In our "Why I Wear My Red Jacket" series, we'll be sharing stories from City Year Jacksonville AmeriCorps Members and Alums. This week's story is from Lauren Flanagan, Team Leader at Highlands Middle School. (Names of students have been changed to protect their privacy). 

My name is Lauren Flanagan and I proudly serve as an AmeriCorps Team Leader at Highlands Middle School, and I wanted to share with you a little about myself and my service with City Year.

Laura on Opening Day

I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida in a home where my education was of the utmost importance. When I was young, my siblings or parents would read to me each night, and I associated reading with feelings of love and security. That laid the foundation for my family to push me to be the best I could be. They made sure I knew the great potential within me, and I started to understand that my abilities were not fixed; through my efforts, I could get better at things with which I initially struggled. This formed me into a person who values hard work, and even though I didn’t realize it until later, sees education as the greatest tool for empowering people to live their lives to the fullest.

Through my upbringing, my parents instilled in me a heart for helping people. Therefore, when I was a student at the University of Florida, I chose to study Family, Youth, and Community Sciences. Through my studies, various clubs, and retreats, I worked to do for others what my parents had done for me: help them to see how much they are valued, open their eyes to their own potential, and empower them to reach that potential. In my senior year, while attending a Career Fair, I discovered City Year. Once I heard the mission, I was thrilled to have found an organization that has a belief system so strongly aligned with my own. I was inspired because City Year operates on the mentality that our students are not a problem to be solved, but a potential to be fulfilled, and that principle strongly resonates with me still to this day. I knew this is where I was called to serve.

Last year I had the privilege of serving at Highlands Middle School in an eighth-grade reading class. I had the honor of making connections with students and working alongside them to make their experience at school one where they felt the same love and security that I felt as a child.

Laura with her team at Highlands MS

One particularly amazing student I’ve had the honor to work with is a young lady named Tiana. Tiana was a shy, quiet girl who followed along with whatever her more outspoken friends were doing. Through working closely with Tiana, I emphasized to her that greatness is within, and she did not need to constantly seek the approval of her peers; I was giving Tiana the tools to unleash her own greatness, I was not giving her anything she did not already have and as we worked together, her confidence grew exponentially. This had a positive impact on her academics, and in her social-emotional development as well. I was consistent with Tiana in praising her efforts, showing her what she did well, and equipping her to find ways to make her studies, and therefore her character even better than before. As a result, Tiana grew over two grade levels in her reading over the course of just one academic year. More importantly, Tiana became a positive leader for her peers. She encouraged them to do their work with excellence, to be a kind friend, and to be a person of integrity.

Tiana is just one student who exemplifies the joy I have in serving with City Year. There are many more students with success stories like hers and many more students with whom there is still much work to be done. These students are the reason I returned for a second year with City Year Jacksonville. Amid all the struggles, frustrations, and road blocks that come with our work, there is so much more beauty, triumph, and strength. The moments of success far outweigh the moments of difficulty. I came back to serve another year in order to build upon the

potential of our students and to empower a new generation of corps members to have an even better impact than I did. We are the ripples of hope to our communities. We are the beacons of light to our families. We are the game changers of our society. We are City Year.

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