My wife and I first learned about City Year when our son, Benjamin Ralston, was a freshman at Loras College in Dubuque. Ben approached us about taking time off from school. He had learned about an AmeriCorps program called City Year, in which young adults from all over America work with students in areas of concentrated poverty. The adults provide academic and social-emotional support to the students in a school-based setting.
While the program sounded idealistic and substantive (and it sounded like darn hard work), I was against letting our son leave school for a year to participate. Eventually, we gave permission for Ben to apply for City Year. He was ecstatic when he was accepted and sent to inner city Chicago.
While in Chicago, Ben worked with early elementary school students. He and his group of City Year corps members worked in a school with young children, nearly all of whom were persons of color, were poor, and were academically challenged. All the City Year corps members worked hard and very long hours, including many weekends.
Ben loved it.
It was clear these young adults had a lasting and transformative impact on the Chicago students.
In the end, Ben loved it so much he signed up for a second year and was named a senior team leader. This time, he was sent to the south side of Chicago, to a different inner city elementary school. The year was much the same. A great deal of hard work, but very rewarding. My wife and I visited and saw first-hand the impact the corps members had on the lives of the students.
Ben’s experience taught him (and us) many things. He learned the importance of hard work and commitment. He learned that he can impact other lives. And he learned how grateful he was for all he had experienced.
Everyone in our family became fans of City Year. I am grateful for Ben’s experience and know that it impacts his life to this day.