Squishiness and Solidarity at Opening Day Ceremony by AmeriCorps Member Uma Ramesh from Northwest Elementary:

Uma Ramesh reciting her "Why I Serve" statement.

I have a rule of never crying in public. In City Year vernacular, open displays of vulnerability usually make me feel “squishy” in the worst way. However, one theme of my City Year experience thus far has been a vigorous push from my comfort zone into a much squishier challenge zone. Red Jacket Weekend was no exception.

            During Opening Day Ceremony on Saturday, September 19th, I watched each of my fellow First-Year AmeriCorps Members step onstage in Southside Middle School and state the reason for their service. My colleagues’ poignant and eloquent explanations touched me, as did the composed bravery of AmeriCorps Members whom I knew struggled with public speaking. Yet neither aspect of the ceremony was the culprit that drove me to tears on a beautiful morning in Manchester, New Hampshire.

            I couldn’t prevent large drops from trickling out of my eyes after the Beech Street Elementary School team members took the stage. As this group posed for their team picture, a shock of City Year AmeriCorps Members suddenly raised their hands with thumb and index finger coiled into a circle, the team gesture devised by Beech Street’s Members.

            After the Beech Street team left the stage, AmeriCorps Members continued to applaud every team through that group’s unique gesture. When I stood onstage with the Northwest Elementary School team, I could hardly contain my emotion at the sight of CYNH teammates each raising two fingers curled into bird claws. Our team had created the “caw-tastic” signal to celebrate our school’s mascot: the eagle.

            These acts of solidarity made me cry by reminding me of exactly why I love City Year. Each team had developed its own signal to facilitate intra-group bonding, but we AmeriCorps Members were so dedicated to the entire site that we knew everyone’s by heart. The genes of loyalty and affection are ingrained within the DNA of City Year New Hampshire to such an extent that we didn’t even need to plan our celebration of each team in advance.

            Every City Year Unity Rally begins with a callback, wherein the person leading the Unity Rally states: “We live to serve another day.” Every other participant then responds: “And that’s a beautiful thing.” My weeks with City Year have taught me that the beauty of our service lies not only in the impact we make with students, but also in the spirit of love and support that this service fosters within ourselves. On this day, I was reminded of this lesson in a way that left me powerfully energized for the year ahead.

            Within my I Serve statement, I pledged: "I serve, because every child has the right to an individualized, high-quality education." Realizing this vision in my classroom promises to be the most difficult task that I have ever taken on. As PITW #159 states, “This is Hard.” Despite the challenges involved in attempts to #makebetterhappen, all of my experiences thus far, culminating in Red Jacket Weekend, make me certain that I will find the strength to overcome the challenges. And that's a beautiful thing.

Thoughts from Service Leader, Josh Rose, from McDonough Elementary:

Josh Rose with other AmeriCorps Members & guests ready to break bread.

There aren't too many days on one's calendar like Red Jacket Weekend. Running into the auditorium in lines of red jackets with friends, families, community members, alumni and students all watching with glowing anticipation on their faces is quite unique to this special day. "Motivation check City Year!" is the anthem, and in that brief moment, people from all across the country came together in unity in celebration of a day of service, a year of service, and an initiation into a life of service.

            When the assembly of AmeriCorps members and volunteers set to work, the walls became a flash of red. Dozens of families and community members worked together in service to address the needs of a local middle school with paint brushes and tape. The whole school filled with a positive buzz that inspired us all to transform the "look and feel" of the school. Throughout the day, teamwork, collaboration and diligence were key in producing an experience of true community. After the work was finished, with all the paintbrushes washed and trash removed, we all gathered to eat and connect with one another, reflecting on why service is an important aspect of living a healthy life, and how each of our lives lead us to this very same conclusion. By the closing of the ceremony, the school remained as a testament to the power and beauty of service and community.   

For more Opening Day Ceremony & service photos please take a look at our Flickr page. 

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