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Care Force Alumni Spotlight: Warren Basla

All the way from the city of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Warren Basla served in City Year Philadelphia at Universal Daroff Charter School supporting 8th grade students. He attended Drexel University for both his undergraduate and graduate degree, and majored in Anthropology and International Education respectively. He proudly served his Senior AmeriCorps year on Team Care Force #6, 2012- 2013.

We are really thankful to have been able to have a chat with Warren Basla and talk about his service with City Year for the past 8 years. We got to talk to him about his most recent role at City Year and how he uses his Care Force experience to further his career. Fun fact: Warren started running 10 years ago to impress his now wife and ran a marathon in Marathon, Greece in 2015.

Head shot of Care Force alumni Warren Balsa wearing the iconic red City Year bomber with his nametag.

Q. Thank you so much for joining us today, Warren. We are excited to have you here. So, let’s go into the first question, what is your favorite memory from your first AmeriCorps year?


WB: My corps year was filled with a lot of difficult conversations with partner teachers, teammates, and students. I think one of my favorite memories was a difficult conversation I had with a student about a sensitive topic: personal hygiene. I remember it being a really uncomfortable topic to start the conversation with. I had to be sensitive to his feelings but also give him some information so he could not be picked on for his hygiene habits. For me, it was a full-circle moment because my older sister gave me similar feedback when I was a kid and it probably shielded me from bullying. I didn’t really think about it during the conversation; it was just like one of those firm but loving “you have to have those conversations” type of conversation. The student didn’t think anything of it and we moved on with our relationship. It was a small moment that my mind goes back to often.


Q: Our next question, what was your favorite Care Force trip and why?


WB: My favorite trip was to Glendale, California. We were escaping Boston in October, but in California it was sunny, warm, beautiful, and everything was green. We were definitely spoiled and ate great food, and it was just overall good. It was an Aramark trip and we worked with the Salvation Army. I had a particularly complicated project just because there were a lot of moving parts. We were transforming their food pantry and it was a huge space. They would receive pounds and pounds of food donations every day. They had many individuals and families from the communities come in every day for different foods they could just shop for in the pantry. We painted the whole space, we built rolling storage units that Chris Farzner custom designed and it was the first time we were busting that design out, and we also made 10 –12 heavy duty storage units. It was to organize and make the space more efficient for both the folks that work at Salvation Army and also the folks that come in to receive the services. I had so many volunteers, about 25 people, and I was just starting to feel really confident in being a Project Coordinator: directing people painting, giving best practices on building the storage units, troubleshooting the rolling storage cart. We were all sweating and exhausted but at the end, we had finished the project and I don’t think the importance of the space was lost on us. The space is so vital to the Salvation Army and we were so grateful to have them allow us to help make it more efficient and a helpful space for them to use.


FM: I’m flashing back to the times we volunteered with the American Red Cross Food Pantry and I’m trying to envision their space. Where would all the stuff that was already there go for you to build things?


WB: The weather in Southern California is pretty consistent and so we had a beautiful sunny day. They had a pretty large parking lot, so we started the shelving units outside and did them in layers and we just brought them in. We set the four legs where they were going to go and drilled in the platform pieces. So we had to build them outside and bring them in and walk around all the people painting on ladders, so there was a lot going on.


Q: What skills did you develop with TCF and how are they relevant to your current work?


WB: Something I really loved about Care Force is that there are always multiple projects happening at one time. Whether it was within one project or within an event, I think I now see multiple priorities as a skill. Say I’m creating a cut list today for a project in Jacksonville in two weeks but I’m gathering the materials at the site until the end of the day. Being totally focused on both or at least be agile enough to think about both in one day and there those are two different skills you need to flex and I learned that trial by fire at Care Force. And I HAVE to do that today. I had to do that as an Impact Manager; I have to do that in my current role. I have to be able to look at short-term and long-term projects and be able to fully focus on the end results. Something else I really loved about working on Team Care Force is collaborating with folks. Where I work currently, as well as working on a team, builds on someone else’s work. Whether I am starting or planning something and handing it to a teammate who will add their components, thoughts, and edits, or work with a partner and building a relationship with someone. I think that you are very much as a member of Team Care Force in one another’s work and that is not a bad thing, you’re just dependent on one another.


Q: So that will lead on to the next question: What is your current position/ with who and what do you do?


WB: I am the Corporate Partnerships Manager on the Development Team here at City Year Philadelphia. My main responsibility is to be a bridge builder. I need to connect resources, supports, and people to one another between our corporate sponsors, our City Year staff, our community, and our school partners. I mostly focus on our team and program sponsors; I am their main liaison to our organization. There are people and companies that have been sponsoring City Year Philadelphia, anywhere from one to twenty years. They receive certain engagement activities with our teams throughout the course of the year. I will help facilitate a school visit with a corporate sponsor and a team and will help to identify an appropriate special development session that they HR team at the company can provide their team and try to make sure people are receiving very authentic collaboration with one another throughout the course of the year.

One man and one woman both wearing hats and white shirts hold planks of wood in place.

Q: So for our next question: What piece of advice do you have for future TCF members or potential City Year AmeriCorps Members?


WB: Go all in. Realize that you are sprinting hard for a year and lean into how busy it is; don’t get intimidated by how full your year can be. You should take turns leading your peers and being led. There is a lot of value on learning how other people think, even if it is totally different than how you would approach solving something, leading on something, or having your signature on a project. It makes you a better teammate and person, in short. My last piece of advice is to not neglect LACY (Life After City Year). [Fabiola and Jenna laugh out loud] I was sweating bullets in April during my Senior Corps year and it is not a good feeling and I have told every Team Leader that I have led since then. Every weekly check-in we talked about LACY, every month they had to have an action step around LACY, and spend some time on yourself and research about your LACY plans.


Q: Wise words of advice. Very wise! For our next question: What made you stay at City Year/ What made you want to come back?


WB: I served my Corps year and my Senior Corps Year, and then I started working as an Impact Manager the following August and I have been with City Year since. I believe in the mission of City Year. I feel like the values of City Year align with what my core beliefs are: empathy, inclusivity, service to a cause greater than self; those are values that were instilled in me as a child and now as an adult, I feel like I had and still have more to give. I have more to learn from the communities that we’re serving, from City Year, from our partners. After my corps year, I didn’t know I wanted to come back but my manager really suggested that I do another year because I loved what I was doing. This has been a place where I can grow and make mistakes, learn from people, and be challenged every day. At the end of the day, we are people looking at other people and thinking about how we can provide equitable and educational opportunities for everyone and that to me speaks volume. It is a community that I just want to be a part of.


Q: So we just have two more questions. What CY culture piece do you strongly believe in and want to continue growing in if you think you have space to grow?


WB: I definitely do and will probably always. The one or two culture pieces that are always on my mind are Inclusivity as a value and being a Bridge Builder. I mentioned that before in my role but that Founding Story to me is really important to always remember how I got here. I didn’t get here just because of the merit of my own work. I got here because of a lot of reasons, people, and systems. I want to continue building bridges for other people and whether it is working with principals, teachers, students, AmeriCorps members, or now with corporate partners, am I treating everyone the way I want to be treated? Am forgetting that there is a person behind this company or school? It is not just an institution. I really want to make sure I am being mindful of people’s time and a feel of belonging to our community. That is something I always need to be mindful of and that I admire about our culture.


Q: And the last question may be the hardest: What has been your proudest accomplished thus far as a CY staff?


WB: It really is! I don’t know what it is at City Year but we all really hate to talk about ourselves! It’s strange because we do a really good job at building other people up and then we shy away from talking about ourselves, so I put a lot of thought into this. I think the thing that brought me a lot of joy in this work has been being trusted by a lot of different people. Students trusting me, corps members trusting me, teachers trusting me in what I am saying or doing or my advice. One of focus list Starfish students came up to me two or three years after we worked together, and asked me to help him buy some clothes for his first child. I was really floored that he thought of me in that moment. Being asked for my help and advice has made me proud to be an active member or person in other people’s lives. It has really impacted me and made me appreciative to be a part of those things; having people trust that I am here and here to support and be a part of this experience.


Thank you Warren! We truly appreciate you taking time out of your day to share your experience with us.


Thanks for joining us!

Originally published 11/26/2019

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