While still students at Harvard Law School in the mid-‘80s, Michael Brown and Alan Khazeirecognized a lack of opportunities for volunteerism.
There was a real need for young adults to give back to their country by volunteering in struggling urban schools, but they lacked the organized means of doing so. Working with affiliates from their days as Harvard College undergraduates, including founder of City Year Chicago Michael Alter of Winnetka (pictured right), Brown and Khazei devised an innovative solution.
Upon their graduation in 1988, the former roommates launched City Year in Boston, with the belief that individuals have the power to make a difference in the world. Red-jacketed volunteers (now part of the de facto City Year uniform) spent one year as a member of a corps serving in an urban high school. While the original Boston iteration focused on community rehabilitation and development, City Year has since refocused its efforts to fighting the dropout crisis.
This proved to be a win-win-win: Volunteers found meaning, discipline and lifelong friendships; schools stretched limited researches with the volunteer help; and students improved academic performance as they connected with the volunteers.
As happens with such winning scenarios, City Year grew, with the program now serving 24 U.S. cities, including Chicago. Under the tutelage of City Year Chicago Founder and Board President Michael Alter, 206 corps members serve students in 20 Chicago public schools, with teachers and administrators citing significant improvement in attendance and overall academic performance. City Year volunteers range in age from 17 to 24 and commit to a 10-month term of service.
A recent visit to Schurz High School in northwest Chicago showcased the corps in action with zestful enthusiasm. Students and staff warmly greeted corps members hailing from the North Shore and across the country. The members split their time between assisting in classrooms and working one-on-one with at-risk freshman students most likely to benefit from this attention.
This effective venture philanthropy model should be scaled further, in order to further reduce the school dropout rate and to inspire more young adults through service.
“By 2023 in Chicago, City Year will more than double the local corps to 440 AmeriCorps members,” Alter says. “[They’ll] serve the 39 schools where students at risk of dropping out are most concentrated, reaching 8,600 off-track students.”
City Year actually inspired and informed the development of the AmeriCorps program, founded in 1994, and receives funding from the national service program as part of the AmeriCorps network. City Year hopes to inspire even more national volunteer service.
As boldly declared on its website, “City Year hopes that some day the most commonly asked question of a young person will be, ‘Where are you going to do your service year?’”
- 15th Annual Ripples of Hope Awards Dinner, Wednesday, April 9, 5:30 p.m., Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, 221 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago
City Year Chicago honors two of the city’s finest leaders with the Ripples of Hope Award and the City Year Red Jacket, which recognizes individuals making a positive impact on Chicago’s schools and communities. Guests hear firsthand accounts from both students and City Year members who serve full-time in schools across Chicago, providing targeted interventions in attendance, behavior and course performance in math and English. This year’s honorees are Mayor Rahm Emanueland BMO Harris Bank CEO Mark Furlong.
Photo by Elliot Haney.