written by Taylor Antrum, Service Leader on the Henry Wilson Elementary School team generously supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock
At the start of my first corps year in August of 2016, I was asked to come up with a reason as to why I decided to serve. I had so many ideas for how to answer this question, but had difficulty with coming up with a single definitive answer. Ironically enough, prior to coming to City Year, teaching and mentoring young people was not on a list of jobs I thought I could do. I was nervous, but took the leap. Now that I'm back to serve for a second year, the answer to why I came back is so much easier to define. The amount of learning about myself and the work I am capable of doing over the course of just 10 months has been far greater than my first few years of adulthood.
First and foremost, I've chosen to come back for a second year to serve the beautiful children here in Manchester. My partner teacher and the 22 students I served last year changed my life for the better. Throughout my first corps year, I met an incredible body of students, 676 to be exact, at Northwest Elementary. When I arrived with my Red Jacket on the first day of school, I was already loved by this community. They believed I was a good person, and that I cared because of those in Red Jackets who served before me. I realized that to me, serving with City Year was more than just to "give a year, change the world"; it was about "building a cathedral" of which we may never see the finished product. Service my first corps year was one part of a collective effort of many years dedicated to the students of Manchester.
The students at Northwest, particularly in my classroom, helped me believe in myself. They saw me for who I was, and what I could be. They also laughed at my corny jokes, which is always a plus. There were days when I wasn't sure if I could get up and serve, but picturing my students' faces always got me through. How many people can say that when they think about going to work they are motivated to get out of bed? The students may have needed me, but most importantly, I needed them.
Another reason I came back is for the camaraderie and sense of community at City Year New Hampshire- a culture unlike anything I've ever experienced. I came into my corps year nervous, socially awkward (or so I thought), and felt like there was no way I could make it to the finish line, but I tried. Before I knew it, I was accepted and wrapped up into a community of beautiful and idealistic souls who were not only ready to change the world, but help me change mine. I was feeling a bit cynical and hopeless with the way relations to others began to turn in this country. Most know me as a compassionate person at heart. The smiles, hugs, and love that I received just for serving was almost overwhelming.
There were many times that I was asked to take a leadership opportunity, and I was always so nervous to complete the task because my self-esteem was low and I never wanted to let anyone down. This community showed me that if I try my hardest, if I fail, they will pick me right back up and help me finish. I wasn't aware that a place full of selfless, open-minded, and loving people existed. And a lot of the time, if I tell other people about my experience, they're skeptical. Nothing could be this great, right? Wrong.
After 10 months, I became a more hopeful, stronger, and more compassionate individual than I thought possible. I've learned that the past doesn't define you, it's just how you deal with it. I know that may sound like such a cliché, but I fully understand it now. My students, my teacher, and my community believed in my abilities and encouraged me every step of my journey.
So, when you ask me why I decided to serve another year, I'll always answer that it takes a village to raise up anyone. I serve because in the words of Bryan Stevenson, "The enemy of justice, is hopelessness". I believe in myself, in this work, in my students, and in my CYNH community.