Alumni Spotlight: Taylor Rainier ’04

Taylor Rainier was bitten by the travel bug early.  As a self-described army brat, she says she ‘grew up everywhere’ and moved every year or two which translated to an atypical childhood; by the time she reached high school she had traveled most of Western Europe and was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.   

As a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, Taylor studied abroad her entire junior year and when she returned to the States, she decided that after graduation she wanted to be in the Peace Corps, but not yet. “I wasn’t ready to go abroad again so soon,” she says. “But I was already drawn to the idea of service.”

During her senior year, Taylor says her eyes were opened to inequalities when she started volunteering at a low-income elementary school through a work-study program called Inter-Community Experience (now called Academic-Community Engagement). With this and service in mind, Taylor looked into what many refer to as the domestic version of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and eventually found City Year.  In 2003 at age 22, she was enrolled in the founding corps of City Year New York, where she found herself growing rapidly both professionally and personally.

Taylor, far right, stands in a group including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at City Year New York's 2004 graduation.

“Being in the founding corps, we faced a lot of challenges in terms of people not knowing who we were,” Taylor said. “We were just trying to prove ourselves within the schools and with the principals and teachers.  But it afforded me lots of opportunities to prove myself.  I remember any opportunity that came up – I took it.”

One such opportunity was taking on the position of MLK Day Director, where she was the leader of a 300-person service day.  “For me, physical service was a really big deal, and there was this whole force of red jackets doing so much good that I helped to coordinate. I remember that being a powerful experience,” she said.

Taylor’s first City Year turned into a second – where she was hired on staff as a Program Manager – and then a third, also as a PM.  “My first year as a Program Manager was very challenging,” she said, “but I learned so much about my leadership skills.” Taylor cited specific lessons on “honesty and involving the Corps Members in the decision-making process,” and “responsibility and being exactly where you’re supposed to be – on time and ready to go.”

“My City Year experience solidified that I wanted to be in education,” Taylor said, “and at the end of my time with CY, I was ready for the Peace Corps.”

In 2006, Taylor began her service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, where she taught high school English as a second language.  There she had classes of anywhere from 70-80 students, some classrooms with desks and some with nothing. “There were no books, zero textbooks, zero materials except for what the Peace Corps gave us,” she said.

“It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Everyday life without running water, electricity, being stared at where ever I went, learning the language, that sort of thing was hard, but just facing realities about an education system that is so different from our own and trying to wrap my brain around how to teach…we really had to rely on being extremely creative in trying to make things work in the most challenging situations,” Taylor said.

Taylor with colleagues and students in Mozambique during her Peace Corps years.

When things got particularly difficult, Taylor looked to what she calls her “City Year backpack of skills.”  “I was put in a mentor position, whether I wanted it or not, for my colleagues who taught English at the school in Mozambique,” she said.  “It was on me to bring those tools and teach them, and City Year helped me a lot in that way – how to step up and take that leadership role, doing so with flexibility – just everything.”

Today, at 29 years old, Taylor looks back fondly on her childhood for “instilling the importance of travel,” and on both service experiences with gratitude for helping her navigate her way to her present career goal: she is getting her master’s in Equity and Social Justice in Education at San Francisco State University in hopes of either counseling or teaching high school students in low-income neighborhoods.  She also speaks with great certainty on how her former corps experience made the latter a more complete one.

“In order to be a successful Peace Corps member, I think you definitely need to be really responsible and conscious of what you want to get into, and a City Year member at the end of their corps year is a responsible and conscious person,” she said. “You have that backpack of skills at the end of your [City Year] corps year that makes you an ideal Peace Corps member, which in turn makes you a more helpful citizen.”

Do you know about the City Year and Peace Corps partnership?  Click here to learn about our organizations’ shared commitment to the power of service to change lives.

by Alice Pak, Events & Alumni Project Leader.