By Chelsea Gill-James, AmeriCorps Member Serving at NorthWest Elementary School.

At City Year, there's a lot that's asked of you, from trainings and feedback sessions to lesson planning and much more. Another aspect of our service is talking about our service to various groups. While I joined City Year ready to embrace the partnership between organization and school, and AmeriCorps member and classroom, I recently discovered that I have too frequently overlooked the importance of the partnership that City Year has with its community partners.

Last week Wednesday, I was asked to participate in a roundtable discussion as part of the Visitor Program. This would be a short departure from the routine of a classroom. We would be meeting and talking to someone who was a total stranger to us, and some what a stranger to the organization. The purpose of the Visitor Program is to engage various people or groups in understanding City Year’s work and impact to potentially become supporters of the organization. I think that there was some initial nervousness surrounding a conversation that seems unnatural and framed, but what ultimately proved to be very free and easy.

Following a training on how the Visitor Program is conducted and what we could expect, I decided to accept the invitation to participate in the roundtable. I knew it would be a challenge for me, as I would be talking along with my teammates to a person I viewed as an important stakeholder in City Year, but I accepted the challenge. PITW #168 perfectly sums up “The Why” behind my willingness: “If You Want to Communicate Powerfully, Tell a Story.”

As our guest and all of us circled around the table in the school’s conference room, we introduced ourselves. Naturally the question of our backgrounds came up first. Where we were from, and what led us to City Year. In response to this question, I shared how my hopes to work in environmental law and urban planning was a motivator in addition to wanting to work with children. Learning how the surrounding environment impacts people and communities just made sense to me. Also, because our group was composed of college graduates, we shared our majors and ambitions. For returning AmeriCorps members Neal and Amanda, the Service Leaders at Northwest Elementary, our guest was curious of what motivated them to serve for another year. I find that this is what really lets a person understand the passion of City Year volunteers, and it was comforting to start the conversation with colleagues whose personal stories exemplified commitment. They show that the work is hard, but one that cannot be truly accomplished in just one year.

“How do you live?” and “what do you do when you’re not in school?” were questions that warranted a small laugh from all of us. In response to the first question, which was a subtle way of asking how we survive on a stipend, there was a shared positivity and consensus that it is indeed possible.

For me, it was easy to share that living in a house with six other AmeriCorps members makes living easier. First-year AmeriCorps member Lindsey mentioned how fortunate we were to have the opportunity to live in Manchester, a city with a convenient layout compared to cities where other City Year sites constantly battle a huge urban system. Fellow first-year AmeriCorps member Ian presented the environmentally-friendly option of bike riding around the city to get where he needs to go. I personally appreciated these comments, as we were making a connection with someone who was deeply familiar and connected to Manchester, and also showing them how adaptability is essential to our service.

The second question yielded a bit of a pause, either from the discomfort of not having much time to do anything after work but sleep and eat. Or, maybe not wanting to divulge too much information of what we do in our free time. While there was that pause and an exchange of looks as to who wanted to answer first, everyone shared activities like dining out, City Year New Hampshire outings, primary season political rallies, reading and games. Ian especially piqued our guest’s interest when explaining his favorite trading card game, Magic: The Gathering.

This Visitor Program roundtable conversation put into perspective how vocalizing and communicating our uniquely different stories truly makes a difference in this organization and to its partners. I listened to my teammates as they responded to our guest’s questions, even learning for the first time new information about them I didn’t know before. It makes me value my place in City Year even more. I am confident that this is one of the many leadership experiences I will have in the course of the year, and I hope to continue to gain more experience and insight as to how City Year is an effective “action tank.” As I continue to cultivate my leadership potential and use this year as a way to understand more about policy and management, I will continue to value these rare opportunities to be in the midst of the private and public sectors converging, and how this results in transforming students’ lives.


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