By Monica Rajan
Co-Team Leader at DC Scholars Stanton Elementary School

If there was ever a visual representation of the City Year core value “Service to a Cause Greater than Self,” it would be City Year's annual Summer Academy. From the moment I stepped onto Northeastern University's campus I knew it was going to be one of the best weeks of my life. The energy was palpable. It was impossible not to feel "Fired Up" in a room of nearly 1,400 idealists, all of whom are committed to the same cause that I am­. The weeklong retreat united City Year staff and Senior AmeriCorps members from across the country and around the world. The opportunity to learn and network, coupled with the chance to build community reignited my passion for service and prepared me for the year ahead.

The week began with an Opening Ceremony in which one representative from each site delivered a "Why I Serve" statement to the crowd. I loved hearing from all 27 national sites, City Year Headquarters and South Africa and found many similarities between their reasons for serving and my own. There was even a video clip from corps members from City Year UK, which really touched me. Though I knew little about their site, I immediately felt a sense of connectedness, giving meaning to the idea of 'One City Year'.

Other General Assemblies throughout the week allowed us to hear from our senior leaders at City Year, which I greatly appreciated. The panels gave me insight into the inner-workings of City Year at a high level and its organizational aspirations that we, as Senior AmeriCorps members, will have a hand in shaping. I was in awe of the founders of City Year and City Year sites. Hearing stories and firsthand experiences from those who have served since the start was nothing short of humbling. I even had the chance to eat lunch with CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown and share the successes of Stanton Elementary, the school at which I proudly served last year and will continue to do so this coming school year as a co-Team Leader. The transparency with which the staff spoke made me feel like I belonged to this national movement.

The days were long, yet fulfilling. I attended sessions on everything from Team Builders to Management 101. I even took a tour of City Year Headquarters’ office! But what was most rewarding was connecting with other sites. I performed powerful morning greetings with City Year Philly, ate lunch with City Year Seattle, debriefed with City Year San Antonio, traded quarter-zips with City Year LA, and shared best practices with my roommate serving with City Year Chicago! Not to mention singing in the talent show in front of thousands with my duet partner from New Hampshire! It was comforting knowing that I could easily talk to anyone in uniform because we were connected through our shared beliefs and I knew they had my back, though many of them were strangers. There aren’t many organizations that have such a strong feeling of unity.

Before Summer Academy, I understood that I served for a cause greater than myself. After Summer Academy, I felt it. I returned to DC with a new sense of purpose and was filled with so much pride for the organization with who I serve alongside. I can’t wait to harness this energy and inspiration and make my second year the best it can be.

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