“City Year is not something you do and then talk about later. It’s more than one year of employment. It’s a lifestyle and a value system.”
Perhaps the biggest key to the success of City Year New Hampshire is our ability to find passionate, committed corps members who are willing to give a year to change the world. We’re lucky to have the support of local high schools and colleges, as well as other organizations and individuals who refer young people to apply to our corps. One City Year supporter in particular has been personally responsible for referring potential applicants, and seven of these applicants have been accepted and gone on to serve successfully with the program.
Meet Curt McDermott – Manchester resident, Goffstown High School English Teacher, national service advocate, and City Year New Hampshire Alumni Board Chair.
Curt stepped into the role of Alumni Board Chair this past summer when then-chair Jen Halle completed her term. We spoke with McDermott recently and asked him about his experience as a corps member, about his life after City Year, and about his new role as the Alumni Board Chair.
City Year NH: Can you share with us what your experience was like as a corps member?
Curt: I would say that it was dramatic, at times stressful, at times disorienting. But mostly I would say very rewarding. It was kind of a grow-up time. We were put in leadership positions not only in our schools but within the corps itself. Some of us were older or had more life experience, while some of us had a little more to learn. It was interesting and rewarding to see it all sort itself out. I think it’s indicative of the real world. That’s how we live. We have to figure out how to work with a bunch of different people, and those are important life skills.
City Year NH: Did serving with City Year have a significant impact on your life?
Curt: Definitely. The biggest thing is I met my wife in the program and we’ve been together eight years. Beyond that it gave me a kind of direction that even college didn’t give me. I’m teaching now. I’m doing what City Year set me up to do. Everything I’ve done since my corps year, it’s what City Year set me up to do. My employment, my value systems. Everything.
City Year NH: What have you been up to since you left City Year?
Curt: After City Year, my wife Beth and I moved to Colorado. I did a year as an AmeriCorps Vista with Habitat for Humanity, then took job at a youth center that Beth had worked at and managed that for two years. We hiked a portion of the Appalachian trail, then moved back to New Hampshire where I got a teaching job – I’m at my fourth year there (McDermott teaches English at Goffstown High School). And Beth and I got married in 2006.
City Year NH: How did you become reconnected with the organization after you graduated?
Curt: When Beth and I were in Colorado, we didn’t have much to do with City Year New Hampshire, which is unfortunate because we could have. But we’ve always promoted the program. Now that I’m a teacher I’m in better position to promote the program. When I’m talking to young people who are trying to figure out their next steps, City Year, AmeriCorps, it’s always at the forefront. But I became reconnected a couple of years ago, when Beth had the opportunity to participate in Starry Starry Night. She was reunited with one of the girls she had mentored when she was a corps member, and as a result we were both re-energized by City Year’s mission and vision. It got us thinking, “we should probably be donating.” It’s easy to get into the mentality, if you’ve served in AmeriCorps, that “I’ve suffered.” It’s easy to say, “I can only afford to volunteer, I can’t afford to donate.” But when Beth and I thought about it honestly, we realized we don’t really have an excuse to not give.” Then, this past summer, Ted Wing (CYNH recruitment director) approached me and asked me to take on the role of board chair.
City Year NH: What are your goals as Alumni Board Chair?
Curt: My personal goal is to help other people realize that City Year is not something you do and then talk about later. When you join any AmeriCorps program, it’s more than one year of employment. It’s a lifestyle and a value system. I want to get people back in touch with that value system, and get them to reimagine themselves as ongoing AmeriCorps and City Year members.
My first real step is to contact people directly. I want thank them for what they’ve done and find out what they liked about their experience. If they’re already engaged, I’d like to see if they would like to become more involved, and if they’re not engaged, to see if they’d like to be. We’ve already begun to see what that might look like. For example, maybe they’re in a position to secure the donation of some in-kind items. They could participate in a service project. They could attend a City Year event and speak to the corps. They could host a dinner for corps members. It’s a way to get people to start thinking about themselves differently than, “I can only go out once a year to help with a service project.” We want alumni to feel like they’re part of something that is alive and ongoing. That they’re part of a family.