Dear City Year Corps of 2012 – 2013

By: Jack Wolfe

An Open Letter to the 2012 – 2013 City Year Corps Members

Dear City Year Corps of 2012 – 2013,

How are y’all feeling?

If, at this stage in your City Year, you can sincerely answer “fired up” to that question, I tip my hat to you; because I know that at this stage in either of my two City Years, I could not.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved BTA, especially that glorious first time, when everything was new and shiny and ubuntu-y.  That first year, I was eager to be in the schools: I loved my team, I loved City Year, and I loved the idea of helping kids.  It’s just that, when I actually got to Linden-McKinley… when I actually settled in to Ms. Najjar’s 7th grade science classroom, and actually started trying to make sense of its general chaos… I felt a little… stressed.

City Year is hard; that’s why we have that great PITW (#158).  Does anyone who puts their heart and soul into City Year think it’s easy?  How could a self-described idealist go into a struggling urban school and be satisfied?  Have you read the papers, America?  OF COURSE City Year is a physical and emotional drain.  OF COURSE it is a relentlessly challenging experience.  America’s inner-city children are underserved in profound and myriad ways.  If we are committed to helping them succeed, we are going to have to struggle with them, in the trenches, day in day out, for at the very least a whole school year.

To end my lecture, since you probably don’t need it.  You— the new Corps, the best of the best from a pool that gets bigger and better every year— know the problems.  And you know they are complex.  Besides, even after two years, I can’t tell you the solutions.   I can, however, tell you a kind of mega-Starfish story.  I was affiliated with LMSA for two years.  And, over the course of those two years, I saw changes— changes in the school and changes in myself.  Those first couple of weeks were stressful, yes, and confusing, and awkward, and tiring, and I’m pretty sure that the next couple of months were (sorry, guys) even harder.  The difference between those two periods is that, after a while, after I had found a kind of “LMSA-groove,” I embraced the challenge.  I realized that if I wasn’t going to give it all I got every day, then… who could be counted on?  If I— with my energy and youth— wasn’t going to encourage my kids, and quiz my kids, and help them study, and fire them up, then who else would?

It was this realization that gave me power.  The power to STOP caring about being too weird for inner-city Columbus (because I really, really am a weirdo) and to START caring about helping kids.  Because once you throw yourself into your service, and show your kids that you care, they start caring about you, and about how you can help them get on track.  It can take a while to find that level of trust— our kids are not stupid, and they have the right to be skeptical about a bunch of late-teen and twenty-somethings coming in to “tutor” them— but it’s worth it.  It is so totally worth “it” (the stress, the noise, the crazy dreams you will have, etc), to see that these students really give it their all, too, and succeed.

City Year was my life’s signature experience.  I’m probably not the first person who’s told you that, but it’s something I absolutely believe.  If you can find a way to both take service seriously and, at the same time, HAVE FUN (because, yeah, that will be a super important thing this year), I am almost certain you will feel the same way come June 2013.  Good luck, Corps!

Yours in service,

Jack Wolfe

CYCO, 2010-2012


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