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Impact Managers make a difference–even during COVID-19

City Year AmeriCorps member with student at school

Support for our City Year AmeriCorps members

Sam Sowl guides and supports a team of City Year Milwaukee AmeriCorps members as an impact manager. He wears manyCity Year Impact Manager hats as a source of connection between his team and the school’s administrators, making sure the relationship stays strong.

Above everything else, Sam says the biggest and best part of his role is his interactions with City Year AmeriCorps members.

Read the interview with Sam below to learn more about what it takes to be an impact manager and how their role helps shape the City Year experience.

What does an Impact Manager (IM) do?

First and foremost, I am there to serve as the main support for AmeriCorps members. Whenever they need assistance, whether that’s with a personal issue or something happening in the school, I’m there for them.

Secondly, I serve as a liaison between our City Year site and our school community. I lead the partnership with school administrators. For example, if our principal has any questions or concerns (or praises!), I’m there to address them and make sure my team receives the messaging. I also check in with partner-teachers with AmeriCorps members working in the classroom—to make sure that we’re on the same page and working collaboratively throughout the school. I pass their feedback down to my team. I check in with their partner-teachers to make sure that everything’s going cool.

How would the students in your school describe your work?

I think the students know that I’m another adult in the building who has their back. And I think that is especially important because students need to know that people in their communities are willing to advocate for them if necessary . I don’t work directly with students the way our corps members do, but I hope they know I’d be there for them if they needed my support.

How has your work changed since the COVID-19 pandemic? How has it stayed the same?

I think most people would be surprised to hear that my work has mostly stayed the same! The way we do things might be a bit altered, but the goal is the same—I’m there to support my AmeriCorps members and their work with students. And I’m still working to support the partnership with have with the school community.

If anything, this year has further deepened my commitment to the work; it’s just exposed so many people to the fact we’re living in an inequitable society. And I know that the work we do in the classroom helps address some of the educational inequities. The pandemic has surfaced so many important conversations when it comes to our students’ learning. Access to home computers, internet service, quiet spaces to engage in at-home learning have all been a part of the national conversation. But these are the kind of things that, as City Year staff members, we were already engaging with before the pandemic.

What makes City Year a unique organization to work for?

I’ve worked for several youth development nonprofits in the past. But with City Year, I noticed that while our mission is critical and at the center, the organization also focused on staff and corps member experience. There’s an understanding that we can’t fully engage in the work if we’re not showing up as our best selves. This past year has been challenging, and I can say that I’ve been fully supported by City Year.

The other thing that makes City Year unique is its vast network of knowledge and best-practices that I have access to. Because the organization has been around for decades, there’s a wonderful synthesis of past iterations of the work that have we have to learn from. We’re constantly trying to improve and strive to be better, and, as an organization, we have so much to pull from. What’s worked, and then it’s constantly being honed and constantly trying to improve. As society evolves, we try to evolve too—complacency is not an option here!

What brings you joy in the Impact Manager role?

My biggest joy is allowing my AmeriCorps members the space they need to learn and grow.  I always tell my team City Year’s almost like a sandbox. If you are interested in helping students improve their grades and become an expert in learning strategies, you can hone your skills there.

Or, if you’re interested in education policy, I can have you tag along for administrative meetings wherever possible. If you’re interested in educational leaders or just developing your management skills in general, I can support you in applying to serve a second year as a Team Leader. If you want to be a school counselor, you can help lead our social-emotional support programs and strategy.

There’s something for everybody!

What has been your biggest surprise about the Impact Manager role?

My biggest surprise was a pleasant surprise! When I interviewed for this role, I was happy to learn that there would be 12 other people serving as impact managers at City Year Milwaukee. It’s encouraging to know that you won’t be in it alone. There aren’t many management jobs where you have a cohort of people you can collaborate and share best practices with. There’s no competition or hoarding of knowledge. We’re all just there to lean on each other.

And that’s just at my site! When you extrapolate that, there are hundreds of impact managers working across the country.  In 2019, I was lucky enough to attend a summit in Boston, where we had the chance to meet with IMs from every site. There were people from New York, Jacksonville, Sacramento. It was interesting to see how their work was both similar and different, depending on the site. And more importantly, I think it fueled a strong sense of unity and purpose for us.

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What advice would you give to a new impact manager or someone applying to be an IM know?

At its core, this job is human-centered. Whether it’s with your school’s administration, your Team Leader, or your first year AmeriCorps members, it’s based on mutual trust, support, and respect. If your team feels empowered to do their best work, then that—to me—is a success. So, if you can set your team up for success, our students will only benefit from that. And at the end of the day, we’re all really here for them.

Learn more about the City Year experience or start your application today!

A version of this story was originally posted in 2017; this is refreshed in 2021.

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