Corps member Anthony Akinbola, serving at IS 126 in Long Island City, Queens, will be sharing his insights and experiences throughout his year of service on the City Year New York blog. His first post is dedicated to his experience applying to serve with City Year.
I think it’s fair to say that for many City Year corps members, applying to the program was one of the most difficult parts of their service. In my experience, however, the difficulty began before I had even started our application I first found out about City Year during my freshman year in college. I had been looking for ways to pay for college through various scholarships and other programs. I was set on joining the Air Force or Navy reserves when my sister suggested I look into City Year because they offer an education award after a year of service. The organization also partners with colleges and universities that offer scholarships to those who complete the program. It seemed like exactly what I was looking for. I skimmed the website to get a sense of what City Year was all about and the requirements for joining. As I was reading I noticed it was a 10 month program. I would have to take a whole year off from school to participate in the program. Also, there is not a City Year site in New Jersey. This required me to look to the next closest site: New York City. I knew it would be a big change from the suburban New Jersey neighborhood I had become been so familiar with over the last few years.
This is where I ran in to my first problem. I knew my parents would be displeased with my decision to take a year off from school and unhappy that I was moving to New York City on my own. I come from a family of educators. Both my parents have their graduate degrees and my sister is currently in graduate school, so for me to divert from that path would be seen as taboo in their eyes. When I finally conjured up the courage to tell my parents about the opportunity to join City Year, they were as against the idea as I had predicted. They thought I was tired of school and was looking for a clever way to drop out. That wasn’t the case at all. I love school and was looking for a way to afford it. As weeks passed, I decided to fill out the application anyway. The deadline was approaching and I would have hated to miss it simply because my parents disagreed with the idea of taking time off. I told my friends about my plan in an effort to gain the support that my parents failed to give. To my surprise, a lot of my friends were against the idea. Their reasoning was that feared they might lose a close friend, but I knew they would support me regardless of whether they liked my decision or not.
There were, however, others that supported the idea, namely my friend and City Year alumni Ishmael Bibal. We grew up together in Columbia, Missouri and even played on the same soccer team. He had done City Year and informed me of how much he enjoyed his experience. He was thrilled that I was interested in joining City Year. That encouraged me to want to serve even more. He told me stories of his work in a school in Chicago and how much he took away from the experience. He told me he was helping students that really needed extra support. At that moment, I no longer wanted to apply to City Year because of the education award. Instead, it became about making an impact in a child’s life. It was about the opportunity to help a student who is struggling make the right decisions, understand their potential and utilize the skills that they have. It’s turning a student who is at risk of becoming a gang member into a college graduate. If those changes are made early, they can change a child’s life. I knew the real reason I wanted to join City Year: To bring about change in the lives of children.
After realizing that, my decision was made. As the summer drew to a close the subject of City Year came up again. I wasn’t asking my parents if it was alright if I served with City Year. I was telling them that I would be serving with City Year. I explained exactly what the organization was to them and what it I would be doing. My main point was that it was bigger than me taking off a year from school. It was about me helping children that really needed extra support. They opened up to the idea and agreed with my decision. Explaining my reasons for joining City Year to my parents changed their views a lot. They knew I was doing something greater than just getting a scholarship. I was helping change lives.They didn’t fight the idea anymore. Instead, I received their full support and even gained help and advice from them during my application process.
I know my road to serving with City Year may be a little different from others, but I’m sure some of the same trials were faced. For me, these included scrutiny from family members and friends, the uncertainty of future plans, forfeiting going to college or completing college first (for those coming straight from high school or taking a gap year) or forgoing graduate school for a year, or a big move to various parts of the country. It can be incredibly overwhelming.
Simply put, a lot of the events that happen before even filling out the application are just a part of the process. It makes you really find out exactly why you want to serve. When you really find out why want to do City Year, it won’t be hard for you to make the choice or tell your parents and friends that you’re doing it. You’ll be able to say that you want to make a difference in a child’s life. I am proud to wear my red City Year jacket as I give back this year.
Are you interested in serving with City Year? Our first application deadline is September 30. Click here for more information!