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The end of City Year Young Heroes... or is it?
All good things must come to an end! Well, that's what people think... but I'll explain shortly.
I'm talking about the program that I worked through in the AmeriCorps model organization, City Year. City Year is about working to improve education in metropolitan areas; I worked in San Jose, California. Most City Year corps members work in schools and tutor students during the weekdays. The program I was a part of is the middle school program, Young Heroes, in which middle school students from all parts of the huge city (the 10th-largest in the U.S.!) and do service at last three Saturdays a month, with two overnight retreats and occasional make-up events. The students learned about various relevant social issues, including hunger and homelessness, racism and ageism, and environmental issues.
But most of all, these kids are amazing. They dedicated so much time - they would graduate after completing 100 hours of service in six months - and are so good in heart and attitude. They made friends with each other, and I adored them all and would do anything for them. I would even teach a class at one of the schools for free twice a week.
If you can imagine how powerful a year in a Heroes program can be, imagine what it's like for those who had been in Heroes since they were in middle school and are now City Heroes in high school. Some have claimed that Heroes has kept them off of the streets, out of gangs, and into the top of their class.
When we told the students that there will no longer be Heroes because City Year wants to move more into schools and less during the weekends, there was havoc mainly on the part of the City Heroes. While the Young Heroes were sad after one year, the City Heroes were in tears or enraged. The program they have depended on for years was suddenly going away before their eyes.
Some say that part of the reason why there will be more working in schools is because the schools pay for corps members while Heroes pay nothing to be in the program. While my friends and I had vowed to help run service days next year, it was hard with no real financial source of aid. We weren't quite sure what to do, and it was hard not to sink into cynicism.
However, it's been great to see the civic work that the former Heroes continue to be involved with, and it seems like their experiences in the Heroes programs have given them at least some of the tools they use today to serve the world positively. I am proud of these Heroes and I still see them around from time to time. They may not remember me, but I remember them!