[Photo credit: City Year. AT&T volunteers at a 2019 City Year Care Force service event in Atlanta, Georgia.]
As the school year begins – in the wake of a pandemic — students in systemically under-resourced communities need support more than ever. How can we ensure we’re helping to create learning environments where they can continue to build their skills and grow, while also strengthening our communities as a whole?
Since our inception more than three decades ago, City Year has woven the values of service to others and civic engagement throughout our organization—it is embedded deep in our DNA. Originally founded upon the vision of bringing together diverse young adults in full-time service to help support community needs, City Year has evolved into an education nonprofit, recruiting 3,000 AmeriCorps members each year to support 225,000 students nationwide as they strive for academic success. We know that for our students and schools to thrive, they need the support of the entire community—and City Year has continued to prioritize civic engagement as an important component of the work we do in 29 locations across the country.
Our 35,000 alumni powerfully represent how service to others can inspire a lifelong commitment to civic engagement. In addition to flourishing across a wide array of professions, City Year alumni are more engaged with their communities than like-minded peers, and they continue to serve and lead where they live and work long after their “City Year” is over.
We also cultivate civic engagement with our partners through our Care Force team, which engages corporations and their employees in volunteer events across the country and around the world. Prior to COVID-19, many of our civic engagement activities were in-person events and interactions. We have led more than 730 service projects engaging over 100,000 volunteers to improve the physical environment of schools and community centers through activities such as painting educational murals, building outdoor classrooms and community gardens, and transforming play and recreation spaces to encourage more physical activity and better health and well-being.
The pandemic has drastically altered that in-person model, leading us back to our entrepreneurial roots.
Among other devastating effects, COVID-19 has underscored the challenges facing the students we work with at City Year, over 90% of whom live in low-income households and are students of color. While our AmeriCorps members are actively supporting both in-person and distance learning across more than 300 public schools nationwide, our broader civic engagement efforts are evolving to provide resources to our corps members and the children they coach from a safe distance.
In late September, the Care Force team will launch virtual events with our national partners AT&T and Vertex. We will lead over 1,200 employee volunteers through a series of online service projects that will create Student Success Packs filled with basic school supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for more than 6,000 students in the United States and in the United Kingdom, in partnership with our international affiliate, City Year UK. These events are designed to be fun and creative for the participants, while providing needed supplies to the students we serve. When combined with our other partners’ volunteer efforts, by the end of October we will have sent packs to more than 10,000 students.
Bright spots for civic engagement efforts across our City Year locations include designing virtual civics programming for our students in Milwaukee and leading online student supply drives in Washington, D.C. In Boston, we assisted getting meals to children when school began to close last spring, and in Chicago we are engaging City Year alumni to provide PPE supplies to the neighborhoods in which our students live.
In the coming months we will be exploring how to mobilize volunteers to drive career and education guidance to our 3,000 currently serving AmeriCorps members. We’re piloting recruiting volunteers to provide “micro mentoring”— short, highly focused one-on-one skill building sessions on topics like financial literacy or interviewing skills —which will provide our AmeriCorps members with extra support as they take the next steps in their careers or education during this uncertain time.
As we go through this City Year, we will continue to develop new ways to perform virtual civic engagement. Though no one could have predicted our current environment, what’s unchanged is our firm belief in the power of a team — that all of us can unite to support the success of our young people, and build a brighter, more just future for all. We hope to come out of this experience stronger, with a broader set of engagement opportunities that better support our AmeriCorps members, our students, our partner teachers and schools, and the communities in which we work and live.
How you can get involved:
- Learn about our civic engagement opportunities in a city near you.
- Find out how you can support AmeriCorps and other national service programs
By Ted Marquis, City Year Alumnus and Vice President and Director of Care Force.
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