by Felicia Truman, corps member serving at Gossler Park Elementary School
“Marley was dead to begin with…” the narrator began. Even though I’d heard this same ominous line every year for as long as I could remember, as it was a family tradition to watch “A Christmas Carol” together, I still shuddered. I was wrapped in an afghan, squished between two of my brothers on the family couch. It was December 24, and it was the longest break I’d had from my City Year service. I missed my students already and often my mind would wander back to them, wondering how they were doing and hoping they were having a good holiday. Still, every City Year deserves a break and I needed the time to recharge so I could return to service with spirit, discipline, purpose and pride.
This year had been particularly special to me because it had been the first time in years that all of us had been together. But in some strange way, I realized as we all sat with our eyes on Ebenezer Scrooge, it felt like we had never really been apart. My mom once told me that was how you could tell a true friend. Someone you can spend years apart and yet still pick up a conversation, like there was no such thing as time and distance. I imagine it will be the same when I return to service. But I know it won’t be easy because I want to start off the New Year even stronger than before, with a new mindset, much like Scrooge at the end of the film. Like Scrooge I would need to be visited by my own spirits, four to be exact, in order to make better happen for my second half of service.
1.) Spirit. When I think of spirit, I think of the very soul of why I joined City Year. I think it is important for me to remember what brought me to this program when preparing to return to service, because this motivates me to want to live up to my original ideals. I came to City Year because I believe that every child deserves to be believed in. I had many odds against me when I was younger. I was born in Buffalo, New York to a single parent home. If I look at the statistics it is clear that I should not be where I am today but statistics can’t factor in things like the unconditional love my mother had for me and her determination to help me succeed in a world that hadn’t been as kind to her. I joined City Year because in my soul I believe that every child should have someone telling them that they are worth something and that they can succeed, because if my mother hadn’t believed in me I wouldn’t be here serving today. I might not even be here today. I think about that everyday at school when I try to be the positive role model that my students might not have at home.
2.) Discipline. Nothing can get done without discipline. This was something else my mother taught me from an early age. She also taught me to refuse to fail. It would have been easy for her to give up but she lived up to the lessons she taught me. She eventually earned a college degree, while working two jobs and raising three children alone. I bring the lessons of self-discipline she taught me into my service everyday. I try to persevere with my students, even on those difficult days when I again feel like a hiker with limited oxygen on Mt.Everest, because I refuse to fail. They deserve better than that and I promised when I first put on my red jacket that I would do anything in my power to help them succeed. But dreams can’t come true without someone to put them into action. And that action needs discipline. It requires organization, control, training and a stubborn determination to succeed. I hope to be more disciplined as my service continues.
3.) Purpose. At City Year we are always being told to “Lead with the Why” and I think remembering why City Year exists is important when returning to service. City Year exists because the kids need City Year. The kids need someone to believe in them, someone to help them when they are falling behind, because what your zip code is shouldn’t define who you are and what your opportunities might be. Our purpose is to change the world, to help better the school systems so that no student falls through the cracks. Our nation’s dropout rate is much higher than necessary and it can’t improve if people don’t strive to make it better. We need programs like City Year because someone needs to give students from urban areas, with less opportunity a voice. A voice that is equal to their peers who happen to live in better neighborhoods. It is important for people to be educated about our education system because like Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I believe that we can make better happen, by helping one student at a time.
4.) Pride. The last “spirit,” or concept, pride is important because in order to spread the word about City Year we need to be proud of the service we are doing. I am in a unique position to do this as one of the Marketing and Communications coordinators. I try to inform anyone I can almost everywhere I go, about this program. Through talking to people and making connections we can begin new City Year programs, recruit new corps members and even raise support to help our cause. Going into service I am going to remember that the only way to change the world is to do it together.
As the movie faded to black and the credits began to roll, I thought about Scrooge and how he took the lessons he learned from his spirits to change not only himself but to better the lives around him. Without Scrooge’s new perspective on the world, Tiny Tim would have died. Scrooge was able to make a difference in Tiny Tim’s life through living his life with a new outlook or spirit and following through with discipline, purpose and pride to make better happen. Tiny Tim represents the students we serve, because we only need to make a difference in the life of one child to change the world. When Scrooge helped Tiny Tim everything in his world changed. I believe that like Scrooge, if we return to our service with a fresh perspective we can come back even stronger than how we began.