It's Wednesday January 3, 2018, the temperature in Jacksonville Florida is a surprising 38 degrees. City Year Jacksonville staff and AmeriCorps members having returned from their holiday breaks begin arriving at Matthew Gilbert Middle School. We prepared to board school buses and make our way to Wekiwa Springs State Park for a three day retreat. Though this is City Year Jacksonville's fourth year taking AmeriCorps members to Wekiwa, it is our first year going during the “winter” months. Needless to say, we were a bit nervous (Florida winters can be real ya'll). 

What we would soon learn is that despite any and all environmental difficulties that we came across, one thing didn't change; the positive, can-do spirit of City Year. 

On the first night of Mid-Year Retreat, AmeriCorps members were re-energized with an exciting opening ceremony consisting of one AmeriCorps member from each school team reciting their "Why I Serve" statement. "It made me proud to be a corps member. Working with such passionate and influential young leaders." said Amber Hodges a first year AmeriCorps member serving on the Rice Family Foundation team at Susie Tolbert Elementart School. The night ended with AmeriCorps members writing their mid-year "Letters to Self." These letters are filled with quotes, words of affirmation and motivation to get them through the difficult times by reminding them why they serve. A time for reflection and solitude, two necessities during a service year, we ended that night tired yet eager to see what the next day had in store.

(left) AmeriCorps memebrs are jumping in excitement about Mid Year Retreat. (right) AmeriCorps members settling into their cabins at Wekiwa Springs. 

It’s Thursday morning and the mood is clear; no one slept well last night. The cold got the best of us the night before so we were struggling to maintain our idealism. Despite the rough first night, there was also another vibe that was apparent; a sense of community. I watched as AmeriCorps members and staff sat together discussing music, culture, and their favorite TV shows. I saw smiles, laughs, and warm embraces over coffee and pancakes, and by mid-morning everyone was full, alert and excited for what day 2 had in store. We welcomed former Managing Director of Impact and current Director of National Student Engagement, Michael Stevens to lead our site in “Cross the Line” an activity about identity and intersectionality. “What an experience. It got my mind prepared to get back to school and better support my students,” said Ray Watson, second year AmeriCorps Members serving on the Rice Family Foundation Team at Susie Tolbert Elementary School. Day two ended on a high note with a community bon fire, because what’s a camping trip without s’mores?

AmeriCorps members and staff bonding over a campfire. 

(left)Vice President and Executive Director of City Year Jacksonville, Dan Foley giving his keynote to the corps. (right) Director of National Student Engagement, Michael Stevens, facilitating "Cross the Line". 

Friday was here before we know it. Before we parted ways we had a few more activities for our AmeriCorps members, including red jacket dedications. Red jacket dedications are one of my favorite City Year rituals because hearing who or what each person is dedicating their red jacket to always leaves me inspired and fulfilled. “It’s important to reflect on the person or the reason you get up every day to serve. It makes it all worthwhile.” said City Year Jacksonville Impact Coach, Christopher Williams.

The CSX Team serving at Northwestern Middle School after dedicating their red jackets. 

The Acosta team serving at Jean Ribault High School and the team serving at William M Raines High School after dedicating their red jackets. 


It goes without saying, we all left Mid-Year Retreat feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the second half of the year. And as for the cold weather, I think AmeriCorps Team Leader Serving on the Rice Family Foundation Team at Susie Tolbert Elementary School, Matthew Klauder said it best. “The flame of idealism kept me warm at night.”   

Brandie Z Harris
Manager of Institutional Giving and Communications
City Year Jacksonville

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