My Great Grandmother, Onions, and the City Year Impact

By Cady Hickman, corps member serving at Parker-Varney Elementary School


The fall of 2013 was an interesting time for me because along with all the amazing opportunities I was experiencing through City Year, I was also experiencing the loss of my great grandmother who passed away in November. She was one hundred and one years old, and an inspiration to lots of people for many reasons. To some, it was her humor and light hearted spirit which helped her be a successful teacher. To others, it was her ability to swim every day (and drive herself there) until she was ninety six. To me, it was her ability to look at onions differently.

Whenever we visited her, we always went out to eat. A lot of times I’d draw on scraps of paper or on paper table clothes and fill them with doodles and little drawings to entertain us. She’d insist on taking them home-even if that meant ripping off a piece of the table cloth.

There was one time in particular where I had a plate of onions that my family had picked off of their salads to give to me (What can I say. I was a unique child). I started cutting them into smaller pieces and arranging them into mosaic artwork on the plate which absolutely DELIGHTED my great grandmother, to the point that she asked if we could take it with us. I continued to make different designs; a bird, a swirly pattern, a flower. Each time she was astounded and told me how talented I was.

Cadys great grandmotherShe pushed me to be my best and to always continue with my art. She encouraged my writing, too, as early as elementary school and that motivation persisted through grade school, college, and into this past year when I participated in National Novel Writing Month. That encouragement made me become better at what I loved already. On those days where I really didn’t feel like painting or writing or drawing, I thought of what my great grandma would say, and I pushed myself to keep trying.

In City Year, I am seeing now that just as my great grandmother was my “cheerleader”, we need to be stepping in as cheerleaders. Everyone deserves to have that person cheering them on and telling them, “Hey, that’s really great. Now, do more; keep going; practice; don’t give up!” Some days that means praise. Other days, that means calling someone out when they’re not trying their hardest. It’s not enjoyable when your great grandma makes you admit you haven’t been painting, and it’s even worse when you can’t answer “Why not?”

In 2014 I hope to use the rest of my City Year to become a cheerleader. I will help others find that drive and that willpower to try harder and achieve great things. We cannot help everyone have a great grandma and a life changing onion experience, but we can help everyone-students, teachers, and our communities-have a cheerleader in their life.

About CityYear NH

City Year is a nonprofit that unites young people of all backgrounds for a demanding year of full-time service. As tutors, mentors, and role models, these idealistic leaders make a difference in the lives of children, and transform schools and neighborhoods across the US and in South Africa. For more information on how to get involved please call the City Year New Hampshire Recruitment hotline at 603-218-5101.
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