Today's blog was written by Chelsea Reese, an AmeriCorps Member serving on the Jacksonville Jaguars team at Matthew Gilbert Middle School.
At City Year, we use the term "Starfish" to represent students whom we have influenced greatly, felt a deep connection with, and are confident we have made a significant impact with. This term originates from The Starfish Story, a story that is part of City Year culture that we use as inspiration that all positive change matters, even if we impact just one person. At times it can be hard to see the long-term impact of the work we do in just one year of service, but our Starfish give us reason to believe that we have truly made a difference this year. I took the time to interview my fellow corps member, Tylishia Perkins, in regards to one of her Starfish students this year.
Q: Who is your Starfish? Tell me about him/her.
My Starfish is Ayanna. Ayanna is a young lady trying to find her way and place in life. She deals with a lot at home so school is her comfort place. She has so much energy and is full of life. She wants the best for herself and her friends.
Q: What was she like before and after you began building a relationship with her?
Before I began working with Ayanna she was quiet and mostly kept to herself. She had a “tough girl” image that she projected so no one really messed with her or said to much to her. After Ayanna and I “clicked” she began to soften up and open up. She realized she didn't have to be a "tough girl" at school, it was a place and she could just be a kid.
Q: Describe your relationship with Ayanna. What is a typical day like?
When Ayanna sees me in the morning she greets me with a dance or a funny story. One of the teachers we work with, Ms.Gibson, has Ayanna for first period so she usually lets me know what is going on with Ayanna that day and if she is having a bad morning. Ayanna likes to eat lunch with me in the City Year room so I allow that time for us to just sit back, chill, and talk about anything she wants to talk about. In math class Ayanna typically does well so I normally do not work with her as closely in that class; however, sometimes she gets frustrated if she does not understand the concepts, but once I help her she is able to do well. After school, Ayanna comes to visit me after her basketball practice. If it is game day and the coach has provided food for the team, she makes sure to bring back a plate for me. Some days Ayanna will even join the City Year team for our final circle of the day.
Q: What do you think was the turning point in your relationship with Ayanna?
Ayanna came to school crying one day at the start of the school year. At that point we did not have much of a personal bond as I had only interacted with her in class. However, that day she walked into the City Year room, asked for me, put her head on my shoulder and just cried. I stood there and let her cry as long as she needed, no questions asked. Finally, she calmed down, stopped crying, and told me a story about her family life and why she was so upset that day. Her story reminded me of my own and the reason I chose to study psychology, became a mentor, and serve with City Year each day. Her willingness to open up to me and disclose this personal information strengthened our relationship and her trust in me as a mentor.
Q: What makes you proud of your Starfish Student?
I am proud that Ayanna works hard not to let her home life problems get in the way of her school work. Every day I push her to work hard not to become a product of her environment. Even when life gets her down, she still manages to smile and keep a smile on my face too. I hope that Ayanna will continue to use basketball as her outlet and go as far as she possibly can.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would want to give your Starfish for her to take forever?
One piece of advice I would give Ayanna is to never give up and never let her home life stop her from doing great things. I want her to understand that with focus and hard work, she can go far.
Q: What is the most memorable moment you had with your Starfish?
One morning I wasn’t feeling very well and already contemplating how I would make it through the day. That morning Ayanna came to school energized and bubbly. She joined the City Year team for power greeting outside the school and did a “good morning” dance. That dance, and her energetic spirit, changed the tone of the day for me. As City Year AmeriCorps members, we come to school each day to help the students, but most days they help us too.
Q: Do you have anything else you want to share?
Ayanna is the reason I come to work everyday, I cannot imagine how my service year would be without her. Every day that's hard and I want to give up, I remind myself that I am making an impact in the lives of the students I work with.
As AmeriCorps members working in education, we are on a tumultuous journey and face many challenges each day. But the work we do has enormous power, so much so that the benefits often outweigh the obstacles. I leave you with this quote that can be found in City Year’s Idealist Handbook as part of The Starfish Founding Story: “The understanding that we hold in our hands the power to change a life, a mind, or a circumstance today – right now – is a powerful insight and motivator.”