Imagine taking a year off after graduating from high school. Instead of takingclasses, you work around Boston doing various tasks such as cleaning upneighborhoods or helping children with their homework. What is this programcalled? City Year.
Anita Balliro, head of student activities at MarbleheadHigh School said "City Year is an urban Peace Corps for young people who havegraduated from high school. It was started by Harvard graduates who thought thaturban problems could be solved by community volunteers. The program mainlyfocuses on city problems such as crime, drugs, education in schools, and children(activities like building playgrounds)." She also said that five years ago CityYear was looking for kids to sign up, but now it is so popular there are waitinglists to get in. About 175 high school graduates apply each year, and only 50 getin. Most of the graduates are from the Boston area.
Balliro said that theteenagers receive $5,000 for college as well as $100 a week while living inBoston. Participants must get up every morning to do calisthenics and wear ablack jacket that says "City Year" on the back. The corps members serve fromSeptember to June, working in teams of 10 to 12, each group named for sponsors.Throughout the year, corps members are provided with special training ineverything from first aid and carpentry to leadership and critical thinking.
There is the Bain Team which works with Boston's curbside recyclingeffort, the Citizen's Team which works on original violence prevention workshopsat middle schools in Boston, the Equitable Team, which works with drug-addictedbabies, the Lawyer's Team, which cleans apartments for senior citizens andgathers oral histories as well, the New England Telephone Team, which findsstrength in diversity, and the Reebok Team which adopts elementary schooleducation and serves as mentors as well as teachers' aides.
Alison Hardy(a 1991 Marblehead graduate) participated in City Year during '91 - '92 year anddescribes her experiences, "The enjoyment was basically that I moved out of thehouse. No really, it was a deciding factor in my major. Before I did City Year Iwanted to become an environmental lawyer studying at Macalaster University. Ilearned so much from my volunteering that I am going to major in child psychologyat the University of Minnesota.
"I worked at the Blackstone ElementarySchool in Roxbury. There were many different kindergarten classes that I workedin. A lot of the children had behavior problems, they really needed someone tolook up to, so I became a mentor-friend-counselor type for them to talk to."
Hardy adds, "I also learned from City Year the way that I worked in ateam. In high school I usually took the lead such as working on an Englishproject. Here, I was put in a team of 12 people, all with different backgrounds,races, and education as well for reasons why they joined. (One man joined formoney, another got out of jail for doing community service.) I stayed mostly inthe background of the group. It took most of the groups about nine months tobecome a family. The job itself was not easy. We often got screwed up when westarted out; many people slacked off. We needed a lot of energy to get this thingoff the ground. I think that the diversity part was the hardest because everyonehad different ideas due to their backgrounds. We needed everyone to worktogether. I also found a lot of people like myself there once I got involved.This really was a worthwhile learning experience."
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.