By Mary DuBard, AmeriCorps Member, Comcast NBCUniversal Sponsored Team,
Serving at Bakersville Elementary School
Jodi Harper is a 2007 and 2008 City Year New Hampshire Alumna. Before City Year, she attended Ferris State College in Michigan. She served two years on a civic engagement team with City Year, and then started working with Bring It. She is now the Director of Literacy & Bring It Community Collaboration for Granite United Way. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her about her City Year experience, and asked her what advice she would give to incoming corps members.
Can you tell me about your City Year experience?
When I was in City Year was when we were still based in Stratham, so I wasn’t on a school-based team. I was on a civic engagement team. We did all the service planning for the big physical service days and we did a lot of workshops and events and outreach in the community. My first year I was a team member, there were four of us on a team. My second year of City Year I was a team leader of the same civic engagement team in Stratham. The civic engagement team wasn’t in schools, and there really wasn’t a normal day. Depending on what event we were doing and how close we were to it, we would be doing outreach for service events, getting in-kind donations for whatever was going on, prep work, planning, if it was a service week we would spend the week getting tools ready. However, most people come to City Year to be with kids. I was kind of different and knew I didn’t want to be in a classroom. So for me, I asked to be put on an office team so I could get that nonprofit experience. Still, my team’s kid time was working at Bring It. Our team was assigned to Bring It, and every Tuesday/Wednesday we would be there. That’s how I was introduced to the program, and how I fell in love with it.
What was it like transitioning from being part of the team to being a team leader?
My team leader knew early on that I was planning on applying again and coming back, so he tailored my experience so that I could have some leadership throughout, even from the start. For me, it was pretty easy. Well, managing people is never easy. City Year does some good training and support to make sure you have the resources needed. It’s never easy because of the turn around from the staff and the corps. The program managers are still developing as managers themselves. It was nice that as a corps member, I had some leadership opportunities as well.
What was it like going straight from college to City Year?
I was pretty involved on my college campus. I did a lot, I worked for the Student Activities Office at my school. City Year was a natural next step for me because a lot of the stuff that I did at the office was in my job description at City Year. I ran our Student United Way Campaign. We did events. I’m one of those people who tends to join anything and everything, so I had a lot of professional experience and a lot of other people didn’t. I wrestled a lot with “Why don’t they know that?” and “Why don’t they act this way?” I worked with coaching the others on my team and the corps towards more professional behaviors and attitudes. It was good for me to have a better mindset of not everyone is going to be as engaged in the activity as I am.
Can you describe what your job at Bring It is now? How were you able to transition from volunteering two nights a week with City Year to your job now?
The transition from City Year to Bring It was pretty easy because you can ask anyone and they’ll tell you I loved Bring It a lot. I even volunteered on days when the rest of my team didn’t come. The Director here knew that I was interested, so early on he was giving me extra jobs, and I was doing more. I did all the intake and the data and all of the tracking and everything for the program. So the job I got was basically already the stuff I was doing, just I was getting paid for it! Now I’m the Program Director. My official title is the Director of Literacy and Bring It Community Collaboration for Granite United Way. I handle all the day-to-day logistics and operations, do the fundraising, handle all the budgeting and administration for the program. I work with community outreach. I spend a lot of time at meetings, working with partners and getting volunteers for the program. I develop curriculum with some of our partners, like the UNH program. We do some work with their STEM Discovery labs. I’m the only full-time staff person. We have a team of ten that occasionally work with us, because for example I’m not the one teaching soccer. So part of my job is managing the staff.
What’s one thing you would say to a AmeriCorps member currently ending their City Year?
Well, thank you. A big thank you. Especially towards the end of the year it can seem a little hopeless, a little like “oh my gosh I just spent all this time, and I did what?” But the impact is greater than you might realize. It’s tough at the end of the year, especially for those who don’t know what’s next, but it’s good. The impact you made and what you learned over the year is really worth it. It’s something that really does stick with you.
What’s one thing you would say to a AmeriCorps member about to begin their City Year?
Dive into the city! Really, I think that especially with the pressure and expectations put on you as a corps member, it’s easy to do all City Year and nothing but City Year. But especially in Manchester, there’s a whole lot more here to offer. Your world needs to be more than City Year, otherwise you’re going to burn out really fast. Especially during my second year I was really mindful about having friends outside of the corps, doing things outside of the corps. That really helped make New Hampshire feel like home for me.