While working on her City Year application, Jessica Butay reached the question: Where would you like to apply to serve? A Hawai’i native living in Colorado for college, Jessica selected City Year Denver. “That’s where I served for AmeriCorps [VISTA] and that’s my college town. But when she saw that she could select a few additional locations, Jessica checked the “Serve Where Most Needed” box.
“I’ve never explored the mainland—or any other state [outside Colorado],” she said. She thought it’d be a great opportunity to explore new regions of the United States, while still supporting students and communities through education.
Soon after applying, a City Year recruiter reached out to Jessica and asked her how she’d feel about serving in Tulsa. “I was excited for this new adventure, but I was also nervous because I'd never been to Oklahoma before.”
“My parents never heard of Oklahoma. I literally had to show them a map like, ‘Oh, Oklahoma's here.’”
To help her get to know her new City Year community before she moved, Jessica turned to social media. “The more I looked at the Instagram posts from City Year, it just made me so excited and ready for this challenge.”
Additionally, Jessica said the City Year staff helped her feel prepared for her move to the central region of the U.S. “Prior to moving here we were sent a pack of information like housing, transportation, and also the map of where the school was. … I felt like that was very calming to read. It was really helpful to read a little more about what City Year’s about, to learn about the uniform and so forth.”
She was also added to a Facebook group where she could meet and begin getting to know her teammates. There she learned that a majority of the AmeriCorps members serving with City Year Tulsa were also moving from out of state. “It was really refreshing because I felt like it wasn’t only me going through this, it was also my team members. So, sharing that same nervousness made me think, ‘Oh, okay, I’m not the only one. If everyone can do it, so can I.’”
“You have to really explore and get to know a place,” Jessica said. “When you get to know the community, you're going to understand the kids that you serve and the community that you serve.”
So, shortly after she moved to Tulsa, Jessica and her teammate quickly set out to explore all the city has to offer. Together, they traveled downtown, and organized hikes and camping trips to nearby parks. Spending time with nature is something Jessica loves and, in Tulsa, there is no shortage of natural beauty. “There are tons of parks, but my favorite one is called the Rose Garden. People usually think it’s just like a regular park, but if you walk deeper into it, you will find the actual garden.”
But getting to know your community isn’t just about the bigger attractions and parks. “Just do the little things,” Jessica recommended, “like going to the library, finding out what the community's about, going to a coffee shop and meeting the people, meeting Tulsa residents. It's pretty awesome.”
While Tulsa is thriving in many ways, the students City Year serves are faced with many challenges, including transiency and food and housing insecurity. On average, only about half of students are proficient in math, and about half are proficient in reading. Unfortunately, 67% of Tulsa Public School students graduate from high school.
“Day by day, everything is new. Every day is a new day, a new experience and I'm loving it.” Jessica’s hopes to return to serve a second year with City Year as a Team Leader.
Tulsa is in high need for idealistic young people to work with students to help them reach their potential. It is impossible to come to Tulsa and not find an area of passion or opportunity to make a true difference in the community and students' lives. Like Jessica, many Tulsa AmeriCorps members come in for one year and end up becoming a long-term resident of this vibrant community.