My Red Jacket Dedication: To the American Youth Foundation and Enkindling our Best Self
At the start of each year, each City Year site holds a Red Jacket Dedication ceremony where every City Year AmeriCorps and staff member receives their red jacket and dedicates it to a person, idea, or cause that inspires them to serve. Our Red Jacket Dedication blog series features stories from our AmeriCorps members on what inspires them to put on their red jacket every day and deliver excellent service. You can read our first installment here:
This year, I’ve decided to dedicate my red jacket to the American Youth Foundation (AYF), a nonprofit organization aimed at inspiring young people to discover and celebrate their best selves. More specifically, I’m dedicating my jacket to Merrowvista—an AYF summer sleepaway camp located in the Ossipee Mountains of New Hampshire that taught me the importance of being my best self wherever I go. When I put on my red jacket each morning, I hope to ‘bring’ this version of myself to the classroom and virtual space.
As a kid, I attended Merrowvista for several consecutive summers before eventually becoming a staff member with my own campers. What kept bringing me back to Merrowvista summer after summer was the best-self mentality it promotes that encourages both campers and staff members to ‘flex’ the four folds of balanced living—the physical, mental, social, and reflective folds. As a camper, I learned to trust my potential and honor my self-worth when faced with daunting summits, gloomy days, and difficult cabinmates. By having counselors who validated, challenged, and encouraged me, I was able to see how I could also “enkindle” those around me. As a result of both myself and my peers striving to be our best selves, us newly “enkindled” spirits could set others ablaze outside of the Merrowvista community when it came time to leave camp. Having had that experience as a camper, I came back as a counselor to give back to the Merrowvista community and empower my campers to spend time in their growth zones through challenging them and acknowledging their victories. In my campers, I saw how adopting a best self-mentality helped them take that next step up a mountain, that next opportunity to make a friend, or that next bite of broccoli at dinner. Although I’ve taken a break from Merrowvista due to study abroad adventures in the summer of 2019 and COVID-19 this past summer, I feel incredibly indebted to acknowledge how its mission has impacted me and inspired me to serve with City Year this year.
From Camper to Counselor to City Year
I chose to serve with City Year this year because of its Merrowvista-like mission to provide holistic support and create environments where students can confidently build on their strengths and realize their full potential. After camp each summer and working on each of the four folds, I would return home feeling more whole and always with a greater sense of confidence. I was then able to channel this summer best self in school assignments, sports games, and family and friend relations back at home. Merrowvista’s approach is something I want to simultaneously embody and transfer to my students during my work with City Year. In the classroom, I’m my best self when I’m affirming my students for their hard work in math and eagerness to learn about the political system. At recess, I’m my best self when I’m taking part in dance routines and leading jumping jacks to stay warm. In the virtual space, I’m my best self when I’m answering questions and challenging my students to explain why the story makes them feel happy or sad. By being this best version of myself, I’ve seen my students recognize their inherent potential more and more. Already, I’ve observed rising confidence in subtracting big numbers, rising eagerness to participate in group games at recess, and rising pride when declaring, “I am smart” or “I am a good friend.” Something I appreciated about Merrowvista was that this mentality wasn’t limited to campers, but to all in the Merrowvista community, including staff. Similarly, while at City Year I look forward to encouraging this best-self mentality not only in my students, but also in the City Year community and with my Gossler Park teammates.
Learn more about how City Year is supporting students and classrooms during COVID-19
Dedicating my jacket to Merrowvista reminds me to bring my best self to service when I put on my red jacket each morning, and I hope to empower each of my students to discover and practice being their best selves. Likewise, I know that they will push me to be my best, and the real reward will be when we can enkindle each other’s best-self flames and empower each other to bring our best wherever we each go next.
Grace Blinkoff is a City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps member serving at Gossler Park Elementary School
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