By Elaine Lunsford, AmeriCorps member serving at Hallsville Elementary School
When I've mentioned to people that I am serving as an AmeriCorps member this year with City Year, many people immediately ask "Oh, that means you wear those red jackets, right?" The City Year red jacket is a recognizable symbol of City Year and is strongly associated with idealism and reliability that wearers of the jacket of years past have worked to establish. As Michael Brown, the co-founder and CEO of City Year, says: “when our students see someone in the City Year jacket, they know that person is someone they can trust.” For us as AmeriCorps members, putting on the jacket every day means taking on the responsibility of being that person our students can turn to, of being positive role-models, as well as symbols of trust, integrity, and idealism in our community. With the significance and responsibility of this jacket in mind, an annual tradition we have at City Year New Hampshire is the Red Jacket Ceremony, where we each have the opportunity to reflect on and share what wearing the jacket means to us.
On the Wednesday before Opening Day, all members of the City Year New Hampshire site, from first-year AmeriCorps members to Executive Director, gathered for the Red Jacket Ceremony. Going around in a circle, each member of the City Year New Hampshire team dedicated their jacket to a person, cause, or idea that was meaningful to them, or had inspired them to serve. Whether doing so for the first time, or tenth time, every member of our site reflected on and shared their dedication for the year ahead. Throughout the year, these dedications function as personal reminders of the “why” behind the commitment we made to serve. In the inside pocket of our jacket, we carry an index card with our dedication written on it so that every time we put it on, we see it and are reminded of our “why.” One of the people I chose to dedicate my jacket to was my Grandmother, who dedicated her working life to being a special education teacher. In my work in the classroom, I hope to embody her patience and belief in her students; when I wear my jacket, I hope to remember and live by her example.
Getting to hear the dedications from everyone at City Year New Hampshire was intimately powerful and inspirational. Margaret Dean, a first-year AmeriCorps member serving at Hallsville Elementary School shared: “I chose to dedicate my jacket to my Grandpa, because when I struggled with reading in elementary school, he was the one that patiently sat with me”. While everyone’s dedication was unique, it was interesting hearing a common thread of dedications to people who had impacted us as role-models, mentors, and inspirations, whether it was in the form of family members, teachers, professors, fellow AmeriCorps members, previous students or other entities. That these people had such an impact on us as AmeriCorps members was a reminder of the impact that we can have on our students this year.
At the end of the ceremony, with everyone linked in a circle wearing our red jackets, we were the image of one united team. In that moment, I was reminded that though we each bring with us different motivations and backgrounds, those different stories help us build one stronger City Year New Hampshire team, as they motivate each of us to bring our best selves while wearing our red jacket. Hearing everyone’s story, I am excited to see how our team will carry our individual experiences into the collective work we do this year.
Interested in joining City Year? Learn more about how to apply on our website!