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Five Lessons From my City Year Experience

After graduating college, I found myself in a position that I believe many of our young people find themselves: idealistic, wanting to help others, and craving the opportunity and experience to do so. I had so much passion and drive, yet I didn’t know where to begin. I quickly felt overwhelmed by all the causes that felt near and dear to my heart, and I ended up feeling the weight of indecision sitting on my chest. It wasn’t until my sister, a City Year Greater Boston alumna, introduced me to service opportunities with City Year that this weight finally lifted. Although I might not have recognized it at the time, City Year gave me an opportunity to grow and fine-tune a skillset that will serve me for years to come. 

In my first year as an AmeriCorps Member, I served at the Washington Irving Middle School in a 6th grade English/Language Arts classroom. During the school day, I saw about seventy 6th graders, helping them develop and fine-tune their reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and most importantly, their social-emotional skills. In the afternoons, my team and I ran an after-school program focused on helping students with math and providing enrichment activities to encourage continued learning. We also planned different whole-school events and initiatives to encourage attendance, created bulletin boards, and helped facilitate celebrations for students. While this may seem daunting, my service year helped me realize just how much impact we can have in our communities when we make a concerted and collaborative effort. 

As I gear up for my fourth year with City Year, I have been reflecting on some of the greatest lessons, losses, and changes I’ve experienced in my time as a City Year AmeriCorps member. Whether explicit or implicit, here are five lessons I found most valuable from my City Year experience. 

  1. Look at the people around you, they are your allies for the long haul. Care for each other, because if you’re doing mission-driven work and if you’re trying to take down systemic inequity, you need to be prepared for a long fight.
  2. Don’t be afraid to reach out for additional support. Whether that support is from your own personal circles, from mental health professionals such as therapists, or from your family and community engaging in community care, know that there are people around you that want you to succeed.
  3. Never lose sight of the things that bring you joy. As I’ve said above, there are days where you’ll feel tired, where you’ll feel defeated, where you’ll feel challenged and find it difficult to continue. These are the moments we often find ourselves coming back to what centers us, but that might also feel like it’s too little, too late. My advice is to give yourself permission and freedom to laugh. Although the work we do is serious, being present and in-the-moment helps us turn these big moments into smaller, bite-sized pieces that ultimately make a big impact.
  4. Take space, make space. This is a City Year motto that I’ve heard day-in and day-out, but I want to stretch it a little further. We often presume that giving others space—particularly those with marginalized identities—is enough, but this still reinforces the idea that it’s privileged identities who own the space with the option to share or not share with others. We need to consciously center spaces around those most impacted and we need to do so in a way that doesn’t burden them with more of the mental or emotional workload. Listen to those around you. Take the time to educate yourself.
  5. We all start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to let that place be here and that time be now.  

As we begin a new academic year and welcome a new group of dedicated City Year Greater Boston AmeriCorps Members, I hope these lessons learned will serve as guideposts as you consider your own Year of Service.  

Apply today to serve as an AmeriCorps member in Boston or Everett Public Schools for the 2022-23 academic year. 

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