I still remember my first Opening Day two years ago. I remember leading my fellow corps members in reciting the City Year pledge and finding so much meaning and purpose in its promises to provide excellent service, to lead by example, to be a role model, to celebrate diversity, and to build a better tomorrow.
Those words found a new level of significance last Friday, October 7th, as I watched the 2011-2012 corps pledge their year of service. This year’s Opening Day was held in the Corinthian Grand Ballroom at the San Jose Athletic Club and my eyes filled with tears as I heard the words of the pledge echo through the room. Having stood amongst that sea of yellow and khaki answering the call to service the past two years, I am honored this year to have the chance as a staff member to lead, support, and guide a new group of idealistic young leaders through the challenging year ahead.
Opening Day is held in the first week of October as a celebration of the commitment young people are making to serve with City Year in sites across the country. This year, over 2,000 corps members will help bridge the achievement gap and will work to give students the self-confidence and the academic competence they need to get back on track to graduate high school.
The San Jose/Silicon Valley corps was joined for Opening Day by many local champions. We partner with the Alum Rock Union School District and Superintendent, Jose Manzo, was the first speaker in Friday’s program. Before leading the corps in reciting the pledge, he celebrated the phenomenal impact our corps is having on school campuses. He talked about how much students benefit from corps member faces being the first and last things they see every day and how the positive reinforcement they provide is something that students have come to rely on.
Perhaps one of the most poignant comments of the morning came from Councilmember Xavier Campos, the representative for San Jose’s District 5, the East Side of San Jose where the ARUSD schools are located. Campos attended two of the schools in which we currently serve and challenged the corps members to be great this year so that they could in turn challenge students on the East Side to be great. “They will make you smile, they will make you cry, and most of all they will make you proud of the year you spent here,” said Campos.
The final speaker of the morning was Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. In a pointed description of how important City Year’s work is, she talked about how corps members work with children whose parents are illiterate and brothers are in gangs. She talked about how important and inspiring it is to see young people working with kids who need a little extra help to follow their dreams.
Executive Director Beach Pace closed out the event by bringing the entire crowd in for a spirit break. As corps members, councilmembers, teachers, principals, corporate sponsors, alumni, friends, and loved ones all put their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them, she talked about how we are all connected through service. With one collective voice we declared our mission to “change the world” and as those three simple words echoed through the ballroom, I had no doubt that this year we will do exactly that.
-Deborah Woo, Whole School, Whole Child Program Manager