By Ashley Bembry-Kaintuck, City Year D.C. ’13 

Growing up, I always wanted to be a journalist. I had dreams of telling people’s stories and giving a voice to people who weren’t being heard. I planned to follow in my father’s footsteps. He’s an amazing writer and his human-interest pieces will make you shed a tear and feel as if you know the people he writes so passionately about.

But, I also knew I wanted to serve. To give back to my community, and help others tell their stories.

During my City Year AmeriCorps year, I saw all of my students make significant progress in math, reading and spelling. In addition, I’m really proud of their social-emotional progress as middle school students.

I remember one student in particular; her name was Anya*. She was such a smart little girl, but would sometimes make sudden outbursts in class, or get into arguments with other students. By taking the time to sit with Anya one-on-one, listening to her point of view and engaging in dialogue about how she could approach situations differently, we built trust--one day at time.  After a few months with Anya, I saw her behavior change dramatically. If she had a problem, she would come to me and explain why she was upset. She would sit next to me instead of confronting students, and she would wave me over in class if work was overwhelming her instead of having an outburst. I saw how she gained a new appreciation for learning and learned the importance of respect. We developed such a close relationship that if she started to become agitated, we would just need to exchange looks and she would calm down. It’s this type of breakthrough with a student that leads to improved grades and other successes in life.  

There was also personal growth in my national service experience. I carry my City Year experience with me wherever I go and grateful for all of the connections I made.  I found my job as an Associate Producer at Discovery Communications because I met a City Year board member during City Year’s MLK Day of service. We bonded over sharing the same name and she introduced me to her friend, who is now one of my bosses. Because of her commitment to national service and AmeriCorps members, and because of national service, I’ve gotten to pursue my career dream of telling stories.

At City Year I also earned follow-through and commitment, which will probably remain most important in all aspects of my life. In order to be the best for my students, I was 110% committed to them and their success. It’s hard for students to build trust in you otherwise.

Second, I learned resourcefulness. There were many times when my City Year team had to be resourceful when getting supplies to help with the various projects we planned.

Finally, I learned there are good cuts and bad cuts. As an Associate Producer at Discovery, nothing inspires me more than a good cut of footage. As an AmeriCorps Alum, nothing concerns me more than the cuts that national service programs face. Those are bad cuts. They mean less AmeriCorps members in our schools and communities; less support for fifth graders like Anya; less high school students who are college and career ready.  It means less young people who have the opportunity to serve and find their career path like I did.

I believe national service is the single best investment we can make to shape the economic trajectory for our country’s youth.

*name changed to protect student privacy.


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If you liked this post, check out:

-Hope For the Year: An Open Letter to Learners

-Why I Serve

-Top Ten Things You Should Know About City Year (before you apply!)


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