For the 71 newest members of the City Year Detroit Corps, their job for the next year is about more than the red jackets and Timberland boots. It is more than an AmeriCorps education award or the small stipend they receive.
While officially their job will be helping kids in eight Detroit schools get back on a track for graduating from high school, second year corps member Julia Sewell knows there is a bigger purpose.
“I began to see when I was very young the tragedies that exist between socio-economic statuses. So what poverty did to young people and I grew up in poverty. So, I wanted to make sure no one ever had to make the choice between going to school and dropping out. I wanted them at least to finish high school,” said Sewell.
For her, this is a personal mission. Confronted with several challenges that kept questioning her resolve to finish high school, she persevered. Her cousin almost did not finish. He became the focus of her spoken word performance at City Year Detroit’s Opening Day celebration.
“That piece in particular is after my cousin who dropped out of high school because his dad left and he grew up in a devastating single parent home where he had to work,” she recalled. “But, he got back on track and became my inspiration for that particular piece.”
Each Corps member has their own motivation for spending a year in full-time service to Detroit. Next June when they graduate, they will join an exclusive group of over 700 City Year Detroit Corps graduates. If they are anything like their predecessors, they will continue to serve their community.
“The real issue is not just the year. It’s to become a lifetime community servant,” remarked City Year Detroit Executive Director Penny Bailer as she addressed the Corps alumni in attendance. “It’s to become a leader throughout your life regardless of what you do with your life in terms of your work or your profession. That service is in your blood and you are a role model for others.”
Bailer went on to note the changes upcoming for City Year, including a partnership with Communities in Schools and Johns Hopkins University that will find the organizations running their own high school in Detroit. Called Diplomas Now High School, it will be located in the Northwestern High building and focus initially on ninth grade students. The school is an extension of the Diplomas Now initiative already taking place in two schools, with a focus on giving students at risk of dropping out the tools they need to stay in school.
“Our determination is to get kids and keep kids on track for graduation by addressing their attendance, their behavior and their classwork in math and English,” proclaimed Bailer.
By graduating from a month long training program, the newest members of the City Year Detroit Corps have proven they are mentally ready to serve. The calisthenics drill they demonstrated last Friday proved they are physically ready to serve. They are now looking forward to walking into schools who are ready for them to serve.