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Leadership After City Year: A spotlight on four AmeriCorps members’ career plans

AmeriCorps members Andrea Barajas (top left), Lauren Moore (top right), Jessica Szasz (bottom left), and Samirah Thompson (bottom right) discuss their post-City Year career plans.

 

The end of the 2020-21 service year marks the end of one chapter and the start of another, as our 200 graduating AmeriCorps members take off their red jackets and embark on their post-City Year Philly career journeys. A year of service with City Year can prepare you for a wide range of possible career paths. The below chart shows an approximate overview of what our 2020-21 Corps members will be doing next year.

To celebrate the end of the service year, we’re spotlighting four AmeriCorps members with a broad range of career goals and interests: Andrea Barajas (Welsh School), Lauren Moore (Roosevelt Elementary), Jessica Szasz (Penn Treaty School), and Samirah Thompson (McClure Elementary). Keep reading to learn more about their career ambitions, how City Year has prepared them for their future, and words of wisdom for next year’s AmeriCorps members! [Note: Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.]

 

What will you be doing post-City Year?

Lauren Moore: I plan to pursue job opportunities working on a farm, preferably an urban farm. I went to college for Environmental Studies and Urban Studies, and I fell in love with the idea of urban farming. We learned a lot about green spaces in cities and how urban farming can help underserved community members—especially people who don’t have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food—and how it really changes the dynamics of neighborhoods physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Jessica Szasz: I’m attending Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about a 40-minute drive from the border of Mexico. Students have the opportunity to do clinical rotations and work with medically underserved communities along the border as well as on local Native reservations. Due to systemic racism and a lack of resources, these groups have among the poorest medical care in this country; for example, an Indigenous person dies of diabetes at three times the rate of a non-Indigenous person. This social justice aspect of the program is something that I’m really excited about personally and want to carry into my career post-grad school.

Samirah Thompson: Post-City Year I am going to attend Relay Graduate School of Education to participate in the Teacher Residency Program in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia. In the teacher residency program, I will have the opportunity to work with a mentor in a school to learn the inner workings of the classroom. I will be completing this program in hopes of achieving my teaching certification as well as a master’s degree in education.

 

What drew you to returning to City Year for a second year to serve with the Civic Engagement Team?

Andrea Barajas: The majority of it has to do with being part of such an amazing team. I felt so truly supported by my Welsh team, and they became like a second family to me, especially since I moved to Philly from Illinois not having any family in this area. I wasn’t as aware of Civic Engagement until MLK Day—digging deep into understanding what it means to serve, being part of a reflective space, and understanding what it truly means when we talk about a beloved community. That day really solidified me wanting to join the Civic Engagement Team.

 

What do you ultimately hope to do in your career?

Andrea Barajas: I came to City Year through a very non-traditional route: I have a degree in Animation and a certificate in Leadership. I hope to work in a position where I can lead a team; that’s a skill that I’m really looking to grow with City Year, and I feel like the Civic Engagement Team will help me enhance that. I’m also open to seeing where my career takes me, so I may wind up doing something completely different. I’m very, very happy working in an environment of people who are advocates, who want to build better communities, and who want good things to happen in the world.

Lauren Moore: I definitely want to pursue farming as a career, even though I haven’t really dug my toes into it yet. I’m looking at possibly doing the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program to get some foundational experience with farming. You can go anywhere in the world and work on a farm in exchange for room and board. Ultimately, I would love to do something that intertwines community engagement, food insecurity, and art—whatever that might look like.

Jessica Szasz: I’m particularly interested in community health, especially working with groups of lower socioeconomic status who have the biggest discrepancies in terms of health care in comparison to the rest of the country. Community health addresses a lot of different aspects of inequitable access to health care—environmental differences, differences in food availability, differences in stress levels—and the idea is that all of these things together is what creates a person’s well-being and physical health. Right now, I’m really interested in working with Indigenous populations, but I don’t know if I’ll be staying out West or moving back home to Philly in the future.

Samirah Thompson: I would like to continue to work with the amazing students in the Philadelphia School District by teaching one of my favorite subjects, Biology. I am hoping to help some future students discover their passion for science and later become some awesome scientists.

“The students are so intelligent, amazing, passionate, and such powerful advocates. As an AmeriCorps member, I want to be there to continue to push students to be that voice for their communities.” -Andrea Barajas

How has your time serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member prepared you for the next step in your career and/or influenced your thinking around issues of equity and social justice?

Andrea Barajas: I’ve picked up a lot of skills from serving in [virtual] classrooms that I can definitely transition to Civic Engagement: patience, adaptability, flexibility, and being able to deal with difficult situations. In terms of social justice, I’ve learned so much from just being in the classroom with my students. This year, I worked with 6th-8th grade Social Studies classes, and my partner teacher works really hard to make sure that current events are being incorporated into the lessons. The students are so intelligent, amazing, passionate, and such powerful advocates. As an AmeriCorps member, I want to be there to continue to push students to be that voice for their communities.

Lauren Moore: In terms of how this year prepared me for my next step, I think that being with the kids and talking to them every day inspired me to want to do more and incorporate social justice issues into my work. I was interested in these topics before serving with City Year, but it definitely motivated me to want to stay within those lines of work.

Jessica Szasz: City Year helped me learn much more about racial inequities that I wasn’t as aware of at the beginning of the year. The organization’s mission statement of working towards a cause greater than myself has also really stuck with me. Serving an entire year virtually can bring some fatigue, but just remembering that goal and why I’m doing the work is something that I learned at City Year and will carry with me for the rest of my career.

Samirah Thompson: City Year has offered me with many tools and training I would need to step into a classroom. City Year has taught me ways to bring inclusion and equity in the classroom by opening up those difficult conversations and helping me identify my biases and how to approach them.

“Always come into new spaces with an open heart and mind. You may never know what you may learn about yourself and those around you.” -Samirah Thompson

What advice would you give to next year’s AmeriCorps members?

Andrea Barajas: If you’re serving with City Year, be open-minded and make sure that you’re going into it for the right reasons: to support your students. People have labeled these students as “problematic,” but you need to push your assumptions aside and be empathetic towards your students, and understand where they’re coming from. Like any other job, there will be some really tough moments, but all of it is adding tools to your belt and preparing you for future work environments—no matter what career you go into.

Lauren Moore: Don’t be afraid to not meet the expectations that you have at the beginning of the year. The experience might end up being completely different from your expectations, but that’s not a bad thing. Stay true to yourself and remind yourself why you’re doing this work, and if you have the right intentions then you’ll be fine. It’s definitely a learning process, but the work is extremely fulfilling.

Jessica Szasz: Give yourself time to learn and adjust. At first, City Year can feel like a lot of information being thrown at you at once. In the beginning, it felt a little overwhelming to learn all of this information and not know if I’d be able to remember it all, but now I’m seeing all of those lessons really shape the way I live my life and the way I present myself. Know that the lessons you’re learning will stick with you, it just might take a little extra time for you to consciously be able to put it all together.

Samirah Thompson: One piece of advice I would give to the next class of AmeriCorps members is to always come into new spaces with an open heart and mind. You may never know what you may learn about yourself and those around you.

 

Thank you and congratulations to all of our 2020-21 AmeriCorps members! Are you considering a year of service or do you know someone who is? City Year Philly is currently accepting applications for the 2021-22 service year! To learn more and start your application, visit cityyear.org/apply-now.

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