong friendships I would build. I spent my year as an AmeriCorps member tutoring and mentoring students at the Agassiz Elementary School in Boston. I came away from that year bitten by the education bug and decided to go on to graduate school to learn more about the theory and practice behind the realities I witnessed first-hand in the school and community I served.
I spent a lot of time at the Harvard Graduate School of Education reflecting on my corps experience and it served as no real surprise that I found my way back to City Year after graduation. I have been on staff at City Year Headquarters for just over four years now as a member of the Regional and Site Operations team. I could write a book about all the amazing things I have learned as a member of the City Year team but the most powerful lessons I learned are those about community and gratitude.
The picture came into exceptionally sharp focus for me last December. I was on the vacation of a lifetime, spending the holidays on a South African safari with a close friend and fellow City Year staff member. Suddenly, the vehicle we were traveling in went off a cliff and I was left trapped and critically injured. I remember lying in an ICU outside of Johannesburg unsure whether I would live, keep my legs, or ever walk again; one of my first thoughts after alerting my family was to get into touch with my friends and colleagues at City Year.
To say that City Year saved my life that day and the months that followed seems hyperbolic, but it could not be closer to the truth. City Year leadership, board members, corps, and staff—past and present—mobilized instantaneously to get me home to the U.S. and on the road to recovery. This was not because I was someone special, but because I was a member of our community and members of a community look out for each other and offer help in times of need.
My recovery over the past eleven months has been far from easy, but I have had my City Year family by my side every step of the way (quite literally). The amount of gratitude I feel for this community is impossible to quantify. Throughout this ordeal, I have been surrounded by friends, family, and colleagues who love and support me.
We often talk about how fortunate we are to have such wonderful people in our lives, but this was the first time this fortune was really tested for me. It is amazing what I (we) so easily take for granted. Trying times are not only about pain and grief, but strength, new awareness, and appreciations. It wasn’t until a bright light was shined upon the beautiful people I have in my life that I really understood just how lucky I am.
Through this experience and my association with City Year, I came to know what gratitude is and to appreciate the power of community, to understand what love, courage, and grace are. It seems almost silly, a strange cognitive dissonance to believe that this accident did more to heal me than to hurt me, to show me love more than show me pain, to inspire me more than cause me to mourn.
I consider myself unbelievably lucky to be a member of the City Year team and be where I am at today.
Caitlin is one of many resilient and inspiring members of our alumni and staff communities. To meet more members of our community, read: