By Alie Mihuta
Senior AmeriCorps Member and Project Leader for the CSX Transportation Civic Engagement Team
This past Friday, all 169 members of the Washington, D.C. 2015-2016 corps made their way to the U.S. Capitol Building for our annual Red Jacket Ceremony. As a second-year AmeriCorps member with City Year Washington, DC, this ceremony has been one of my favorite City Year events, as it takes place right at the end of the corps’ Basic Training Academy and right before the first day of in school service. It is the perfect moment to pause and reflect on how far we’ve come in the past four weeks and to envision how we will grow, change, and develop in the months to come.
It is necessary that we take this brief pause to think specifically about our motivation; our drive. During the ceremony, each AmeriCorps member takes a turn at the podium to share with the City Year community who or what they are dedicating their red jacket to this year. For some of the incoming AmeriCorps members, this motivation could be related to their reasons for joining City Year in the first place – some are frustrated with the current education system and they felt motivated to do City Year to work towards bettering that system. Or they had a really great mentor growing up and want to be a part of City Year so that other young people in our community can have great role models.
For Senior AmeriCorps members, like myself, our motivation for returning to City Year for a second year has changed and developed since the Red Jacket Ceremony last year. Many of us shouted out names of students we worked alongside or referenced specific experiences from our first year. Our motivation to perform the service that we do is exactly that – it’s the work. The long days can be challenging, but they are extremely rewarding and rejuvenating. It’s our work that keeps us going. Our work pushes us. And our service year motivated us to return for a second year. It’s a beautiful, continuing cycle.
Hearing all the red jacket dedications collectively from both the corps and staff was a transformative experience for me. The number of social justice issues and political and social concerns referenced during the ceremony speaks volume to the qualities and characteristics of the people in the room.
From this ceremony, one could see how diverse, creative, humble, and alive our group at City Year is. The wellbeing of our community is always at the forefront of our minds and we carry the burdens faced by our community in our hearts. And most importantly, with our boots tied tight and red jackets zipped up, we bring in hope and light to the places that need it most we bring a special energy and a part of that City Year community to the places we serve.
Walking down the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building on Friday, I felt surrounded by greatness. I am so proud of what the DC corps has accomplished over the last 16 years and I cannot wait to see what we are able to achieve this year.
Another Perspective of Red Jacket Ceremony from a first-year AmeriCorps member
By Kristen Langan
First-year AmeriCorps member serving on the Horning Family Fund team at Garfield Elementary School
As we walked into the U.S. Capitol Building on August 21st, our eyes took in the stoic statues, vintage artwork on the walls, and bustling tourists that filled the halls. The day of the Red Jacket Ceremony had finally arrived – the day we dedicate our red jackets. The road to get there wasn't easy. For the past 6 weeks, we have gone through dozens of trainings, professional development sessions, panel discussions, skit performances, small group observation sessions, and more. And in the week prior to the Red Jacket Ceremony, we had to work as a team to “earn our uniforms” by memorizing City Year’s mission and vision statements, perform PT (or Physical Training) moves, and memorize the City Year pledge. Thankfully, that we completed our first team assignment with excellence, all 18 teams filed into the U.S. Capitol Building, and the ceremony began. One by one, each City Year AmeriCorps member gave thanks, remembrance, and appreciation for those in their lives that contributed to the reason they decided to serve.
Jake Thomas, one of my teammates on the Horning Family Fund team serving at Garfield Elementary School, dedicated his red jacket to his sixth grade teacher Mr. Sloan, explaining that sixth grade was an influential year and Mr. Sloan really helped guide him. Jake said that he "recently emailed [Mr. Sloan] to tell him [he] was doing City Year and he gave [him] some words of advice, including 'Don't school learners, educate them.'" Another City Year AmeriCorps member, Gris Calderon, dedicated her jackets to her family. Gris explained that she dedicated her red jacket to “the two people who have shown me unconditional support, because without them I wouldn’t be here today; my parents. They instilled in me the power of believing the best in people and in the gift of opportunity. I value both as great foundations for working with youth and providing support for City Year.”
Though I personally dedicated my jacket to my family and college mentor, I was touched by the diversity of dedications that were made by corps members. It always amazes me to see how many different perspectives and passions are brought to the table. As I listened to these dedications, I looked around and felt so honored to be a part of such a wonderful group of people. The fact that we are all so different and yet all working towards the one amazing goal of improving DC’s children and community is a true blessing. I could feel the buzz of excitement in the air as we all slowly realized how lucky we were to be beginning our City Year journey together.
For more photos of City Year Washington, DC’s Red Jacket Ceremony, see them here!