January 3, 2010

Are You Ready to Change the World?

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Today began my two-week internship in the Recruitment Department at City Year, a non-profit organization that unites people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service as tutors, mentors and role models in schools around the world. The City Year program is located in twenty cities, including Boston (where the company was founded), Louisiana, San Antonio, Los Angeles, New York and even London.

Teams of 10 are sent to work with a specific school to provide school-based services, youth leadership and community transformation. Benefits to City Year volunteers include a $5,350 education award for completing the program, a bi-weekly living stipend while they are volunteering, health insurance, an experience that provides a network of contacts, and the ability to change a child’s life.

I was able to get this wonderful internship experience through the ILR WISP program, paring current ILR students with ILR alumni over winter break to try out different career paths. I was drawn to City Year because I was interested in working for a non-profit. I don’t know much about the structure of a non-profit organization and wanted to get a better picture of its inner workings.

Even though the treacherous weather conditions over the past few days lead to numerous train delays into NYC, I entered 20 West 22nd Street bright and early. Diana Vining, Recruitment Outreach Director for New York’s City Year branch, welcomed me and Kristen McClellan, another ILR student on the internship.

Diana explained the ins and outs of City Year, including a synopsis of its 21 years of history, and expressed the importance of leadership to us. After a tour of the office and a quick lunch, Kristen and I were on our way to our first project. We were sent to M.S. 302 in the South Bronx to assist the City Year staff run a free holiday food market for the community.

It was such a pleasure to volunteer at M.S. 302 and to interact with the City Year staff, students, and the members of the community. The City Year staff I met was enthusiastic and friendly, all having a unique motivation to join the corps. Lisa Cao ’09, a graduate from the College of Human Ecology and volunteer for City Year, found out about the program during an on-campus information session that she “stumbled upon.” “I applied January of my senior year of college and found out that I was accepted into the program the day after my second interview,” Lisa said.

Lisa’s motivations for volunteering with City Year have been both the challenging work and the high level of responsibility she experiences every day. “I never have a boring day here!” she said.

Service was always a big part of Lisa’s life, seeing that she was part of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, as well as treasurer of Alpha Xi Delta. “I get to work with a diverse team here, with people of different races and from different geographic areas,” she said. “I will look back on this experience and know that I made a difference.” Next year, Lisa hopes to attend dental school.

For Perry Shoemaker, volunteer and Class of 2009 at Notre Dame, City Year was an opportunity to continue his tradition of community service. “I’m 22 years old and have no real responsibilities,” said Perry, “so this seemed like a perfect time to do good.” Perry considered working for Teach For America but chose City Year instead because he “would get to work more outside the classroom.”

The disparity between the City Year program and Teach for America was one that I was curious about coming into City Year. “Teach For America is strictly classroom teaching,” explained Perry, “it’s also a two year commitment, versus one year.”

Perry volunteers at M.S. 424, also in the South Bronx region. He wants to go law school after his year at City Year and focus on urban planning. “When I get off of the subway to get to M.S. 424, I notice the poor layout of the mass transit system. Roads are cutting the town in half and I can’t help but question, “who let this happen?” I want to create a safe, health environment for people to grow,” said Perry.

While chatting with volunteers and hanging out fresh produce during the Free Holiday Food Market, sponsored by the Hunts Point Alliance for Children (HPAC), I struck up a conversation with a 12-year-old girl named Ashley Amaro, a Brooklyn native. After telling her that I go to Cornell, she ran to her backpack to show me the Cornell bookmark that she has inside her copy of

, the third book in the famous Twilight series. “I want to go to Cornell or Columbia!,” she told me. After talking about her love for archaeology, her potential major in college, I asked her about the City Year program. “They are really nice and so much fun. They do a lot of activities that help the community. Without City Year, things would be boring around here.”

After the school day, City Year runs different types of clubs and before the school day begins, they supervise students and ensure that they get to class on time. “I love to hang out in the morning with them,” said Laura Lopez, a 6th grader at M.S. 302, “I can really be myself around them.”

After the food drive was over, Kristen and I assisted with clean up were escorted upstairs to the City Year classroom, brightly decorated and very welcoming. Inside the classroom, the staff stood in a circle and played a game called “rose and thorn” where each person said one good thing and one bad thing about their day. It was inspiring to see how optimistic the group of volunteers is. The only negative comment they had was “we ran out of squash!”

Kristen and I traveled back to Penn Station on the 6 train and couldn’t stop talking about our day. Day 1 of the externship was more powerful than I could have ever imagined.

Soon we will prepare for special City Year events around boroughs, including the Martin Luther King Service Day. On Jan. 18, volunteers throughout the city will be honoring MLK through a day of service projects, including painting murals, feeding the homeless, and running educational activities for children. Stay tuned for more updates!

Original Author: Samantha Padilla