By: Alexia Santiago

I have always enjoyed helping others from the time I was little- but, at the end of my college career, I still had no idea of how I wanted to make that my profession. I studied psychology and had envisioned myself counseling in the future. I knew that graduate school was an option, but I felt rushed into choosing a career path. I decided to weigh different options. At a career fair, I discovered City Year.

After walking the tables lined up in the room, I landed at the last table, which was covered in a bright red tablecloth that read “City Year.” I began to talk to the recruiter, and he explained City Year’s mission. He told me about a place where I could help others, develop myself professionally and receive benefits in educational scholarships. Tthis made my decision easy. I remember leaving the career fair and heading down the stairs of my student union. I began filling out the application that same day.

After relocating to Columbus, I soon found that my quick decision was one I was more than satisfied with. City Year is a place that has intentional culture, values that align with mine, and a safe place for my own personal growth. As a student who was labeled “at risk” in my educational career, the goal of helping our students reach graduation is one I had particularly close to heart.

My parents did not get the chance to receive a college degree and worked very hard to make sure I was given one. Had they been told they could succeed, I believe they would have made the effort to continue their education. Fortunately for me, they have always been supportive of whatever it was I wanted to do. When I told them I would be serving this year, they were extremely proud that I chose to be that person telling students they “can”.

A lot of knowledge is best gained through experience. In the month that I have been with City Year, I have appreciated the strategies used to help prepare us for service. The foundation given to AmeriCorps members before service has been a key factor in carrying the heavy weight of our mission. There is no doubt that the task at hand is one that requires a substantial amount of strength and effort. Our month of training before service was filled with different theories, practices, history of our city, and tools used in order to better understand our population and our mission.

An aid in understanding my mission at City Year is knowing my “why.” Explaining my “why” behind what I do has become an important practice in my work ethic and everyday life. Sometimes we act without addressing our motives. If I am working with a student, I should be prepared with a response that gives them an answer about why it is important for me to help and more importantly why it is relevant to them. These new expectations that have been branded into my thinking are helping me come into my own instead of becoming complacent.

The idea of legacy has also been a lesson I have taken from my first month. When we put on our uniforms, it is a representation of those relationships that have been carefully crafted for years before us. It is the work of pioneers or giants that have come before. They have worked hard to solidify an image, persona, and a respect that comes with the City Year name. It is an incredible honor and responsibility.

Lastly, in my time here the importance of a team or community has been stressed and emphasized. A team dynamic can greatly influence the impact we have on the students. If your team is not consistent, it can create confusion in group settings, and students may get the idea that the real purpose or goal is unclear. In this month, we have all been challenged to work collaboratively with coworkers of many different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. This helped with our transitions into our schools. In some cases we may be able to relate, but we also have interactions with students from completely different walks of life.

Here at City Year, the days are long and can be taxing- it makes the moments of  triumphant breakthrough that much more rewarding. I am grateful to have already formed a connection with my team and AmeriCorps. I feel as though I am part of something bigger. My humanity is tied to yours.

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