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Care Force Alumni Spotlight: Emily Kean

Introducing Emily Kean

Emily Kean, former Senior Director of Impact Operations at City Year Chicago, in the iconic red jacket posing outside the office in Chicago, Illinois.

We are really thankful to have been able to have a chat with Emily Kean and talk about her service with City Year for the past eight years. We also got to talk to her about her most recent role at CY and how she uses her Care Force experience to further her career. Fun fact: Emily has had 6 different job titles in her career at City Year.

Q. Thank you so much for joining us today, Emily. We are excited to have you here. So, let’s go into the first question, what is your favorite memory from your first AmeriCorps year?

EK: Okay, so we did morning greeting and welcoming students into the building, but we also got the opportunity to eat breakfast with our students. I really enjoyed that in terms of checking in with them and being able to help kids with homework in the morning. I am a morning person and I just enjoyed being able to bring that positive energy into the school building.

Q. Yeah, I am NOT a morning person, so no, no, no. (laughs) Okay second question, what was your favorite Care Force trip and why?

EK: It was in Kansas City with our corporate sponsor T-Mobile, and we had been traveling for a while. My project was a mosaic tile mural placed in the middle of a cement table. It was the first time we had done a mosaic that year, and it was fun to work and think through a different type of project that we hadn’t tried before. Something that sticks out to me was a learning moment I had. Long story short, an entire bag of mortar was mixed and the whole thing hardened due to the hot temperatures that day. We supported other projects while the runner went out and bought more mortar. I feel like it was an opportunity, one I had to learn the hard way, about the importance of being clear in your directions. I think that it also made me realize that even when you make mistakes you can still adjust in the moment, and the team of volunteers that I worked with were really understanding in that regard.

Q. Wow that sounds like it was an interesting challenge. So, the next question is what skills did you develop with TCF and how are they relevant to your current work?

EK: I think what sticks out to me the most is project management, problem solving, and communication.  I had to really think through how to put on a project or event successfully, especially what needs to happen and the steps I need to take to execute the event. Project management really taught me how to plan out chronologically what needs to happen in order to lead a successful project or event. Most importantly, it helped me to problem solve in terms of anticipating the next steps and being able to come up with solutions quickly and independently. Like in the example I gave on the project in Kansas City, I remember being like “oh” when I realized there was no more mortar and thinking “great I needed to be able to say something right now, but I don’t know what to say.” I think examples like that gave me experience and the ability to think through what else needs to be done and anticipate the next step and then being able to articulate that effectively. That has made me really strong in terms of communication.

Q. Okay and this question is a bit of a big one. What is your current position, where and what do you do?

EK: I serve as the Senior Director of Impact Operations at City Year Chicago.  Ultimately my small team helps to run the operations of our impact department. We work to oversee AmeriCorps compliance, the AmeriCorps member experience and the business operations of our department. This includes managing the budget, distributing uniforms, leading community meetings, planning registration and graduation, managing the Confirmed AmeriCorps member experience and planning site wide events that help us foster community.

(*Emily recently transitioned from her role in City Year Chicago and we wish her the best.)

Q. Wow, so that’s a lot, that’s what I’m hearing. (everyone laughs) Okay thank you, next question is what piece of advice do you have for future TCF members or potential City Year AmeriCorps members?

EK: I think, specifically around Care Force, one piece of advice is to take advantage of learning as many skills as possible. Something I am grateful for is getting to learn and do so many new things like use an auger, use a chainsaw, or use a tile cutter. Just getting to learn and try out different skills was fun that year. Another piece of advice is being able to say yes to the things that scare you. I remember if I said something like “um I don’t really know, that makes me nervous, I don’t want to do that” they would be like “okay great you’ll be doing that” and I’m like great I shouldn’t have said that. (laughs) Although things can seem scary to you or make you nervous, I think saying yes to these challenges really rewards you in the end. Even having to lead PT (physical training) in front of such large groups of people always freaked me out. However, that helped to pave a new skillset where now I frequently have to get in front of 275 people at City Year Chicago and talk with them.

City Year Care Force Senior AmeriCorps members in their iconic red jackets bringing it in for a spirit break with T-Mobile volunteers for a powerful day of service at Boys and Girls Club Thornberry.

Q. That was wonderful, thank you. Next question, what made you made you want to come back to City Year and what made you stay at City Year?

EK: I actually took a year off between graduating from Care Force and starting my first year as an Impact Manager. I went and got my Masters in the School of Social Work. Being a social worker was really important to me and it was the perfect time for me to take a break and finish that out. I knew that I wanted to stay in Chicago, but I felt I needed to get some more experience before I dealt with the depths of what it means to be a school social worker, so I applied to become an Impact Manger at City Year Chicago. I think what made me want to come back was to really understand and learn the landscape of Chicago and be able to lead young people through an experience that I had found so much meaning and growth in. I’ve stayed because I continue to be challenged in the roles that I have taken and that has motivated me to continue, as Hugh would say “work on City Year.” I think that I also truly believe in the relationship that AmeriCorps members build with students and the power of those relationships. Especially here in Chicago, the, love and attention that students need is deep, and I believe that AmeriCorps members are able to provide that extra support to schools and student.

Q. In your continued work with CY, what CY culture piece do you strongly believe in and want to continue growing in?

EK: For this question I was like “I don’t know!” when I was thinking about it earlier, but what stuck out to me the most was thinking about the value “Level 5 Leadership.” I think I have learned something new in each experience that I’ve had, whether that be in different roles or different years of doing things. Being a leader is really difficult and you have to constantly be adapting, learning, challenging yourself and getting feedback. I don’t think you ever truly master that, especially as your role changes, as the organization changes, and as the people you lead change. And I think that that City Year value makes me think about how much I have to continue to challenge myself but also adapt to the environment that’s constantly changing.

Q. Yes that is definitely a challenging value, but it’s one that’s really important. And last but not least, what has been one of your proudest accomplishment thus far as a staff member with City Year?

EK: Having the opportunity to participate in LEAD comes to mind. City Year LEAD is a cohort of staff members from across the country in different roles, that were selected to participate in a leadership development program. It was a great experience to be able to learn different perspectives from various departments in a way that I just haven’t had access to, being in the Impact Department for six and a half years. It also just gave me the opportunity to get to know other people in City Year that I don’t get to connect with. And I’m proud of the work that my team, Hugh Harlow was on my team, the work that Hugh and I got to do around Confirmed AmeriCorps Member experience and I now directly lead that work here in Chicago. It was the first opportunity to really help and contribute to solving an issue that we had been experiencing and that has just opened my eyes to learning things from a much larger perspective, an organizational perspective, that I just don’t think I had thought, I always viewed things from the impact world and I’m proud of having been able to be a part of that experience.

Thank you, Emily, we truly appreciate you taking time out of your day to share your experience with us. One last piece of advice that Emily Kean has for us is “to really enjoy the journey of the experience. It’s hard to see and always remember what you’re learning and the impact you’re having since the experience at City Year is so unique.”

Thanks for joining us!

Originally published 3/22/2019

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