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From Hawai’i to Tulsa to teaching, a City Year AmeriCorps member reflects on two years of service

Finding a new career and community through service

In the spring of 2017, Jessica Butay, a Hawai’i native who was about to graduate from college in Colorado, had a decision to make. Though her initial aim was to serve with City Year in Denver, she found herself, on impulse, checking a different box as she filled out the application: “Serve Where Needed Most.” She had never explored the mainland beyond Colorado and was looking for an adventure. So when a City Year recruiter reached out to ask if she was open to serving in Tulsa, she was excited to accept the offer.

In the two years since, Jessica has grown to love her new community. Now serving as a team leader at Tulsa’s Will Rogers College High and Junior High School, where she is helping to support and guide a school-based team of first-year AmeriCorps members, Jessica is nearing the end of her two years of City Year service. She recently shared her reflections about her connection with the Tulsa community and the students she has served, her role as a team leader, and her plans for life after City Year.

What was it like working with students every day during your first year and how did your service shift when you became a team leader for your second year?

It wasn’t easy, but during my first year as an AmeriCorps member, I worked really hard to forge meaningful relationships with students—it took countless conversations and lame jokes for them to even begin to open up to me! But I worked at it because it was important to be engaged with my students and to show them that I care. Every day, I would work with them, particularly in math, and support them when they needed a helping hand or a listening ear.

Now, I’m no longer serving directly in the classroom and I’m providing my students with a different type of support and mentorship. Maintaining the relationships I built during my first year is important to me, so I still like to invite my old students into the City Year office for lunch and I continue make an effort to hang out with them during our afterschool programs.
City Year has provided me with hands on experience and the confidence to lead my own classroom. As a Team Leader, how has the experience of living far from home helped you to support your AmeriCorps?

Whenever one of my AmeriCorps members feels burnt out or homesick, I love to share my experiences with them and often talk about how I personally overcame those difficult moments. Being able to be open about my experience with AmeriCorps members really helped me to build those strong relationships with my team. I tell my team that one of the best ways to overcome homesickness is to get out and explore Tulsa–get to know this great community and make it your new home!

Learn more about the City Year Tulsa experience.

City Year taught me to challenge myself and go outside my comfort zone. Personally, one of those challenges was public speaking. Every time a public speaking opportunity surfaces, my gut usually says no. But I’ve learned that when I try things that are uncomfortable, I’m always instantly happy I tried when it’s done. I learn more and more about myself each time I try new things. It seems scary at first, but once you take that first step outside of your personal bubble, a whole world of opportunities and experiences opens up to you.

What are your plans after City Year?

I’m happy to say that I’ve accepted an offer to be a fourth-grade teacher at a charter public school in Tulsa. Though I’ve always known that I wanted to be a teacher, I also knew that right out of college I wasn’t quite ready to lead a classroom on my own. City Year has provided me with hands on experience and the confidence to lead my own classroom next year. I was able to learn directly from teachers and school administration about lesson planning and classroom management—things I know will be so important in my teaching career!

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