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The Cycle of Opportunity: A Year Commitment That Resonates For A Lifetime

When Lisa Owusu first moved to Jacksonville for a year of service with City Year, she never imagined that she would still call the community home a decade later. Originally from North Carolina, Lisa’s journey underscores the transformative power of service—not just on the individuals served but also on those who give their time and energy.

“I was excited to live in Florida, and Jacksonville was a new adventure,” Lisa recalls. “I always knew that I wanted to serve, and I just appreciated what kids bring and wanted to be part of their development.”

Service has been a cornerstone of Lisa’s life, from volunteering at her local hospital in high school to engaging in service projects with her sorority in college. These experiences prepared her for her role in City Year and lit a lifelong fire for contributing to community development.

Lisa’s experiences beautifully illustrate the idea of a “cycle of opportunity”—a chain reaction where a single year of service supporting students in Jacksonville equally impacts those receiving support and those providing it. For Lisa, this year of service evolved into a lifelong commitment to personal and professional growth, community improvement, and leadership.

Early Beginnings and Lasting Impressions

During her time with City Year, Lisa served initially as an AmeriCorps Member in the role of a Student Success Coach. She later joined the staff as an Impact Manager. Her early days were challenging yet rewarding as she and her team laid the foundation for City Year’s program at a new school. Lisa developed innovative ways to engage students, such as combining basketball with math exercises for sixth-grade boys. This creative approach made learning fun and allowed her to connect with students on a personal level.

She also faced challenges that were equally impactful on her growth. “Moving away from home, not knowing anybody in Jacksonville… It was hard,” Lisa recalls. Despite these difficulties, the sense of community she built with her colleagues and the robust support systems within City Year helped her overcome these obstacles.

“I really leaned on my roommates who I met through City Year,” she continues. “We all served together and leaned on each other, but understanding that we’re all homesick, we’re all working long hours. But we were dedicated to it, and we took the initiative to support each other…and be the best possible support we could be for the students.”

The Impact Beyond the Service Year

The true testament to the cycle of opportunity is evident in how Lisa’s service years shaped her career trajectory. After City Year, Lisa transitioned into risk management at Florida Blue, where she assesses and mitigates significant risks that could impact the organization. The skills and insights gained from her service years—team collaboration, leadership, empathy, and community engagement—directly apply to her current role. Lisa reflects, “City Year was very much the introduction to how you describe who you are as a leader… It allows you to define that as you figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

A Call to Action

Lisa’s journey is a shining example of how service organizations like City Year benefit students in the classroom, young people finding their way, and corporations identifying talent and opportunities to exhibit stewardship in the community.

For young individuals unsure about their next steps, Lisa advises, “Seize the opportunity. Programs like City Year allow you to really explore what it is that you want to do… Don’t be afraid to take that leap.”

Lisa’s story is also a compelling endorsement for organizations contemplating supporting service programs. The foundational skills built through service—empathy, leadership, teamwork—are invaluable across all sectors. Supporting such programs helps cultivate a resilient workforce, strengthens community ties, and fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Conclusion

As we consider the broad impact and deeper meanings of a year of service, Lisa Owusu’s story is a perfect example of how such experiences can ripple through a lifetime, influencing career paths and instilling a deep-seated drive to contribute meaningfully to society. Her journey from a City Year AmeriCorps Member to a risk management professional in the community she has embraced and calls home exemplifies how service years are more than gap years; they are a collection of foundational experiences that mold individuals into leaders who shape and inspire their communities.

This cycle of opportunity is powerful. By investing in it, you are investing in the future of our community.

Click here to watch the full conversation: https://youtu.be/4Ems7Wk2Vcs

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