By Beth Alberty
Senior AmeriCorps member and Project Leader for the Learning & Development Team

I hopped off the plane at George Bush Intercontinental Airport with a dream and my Timberlands…

My name is Beth Alberty and I’m currently serving a second year with City Year Washington, DC as a Project Leader for the Learning & Development team. This last September, I was given the opportunity to head to Houston, Texas to serve as a Project Coordinator for City Year's Care Force team. City Year’s Care Force program engages corporations in high-impact volunteer events to improve schools and communities. This amazing team is led by eight amazing Senior AmeriCorps members, just like me, who serve all day, every day to engage corporations and their employees in high-impact volunteer events to help improve schools and communities across the United States.As I crossed off the days leading up to my City Year Care Force trip to Houston, I felt anxiety over all my unanswered questions…

Once I arrived, where would I stay? How would I get there? Who would I be working with? What project would I oversee – and should I try to get some last-minute carpentry training? I arrived at George Bush International airport with little more than a carry-on full of khakis, a rough task list for the week, and vague instructions to find other City Year staff at baggage claim.

Once I arrived, though, my anxiety melted away. Within just a few hours of our arrival, it was clear that the nine of us - City Year staff and Senior AmeriCorps members from across the network, serving as Care Force Reserves – would become fast friends. Collectively, we had a wide variety of experience within the network, representing six different sites with more than 30 years of cumulative service to City Year.

My team had the privilege of serving at a campus called the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Centers. Neighborhood Centers, Inc., is a network of nonprofit service centers in Houston with roots in the settlement house movement of the early 20th century. Over 100 years after its founding, Neighborhood Centers has 70 locations that provide a holistic system of support for community members, focusing particularly on immigrant populations. The campus where we worked offers a fascinatingly wide array of services: a charter school for immigrant and refugee children, a free tax preparation center, a credit union, a community thrift store, an art shop, a café run by a community member, ESL classes, karate classes, small business classes, cooking classes, and more. Every decision that is made, from the types of classes offered to the layout and design of the welcome center, is made with the input of Baker-Ripley’s clients.

This solicitation of community input also impacted the projects my Care Force Reserves team worked on over the course of the week. Three days of prep work led up to Aramark Building Community Day, a service day in which we led 150 Aramark volunteers in projects that included a healthy cooking demonstration for local seniors and school children, gardening, mural painting, jungle gym building, mosaic laying, and more. My role on the day of the event was to oversee the painting of murals which were, of course, designed by Baker-Ripley clients. Although the week was not without unanticipated challenges, the experience was, overall, one of the most well-functioning and organized I’ve ever been a part of. I am especially grateful to the Care Force representatives for their positive, can-do leadership –when something deviated from the planned course of events, they were able to redirect and adapt quickly, efficiently, and with positivity.

My experience is best reflected in PITW #138: “City Year thrives on trust and joy.” In retrospect, my anxiety prior to the trip was unnecessary – I should have trusted that the details would be taken care of (and they were). And our week was full of joy – joy in the schoolchildren at Baker-Ripley, joy in the open-mindedness of our Aramark volunteers, and joy in sharing stories, laughs, sweaty high-fives, early mornings and late nights, and karaoke favorites with our new friends across the network.

For more information on Neighborhood Centers, Inc., visit http://www.neighborhood-centers.org/

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