As an avid football lover, the opportunity to walk on the field at Levi’s Stadium where the San Francisco 49ers’ play was an incredible experience. I have the City Year’s “Starry Starry Night” Gala to thank for that! When I first entered the stadium and walked the halls, I was absolutely amazed; even though the stadium was empty I felt an incredible energy throughout the building.

The entire corps circled in one of the end zones under the big screen. I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed that the images that flashed across the screen were actually pictures of City Year AmeriCorps members, many of which were candid photos of us working with our kids. Al Guido, the president of the 49ers, addressed the corps and shared with us why he is so invested in the work we do. He made his presence even further appreciated by wearing a 49ers jersey with “City Year” on the back! I cheered with the corps when he pointed it out, but behind that excitement came a realization. I had been so excited for the gala for weeks but now that the event had arrived and I was standing in Levi’s Stadium, listening to the president of an NFL team, preparing to meet people representing some of the largest and most well-known companies in the U.S., my sense of euphoria started to turn to concern. My confidence began to dwindle as questions of self-doubt raced through my mind: What other big name companies were going to be here? Would I be able to answer all possible questions they had about City Year? Could I keep up good conversation? Would such accomplished, and surely fascinating, people even find my stories interesting?

However when the guests started arriving and conversations started happening, it didn’t take long for me to notice that these people were truly interested in us and what we did and with that realization all the nervousness that I had faded. I met so many incredibly fascinating individuals. We discussed current issues, future goals and the City Year experience. They truly respected what we did and were amazed by our commitment to our kids and to all the City Year stands for.

Throughout the program there were a few speakers, we laughed with some and felt the emotion in others. One of the speakers was a fellow AmeriCorps member, Jennifer and one of her high school students, Lorena. They, along with other important people from her life, shared her story and how City Year helped to give her the chance to succeed in school. Lorena talked about her struggle going into high school, with failing grades in many of her classes and with no desire to improve. She spoke about the early days with Jennifer and how she found her constant checking in, “annoying.” However, Lorena went on to tell us that she realized that Jennifer’s frequent check-ins and need to be there came from a place of care, and seeing someone have so much faith in her, restored that belief in herself. At one moment she mentioned her uncle, a very important figure in her life, who had been disappointed in who she was becoming before Jennifer. At the end of her piece to everyone’s surprise, especially Lorena’s, her uncle approached the stage with a microphone. He sang her praises and spoke of how proud he was of all she’s done and how far she has come. It was a heart-wrenching moment, and Lorena let out the tears she had been choking down throughout the piece. They embraced center stage to a furious applause and it served as a reminder everyone why we are here. The last speech came from John W. Thompson, the Chairman of the Board of Microsoft; he was a charming and truly inspiring individual with a great since of humor. He wrapped up the event beautifully and after his speech one of the gentlemen at my table wanted to take a picture with as many of the corps members as he could before we said our goodbyes. His effort seemed to speak to how thankful they were to us.

I felt by the end of the night our guests understood that City Year believes in our students and what they can do. It was an unforgettable night with all of these extremely successful and vibrant people showing that they believe in us and our potential. The Starry Starry Night Gala, was an experience I will never forget, in a time in my life I know I will always cherish, with people I know I will always respect and appreciate what I stand for and what City Year stands for. My name is Donald Edwards and I proudly serve as a City Year Americorps members at the NVIDIA team at A.J. Dorsa Elementary School. 

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