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JANUARY 29, 2016

Not all heroes wear red capes, some wear red bomber jackets…

I recently spent a school day with 12 young educators at a local South Florida school. These young mentors are part of a national organization named City Year. City Year partners with schools to provide at-risk students with needs that the schools are unable to. At-risk students typically have low grades, poor attendance and are falling behind academically. City Year then places a team of AmeriCorps members to tutor and mentor these students, with their math and reading skills, both inside and outside the classroom.After sitting in on a typical staff meeting between these two, lunchtime quickly rolled around and the 10 Corps members shuffled in. The Corps’ day starts around 6:45am, so by lunchtime they had already gone though a plethora of student interactions and with more to come.  As they sat down to eat, I engaged them in conversation and learned more about what it takes to be a Corps member. Here comes the hero part…Upon my arrival, I was greeted by the team’s Program Manager, Morgan, a truly nice and caring individual. Walking through the school halls with her, I saw how welcomed the City Year presence was at the school. Students, faculty, security guards, they all greeted her with a genuine smile. When I entered the City Year office I met the Team Leader, Rain, who is also Morgan’s right hand gal. These two lovely ladies oversee the 10 AmeriCorps members: Taylor, Raquel, Francesca, Marissa, Andrea, Tatiana, Keisha, Kirti, Murielle and Gabe.

Later that afternoon, the group assembled for “Civic Reflection”, an activity in which a social skill/topic is discussed. On this day, the skill was “empathy”. One by one they all stated what empathy meant to them and provided scenarios that allowed them to encounter empathy at the school. Listening to them convey how empathetic they are towards the students and in turn, the students back to them, showed me what a pivotal role they play in the lives of these kids. A majority of these students are experiencing hardships that most 30 year olds haven’t had to endure. For the Corps, one of the hardest challenges they face is when a student is so severely behind that the Corps members are unable to get them as far ahead as they had hoped. For some students, these Corps members are the only ones pushing them to graduate and reach their full potential. While continuing to hear the Corps members speak, I could not help but think to myself that they themselves embody the concept of empathy.In order to be a City Year Corps member, you must devote 11 months of service to the school you are assigned. Over half of these 10 Corps members are from out of state and cohabitate in an apartment complex, as well as carpool to the school together. In a touching way, they are their own little family away from home. Also, like most non-profit work, their stipend is not glamorous, so they have to sincerely love and believe in what they do. These young adults dedicate nearly a year of their lives, away from their loved ones, in order to serve the school, students and community, with little monetary compensation. They are the definition of selflessness. However, though at times taxing, being a Corps member has many benefits such as developing leadership skills, education awards, scholarship opportunities, and above all making a measurable impact in the lives of students.

When Civic Reflection came to an end it was time for “Final Circle”. This consisted of all 12 of them circling around me and chanting bountiful messages of positivity and well-wishes for me, and ending with what they call a “Whoosh Clap!” At this point, I had 24 hands being extended in my direction and wishing me nothing but good vibes and energy. The team initiated this wonderful tradition as a means to end the day on a positive note. I can tell you from first-hand experience, you want to be on the receiving end of a “Whoosh Clap” chant. It was such a great moment being surrounded by so many genuinely good people! I truly felt the positive energy in the room and wholeheartedly thanked them for their kindness. Needless to say, I could not stop smiling.

I was beyond grateful to be given the opportunity to spend a day with these 12 City Year members. They are truly a tight-knit group on a mission to making the world a better place, one student at a time. So, if you ever find yourself at a school and spot the signature red bomber jacket, you will know that it is being worn by someone who is selfless, trusted, a good role model and who believes in a greater cause than themselves. Now, look up “hero” in the dictionary.

Click here to partner with City Year and help keep students in school and on track. Let’s #MakeBetterHappen together!

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