By Andrew Nunn
AmeriCorps member serving on the Comcast/NBC4 Simon Elementary School team

They have been here since day one. They have guided us through hours of ice-breakers, reflections, first/final circles, and trainings. They encouraged us to share our joys, appreciations, ripples, and struggles, and inspire us to keep plugging along. They are our optimism and City Year gurus. They are… our Team Leaders and Impact Managers.

On the corner of Mississippi Ave. and 4th Street sits Abram Simon Elementary. And if you take a look inside, you will find a City Year room bursting with positivity, which then permeates throughout the school. Led by Senior AmeriCorps member and Team Leader Taylor Mitchell and Impact Director Matt Zittle, the Comcast/NBC4 team at Simon Elementary School has cultivated itself into much more than just that – we’ve become a family. With family comes laughter, bickering, venting, bad puns, food galore, and much much more. But with all that, what’s been the most important have been the affirmations and appreciations that we share with one another, something we’ve done since day one.

So our Simon Elementary School family decided to show our appreciation for our ever-present leaders, Taylor “T-Mitch” Mitchell and Matt “Sizzle” Zittle, by surprising them both with appreciation parties! Our goal was to express our gratitude to them and highlight all the work they do that’s sometimes not immediately obvious. We wanted to give them more than generic thank you notes, so our team personalized these appreciation parties for each of our leaders. We recruited current Simon Elementary School staff member and City Year Washington, DC alumnus Pat Eubanks to help distract Matt and Taylor as we set up their respective appreciation parties. We brought in Taylor and Matt’s favorite drinks and food and wrote them poems and heartfelt letters. We even put together an epic rap duo performance for Matt—yes, he was speechless!

One of my teammates, AmeriCorps member Sarah Blenko, spoke about the many moments that showed the immense care and interest our leaders have for her and the Simon team. “Their work and effort is why our team is so cohesive. Taylor works so hard to make our City Year room beautiful [and] a Zen place for us. And Matt can’t help but bring energy that lifts us all up.”

When asked about why it’s important for our leaders to be celebrated, AmeriCorps member Emmanuel Pressley talked about the power of being in an environment that “generates a giddy feeling of self-worth, [one that] ensures everyone of their significance, and creates a human connection to others that encourages other to do more great work, and maintains a boundless positive energy throughout the year.”

After fighting off tears, Matt ended the day stating that “the only way we are going to reach [our students] and the only way we’re going to reach any kids in this world, is through this: appreciation of each other, happiness, and the most absurd and crazy rap songs that have ever been written in the entirety of the world.”

It’s quite easy to get caught up in your own City Year experiences, to focus on yourself, and to miss what goes on behind the scenes. And that’s okay, we get it, we’re all on this journey that brings out ALL the feels and ALL the emotions. But simple appreciations can make a day, even change a life. All it takes is the willingness to put it into words and act on it!


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