Red Jackets, Purple Eagles, and Realizing One’s Life Ambition

By Savannah Siders, corps member serving at McDonough Elementary School

I smile at the camera and snap, this moment has been captured in time. It’s June 15th, 2013 and I’m officially a high school graduate. My phone vibrates in my pocket; an email from City Year New Hampshire. I hold my breath as it loads, my anxiety overwhelming my thoughts. What if I don’t get accepted? This is my future on the line. What if? I close my eyes and suck in a breath. I open one eye.

“So, Savannah! I’m very excited to meet you next Saturday and we’ve decided yes, we’re going to match your City Year award. We’re considering creating a personalized scholarship based around it for you as well.” I stammer a thank you and say goodbye to the Dean of Admissions of my future college. I look over at Ian and Harvey in the kitchen of Wilson and crack up. It’s February 27th, 2014 and the last day of Camp City Year Winter Camps. my campers are running around in the gym while I receive some of the best news I’ve heard all week. I sit down and take a breath. I literally don’t even know how to react.

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Savannah with her answer to McDonough’s Whiteboard Campaign question, highlighted in an earlier blog post by Savannah. (Savannah Siders, 2014).

It’s now March 6th, 2014 and I’m writing this during my prep period at school. My desk is covered in session plans and homework papers that I need to correct. I glance to my left at an illustration of President Taft that one of my students drew to attach to a report. I smile. My partner teacher walks into the classroom and I have her sign the papers I use to track how much time I am working with students. I sigh, think for a second, and realize that there is nothing I’d rather be doing than this.

When you hear that someone wants to take a gap year, what do you guess they’ll be doing? Working, doing nothing, being lazy? Who knows. City Year is the complete opposite. I’ve spent my gap year watching 27 kids grow into 27 preteens and I couldn’t be happier with the progress they’ve made. Watching my students grow is, vicariously, a unique way to watch myself grow. Looking back at where I was six months ago, I see a different person. City Year has changed my outlook on life and education and success, without a doubt. City Year has changed how I see myself. I now see someone with not only strong will, but strong work habits. I see someone with goals to reach and tools to reach them. I see a strong young professional instead of an unsure teenager. I never thought that a gap year could have such an effect on a person, but every time I look in the mirror, I see what a difference it has made.

As of right now, I am on track to be attending Niagara University in the fall with nearly a full ride. I will be majoring in Secondary Education with a focus in English. Without my City Year experience, I would have absolutely no clue that I have such a passion education and mentoring. Being a coach, a mentor, and a champion for my students is why I get up in the morning. Watching their eyes light up when they understand a concept is why I come to school every day. Hearing the passion in their voices is when they talk about what they want to be when they grow up reminds me why I commit to them for 50 hours a week. And there is no doubt in my mind that I honestly want to be witness to every little one of those little things for the rest of my career-based life.

 

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Surviving on a Stipend – NH Edition!

As you may or may not know, corps members receive a living stipend to cover the cost of living expenses during their year of service. It can be challenging at times to make ends meet on a quite limited budget but our corps members can be counted upon to make the best out of any situation. We surveyed corps members here in Manchester, NH about ways they’ve found to make their stipends stretch the farthest, and below are some of the best tips and tricks we heard:

From Harvey Vincent, Bakersville Team Leader:

  • Keep minimum funds in checking account
  • Eat leftover
  • Bring lunch on Friday
  • Have coffee at home
  • Utilize Manchester’s parks and libraries
  • Carpool
  • Turn off appliances and lights
  • Utilize loan forbearance or deference

Grace Slobodzian, Parker-Varney Team Leader:

  • Attend shows at the Palace Theater
  • See movies at Regal Cinema 8–Only $3.50!
  • Visit the SEE science Center
  • Visit the Audubon Center
  • Go hiking, biking, or fishing at local mountains and state parks
  • Visit the Seacoast Science Center in Portsmouth
  • Check out “America’s Stonehenge” in North Salem
  • Watch bears on Segways at Clark’s Trading Post
  • Visit the Currier Art Museum FREE on Saturdays from 10-12

Keith Medlock, Beech Street Team Member:

  • Say spend every time you swipe your card or open your wallet-the verbal reminder will help to stop spending

Lily Taylor, Wilson Team Member:

  • Take advantage of weekly meal deals–like 2$ taco Tuesday

Mollie Greenwood, Beech Street Team Member:

  • Use bugdeting sites (mint.com) so you can see where you are spending your money. It guilted me into being more lunchtime money responsible…
  • Get emails from mint.com to remind you how much you meant to save vs. how much you are actually spending.

Erika Swiger, Bakersville Team Member:

  • Groupons. Use them.
  • Use cash over cards

Will Ross, Bakersville Team Member:

  • Apply for food stamps
  • Check out local events in Manchester like open mics, trivia, karaoke
  • Take advantage of the all you can eat buffets in Manchester

Ally Lynch, Parker-Varney Team Member:

  • Prepare your meals for the week ahead of time so you spend less money out

Cady Hickman, Parker-Varney Team Member:

  • Never go shopping for food on an empty stomach-you are more likely to buy more than you intended
  • Check out the discount items at Market Basket (and other grocery stores) for bakery items, meat, vegetables, and dairy. When a product needs to be sold that day, grocery stores will mark down the prices-sometimes up to 75% off! Markdowns on essential food items happen at specific times depending on the store. Find out when your local grocery store puts out the discounted meat and dairy.
  • Utilize websites like supercook.com–they can help you plan recipes based on what you already have. ALSO, bring your shopping list to the store and stick to what you need!
  • Participate in CY “Go Gettahs”–these are events all around Manchester and New Hampshire that need volunteers. They are fun, they give you something to do in your spare time for free, and they are also great networking opportunities. Plus, some events can get you extra hours!
  • Have potlucks and group meals with your fellow corps members–buying in bulk is always cheaper, and when everyone chips in for a meal you can have more food for less money!

A special thanks goes to Cady Hickman for interviewing corps members for their tips and tricks–Great Job Cady!

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Manchester – West Side Pride

by Felicia Truman, corps member serving at Gossler Park Elementary School

Growing up in New Hampshire I had heard about the west side of Manchester. My own aunt and uncle sent their children to Catholic school to avoid the public school system. Coming in to serve on the west side of Manchester the negative rumors I heard had left me feeling a little apprehensive, especially since I’d never lived in a city before. But despite the reputation, I quickly learned from the moment I stepped into the parking lot of Gossler Park, that the west side schools have a strong community of thoughtful, hardworking people who care and believe in the students of Manchester.

My team and I were greeted that first day by a teacher preparing to start her year. She had the back door of her car open and was carrying boxes inside. She was excited to see us and immediately began talking about how great the after school program would be and how they were happy City Year would be assisting them. She made some jokes and I could see from the light in her eyes how deeply she cared about her students and I felt excited to work with someone so passionate. In every teacher I’ve encountered at this school, they all share this passion for educating the students. Even the principal made sure to greet us and introduce us to our new home, Gossler Park. From that first day I could see that becoming part of the West side would not just be serving at a new school, but joining a family.

This community extends from the school I serve at to all the west side schools. For example, Parker Varney feels like a sister school. In fact, Gossler Park and Parker Varney are only two miles away from one another. Many of my students play with students from Parker Varney, sometimes students move from one school to another. My roommate serves in the same grade I do at this other elementary school, which gives me the unique opportunity to know how my students are doing even when I am no longer their corps member. The staff also has direct connections, including friends and children. Our principals have a playful professional relationship with each other. This year they decided that the school that got higher NECAP scores would have the other school’s principal dress up in the winning school’s mascot and visit the winning school as a congratulatory gesture. The schools also make efforts to connect with the high school and middle school. This year Gossler even changed its colors so that the west side schools could be more unified.

I tried to enter this school year with an open heart and an open mind even though I had heard many negatives about the school district and the west side in general. I’m glad that I was given this opportunity to work in this school system and prove these stereotypes wrong. I have been fortunate to have met so many incredibly hardworking individuals who strive for excellence and believe in their students no matter what the stereotypes of our district are. I’m thankful that I’ve been chosen to be part of this family and I will continue to do my best to give all I can to the West side because they deserve that.

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Reflect. Connect. Serve. Inspire.

by Brenda Kunz, corps member serving at Henry Wilson Elementary School

CYNH recently participated in a three-day retreat called Advanced Training Retreat (ATR) where corps members and staff came together to rejuvenate, reconnect and refocus our efforts towards our service. Corps members have been serving in schools for six months now and have another four months to go. Past the halfway mark, it is easy to become bogged down by mundane daily schedules and working long hours day in and day out. It is especially important for CYNH staff and corps members to remember their purpose, their goals and their importance during this time.

Retreats are a wonderful time for reflection and self-discovery. It’s important for individual corps members to think about their own journey as well as whole teams assessing and realigning their goals for the second half of the year.

Two of my favorite parts of ATR were discovering team dynamics and “I am from” poems. Discovering team dynamics was especially powerful because team members were able to rate themselves on a variety of different topics such as “I enjoy being supervised” to “I do not enjoy being supervised” or “I am an extrovert” to “I am an introvert”. Examining these ratings really helped me better understand my teammates that I serve side by side with every day.

“I am from” poems was an exercise facilitated by Charlie Rose. We were given several prompts to write about such as “Sights and smells from childhood”. At first I was hesitant to dig deep into my memories and reveal new information about myself, but once I let go, I realized just how therapeutic writing can be. This exercise helped ground me and gave me renewed appreciation for where everyone from CYNH comes from. We are truly a collective of diverse and beautiful individuals.

ATR helped me rekindle my passion for the work that I am doing here at CYNH. I want to thank our staff members who provide endless support and keep us grounded and thank my wonderful team, I wouldn’t want to serve alongside anyone but you! I am feeling FIRED UP for the second half of the year!

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14th Annual Starry Starry Night Gala

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My Great Grandmother, Onions, and the City Year Impact

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

onion

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.

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Surviving the Winter in New Hampshire Like You’re a Native of the 603 (NH area code)

By Savannah Siders, corps member serving at McDonough Elementary School

Whenever I tell people that I grew up in New Hampshire, they always assume that it means that I LOVE the cold. Not true. The cold is far from my favorite thing. BUT, growing up in NH has given me the chance to acquire an arsenal of tips and tricks for surviving the bitter cold New England winter like a pro.

FOR YOUR BODY:
●Winter jacket OR sweatshirts and a vest
First and foremost, if you do not have a winter jacket, you MUST get one. My mother always told me that if I didn’t wear my winter jacket, we would be more likely end up in a ditch. I’m not a fan of jackets, but you’ll never catch me without layers of sweatshirts and a vest over top. The sweatshirt/vest option is for those who, like myself, like being able to remove and add layers.
●Layering, thermal shirts, and fleece lined pants
My father is a demolitionist and works in the wilds of Canada for up to 10 hours a day. In the winter, that can be torture. He swears by layering and I attribute my love of layering to him. When it comes to layering, you can never go wrong with thermal shirts as a base layer. Thin and versatile, they are a staple in my wardrobe. But it’s no good to be warm on top and cold on the bottom, so I swear by fleece-lined leggings for wearing underneath pants. My father swears by fleece lined jeans.

●Gloves, hat, scarf (no ifs, ands, or buts about it)
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have these items on you at all times. You will be thankful when the temperature is -3, but the wind chill is making it feel like -20. It’s also a good idea to keep backups of these items in your car, backpack, or purse.

●BOOTS and warm socks!
When I was in high school, I always wore these tiny little canvas shoes and no socks and my feet were always FREEZING. That’s no good, because most of your body heat escapes through your feet and your head! Then, I discovered the pure wonder of boots. Timberland boots are my favorite, because they’re local to NH, the company is a sponsor of City Year, they look great, and they are warm and they hold up to anything and everything. Boots in general will do the job perfectly though. And if you wear them with wool socks, it will feel like your feet are in Jamaica.

FOR YOUR HEALTH:                                                                                                        ●Hand sanitizer                                                                                                                            It’s cold and flu season. Carry a little hand sanitizer with you wherever you go. Protect yourself!

●Skin care because dry skin is painful, not fun
Lip balm, face and body moisturizer, hand lotion. ALWAYS. The NH wind can be vicious. I carry lip balm and hand lotion with me at all times. It’s better to be safe than sorry and have healthy, happy skin instead of painful, cracked skin.

●Vitamin C and Vitamin D
You should take your vitamins year-round, but in the winter, you want to stoke up on vitamins C and D. Vitamin C boosts your immune system and helps protect you from getting sick. Vitamin D makes up for the fact that you’re not getting as much vitamin D from the sunlight.

●Understand your body
Know when you are sick. Take time for yourself when you are not feeling well. Your body is not performing at it’s best when you are sick, and overworking yourself can be detrimental to your overall performance.

FOR YOUR HOME AND YOUR CAR:                                                                             ●Rock salt is gonna help you get a grip on all this NH ice                                          You always want to have rock salt on hand in case your driveway or walkway freezes up overnight. Nothing is worse than running out the door and slipping all the way down the driveway. It’ll keep you from hurting yourself, and it’s cheaper than crampons.

●Your ice scraper is your best friend
Leaving the house in the morning is fine and dandy until you get to your car and find a half-inch of ice covering your car. But that ice doesn’t stand a chance when matched up with your trusty ice scraper! It’ll shave the ice of your car and minutes off your commute.

●Even if you don’t have cats, invest in some kitty litter
It sounds strange, yes, but when armed with a shovel and a bag of cheap cat litter, you can get out of any snowbank. Cat litter gives your tires something to grip on to instead of just spinning and digging you deeper. Toss the litter under your tires and you’re on your way, smelling odor-free.

●Jumper packs or jumper cables are your new life saver
When you start to hear your car turn over slower and start to take a longer time to start up, that’s your car trying to say that it’s way too cold. Invest in a pair of jumper cables or a jumper pack (if you want to be completely self-sufficient). They’ll quell your fear that your car might not start up tomorrow morning and you’ll always be prepared.

Now, I promise that winter in the 603 is not really that bad if you prep yourself for it. Be prepared for the temperature to not climb over 16 degrees some days. Be prepared to slip and fall at least once (it will happen). Be prepared for your face to feel like it’s going to fall off. But snow is beautiful, and there is always a feeling of satisfaction in having made it through a winter like a champion! Winter in New Hampshire is a game and you just have to know how to play it right. Remember, City Year is always ready!

snowman

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Appreciating Lincoln Financial

by Felicia Truman, corps member serving at Gossler Park Elementary School

The classroom buzzed with excitement the day I told the students they would get their very own Lincoln Financial pen pal. The students were excited to practice their writing skills through sending letters and, of course, to meet their very own pen pal. The students were each assigned a pen pal through one of the employees at Lincoln Financial, a fortune 500 company that focuses on four core business areas: life insurance, annuities, retirement plan services, and group protection. The students and Lincoln Financial employees write letters back and forth and occasionally are able to meet in person. So far, the pen pal program has been a great hit, the students are always asking me when they can see their pen pal again. Some have even asked me if they can send extra letters.

At City Year we are grateful for the commitment to both education and the community that Lincoln Financial has demonstrated. We wouldn’t be able to make a difference in as many children’s lives without the support of others. It’s like that old saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Without companies like Lincoln Financial, that support non-profits like City Year, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the impact we strive for. But this isn’t the only way that Lincoln Financial has contributed to supporting students, especially students in urban areas such as Manchester. For sixty years this company has worked hard towards educational equality for our students.

The employees at Lincoln Financial serve as positive role models to our students because not only do they work hard but they are also dedicated to improving the quality of life in our communities through philanthropy, volunteerism and environmental impact. As a corps member, who is constantly trying to find new ways to get kids excited about writing, I am happy that this program has been successful in inspiring students to get their ideas, and feelings out on paper. I’m thankful for the support of our work in New Hampshire, the schools and the community and proud to be working together to make a difference… one pen pal at a time.

 

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Comcast Career Day 2014!

Two weeks ago, on Friday, January 10th, all 50 corps members from City Year New Hampshire traveled to Boston to join with corps members from City Year Boston and Care Force. Together, they spent the day gaining valuable career advice and inspiration from some of the bright minds at Comcast and NBCUniversal. Below are perspectives on the day from two of the corps members who attended the event.

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Guest speakers from Comcast and corps members gather for one great photo op. Photo by Elliot Haney, 2014

Brenda Kunz, of the Henry Wilson Team:

What do red jackets, professional clothing, and motivational speakers have in common? COMCAST CAREER DAY! Last Friday, more than 300 corps members gathered in Boston for a day of professionalism and networking. Corps members from Boston and New Hampshire were able to mingle and share stories about their service experiences.

One of the biggest takeaways from the day was to constantly live outside of your comfort zone in order to challenge yourself to the fullest. Another powerful takeaway was that it is solely your responsibility to cultivate and strengthen your natural abilities and build them into your skill set because guess what? No one knows you as well as you know yourself! As City Year corps members, we must not strive only for the best in our students, but strive for the best in ourselves as well.

Comcast Career Day shed light on the importance of professionalism, productivity and positivity in all we do.

Blake Benton, of the Beech Street Team:

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of traveling with my fellow corps members to Boston for the annual Comcast Career Day. I expected a day filled solely with cut and dry practical professional techniques. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the opposite was true, as the day was filled with dynamic and exciting career advice, covering topics such as social networking, personal marketing, interviewing skills, and non-profit management. Additionally, I walked away from the Career Day with something much more important: a new found sense of inspiration and belief in myself and my future, as all of the presentations included wonderful words of wisdom and insight.

While all of the presentations were meaningful and worthwhile, by far the most impactful moment of the day for me was the welcoming address by Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. Councilor Pressley discussed the importance of diversity, self-confidence, and community. Ms. Pressley is the first woman of color to be elected to her position. While she was being introduced to the crowd, this history-making fact received a great amount of applause. However, when Councilor Pressley addressed the crowd, she encouraged us to hold that applause, as it should not have taken this long for a woman of color to achieve this level of prestige. She continued by sharing her personal story, and bravely disclosed many of the personal struggles that she faced along the way. Towards the end of her address, Councilor Pressley told us that if we only remembered one thing from the day, it was that we needed to silence the negative internal tape that tells us that we aren’t good enough, and replace it with these words: “You are loved, you are good, and you are worthy.” It is by believing in ourselves and our abilities that we will be able to become the masters of our own destinies, and create the lives that we have imagined and dreamed for ourselves.

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MLK Day of Service in Review

By Blake Benton, corps member serving at Beech Street Elementary School

MLKday

While schools and other state and federal offices were closed, City Year and other AmeriCorps members participated in a full day of service on Monday, January 20th, 2014 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. The day focused around poverty and service, topics that were important to Dr. King, especially later in his lifetime.

We began our morning by convening at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, where we had the wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with other passionate AmeriCorps members from around the state of New Hampshire. We were next treated to a wonderful presentation, in which the chaplain of the University of New Hampshire spoke about the issue of poverty, including how it is connected to other social justice topics like access to education and hunger.  We then broke off into a dozen or so discussion groups, in which two or three City Year Corps Members led their fellow AmeriCorps members in a discussion of poverty. We discussed why poverty is still an important issue, as well as what Dr. King would have to say about the work that still is left to be done regarding poverty, were he alive today.

AmeriCorps and City Year members partook in a lovely meal, after which we broke off into our small groups for our service project of the day. Between the hours of noon and two o’clock, you may have seen groups of City Years going door to door throughout Manchester collecting non-perishable food items, which were then donated to a local food bank. The final total of food collected that day came it at just over one thousand pounds!

The day concluded with a wonderful ceremony held at a local Greek Orthodox Church. The event was attended by several NH elected officials, including the governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan. Also in attendance was the former governor, now senator, Jeanne Shaheen who signed Martin Luther King Day into law for the state of New Hampshire, as previously the Granite State was the last state in the union to make this important day an official government holiday.

The ceremony was filled with wonderful jazz music from a local high school ensemble, and awards were presented to local public school students who had competed in art and essay contests, meant to honor the legacy of Dr. King’s work. Also in attendance were two community members who received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to celebrate the work that they have done to honor the legacy and ideologies of Dr. King. Additionally, the closing ceremony included a moving address by the esteemed Shujaa Graham. The speaker shared his life’s story, and discussed how capital punishment and poverty are interconnected. This speaker’s message echoed sentiments heard throughout the day: poverty is still a very real problem that is interconnected with other facets of social inequality, including access to education and food.

The words and experiences shared throughout the day were certainly eye-opening, and caused us all to reflect on the incredible legacy of Dr. King, as well as the work that still needs to be done in order to make his dreams realities.

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