Throughout a service year, AmeriCorps members interact with thousands of students, many who make a lasting impression. At City Year, these students are called “Starfish”. This term comes from one of City Year’s Founding Stories called “The Starfish Story,” where a young girl came upon a hundreds of beached starfish and she made it a goal to return at least one to the water. People told her it was futile because she couldn’t possibly help all of them, but the little girl replied, “I made a difference to that one.” And thus she began a movement of returning the starfish to the ocean. Like the little girl with the starfish, City Year AmeriCorps members can change the lives of numerous students.
"My first thought of Jared* was that he was an entertainer. His awkward smile and corny jokes made me laugh from day one. He was a natural comedian. I immediately knew that I'd found a kindred spirit in this child. Like all the children City Year works with, Jared had his own set of struggles. His weren’t with academics though. He struggled with organization, absences and tardiness.
The previous year he came to school off and on again sporadically and he missed the first month of the school year entirely. No one knew why his attendance and presence was so irregular. He wasn’t telling anyone. As I got to know him and our bond grew over our shared love of stupid jokes and awkward humor, he let me in and told me about his family.
He and his family were from Chicago. He grew up there with his mom until she lost her job a few years ago. As a result, they moved to Cleveland to be near his aunt. Jared often did odd jobs on the streets to make enough money for everything they needed to live. Plus, if he wanted a cell phone or any extra things, he had to buy them himself. This situation is why Jared missed school.
Hearing Jared's circumstances made me feel angry, at the injustice of his situation. Jared is one of the brightest, hardworking, motivated, and inspiring young students I have had the pleasure of meeting, and he was forced to give up his potential because he had to scrape by on his own to make enough to live.
This situation had to change. I asked Jared to think of ways to slowly improve his attendance and together we came up with a plan. First, I had him print off numerous job applications so that he could work after school and on the weekends instead of during school hours. Second, Jared started to set multiple alarms so that he wouldn’t oversleep. Jared lays out his uniform (cleaned) on his chair for the morning also to help him stay organized and on time in the morning. With this new plan, Jared started making it to school on time consecutively. After speaking with him and asking him what his next attendance goal was, he told me he wanted to come every day for the rest of the year. I love how he challenges and pushes himself to be better.
We teach these students and they inspire us in return."
– City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps Member
*Names have been changed to conceal the identity of the students involved.