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City Year: No Ordinary Uniform

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles write about their experiences.Every morning, the first thing I see when I wake up...

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles write about their experiences.Every morning, the first thing I see when I wake up is my City Year uniform. It’s a time saver to keep the whole thing laid out on my bed, shirt, pants, belt, jacket, everything except the boots which sit in the closet because, well, after a year and a half of service, they smell pretty bad.

As a City Year corps member, this uniform is the part of my wardrobe that I wear the most. I work in it, I travel in it, I serve in it—and occasionally, I pass out from exhaustion on my couch in it.

Besides being really cool and stylish, the uniform represents the many ideals and lessons of City Year. First off, it’s a uniform, so we are all required to wear it. We all sport the bright yellow jackets (or bright red jackets if you’re not in California), the white shirts, the khaki pants, the Timberland boots.

It also represents the unity we feel. Regardless of where we come from and where we serve, we are all at City Year for the same reason: We want to change things; we want to help. We are each spending a year serving full-time in schools and communities to make a difference in the lives of others. Or, as our motto puts it: “Give a year. Change the world.”

Along with what the uniform represents, it is also a constant reminder of many of the memories and lessons that I have learned from City Year. After serving for so long, a corps member is bound to bear some war wounds on their uniform. At this point, my boots are pretty worn out. On my right boot, there’s a streak of yellow paint from the day we painted a mural at Figueroa Elementary School. I could have tried to wash it off if I really wanted to, but I cherish this stain. It’s a reminder of the beautification work that we all do across Los Angeles.

My boots also remind me of last year whenever I look at the laces, which, at this point are extremely stringy and torn up. Every time I tie up my Timbos (Timberland Boots), I can’t help but chuckle a little bit and remember the importance of building a strong team. We would play pranks on each other but always in good fun—it kept us sane and laughing when our service got really difficult. Those pranks are part of the reason I decided to return as a Senior Corps Member and help a new group of corps members embark upon the difficult task of changing the world.

Finally, there’s the bomber jacket. Along with the guarantee that I will never be hit by a car because of its yellow vibrancy, and the arm patches that provide constant reminders of our affiliation with AmeriCorps, it’s a way for each of us to take personal ownership of our uniforms.

This year, I dedicated my bomber to my grandfather’s memory. He passed away last September. He lived a very difficult life, but despite his challenges, he always made time to help his family and neighbors, and he did so with humility and grace. I try to model my own service in his memory.

Our uniforms aren’t just uniforms. They are symbols of what we stand for and what we have done. However, there is still a lot of yellow space yet to be filled, inevitably, with more paint and scuff marks.

There is still more work to do.

Arthur Shtern is a team leader for City Year in Los Angeles.

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