January 4, 2010

First Day of School

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Jan. 4, 2009

After a restful holiday, it was back to work at City Year this morning. The LIRR [Long Island Rail Road] was 10 times less crowded today—I didn’t have to stand in the isle for a 45-minute ride to Penn Station, which was nice. Though the streets seemed a lot emptier today, the City Year office was teeming with people working on the upcoming event: MLK Day. MLK Day is a day of service in which people of all different backgrounds come together to create the “Beloved Community” that Dr. King envisioned. It was exciting to see people in the office ordering supplies and setting up events for the big day.

When I got to the office, I sat at my workspace and found a copy of the 2008-09 City Year company handbook placed right next to the computer. I picked up the manual entitled “The Idealist,” which looked like it had been read numerous times judging by its condition. The handbook was filled with guidelines and goals for members of the City Year organization. One rule that stood out to me was to smile at least once a day. So I smiled. It was surprising how many people around me smiled back!

The details that are included in the employee handbook are what distinguish City Year from other organizations. A company’s dedication towards creating a positive and deliberate work culture is what keeps employees motivated to perform. I had always assumed that employee manuals would be boring and uninteresting to read based on my limited knowledge from my Human Resource class last semester. However, the City Year manual inspired me, reading almost as a guideline for how to live your life rather than a rulebook for the workplace.

After contacting various colleges in the New York area about running an article about recent alumni involved in the City Year program as corps members (volunteers who work at the schools), I was told that the City Year team from M.S. 302 (the school Kristen and I volunteered at on our first day) was in the office, along with their sister team from M.S. 424. The two teams took the day off from their middle schools in the Bronx for a winter retreat that aimed to regroup and refocus volunteers.

When I entered the back area of the office, the two teams were sitting in a circle dressed in business casual, but still sporting their red City Year jackets. Dan Foley, Team Leader of M.S. 302, Tom Caron, Team Leader of M.S. 424 and Emily Hulkower, Program Manager of the two schools, ran the winter retreat.

I came to watch the exercise called “Friend v. Mentor” in which corps members put on four different skits to address the difficulty of being both a friend or a mentor to students. Tom Caron explained that it is natural to “reach a point when you don’t know how to respond to the students” and that this exercise was to “eliminate the grey area.”

The skits covered topics ranging from what to do if a student contacts a corps member after hours to what is appropriate to tell students about ones personal life. “The question is how far do you go to be relatable to these kids,” said Emily Hulkower.

Tom summed up that “mentors provide resources rather than being a resource. All four of these skits have happened in the past two and a half months so we need to reevaluate our roles as mentors.”

After an hour of interesting conversation between corps members and unit leaders about personal experiences with students, I really got a feel for the type of person who volunteers their time for City Year. It is clear to me that corps members are selfless individuals whose power comes from their patience. They have the patience and drive to change the world, one student at a time.

The rest of the winter retreat was a discussion of expectations, commitments, recaps, and what was ahead in the upcoming months.

I finished up e-mailing various college newspapers and started working on contacting college magazines and radio stations. I went through old City Year public service announcements and with the help of Diana, created an updated version of them to be read to college students across the northeast. I even met Itai Dinour, the Executive Director at City Year in New York City, today! Itai graduated from Cornell ILR and made this entire internship possible. He told me he enjoyed my first blog, as did corps members and other employees at City Year. It was exciting to see how my article had already reached the entire office!

Original Author: Samantha Padilla