Care Force Alumni Spotlight: Andrew Duffy
On Thursday October 15, 2020, Avery, Eric and I interviewed Team Care Force alum Andrew Duffy about his City Year experience and got some more insight into his life beyond City Year. We learned so much and are super grateful he took the time to chat with us.
Where did you serve? What’s your favorite memory from your first corps year?
Andrew: I served with City Year Boston in 2008-2009 on the Young Heroes team. My favorite memory, well it’s hard to pick just one, but I would say we had the Young Heroes Advisory Board, which was a select group of our kiddos that had stepped up for leadership roles. We did a sleepover as a team at headquarters, and I was assigned the boys’ room, which was the third-floor computer lab. Somehow, the light switch that was automatic got reversed, so when no one was moving, it would come on. My night was spent, every 20-30 minutes, getting up and waving my arms to get the lights to go off. The kids could care less; they were out like lights, but that was one of those things that would only happen in City Year.
What was your favorite Care Force trip and why?
Andrew: If I have to just pick one, we went to Phoenix, Arizona, and we worked with Aramark. That project they were repurposing an old motel into a shelter for single mothers, abused women and homeless women. It was at least 100 degrees every day, so sweating through whatever we wore and having to bring two or three pairs of everything. One of the bigger projects we had was moving a gazebo. I always forget the proper term for it. But it was basically a sun awning from a motel across the street and relocating it behind one of the buildings. We realized that whoever the previous owner was had filled in an inground swimming pool with concrete. There’s an entire humongous pool-sized block of concrete that somehow also had a tree stump in it. I just recall my boss Hugh and I spending an entire day trying to chip away at this tree in the cement in 100-and-some-degree weather.
My other favorite memory from that also involves heat and sweat. We went out to dinner at a Greek restaurant with Hugh McDonald, who now works in the southern region as a managing director for recruitment. We decided we were going to share a meat platter of all sorts of different meats. It was on that trip that I was able to confirm that meat sweats are an actual thing. It was hands down one of the hardest trips in terms of working pretty long days in 100-plus-degree weather but then also having the reward on the back end of that, feeling like you put so much into it, and we got so much done. So getting there at five in the morning to do a newscast, and then working all the way through the day. I think that was one of the trips that there were a lot of great memories, teammates and having dinner like I said, and stuff like that. I think it was a great sort of encapsulating trip to have a lot of good memories from sort of the anguish and victories of service, but also some of the more personal elements of dinner and memories of friends.
What is your current position and job responsibilities?
Andrew: I currently serve as a recruitment manager as part of the East region for City Year. The job has changed slightly this year. When I was first brought on, my market was the entire state of North Carolina. Now, the process has changed a bit where I have a specific list of schools that I’m currently focusing on, so those are essentially my goal. My focus is to engage those schools, some through traditional means in terms of on-campus engagements and other things. Obviously, those things are on hold for right now. The overall approach is to have a very robust approach of the traditional on-campus engagement: career fairs, paneling and office hours. Then, the other part of the list is more virtual engagement, which we’ll hold through whenever we get back on campuses. We use a platform known as Handshake that a lot of schools are going to have events on to do some messaging and marketing. All of my schools are in North Carolina, but I also am working with my team. One of my teammates is from the East region; she’s covering North Carolina strictly at a virtual level, so it’s working and collaborating with her, and I will eventually do some traveling. But as you know, this year is both a new process and sort of a new approach to things just given all that’s going on with virtual and digital spaces right now.
What skills did you develop with Team Care Force that are most relevant to your current work?
Andrew: Chief among them is collaboration both with team and with partners. We worked closely with Aramark, T-Mobile and CSX. It was a great experience to understand how to wear different hats at any given moment. One minute you’re on the service site halfway into your cut list, then turn around and there’s a principal, VP or CEO from your sponsor for that day. To have the ability to get into a moment and focus in on tasks but then also be able to transition quickly into an elevator speech. It’s a skill to nail the why. Physically, we’re doing a mural or we’re doing picnic benches or something else but expanding on that to say, “This bench is going to be a place for somebody to sit. Even more, it’s a place to convene and share stories or maybe lead a class or sharing meal with someone.” I think for me that was the best part, really honing in on my skills of being able to collaborate across the different aspects of the role, which in turn have led me to even be able to leverage those skills in what I do now.
On Team Care Force, we were constantly meeting new people, constantly introducing the organization to those who have otherwise never heard of it, engaging our partners and our champions at our schools. I’d definitely add relationship building and understanding that at all times, you have to be prepared to be a representative and a champion of City Year. You never know who you’re going to meet, in what moment you’re going to meet them and then potentially what ripples that could have to future engagements or future opportunities. I would say that sort of energy was kind of what brought me to Care Force. I heard about City Year, it stuck and I wanted to stay with City Year. I met a corps member or alum from Care Force, and they gave me a really great, genuine elevator speech about why choose Care Force; they really helped me out.
What advice would you give future Care Force members?
Andrew: Number one, specific to Care Force, be prepared and willing to learn. And that is not simply with respect to power tools, cut lists, measurements and things like that. It kind of touches on what I had previously just said, you’re going to learn about how the organization interacts with different parties in different populations, and really begin to understand larger concepts of what that looks like. You can start to see beyond just going to service at your school. While that’s the core of our work and our mission, Care Force definitely opened my eyes to, for lack of a better term, the back end of the process and relationships. I think being an active and engaged learner is incredibly important. Having the willingness to ask questions, at least for me, that was something that was really important. I was never afraid to kind of look silly or possibly stupid by asking what would seem like a simple question. Safety is also very important, as someone who injured themselves a couple times during my corps year. Safety also loops into learning. Safety is always being aware and always understanding what’s happening, what’s going around, being curious about it, as well taking on different tasks. Also, not just specifically focusing on the service site, prep, cut lists and things like that but also expanding into those areas of external affairs, partnership development and then really being open and honest about what it is that you’re looking to get out of those moments as well. Really volunteering to put your whole self into the year of service beyond just getting to the airport on time and such.
What made you want to come back to City Year?
Andrew: That’s an easy question. I would even say specifically in Care Force there have been tethers throughout my entire adult life. Whether it’s teammates of mine during my Care Force year who I’m still in touch with, some of whom I’ve gone to their weddings and now are converted with photos of their children on Instagram and Facebook. It is also old supervisors that I now work alongside or stay in communication with, some of whom have been mentors for me both during my Care Force year, and perhaps even more. I’m going to talk about the relationships you build. Ted and, at the time, Will Holbrook were huge influences for me, both in work and in life. Chris, obviously, huge on that. Both of the Hughs were big for me during the year. For me, that was always the pull. The understanding that once I was outside of the direct community of City Year because there’s always sort of that secondary and tertiary element of you’re always connected. You’re always involved with people that you know, but that was always the draw for me was to get back into the very direct working community with people whom work at a caliber that I’ve experienced in my professional career. I see this especially after going to other working environments and being in other communities where there isn’t a priority on the things that our organization prioritizes. Other organizations are entirely different, and it was, in many cases, a quick realization that it was not the working environment for me. So that was as much an influence and a motivator for me to stay connected and return to the organization as anything else.
What was a major learning moment for you during Care Force?
Andrew: I’d say a big learning moment was learning how to ask for help. I don’t know if you all have done the leadership compass, but I am incredibly north. It paid its dividends in working for Care Force in many ways and was able to lean into that a lot. But it also made me the type of person to take on everything, try and get everything done and sort of put blinders on within the work in the service. That, in some cases, would lead to over-exerting myself. I always had this approach that everyone has a second wind, but Care Force requires you to have a third or fourth wind at times. I would always push through those moments when, in fact, there could have been an opportunity to have somebody else help with the cut list or somebody else take on some of what I was focused on or what I was prioritizing in my mind. For me, I think that was big. It is learning to ask for help and not feeling like doing so is some sort of knock against me, it was basically removing my ego out of it. Then feeling like that is an acceptable and a smart approach to things rather than a weakness in the work itself.
In what ways have you engaged with Care Force or City Year as an alum?
Andrew: A lot of ways I’m still connected to the majority of my teammates. As I said, I have attended weddings and friends on various social media outlets. But there’s still the attempt there to stay connected and stay involved in people’s lives. I talked about having had supervisors during my Care Force year that have really extended themselves and their generosity in mentoring me beyond my service year as well. Yet again, highlighting Will, for example, who has been a huge cheerleader of mine in a number of pursuits professionally over the years and has always sort of been able to encourage and support me in in those pursuits. I feel like there’s never been a moment where I’ve reached out to an old supervisor from Care Force and been told that now’s not a good time. There is a sense as an alum, and I can probably speak for my teammates and some other Care Force alums, there is a sense from the alumni side of things that there’s a willingness and a desire of our previous supervisors and current supervisors to maintain that connection. Whether it’s through fantasy football leagues or serving as reserves, those are things I definitely leaned into. After I left the team, it was nice just to reconnect to the to the power and the enjoyment of observing on sites and on projects. I think for me, that’s sort of the biggest takeaway as an alum. It’s that there’s an active and earnest engagement from the Care Force team to kind of reach out and stay connected, and that’s not always the case. As I’ve heard from other people and of their service years, the teams that they’ve served on previously don’t have that level of engagement there.
How has COVID-19 altered your current role? How are you adapting?
Andrew: For me, it’s a bit strange given the fact that I’ve been fully remote since I’ve started this position. Working from home for me has always been a thing. It’s new to everyone else, but it’s an old hat. For me, it definitely has thrown a wrench in the work that I do in the recruitment, just given the fact that now everything is based virtually or digitally. That’s been a bit of a struggle, just because I enjoyed the travel element of it. It takes me back to my Care Force days of working one week out of the office a month and the other three weeks being on the road, flying here to there, and doing that was something I really enjoyed. That was an element and an aspect of what I did here. Driving around the state of North Carolina, getting to know what’s out there. Going out and climbing a mountain as part of a trip out to Asheville or Boone. Funnily enough, I found that I didn’t hate long drives as much as I thought I would. I found that after the first hour, it is what it is; you kind of just get into a zone on it. I’m coming from Massachusetts, where I’m originally from. It was sort of inconceivable to be able to actually drive anywhere more than an hour and a half and not be in a completely different state, so that’s been something new for me. In sort of my personal preference of working, I’m not being able to get out and sort of pound the pavement and meet people. I definitely have sort of an old school approach in that. That especially comes from Care Force, having those volunteer days where you’re meeting hundreds of people at a time, shaking hands, giving high fives and saying hello. Having that face-to-face, person-to-person interaction is something that I also enjoyed. Part of my work was going out to career fairs and being able to interact with students in the Career Center. I would also be meeting other employers and seeing the same faces at all our events. So you would know the Peace Corps person is the same person at the Wake Forest event as it is at Appalachian State. It’s definitely been a full stop on the travel element, and it’s definitely a strange experience now to have everything more virtual than it was, even though it was part of what I did already. Now, I’m being on video calls or having days like yesterday; from nine till six you’re in events, you’re in one chat room and then you jump into another chat room, and at times, you’re on a video chat with someone while you’re in like a text-based chat room with another one. It’s been an interesting but still enjoyable logistical challenge at times. We’ll see what comes for the rest of the semester and in the spring semester, but hopefully, fingers crossed, we can return to some relative normalcy.
Are there any activities or skills that you started doing during quarantine that you wouldn’t have otherwise?
Andrew: One of the things that I took on during quarantine because I always had this excuse at the back of my head that if I had a home gym, I would go every day, and I would be the fittest person. This spring, I decided to get an exercise bike. It was sort of facing the music on that excuse of alright, the home gym processes started. Now, what excuse are you going to come up with, and luckily, there were times where I was able to kind of look past that excuse. For a while, I was pretty regular. I’ve since moved and had to order a new one, and the logistics of that are a mess. So that’s my new excuse, right? But I would say exercise has been something that I really leaned into. I think the month of July, I exercise more in that month than I had the previous six or seven years, however far you want to go back. That is then quantifiable because you can look at it, and say I worked out this and that, then go back and be like, I didn’t do anything for the whole month of February. So, it’s something for me that I really leaned into and will continue to. The other thing that is sort of on that round, that will soon be a venture of mine, is I no longer have dogs, but I’ll be getting a dog at some point. So that’ll be something to fill my time as well. I’m right around the corner from a dog park. So, I am already set up for that, and I’ll use the dog again as another excuse to get out.
Are there any other hard or soft skills you’ve picked up?
Andrew: I don’t know if I’ve picked it up, but maybe, now I’m more of a cleaner than I was. If I find myself in that moment of, “I’m bored,” or something, and I don’t want to watch anything on Netflix, the default is either I work out or there’s got to be something around here that I can clean. There’s always something to do. There’s always a floor to be vacuumed or something. I feel like that Geico commercial where you turn into parents; my dad was always the cleaner. He would always do everything; he was like Danny Tanner, both in appearance and personality. I feel like I’m my dad now looking at piles of things asking, “What can I throw out here? What needs to go in a hamper?” or something like that. Weave that into sort of the elements that I really pulled from my Care Force year, I’m a huge proponent of camp firing and the concept of leaving it better than you found it. I apply that more to life in general than sort of the conceptual element of that. I’ve long considered getting a disposable bag or taking a shopping bag with me on walks or runs and picking up trash, but I haven’t reached that level of an environmental activist. I guess we’ll say, it’s still a thought.
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