By: Alyssa Babineaux, AmeriCorps VISTA with City Year New Hampshire

Summer Academy is a time where all staff and second year/senior corps members come together in Boston, MA and celebrate accomplishment from the previous year as well as have a fresh start for the upcoming year. Over 1,400 representatives from the 28 City Year sites spread across the nation and internationally, including South Africa and the U.K., and our new startup site Memphis, TN, gathered for this weeklong training and collaborative session. This is also a time when we as an organization can work on City Year, to make it better.

This year’s theme was focused around social justice and education. There were so many awesome and incredible events and trainings that it was seemingly overwhelming, but well needed. The first night was the opening ceremony—absolutely phenomenal, which set a powerful tone for the next few days. The second night was Ubuntu night—ubuntu meaning “I am because you are”. Essentially, my humanity is tied to yours. This night was the most memorable night I have experienced while serving in City Year. So many stories were told including powerful personal testimonies and reflections on things happening in our country. With the current state of things, we wrestled with questions such as, how do we maintain positivity and move forward with being positive role models in our kids’ lives? How do we embrace and understand the #blacklivesmatter movement and police brutality? City Year CEO, Micheal Brown, provided some inspiring thoughts, “We are hurting as a country; we are hurting as an organization. However, we must remain positive and be the ones to change the world. How do we remain inclusive and empathize towards others that are suffering? We will continue to bring up social justice and reflect on how we can incorporate that in subjects of conversation while working in City Year. Remember, to work for City Year means to work on City Year.” After that moment, I knew that as an organization, we were growing. Growing in a sense that we could talk about our concerns and how we feel without being looked at differently. As a person of color, it takes a lot of courage to speak about pressing issues in our country and our concerns with diversity so taking time do that at Summer Academy meant a lot to me.

The third night consisted of the Comcast NBC Universal Awards and Best of City Year Awards. It was awesome to see so many sites get recognized for all their hard work and efforts from last year.  The final night consisted of the talent show which showcased so many amazing and talented City Year folks, from dance to spoken word to singing and comedy! It wrapped up a memorable week of events and experiences.

My first Summer Academy experience reminded me of a founding story, the starfish story. It goes like this: A young girl was walking on the beach one day when she noticed thousands of stranded starfish. To save them, she began tossing them one at a time back into the ocean. When a passerby told her she couldn’t possibly save all the starfish, she tossed one into the ocean and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” Inspired by the little girl, others came to help. Together, they made a difference.

At every one of the 28 City Year sites, all of us are helping our kids to stay on track and stay focused one day at a time, one life at a time, making a difference one child at a time, while recognizing the things that bring us together and make a stronger community. We will know that our job is complete when there is no more need for red jackets in this society.

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