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#cyhead2toe: Alums reflect on a decade of service

The start of a new year is an invitation to reflect on what’s come before and plan for the future. Our City Year community has been engaged in both reflection and planning as we closed out an extraordinary decade of growth, learning and service, celebrating the appointment of Jim Balfanz, City Year Boston ’94, as CEO, making him the first City Year alumnus to lead the organization.

In recognition of this moment of transition, we invited several members of our 32,000+ alumni community to share short #cyhead2toe stories that explore the power and potential of the red or yellow jacket and how their year of service continues to influence their lives long after their City Year. The future of City Year depends as much on new waves of service members joining the ranks as it does on the civically engaged citizens who are now alumni.

City Year Columbus alum Alen Amimi stands in a group hug with his teammates

Alen Amini, City Year Columbus ’10

“I loved tutoring and mentoring 3rd-grade students at the great Windsor STEM Academy in Columbus, Ohio, and helping put on the afterschool program,” recalls Alen Amini.

“I served at a K-6th grade elementary school, and any time I wore my red jacket, kids whom I’d never seen before would always come up to say hello. The red jacket gave us immediate credibility with the students and the community. Even now, a decade after my service year, when I’m walking somewhere in Boston and I see AmeriCorps members in their red jackets, I can’t help but smile.

“My service experience has definitely shaped my leadership. The experience of serving taught me to listen, to find common ground with people from vastly different backgrounds, and to look for the assets everyone brings to a team and to an organization.”

Carolyn Sonnier, CIty Year Baton Rouge alum, is pictured (center) with her teammates

Carolyn Sonnier, City Year Baton Rouge ’10, ’11

“I still have a few of my uniform pieces, but the one I treasure most would be my quarter zip. I love that it says ‘spirit, discipline, purpose, pride’ across the back, because putting it on in the morning helped remind me what was expected of me,” says Carolyn Sonnier, who currently serves as Chief of Staff for City Year’s AmeriCorps Member Experience team.

“I also absolutely treasure my red jacket, which I dedicated to my paternal grandmother who inspired me to serve. She was an elementary school teacher and raised nine kids. She had the patience of a saint and found joy in working with kids.

“I appreciate the continuity that my uniform represented, and the comfort it offered to my students. There had been a City Year team in my school the year prior, so from day one my students accepted me and trusted me, because they knew what City Year meant (probably more than I did in those first few weeks of school!). Being in uniform made me easy to spot and gave me credibility in the classroom.

“The experience taught me the importance of consistency, of showing up every day and giving my best, a lesson I put to use daily.”

“My experience as an AmeriCorps member helped me improve my organization, multi-tasking and delegation skills, all of which were applicable to my role as an impact manager. As an alum, I was valued, and I was able to bring a corps perspective into rooms where decisions were being made.

“My corps experience gave me a much deeper and expanded view of the world and helped teach me just how much I still have to learn. It helped shape me into who I am today as a wife, daughter, sister, co-worker and citizen. At the same time, I know I had a positive effect on the first-grade students I served and the teachers whose classrooms I supported.”

“Because of my personal experience, I have come to believe that if everyone opted to serve, they would not only grow as individuals, but could strengthen their communities and have a big impact on the world.”

Megan Baker, City Year LA alum, stands in her yellow jacket holding balloons

Megan Baker, City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley ’10

“Being at a west coast site, having the yellow jacket on was always a point of pride for me. It was also by far the most comfortable piece of the uniform–I still have it hanging in my closet to this day,” says Megan Baker.

“I remember countless times walking to and from the bus to go to school and have kids yell ‘Hey City Year!’ at me and my teammates. It really reminded me how City Year AmeriCorps members had become a part of the fabric of the community. Kids looked forward to seeing us every day and we showed up for them and continued showing up for them in those yellow jackets.

“Personally, people who I have met through City Year have remained some of my closest friends. I have a group chat with City Year alums from all over the country that has been going for years and we always make sure to get together in person once a year (and do our annual Secret Santa over Google Chat). I also still attend the City Year Holiday Party every year even though I left the organization in 2013–we like to joke that I am on a sabbatical.

“Professionally, I have a sign of “PITW #43: Make the complex simple” that I have displayed at my desk at every place I have worked since leaving City Year. It is something that I refer to often in my career in digital media and I have City Year to thank for it.

“Service is not only an incredible way to move your career forward no matter what field you pursue; it is truly a life changing experience that you will carry with you forever.”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

If you have served through City Year in past 30 years, we invite you to share your #cyhead2toe stories and your contact information here. Your stories form the foundation of our collective history. Use your voice to help us strengthen national service in 2020 and beyond!

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