by Tyler Jones, AmeriCorps VISTA serving at City Year New Hampshire
On Saturday, March 24, over 250 community and business leaders attended City Year New Hampshire’s 18th annual Starry Starry Night gala. The gala, held at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle, NH, was a celebration of the shared value of service to a cause greater than self. While the primary focus was honoring the service of military veterans, the evening also honored the commitment to serve made by educators, public officials, first responders and members of national service like City Year’s AmeriCorps members.
As a second-year corps member, I've had the opportunity to attend Starry Starry Night twice- once as a City Year member and now as an AmeriCorps VISTA working primarily with the development department. This year, I was able to see more of what goes into making an event like this come together. In my current role, I was involved in many of the behind-the-scenes logistics of the night, such as putting together an auction guide booklet and transporting materials from our office to the venue. I was also more involved during the gala this year; responsible for capturing and sharing moments from the gala on social media, mingling with guests and generally being available to assist with whatever was needed to make the night run smoothly. Being more involved in helping Starry Starry Night come to life gave me a deeper appreciation for the development staff at City Year New Hampshire.
The featured speaker was Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts who moved the audience by speaking of the men he served alongside and who gave their lives in service to our country. “It didn’t matter what religion you followed, color of your skin, your background, or if you were born here, as long as we were dedicated to the same thing there was nothing that we couldn’t accomplish. And all those other things, it’s not that they didn’t matter, they just made us stronger. Different doesn’t mean divided,” Pitts said.
Listening to Staff Sgt. Pitts’ words made me realize that the same was true of the crowd that was gathered in the ballroom. We were all different, whether it was age, race, political affiliation or something else entirely, but every single person in the room had come to Starry Starry Night because they whole-heartedly believed in the work that City Year is doing to help struggling students stay in school and get on track to graduate and have more successful lives. In that moment, I felt a deep connection to not only the other people in the room, but to service and to City Year.
One of City Year’s core values is Ubuntu, a saying derived from a South African proverb. It represents the idea that each of our humanities is tied together, and it is the sense that we are all connected. I definitely felt a strong sense of Ubuntu that night as I looked over the crowd. I saw City Year AmeriCorps members sitting with politicians, businessmen and veterans, and a strong sense of pride flowed through me. Though I am serving in a different capacity than my fellow AmeriCorps members, I am honored to support them as they serve the students of Manchester and continue the legacy of service that has been laid out before them.
Service is not a ‘one size fits all’ label. Staff Sgt. Pitts said that he was “proud to have the opportunity to come here tonight and recognize that the military doesn’t have the monopoly on service. There are so many types of service from political office, to civilian service, to first-responders, and these young men and women wearing those red jackets.” I am honored to have been acknowledged for my service, but I know that my work—and the work of everyone else in the room—is far from finished. Starry Starry Night was a lovely celebration of where we came from, but is also a step towards what comes next.