Oh Great Spirit, grant that I may never criticize my brother or sister until I have walked the trail of life in their moccasins. - adapted from the Cherokee prayer.
At the center of City Year’s idealist culture is a growing collection of stories and quotations from many cultures that we call “Founding Stories” because they are woven into the fabric of City Year’s culture and are a foundation for our work. One is the foundation for the idea of moccasin-ing others, which simply means making an effort to see things through their perspective. No one can accurately assess anyone else’s situation unless they are living that person’s life, unless they are walking in that person’s moccasins, per say. Moccasin experiences are critical to learning and gaining perspective, which is why we hold them to be so important in our City Year culture. They help you discover the essence of another person, they clarify unfamiliar situations, and they lead to stronger bonds and communities. With this moccasin spirit in mind, I would like to offer you a chance to moccasin what it is like to be a City Year AmeriCorps Member.
City Year AmeriCorps members are young idealists who spend a year of our lives serving in schools and communities to make sure our students get all the resources they need. This looks different for each person on a day-to-day basis, but the basics are the same. We serve a year working for a minimum of ten hours a day, five days a week for an entire school year. During this time we tutor and mentor our students in attendance, behavior, math, and English Language Arts. This year-long process helps them achieve academic excellence and become more holistic people. The ultimate aim is to support off-track students, their communities and schools, to make sure that all people receive the same quality opportunities no matter their zip code. Our data proves year after year that our presence and our programs benefit everyone involved, from the most apathetic students to the most enthusiastic AmeriCorps members. We craft powerful and effective leaders out of young idealists as we strengthen and empower entire communities.
The most important time that we moccasin in our entire experience is when we moccasin our students. Not only does this strengthen our relationships with our students, it also exposes our worldviews to another facet of society that we may have never been exposed to otherwise. Some of our students face overwhelming obstacles, both in school and at home, that we have never thought possible for people so young. But once they let us in, we gain valuable insight that allows us to help them in any way that we can. Maybe that help is simply being a listening ear, or maybe it is as critical as directing them to appropriate resources that can ultimately impact their lives for the better. For example, I had a student last year that had a quick temper and had a very difficult time staying in class. He was always talking back to the teachers and fighting with the other students at even the slightest inkling that there may be a slight to him. Over the course of a few months, he finally told me part of his story and that helped me be able to design a behavior plan specifically for him. I persuaded his teachers to let him call home to his mom whenever he felt like popping off, which enabled him to better manage his own anger and eventually stay in class all day!
At the end of our service year, we know that the transformative power we contributed to is something that will last longer than our individual year of service. The impact that we have on our students and the surrounding communities is one that will seldom be forgotten. It is our calling for one year to moccasin with our students in order to support them on their path of excellence, whatever that may look like for them. We do this tirelessly, and gladly. It is an ultimate ‘pay it forward’ experience that creates a ripple effect through entire schools, neighborhoods, and cities. Watch out for how our ripples transform Jacksonville, and feel free to let us know any time you want to visit a school and moccasin our City Year experience.
Erica Rickey is serving as Team Leader with City Year Jacksonville. She graduated from Wooster College majoring in Political Science. This is her second year with City Year Jacksonville.