This June, we invited our graduating City Year AmeriCorps members to submit an essay reflecting on their service year in an essay contest called “Gave a Year, Changed the World.” Here is the winning essay, by Amelia Lavin, who served in a Providence middle school. Amelia will begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Widener University in the fall.
Yesterday was payday. I’m not talking about that insignificant blip in my bank account we eagerly anticipate every two weeks. Yesterday was my last day of in-school service. I marched through those heavy doors for the last time in a daze.
My tucked-in shirt was stained yellow by sweat from basketball games, running up and down staircases, and overheated classroom hovering. My Timb boots were scuffed and covered in paint and dirt from ten months of gardening, painting, and trudging through snow and mud. My pressed pant pockets were dappled with the black and blue marks from the pens and pencils that had lived there during my service.
My team and I were met with the usual bedlam of screaming, running, slamming, and stomping, but today was different. The year was ending and they were going to miss us. They needed us.
PITW #159. This is hard. Be strong.
Then came that singular moment that made it all worth it. The big check. A carefully folded note from David, stuffed into my hand along with a look of grateful sadness and sheepishly hunched shoulders right before he was swept into the bustling hallway.
I read it hours later, alone in our boxed up office.
If it wasn’t for you I would still be that bad, failing kid I was when I came here. I am going to miss you. Thanks for always helping me when I need it. But most important thanks for being my friend this year. I only had about 4 real friends but plus you that’s 5 real friends. I’m going to miss you. We will keep in touch.
David, a sixth grader, began the year with his head down on his desk, hooded sweatshirt pulled up around his ears, too frustrated and overwhelmed to even try. I sat down next to him for the next ten months and talked to the hood until it was finally lifted, and then his head lifted off the desk, and then his grades lifted, and finally his confidence.
Last week, David convinced his friend John to sit at the desk next to him at the front of the classroom, because he told John he could help him get his grade up too. David had not only brought his grade up from a D to an A, but now he felt proud enough to help and inspire his classmates.
Paycheck paid forward.
I grew ten years this year. I have seen it in my confidence speaking with superiors, strangers, and in my graduate school interviews. I heard it when the water-balloon soaked Veronica told me she’d had the best day of her life at the field day I had planned during spring break camp. After this year, I feel I can do just about anything, and relate to just about anyone from the saggy panted to the black suited.
Most importantly, though, I have found a passion that I know will stay with me and continue to send out tiny ripples of change for the rest of my life. Now that I have felt what it’s like to go to work each day knowing I am a part of something immense and meaningful, knowing that I am raising someone’s life trajectory, I will never be able to go back.
I am a believer in the importance of education and the power of young people. I worked in the trenches and saw firsthand the need for additional support and encouragement for low-income schools.
The National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that over 1.5 million students will graduate from college next year. Imagine the impact if each of these young people gave a year to make a difference to just one student? This year, the 2,000 corps members made ripples of change across the country, but a million corps members could create a tidal wave.
We are true role models to both our students, and to the rest of our country. My fellow corps members and I worked to fill the gap one David at a time. We have changed the world this year, and this year has changed us.