Brent Holsinger, City Year Boston ’04, founder & president at On the Road Collaborative, is one of six winners of this year’s City Year Comcast NBCUniversal Leadership Awards for changing the way we think about every child’s potential and working to close the opportunity gap for all students. We had the chance to sit down and talk with Holsinger at this year’s Summer Academy. Take a look at what Holsinger had to say about the aspirations of his nonprofit, a youth empowerment organization launched in 2015 that is committed to helping underserved students stay on track for college and career success, and how City Year helped him get to where he is today.
Brent Holsinger credits his service as an AmeriCorps member at City Year Boston more than a decade ago with inspiring and preparing him to become a nonprofit leader. After earning a master’s degree in educational leadership at Lesley University in 2006, Holsinger worked as a campus director for Citizen Schools and lead an afterschool program called Beyond the Bell. In May 2014, Holsinger launched On the Road Collaborative, a nonprofit that serves middle school students in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he also serves on the Harrisonburg City School Board.
“City Year was my springboard to now nearly 15 years of education and social justice work and I have never looked back,” said Holsinger. City Year provided the spark for Holsinger’s journey of challenging himself with a “learn-by-fire” approach alongside a supportive and diverse team. Today, Holsinger continues the work he began at City Year Boston by helping students fulfill their promise by systematically connecting them to dynamic learning opportunities they otherwise would not have. Equally as important, the organization ensures that students have access to positive, developmental relationships with caring adults who can help to nurture their academic and personal growth.
“City Year and living in Boston and doing school-based work for a year opened my eyes to a whole other world where education is unequal depending on where you live,” Holsinger said. National service pushed Holsinger, a native of rural Virginia, outside of his comfort zone and broadened his view of the world. “Where I grew up, I had a very small view of the world and City Year, just by the very nature of living in a bigger city, the intensity of the experience, the program, the variety of [undertakings] that you’re a part of and the diversity of the corps opened my eyes to a much bigger world,” he said.
On the Road Collaborative strives to empower middle school students by providing them with resources to keep them on track and in school outside of regular school hours. “Making sure that the voices at the table are those that are reflective of the community that we serve” is a core value Holsinger says he learned at City Year and it continues to guide his work today.
“City Year provides such a unique opportunity for young adults to gain real-world experience while addressing real-world social challenges,” said Holsinger said. City Year’s blend of service to a cause greater than self, creativity and belief in the power of young people inspires the mission and approach of On the Road Collaborative.
City Year “is not your normal entry level position,” Holsinger said. “We weren’t just following some instruction manual. We had guidance and lots of support, yet also had the opportunity to try new ideas and new programs in order to best meet the needs of the young people and communities we were serving.”