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AmeriCorps member spotlight: J’Ana Adkins

Due to COVID-19, City Year San Antonio’s annual Ripples of Hope dinner, planned for April 1, 2020, was canceled. While we are saddened to not be with the beloved City Year San Antonio community in person, our hearts are with those being impacted by this virus. In lieu of our annual event, we would like to take this opportunity to recognize the incredible service our AmeriCorps members engage in with students across San Antonio’s east and west side each day. The story being told could have been shared by any one of our 90 amazing AmeriCorps members. We applaud their commitment to the San Antonio community and the students we serve.

J’Ana (second from the right) with Davis Middle School team members.

While the service my fellow City Year AmeriCorps members and I are doing right now looks different than the work we were physically doing in the schoolhouse just a few weeks ago, each of us continues to gain a great deal of perspective every day, perhaps more than we are ready to receive. And every day, we continue to grow as leaders. And no one has inspired me to grow more as a leader than Molly* – but I never would have met Molly if it hadn’t been for City Year.

On July 22, 2019, as City Year San Antonio staff welcomed the new AmeriCorps members with their signature, energetic power greeting, I entered our training facility with a lot of reservations. The very first person I met was City Year San Antonio’s Executive Director, Kelly Hughes Burton. As I attempted to find a seat before anyone noticed me, Kelly interrupted my mission with a kind smile and an extended hand, ready for a shake. Not knowing Kelly or the position she held, I looked at her hand with menacing eyes. But Kelly did not waver. She stood proud in her red City Year bomber and asked me my name.

“J’Ana Adkins,” I replied, firmly shaking her hand. Kelly smiled and told me that my name was beautiful. Her response completely disarmed my hard, protective exterior. I cracked a smile, thanking her and continued on with my day. However, our small exchange stayed with me and replayed in my mind many times. When I entered the classroom, I recalled our brief introduction and recognized the very important takeaway I gained from it: how to level with students that may meet you with resistance.

After being placed to serve at a middle school, this was a lesson that I am glad I learned early. When introducing yourself to any middle school aged child you are bound to be met with resistance, but it is our job not to waver. The students I work with at Davis Middle School remind me a lot of myself. Especially Molly.

Molly is quiet and sometimes withdrawn. Her smile is infectious, and on the rare occasion she does contribute to class discussions, everyone stops to listen. I often find her tucked away with a book after her classwork is completed. I’ve thought about the role books played for me when I was her age, and it brings me a lot of joy to know she can escape in the prose.

Molly did not necessarily welcome me with open arms. Much like the way I arrived at City Year on my first day, Molly was quite guarded when we first started working together. I remembered not to waver and over time, Molly began to drop her guard and I’ve seen her confidence grow tremendously. Molly now shows up as a leader among her peers. I’ve witnessed the care and concern she has for her younger sibling, who also attends Davis. Molly recently shared with me that she aspires to go to college, and then onto the Navy. Working with Molly, I am reminded of the role my ninth-grade teacher, Mrs. Caldera played in my life.

I attended Theodore Roosevelt High School located on the northeast side of San Antonio. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, who moved schools every two years, I was accustomed to not having close friends. What I lacked in friendships, I gained in knowledge from literature. As a ninth grader, everything changed when I met Mrs. Caldera, my favorite English teacher. Mrs. Caldera was not only a teacher, but a passionate champion for her students. She saw in me what others had not and advocated for me to be placed in an advanced English class. She awakened my potential, which allowed me to feel more comfortable to simply be myself. Mrs. Caldera pushed me to aspire for more and I set a goal to attend college after high school. Throughout my junior and senior years, I continued to do well in my core classes while taking on extra elective courses and getting involved on campus in various clubs. I committed to setting myself up for success and focused on accomplishing my goals.

J’Ana (second from right) with family at her high school graduation.

Graduation came sooner than I imagined and walking across the stage in front of my friends and family was one of the greatest moments of my life. The day I graduated, I remember looking at my parents and seeing the tears of joy in their eyes. Their pride was contagious, and I was proud of what I had been able to accomplish. However, those feelings of happiness and hope I saw on my parents’ faces after I graduated quickly changed. In December 2017, just seven months after I finished high school, my family and I became homeless. In the midst of our hardship, my parents urged me to continue my education, and I went on to attend Northeast Lakeview College in University City.

Against my parents’ wishes, I decided to work full time to take care of my own school expenses. Unfortunately, my grades plummeted, and I failed most of my classes that term. My parents were disappointed in my performance and wished I had listened to them. Even worse, I was disappointed in myself and felt like a failure. After many family discussions, we ultimately decided it would be best for me to live with my grandmother, for stability, while I figured things out.

In my most vulnerable moment, I met someone that made me feel good about myself. The first two blissful months of our relationship soon became a distant memory. His sweet, loving hugs turned to violent verbal and physical abuse. I rationalized his form of love for more than a year out of fear, guilt, and shame before realizing I needed help. I found the help I needed with my parents’ care. They’d finally settled in their new place and welcomed me back home with open arms of grace and love.

To help me rebuild my life, my mother encouraged me to look for an AmeriCorps program. I felt I had nothing else to lose. I did some research and decided to apply to City Year. Dedicating a full year of my life to a cause greater than myself seemed like it would be the perfect escape from my current reality.

Joining City Year was more than just an escape – it was what I needed to get my life back on track. To get back to that ninth grader whose teacher pushed her beyond her wildest dreams. To get back to that high school senior with dreams of attending college and having a career. To get back to that high school graduate with parents who beamed at her with pride.

Serving with City Year and working with Molly and so many other students at Davis Middle School has helped me recognize my own passion – to go back to college and become an English teacher. Had I not chosen to serve with City Year, I never would have considered this as a possibility. Through my experience at City Year, I’ve learned that my place is in the classroom. This summer, I plan on going back to college at St. Phillips to work on my Associates of Arts in English. After graduating from St. Phillips, I look forward to transferring to a Historically Black College/University to receive a bachelor’s in English, with a minor in African American studies. Working with Molly made me realize just how pivotal teachers like Mrs. Caldera are in the lives of students, and I hope to be one of those teachers.

After working many 50+ hour weeks, I almost welcomed the opportunity to engage in virtual service. As my peers and I shift to providing support to our students in a virtual capacity, we are all wrestling with the possibility of not seeing our students in person again. This transition is hard, and I am struggling. I miss my students and my teammates – my extended family – who gave me the community I needed and craved. At the same time, I am gaining valuable perspective; I am growing as a leader.

My name is J’Ana Adkins and I PROUDLY serve at Davis Middle School.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the student.

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