2015-04-30

By Meg Ammons
Senior AmeriCorps member / Team Leader on the Microsoft Team at Cardozo Education Campus

In my almost two years serving with City Year, I've found myself in some interesting places. One time I ended up in a giant warehouse deconstructing bikes to pack and send to Nicaragua. Last year I got to experience planning and running a Spring Break camp for 350+ D.C. youth. Another time I found myself inches from President Obama and former President Clinton on the White House Lawn. That's one of the coolest things about wearing the red City Year jacket – it takes you places.

On April 23rd, I found myself in another interesting place with my fellow Senior corps members – the beautiful lobby of the Case Foundation. The Case Foundation finds and funds efforts that break down barriers, challenge the status quo, and offer new solutions to ever-evolving problems, all in pursuit of one bold mission – investing in people and ideas that can change the world. In fact, as one City Year Washington, DC’s founding funders, they have been supporting our efforts to change the world for almost 15 years.  In addition to their advocacy and support, the Case Foundation offered a professional development opportunity to senior corps members to present our Senior Capstone projects.

For the past several years, City Year DC's senior corps participates in building Capstone Projects. Senior corps members often return to service because we feel like our work with City Year has only just begun, and working on Capstone Projects is an amazing way that we can leave our mark on the site. At the beginning of the year, we were grouped into teams and given the chance to find a problem, gap, or need within the site and run with our ideas. Filled with new excitement, my fellow senior corps members and I were like mad scientists, concocting solutions to common issues we saw in our organization. Throughout the year, teams brainstormed, conferenced, and deliberated over what kinds of projects would add value to our site. By midyear, we had legacy videos, analyses of systems, proposals for new systems, and resources for future corps members. It was amazing. But what is the point of a project if we can't explain its value to the rest of the organization?

This is where the Case Foundation graciously came in and invited us to share our projects with their staff. City Year corps members can work magic with SmartBoards, write the alphabet in chalk like nobody's business, and turn on the listening ears of 30 first graders – easy.  Put us into a beautiful office in downtown DC, surrounded by towering buildings and fancy suits, and we're slightly out of our element. As you would find in any group, some were more anxious than others to present to a room of strangers.

Despite our nerves, the Case Foundation was nothing but accommodating and welcoming. We had the opportunity to meet and chat with Case Foundation employees over breakfast, and our anxieties were soon put at ease. I started to realize that this visit was truly designed to strengthen our projects and presentations. After breakfast, we were able to break into groups to present in front of our peers as well as 1-2 volunteers from the Case Foundation. I worked with Jade, the Director of Communications for the Case Foundation. As someone who is always looking for tips on public speaking, felt like I had hit the jackpot! We were able to present, give feedback, and ask questions in a room of varying expertise-- an opportunity that proved to be incredibly valuable. I remember leaving, thinking once again, that I'm learning more with City Year and their partners than I ever did in college.

I would like to take some time and say thank you to my fellow Senior Corps members for dedicating your time to build and strengthen the organization. City Year has molded me into who I am today, due largely in part to those before us who had a vision of a better City Year. Each of us have different reasons for dedicating ourselves to a second year of service, but I believe as a group, we will collectively leave City Year a better place than when we originally found it. 

I would also like to thank the Case Foundation for providing us with a beautiful space to present our projects and for respecting our work. Their feedback and support gave us the outside perspective we needed to take our projects to the next level. Investments made for our professional development are always appreciated as we begin to prepare for our life after City Year service. I'd also like to shout out Sean Tennerson, the Case Foundation's Program Associate for the Social Innovation team. She hosted us in the most welcoming fashion and provided us with an opportunity to transform our presentations from good to great.

It's opportunities like these that remind me how pivotal partnerships can be. Organizations like the Case Foundation base their work on finding social innovators, change makers. City Year is an organization that grows change makers through daily service. When we came together last week, we were able to witness the value of collaboration in order to #makebetterhappen.

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