Real Talk With Miss Christine

By: Christine Olding

A few weeks ago I started doing this lunch group on Thursdays with six, 6th grade girls. It was supposed to be a chance for them to talk about a variety of topics that they didn’t feel comfortable talking about with anyone else (health issues to boyfriends and everything in between). I was unsure exactly how it would go over because let’s just say I was not the favorite person among the 6th grade girls.

When I first started this experience I was known by many of the students as the “mean” one due to my strict disciplinarian structure. However, in the past few months I have begun to develop relationships with these girls in ways I, honestly, never thought imaginable. I get hugs and jokes on a daily basis and am constantly asked questions about my love life (something I find pretty hysterical). So, when I was asked to do this group, I was excited and nervous on what exactly would happen given our rocky road.

The group is set up like this: they go grab their lunch and come to a classroom where I am awaiting their arrival. During our first meeting we came up with 10 topics that would be discussed. Each week we talk about a different topic. I present the topic of the week and open the floor each time stating that it is a safe space and whatever is said between these walls will never leave these walls. I try to answer their questions to the best of my ability and hope for the best.

I was amazed by the girls willingness to share and ask questions that I knew were hard for them to discuss. They are 100% open to what I have to say and what each other have to say. It is my chance to show them a different perspective on the issues that plague them. It is my chance to say” hey, I remember being in the 6th grade and I remember how much it sucked at times. So, here are some things to help you get through it.” Each week, I make a point to let them know that each of them is important, beautiful, smart and loved. (Something I know that they rarely hear). It is my hope that they will truly listen to those words and believe them because all I want for them is to believe in themselves and each other, like how I believe in each one of them.


Hand in Hand

By: Jackie Gibbs

Because community is an important City Year value, its essence has become a repetition throughout our service. I have found that reaching out beyond our partner schools is when that sense of community is most present.

Over the holiday the corps participated in Thanksgiving Service Day at Heyl Elementary School. Having learned that Heyl Elementary was once a partner school with City Year, I was thrilled to know that the school understood the organization and even more so that the students recognized us. Entering as a stranger, but having been welcomed as a long, lost friend insinuated the feeling of connection.

I assisted two fellow corps members in a 2nd Grade English Classroom. We focused on reading short stories and writing holiday cards to children in hospitals. As we hovered in the doorway to the second grade classroom waiting for the teacher to choose a group of students who were to make holiday cards with City Year, small voices cried in chorus, “Pick me! Pick me!” I scanned the room and my eyes began to water as I noticed one of the students bawling in the corner because he wasn’t chosen.

By lunchtime I felt like a celebrity. Many of the students we had just taught and even students near by who joined for the mere fact that their friends were, shouted, “Sit by me! Sit by me!” The room was filled with laughter and cheer, which to my amazement ended almost as instantly as it began. Heyl enforces a clapping system that can only be emulated by listening to the sound of the beat, which requires everyone to be quiet. Instantly, everyone was working together and organization was maintained

The part of the day I had been looking forward to had finally arrived: recess! While I love serving at a high school, in a 9th grade classroom, and would not trade that for any other grade, I do look forward to recess because after teaching in a hot building cooped up in a classroom filled with the B.O. of growing teenagers, it’s all I can do to dream for some sort of outdoor activity. I scanned through all of the dramatic demands that might occur during a normal day at recess from past stories I had heard from corps members. I couldn’t tell you how many times students asked me to pick them up to reach the monkey bars and how pleased I was to inform the students of my Jell-O arms that couldn’t lift anything (thank you CSX and Chase teams)! Needless to say, I was still clobbered by a mass of children who were supposedly playing an innocent game of tag.

Just before we began to end the day a few corps members presented a brief career advancement speech to a group of select students. During questions and comments the principal shared a story about a mother who had been running late for an appointment who, having become familiar with City Year, entrusted her child with a corps member to escort them safely to school. City Year is seen as a protection and the fact that schools and parents, who don’t personally know City Year corps members, will entrust the safety of their child in City Year hands shows something about community.

Later on, the principal had informed us of the ongoing talk about consolidating schools together, which would mean the possibility of closing Heyl Elementary down in the process. Because Heyl Elementary plays a pivotal part in the community, without it, there would be no unifying factors to hold the community together.

As I was leaving one of the students asked when City Year was coming back. The reaction from the students at Heyl gives me hope for future service days to contribute to the impact of community within other schools.

Penny Harvest, It Just Makes Cents!

By: Christine Olding

Each week I write about differing stories of how City Year is impacting the students we serve, but how do the students we serve impact their communities? This week, I am going to explore the Penny Harvest, a way for our students to raise money for local, state, and national charities through their own philanthropic endeavors.

Penny Harvest was founded in 1991 as a way to show children that they too can make a difference. Since 1991, $8.1 million in grants have been awarded to various community organizations, all from pennies. This opportunity allows the children to do something that they are often not given the chance to do: make a difference. It allows our students to contribute to things that they view as important. Each classroom votes on a differing cause or organization that will get their pennies.  Penny Harvest allows the students in each classroom to have a common goal that they must collaborate on to make come true.

Penny Harvest was first introduced to me by the student council at Hamilton. During morning announcements a few weeks ago, the students got on over the intercom and did a skit introducing the idea to the rest of the student body. Within their three to five minute skit they hit the main goal of the idea: to raise money for charities…with pennies. They then came around to each classroom handing out small colorful paper bags and burlap sack.  Upon first hearing about that they would be raising money solely with pennies; I was a little taken back and thought to myself, “how are pennies ever going to make a difference?”  I know this is a rather pessimistic outlook for a young idealist like me; however, sometimes you have to look at things for what they are. Though, I thought the idea might not be the most effective in the entire world, I was still interested to see how the students would react to this challenge.

I quickly began to realize that my previous thoughts on the matter were seriously mistaken. Each day I would watch in amazement as the students in my classrooms would march in carrying as many pennies as their paper bags could handle. They would get a small reward of a sticker each time they donated. Every day I would be reminded by the announcements of the growing astronomical amount of pennies each classroom was bringing in. I realized that, though these students may not have a lot to give, they are willing to give whatever they do have to help others.

A Sit Down with our New Executive Director, Todd Tuney

What drew you to becoming a part of City Year?

The thought of  working with a corps of young idealistic leaders. Helping to transform education in schools and communities and helping to lead that effort.

 What goals do you have for the organization short term and long term?

My short term goals are to fortify where we are at currently.  We need to stabilize the organization financially and start to build on, develop and create new relationships with funders and stakeholders.

 My long term goals are to use the leverage from strong relationships with stake holders and funders to improve our ability to have an impact.  We can do this by growing the corps and developing a reputation with the district, city and private sector that we are an organization that makes a difference, is good to partner with, and that is recognizable not only due to red jackets but the service we do.  The only way to do that is to have an internal sense of a high functioning organization from the top down.

 What did you learn when visiting the schools that we serve?

I learned that we have a tremendous challenge in front of us. However, I saw in our corps members this passion and desire to do all that it takes to make a difference in all of the lives of the kids we serve. I saw hope, opportunity and a strong resilient corps that I look forward to visiting more.

 What has surprised you about City Year?

What has surprised me the most so far is the ability to do so much with so little. Everyone I have met is extremely capable and performing at such a high level with the limited resources we have.  It is outstanding.  It makes me wonder that if we get to a point where we have all the right resources in place just how much impact we can make on the City of Columbus.

What do you think is the greatest obstacle to City Year’s goals?

That one’s a little more difficult.  Always lack of resources is a constant struggle with any organization.  More importantly however we must be responsible with our resources and ensure that we are optimizing them as efficiently as possible. 

What role has education played in your life?

Man that’s huge, my Dad and Mom always emphasized the importance of education and the doors that it can open.  I have seen where education has done this in my life but I have also witnessed what a lack of education can do as well.  Several of my friends who didn’t have the educational opportunities I had seemed at times to believe they were unable to overcome certain challenges or obstacles put before them.  When it comes to me, I believe with the education I received, I feel like there is nothing I cannot overcome

What experiences from previous positions do you bring to City Year?

Well that remains to fully be seen but one thing from Limited Brands that I bring is a commitment to excellence, quality and values.  Instilling strong values into culture on how we operate as organization and the work that we do.  Another thing that was so impactful at Limited is whatever we did we did to the highest quality.  Whatever we were working on it had to be done well.  I believe these qualities and expectations align well with City Year as an organization.

Top Ten Reasons to Serve


  1. Serving in the school system that I graduated from, Columbus City Schools.
  2. The 45 minute bus ride to the High School in which I serve, Linden McKinley STEM Academy, in the company car, the COTA Bus.
  3. The group of young idealist I lead everyday that I love so much! Sarai Exil, Molly O’Brien, Jacqueline Gibbs, Dejuan Stevens, Crystal Mcdonald and Brittny Berry give it their all each and everyday, little do they know, I look up to them.
  4. My starfish story….Ralph*! 30 minutes of math tutoring and he was teaching his own peers how to do division and the promise I made to him that doing well in math impresses the girls he likes…I smile every time I think about that.
  5. Mr. Osborn’s 7th Grade science class, you’re my Panther!
  6. Readiness Check each and every morning, and the moment I did foot fires in front of the corps members while a student walked into the school at 7:00am, giving me a pleasantly confused face. (I wonder if she thinks I’m a weirdo.)
  7. The first day a student said “Mr. Roosevelt, could you come to my football game? It would mean a lot to me”
  8. The impact that I have everywhere in the community, everyone recognizes the fact that I serve, it makes me feel great and that feeling is priceless.
  9. The uniform in which I wear.  “Boots and shoes, black or white socks, pressed pants, belt, shirt tucked in, naming device, heart full of grace, smile on your face, open mind, positive can do, sooouuulllll generated by love, jewelry check (bling blingless), cell-phone check (ring ringless) I feel confident that I can do all things when I put on my uniform.
  10. The site in which I serve, City Year Columbus, also known as CYCO! (Psycho), I believe this fits us perfectly because we are CYCO, in a good way! From the early morning unity rally at the statehouse, the different personalities that fit together and the love throughout the village and community. When everything is hectic, we get things done the CYCO way! This gives me great honor and revere to stand up anywhere and say “Hi, my name is Roosevelt Williams, Team Leader  from City Year Columbus, and I proudly serve at Linden McKinley STEM Academy in Mr. Osborn’s 7th grade science class.

Ladies and gents, those are the reasons I love this extraordinary world in which I serve. “City Year what time is it? It’s time for us to represent with Spirit, Discipline, Purpose and Pride” Interested in walking in boots that make you a hero? Make a difference in the community, nation and world at

*Student’s names have been changed to protect their privacy

City Year, a parent’s perspective

In light of City Year Columbus’s Parents Friends and Family Weekend, this article is written About City Year from a parent’s perspective. Jeff and Judi are parents of City Year Cleveland Alum, Kate League, and current City Year Columbus Senior Corps Member, Jeff League.

When our son Jeff asked us to write about City Year from a parent’s point of view, we thought back to the year 2006.  It was then that our daughter, Kate, told us that she wanted to join City Year Cleveland.  Once we learned what the program was about, we realized it would be a perfect fit for Kate. Newly graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College and fresh from suburbia, Kate has always had a wide streak of altruism.

So when Jeff told us that he wanted to be a part of City Year Columbus after graduating from Ohio State, we were very pleased and proud. Jeff, too, has a strong social conscience and enjoys service work. As with his sister, we knew City Year would be a good place for him.

As parents, you try to instill a sense of values in your children as they grow up.  City Year has done nothing but reinforce these values in our kids.  There are many lessons to be learned during a year of service……here are a few:

There is more to life and to personal satisfaction than graduating, getting a well-paying job and making a great deal of money. City Year is all about hard work. There is physical labor like building a playground in Columbus or building houses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  There is also a great deal of mental and emotional work.  Kate and Jeff worked in schools in the inner-city with students who needed some extra help.  While this proved challenging to both of them, the intrinsic rewards they felt seeing their students achieve success were much more than they anticipated.

A very positive result of their experience with City Year was their exposure to cultural diversity, something that you don’t always find in the suburbs. It gave them a wider perspective and an appreciation for all cultures. Their lives have been immeasurably enriched by, not only the other corps members, but also the children and school personnel with whom they have worked.

Our children grew in many positive ways because of their City Year experience.  Learning to budget time and managing money were two skills they acquired that will benefit them their whole life.  Working a long City Year day included tutoring students, supervising recess, after school programs and field trips and helped prepare them for life after City Year.

While attending City Year functions, we often heard corps members say they wanted to give back.  City Year provides many opportunities to do this.  Our kids have learned that one person can make a difference.   We are grateful for the experiences that City Year has afforded them and are very proud of our kids.