Last week (July 13-17), City Year’s network of leaders - all staff and senior AmeriCorps members - came together in Boston for an annual week-long conference consisting of intensive and productive learning, networking and community building in preparation for the year of service ahead. Sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal, this year’s Academy brought together over 1,300 idealists at Northeastern University to dig into the theme of Idealism in Education. Below are some highlights broken down by day.

Sunday, July 12: Registration Day - Welcoming our Idealists to Boston!

The energy was tangible as we welcomed our idealists to Northeastern University for a powerful week of ALIGNing, BUILDing and CONNECTing as a One City Year network and exploring the idea of Idealism in Education. The campus was buzzing with excitement as our network checked in, picked up their materials at registration and explored the event’s mobile app (a new, green innovation this year).

Monday, July 13: Day 1 - Ubuntu

The first day of Academy kicked off with a high-energy Opening Ceremony during which we heard from Amber Rose, teacher and poet, and from a representative from every site, who shared their “Why I Serve” statements, like a senior AmeriCorps member from City Year Cleveland who shared “I serve because you cannot use the masters tools to dismantle the masters house,” and a corps member from City Year London who shared via video, “I serve, because every child deserves an equal opportunity.” Charlie Rose, Senior VP & Dean moderated a discussion with two Boston Public School students, whose advice to City Year was to “never stop believing in kids.” Finally, Michael Brown, CEO & Co-Founder who reminded our network that it was the young people that applied to City Year that got it off the ground, and “it is always the young people of City Year that drive this organization and move it forward.” After the Opening Ceremony and CEO’s address, participants split into role-based tracks to kick off their learning sessions. After an afternoon of sessions, the network came back together for an evening celebrating Ubuntu: One City Year. This was a special night of reflection, performance and inspiration based around Ubuntu, focusing on the shadow and the light of idealism. The evening including a performance by our brothers and sisters from City Year South Africa, a celebration of the stories of seven City Year alumni, powerful song and dance performed by members of the City Year network, and a presentation by Hubie Jones, Social Justice Entrepreneur-in-Residence, who recounted his experience with Hands Across America and urged us to “listen to and respect each other and to change the corrosive discomfort of this country.”


Tuesday, July 14: Day 2 - Social Justice for All

We kicked off day two with a network-wide Unity Rally on Carter Field. At City Year, we do Physical Training at Unity Rallies to demonstrate spirit, discipline, purpose and pride in the community and read our Daily Briefing to ensure we are all on the same page. After Unity Rally, we heard from EVP & Chief Strategy Officer AnnMaura Connolly, dressed as “Miss AmeriCorps,” who reinforced the importance of AmeriCorps to our work here at City Year and celebrated sites who had engaged most effectively with their local government officials throughout the year. She was followed by President Jim Balfanz, who spoke to our long term impact goals and reminded us all that “young kids are not a problem to be solved, but potential to be filled.” Later that afternoon, City Year was honored to welcome special guest, Robert Putnam to engage in thoughtful Q&A with our network about his most recent work, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, sharing that “all kids are our kids.” After the afternoon sessions and dinner, we closed out the evening with our Awards Night: A Celebration of Excellence. Throughout this evening, we were lucky to celebrate the shoulders of giants we all stand on at City Year. Those honored this year included: five remarkable alumni with Comcast NBCUniversal Alumni Awards, seven Best of City Year sites (San Jose, Chicago, New Hampshire, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Milwaukee and Baton Rouge), and our staff veterans celebrating 5-10-15-20-25 years of service.

Wednesday, July 15: Day 3 - Teamwork

Wednesday was dedicated completely to building team and skills in learning sessions and networking. Summer Academy learning sessions build our skills and competencies by providing differentiated learning opportunities. Participants are divided into role-based tracks to provide an opportunity for specific tools, best practice sharing and team building between those serving in similar roles across the network. Tracks include: Civic Engagement, Development, National Executive Leadership, Operational Excellence, Recruitment & Admissions and ProServe Academy. New this year, we offered two session blocks of cross-track professional development sessions covering topics including: Remote Management, How to Make Your Powerpoints Ah-Mazing, and many more. These sessions were facilitated by both internal talent within the City Year network and external partners from organizations including Deloitte, Comcast NBCUniversal, AllOne Health and Northeastern Professional Studies Faculty to name a few. During the evening, many teams and sites hosted team dinners at local restaurants to break bread and build team in a more informal setting.

Thursday, July 16: Day 4 - Inclusivity

After a second powerful morning of Physical Training in Carter Field, the network gathered by Regional Teams (West, Midwest, Central, South, East and HQ) for cross-site and cross-team collaboration within regions. Academy presents a unique time for this kind of regional collaboration, planning and best-practice sharing. Throughout the day, folks made sure to connect with colleagues, share appreciations and attend final learning sessions as we approached the end of this powerful week. Thursday evening is the Academy Talent Show which features acts from throughout the City Year network and is a fun evening of celebration, performance and song.  Hosted by a dynamic duo of Dan Ready, Learning & Development Manager at City Year Chicago and Lauren Feaster, Chief of Staff at City Year Milwaukee, the audience soaked up the unique talents of our colleagues ranging from a line dance from City Year San Antonio to powerful spoken word pieces to broadway song performances to a network-wide soul train, and that’s just to name a few!


Friday, July 17: Closing Day - Excellence

We closed our week of aligning, building and connecting in each track, and then brought our entire network together as One City Year for a final Closing Ceremony. Our idealists made sure to share final appreciations, say goodbyes and record their commitments to continued learning, growth and collaboration. The closing ceremony was built around one of City Year’s founding stories - Night into Day - which reminds us that “we must be the willful force that turns night into day.” We closed Academy with a Spirit Break - where all members in the audience were connected with hands on shoulders and broke on the words “Light & Love,” as we began to make the journey back to our individual sites.


Although the week flew by, the impact of the learning and connecting from this week will continue to ripple out across the network throughout this year. Our idealists return to their site re-energized and connected as we embark on this next service year. One member of team that planned and executed Summer Academy summed the experience up quite perfectly, when she said “filled my inspiration cup this week. Thank you for reminding me who I am and what I want to accomplish.”

Until next year, keep your cup of idealism full and keep growing - this is only one stop in the learning journey!


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