As a City Year AmeriCorps member, we are often asked why we serve. Most of the time, we give back simple answers such as, "I want to make the world a better place," or "children have a right and responsibility to equal education." Truth is, we would love to say so much more, but it is hard to convey the motivation for service. With some corps members, they find that one year just isn't enough, and their motivation to serve becomes even more powerful. Meet two of our amazing Service Leaders and learn why they came back to do a second year.
Nina Santiago, 23, Lawrence, MA
Service Leader at Gossler Park Elementary School.
I was raised in Lawrence, MA by my mom with my older brother and two sisters. Last year I served as a first year corps member at one of our new partnerships, Hallsville Elementary School, in a 4th grade classroom. It was the most life changing experience I have ever had. The growth and new perspective I gained in my first year was incredible. Serving at Hallsville with my wonderful fellow corps member Abbey, Aces, Ben, Janelle, Madi and Megan made my decision to come back so easy. This fine group of people was dedicated to their work and executed all tasks with excellence and it was so rewarding to have been a part of their team. This made me want to return because I am more than positive that I can have a similar experience with a new group of people. Many wise representatives of the organization have said, “to work at City Year is to work on City Year." I want to continue to work on City Year throughout my second year here. Coming back means I have a second chance to do and say the things I wish I had as a first year corps member. It’s a new learning environment but I have my first year behind me to help guide me through my new journey. I am looking forward to leading a team and helping that group of individuals through what could be a life changing experience for them like it was for me. I hope to help instill confidence and pride in this year's first year members because my team helped do that for me.
This job is far from perfect but I am determined to help get it two steps closer to perfection. I do anticipate challenges in my service year. I still have a lot to learn before I can consider myself an effective leader. I do however know my areas of struggle and I am very aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I plan on using both to dive into this year with a different mindset in order to be my very best self for the team I will be leading.
Ian Kernohan, 23, Milton MA
Service Leader at Northwest Elementary School
I don’t remember the first time I saw The Princess Bride. I don’t remember which of my childhood homes I was in, which grades I was between, when my Dad brought the tape home from the Milton Public Library and sat me and my sister down to journey through eel-infested waters, up Insane cliffs, and through treacherous fire swamps. I couldn’t pinpoint the day my R.O.U.S. agnosticism abruptly ended. I’ve seen the film countless times since then, but one of its lessons has gained more poignancy as I’ve entered adulthood. “Life is pain,” remarks the Dread Pirate Roberts, “anyone who says differently is selling something.”
Salesmen and the act of selling have always made me uncomfortable. The intention of taking my money is under a veneer of honest human interaction, which then makes me feel obligated, under polite social politics, to comply. I have never been scammed, but I have operated under the assumption that there was a singular ‘thing’ that I’ve been lacking. Our culture perpetuates the idea that we are imperfect beings--not false--and then profits off of our desire to find the perfect peg to fit that hole. We can get it for one flat fee up front, or eight easy payments of $19.99, if we prefer. Forget Luck Dragons and Swamps of Sadness--the true never ending story is the product catalogue of modern America.
City Year is different. As both a leadership development organization and an engine for social change, it does not set up specific obstacles that, once overcome, guarantee an eternal status as Leader. Yes, it might profess the beauty of fostered idealism and the need for a strong education as ingredients for broad social change, but what I see entering my second year of working on the organization is that personal development has a much more fluid end-point. I love that. It gives me confidence. Ironically, the lack of a specific truth that forevermore ensures excellence as a leader makes the journey there all the more tangible. I don’t have to worry about if I’m making mistakes, because the act of self-observation and refinement is enough. City Year teaches me how to act, and that when it comes to changing the world, acting is action enough.
My initial thoughts upon acceptance were that I would wash out within a few months. I did not think I had the stamina at all to last a year in a classroom with challenging students. What I found was that the adversity faced by all of us--myself, teammates, and especially students--proved to fuel my dedication and commitment to the people and the cause. I needed to be a coach and role model for them because they deserve that--the attention of a caring adult. I could definitely have been more honest with a few of them, and an undergrad course or two in how to be an educator certainly would have helped, but the discipline I had been taught my entire life was given new meaning with City Year and allowed me to be the positive, personal presence that City Year provides like no other.
I see now how false the idea is that ‘people never change.’ We all are always changing. I decided to come back because I had improved so much over the past year, but I knew that I was not done, and that this was a place where it was understood that people are imperfect, but also recognized that we are conscious of our faults and strive to work on them.
This next year is by no means an ending point. I won’t solve every problem that my students or my teammates will face. Like a videogame, though, I’ll know that if the challenges are getting harder, I’m heading in the right direction. I have a year ahead of me that’s sure to be filled with strangers and best friends, chores and joys, answers and uncertainties. I’m in a place, however, that praises efforts to uncover greatness rather than fill any emptiness we might think we have. We’re equipped to carry each other through the struggles here at City Year. We don’t have to sell you anything, because the ability is already latent within you. That type of attitude can carry anyone anywhere, to college or even up the Cliffs of Insanity.