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By: Colleen Gilfether 

The City Year value that resonates with me the most is empathy. As I define it, empathy is the ability to care for another through grounding yourself in an individual’s experiences. The exciting thing about empathy is how individualized of a concept it is from sympathy. To express sympathy is to show care and concern for another person’s well-being, whereas empathy is oftentimes described as sympathizing for someone else’s experience due to your personal adversities. In other words, it is remembering to “be kind, because everybody you meet is fighting the same great battle.” Therefore, when contextualizing yourself in another person’s world, as they experience it, you oftentimes develop a series of different understandings and appreciations. It could be from understanding why a student behaved in the not so stellar way, to understanding your partner teacher’s perspective from years of teaching.


This is why is empathy is my favorite City Year value because it is the most essential to understanding our service partners, but also the most enriching for reminding us about the reciprocity of learning from those around us. Throughout your service year, you will encounter every kinds of different. Different race. Different beliefs. Different teaching-styles. Different life experiences. Differences are everywhere. On the flip-side through, sympathizing for someone else’s experience due to your personal adversities, you begin to find all the similarities you share with those who are still “different” from us. This may be reminding my students, “I might not have struggled at this assignment before, but I can relate because I have struggled in other academic areas.”


It is through collaboration, inquiry, and empathetic approach to understanding those around us in which we are able to ground our work. Through empathy, AmeriCorps members are able to advocate and amplify their students voices, while also remaining true to their personal leadership mission. We are able to connect with our service on the most personal levels, as we begin to celebrate the small achievements: a student showing up to all of their classes in one day, meeting their middle of the year MAP score, or even saying “hi” to the teacher they often get into spats with.


Thus, empathy is the City Year value that resonates with me the most because it grounds literally all that we do, and it is how I remind myself to appreciate the differences around us, but also, the similarities that are to be discovered. 

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