City Year: Remembering Why We Serve

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles and New York write about their experiences.

City Year corps members based in Los Angeles and New York write about their experiences.

Although Hunts Point is a community that is only a 20-minute train ride from one of the richest areas in New York City, this South Bronx neighborhood is among the poorest congressional districts in America. My morning commute from Manhattan to P.S. 48, an elementary school that serves close to 1,000 students, is a daily reminder of this stark contrast.

From the moment our City Year team first walked into the school on an early September morning, we were greeted with smiles and high-fives from students. I was particularly moved when I overheard a third grader ask her teacher if they were getting a “City Year” in their classroom this year. When the teacher replied, “Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that we do,” I was more determined than ever to guide our team in making the most of our year of service. Being a first year team leader, more than any prior training, that moment solidified for me City Year’s purpose and my determination in guiding our team to make the most of our year of service.

Back in 2002, P.S. 48 was one of the first New York City schools to partner with City Year. Given our long history, it’s understandable that they make it clear that they have high expectations for our team, but they also make clear their appreciation for us. Whenever I get overwhelmed with our team’s to-do list —making phone calls home to ensure consistent attendance, providing individualized tutoring, lesson planning, and trying to build a unified team—I look back to that day in September and remember the bigger picture, the larger mission. Of course the details and the deadlines matter, but as a leader I have to frequently remind not only my team but also myself why we are here in the first place.

I joined City Year because I was fortunate enough to attend a top-ranked public high school and had a supportive family, and I knew that so many children live in opposite realities. Growing up I have learned that life is not always fair, but that it’s my responsibility to challenge these existing inequalities and do my part to make the world a better place.

When one of my team members shares a story about a student who is finally making progress with his reading comprehension, I know our impact is real. I also know that when it’s a rainy morning and attendance rates plummet due to something as simple as a change in weather, that we still have a long way to go. Despite these challenges, I choose to remain optimistic. In the months ahead, with 11 driven corps members working full-time in this community, I'm excited for the journey we’ll make together as a team this year.

Photo via Flickr user City Year.

Meredith Nowikowski is a first year team leader in New York City.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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