Service with the Boston Celtics

By Claire Cylkowski

Photo by Mike Ryan | 2013

Photo by Mike Ryan | 2013

Our recent service event at Kennedy-Longfellow/Putnam Ave Schools with the Boston Celtics and Optum had a fantastic turnout! The City Year Boston Civic Engagement team partnered with the Boston Celtics, Optum, and schools for a day of community service. We engaged sponsors, athletes, and students in the rejuvenation of these two great schools, which inhabit the same building.

Throughout the course of the day we:

  • painted over 50 fun and colorful murals;
  • revitalized the playground graphics by adding 1 United States map, 2 foursquare courts, and 2 hopscotch courts;
  • constructed 36 shelves to organize the library;
  • refreshed 2 teachers’ lounges with soothing fresh coats of paint.

We believe that service to our schools extends beyond the classroom with the students; We also believe that everybody in the educational institution deserves to work in a space that reflects the respect and admiration we have for our staff, faculty, and administration–all of whom play an immensely important role in the educational experience of the students.

The best part of the service event was the fact that we served two schools in the same day. Throughout the day, we were routinely greeted by students who stopped to talk with volunteers about the service projects and to thank everyone for taking the time to paint beautiful images on their walls. Interacting with the students and their parents was a great opportunity for the volunteers to connect directly with the school community and see the impact their service was making on the student’s pride in their school. Everyone had a great time meeting the students and hearing the joy that the beautification would bring every day. One student proclaimed, “Thank you! This is beautiful; I love the colors you are adding to our hallways!”

Additionally, this event hosted a unique experience for the elected student government to paint murals in their school alongside the athletes of The Boston Celtics. I was lucky enough to speak with one of the student government representatives who worked on one of the murals with Kris Humphries, Jeff Green, MarShon Brooks, Kelly Olynyk, and Brandon Bass from the Celtics. She told me about she and her father had been trying get approval from the school to paint a mural in the entrance hallway. She was overflowing with joy to had the opportunity to take part in the process and to work with several of her favorite Celtics players. She was thankful to not only take part in the painting but was pleased to have a hallway that is now as warm and as welcoming as she always imagined.

About the author:
Claire Cylkowski is a 2013-2014 senior corps member serving on the Foundation To Be Named Later Boston Civic Engagement Team.

Corinne Ferguson: A Hero Among Us

By Sarah Binning, Communications Coordinator

Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

The crowd at TD Garden quiets as the Hero Among Us takes the court. City Year Boston Board Chair Corinne Ferguson waves at the sea of green and white dressed Celtics fans. As the award is presented, the crowd rises to their feet applauding wildly.

At each home game the Boston Celtics foundation takes a moment to recognize “an individual or individuals who, through their unique commitment and humanitarian spirit, have made exceptional and lasting contributions to our community.”

March 16’s recipient, Corinne Ferguson is no stranger to service. With more than 17 years and 15,000 hours of volunteer experience, Ferguson has been as been a key advocate for bridging the achievement gap and investing in the future of the Boston community. In addition to her role at City Year, Ferguson chairs the board of Pine Street Inn and is an active board member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. She spoke with us about her experience and what receiving this award means to her.

City Year Boston: Last weekend you were recognized by the Boston Celtics as the Hero Among Us. What was your reaction when you first heard the news?

Corinne Ferguson (CF): Sandra [Lopez Burke, Vice President and Executive Director of City Year Boston] said to me, ‘Have you heard about this?’ I was really interested in hearing who we had nominated and then she said it was me.

I have to say I was overwhelmed and a little nervous. I really don’t feel like I did anything to merit this award, but I’m very flattered, of course, to be nominated in this way.

CYB: Can you tell me what it was like the day of the event? What was it like to stand on center court?

CF: I have to tell you that the gentleman who runs the program at the Celtics, whose name is Matt Meyersohn, is an extraordinary person. He’s the Director Community Relations and Player Development. He does this 40 times a year because they have a Hero at every home game. […] But you would never dream that he does this 40 times a year. He made me feel that I was the only person ever who was getting this award. He was so gracious, so polite, so patient, and so kind. I was actually kind of nervous going out there. But he was so thoughtful and caring that it made the experience even more special.

Being out on the court before the game had started, seeing all the players warming up, I felt very, very small. It’s kind of noisy and fun. Being from the UK originally, it’s a very American thing for me—the organ sounds and the music. I just felt like I was in a dream.

CYB: If you had to pick a favorite moment from that evening, what would you say it is?

CF: This is very vain, but I must say getting a standing ovation, getting that from 18,000 people […] that was a pretty extraordinary experience. But the best part of that was that City Year, we got recognized.

I know our [City Year] team was up there as well, cheering away. I knew exactly where they were. I could feel their energy even though I couldn’t hear them above all the other cheers.

CYB: How has this recognition sparked new conversations or helped you share the news about City Year?

CF: I had text messages appearing on my phone within moments, and emails this week. It was on television as well, which I hadn’t anticipated. I thought it would be a commercial break. But people saw it on television and now they’ve been asking me about City Year all the time.

It’s just been great. I’ve been able to talk about City Year, but also the other organizations as well. Pine Street Inn was incredibly grateful, too…for being mentioned. Some of them were actually there in the audience by chance. They were thrilled. I felt really good about that since it really is all about community.

CYB: What does service mean to you?

CF: Service is really just treating others the way you’d like to be treated yourself, I think. Making sure you care about others, and other issues that are outside of yourself.

CYB: There are so many other service and education organization that you could be a part of, and I know you’re a part of several, but what do think makes City Year unique?

CF: City Year seems to harness the goodness in people and give it the place where it can really be used in a way to help others. It’s really such a wonderful facilitation place. In the same time you’re doing it, it’s such a joy. The people who are doing the good meet each other and feed off each other.

In closing, Ferguson added, “I would really like to say it’s an incredible honor to be part of City Year. It’s been an honor for me and my family for the last, goodness, it must be 15 years or so. We’re very grateful to the organization for their friendship and support. I’m really thrilled about the great work they’re doing for the kids in our country. I’m just very honored to be a part of it.”

The Elephant Walk Gives 3% of August Restaurant Sales to City Year Boston

The Elephant Walk logoFor the third year, Bob Perry, President of The Elephant Walk Restaurant Group and Founder of The Benefit Restaurant Project, selected City Year as the beneficiary of 3% of his restaurant sales in August. The three Elephant Walk restaurants are family-owned and operated, and have been serving award-winning Cambodian and French cooking
since 1991. 
A Benefit Restaurant™ selects a non-profit each month to receive a percentage of its sales for that month.

Thank you to our champions Bob Perry and The Elephant Walk – we greatly appreciate your support! Learn more about this giving program at

The Power of Service – Insights from the City Year Boston Family

“I think empathy is tremendously important in the world that I would like to live in,” explains Corinne Ferguson, Chair of the City Year Boston Board. “I really feel that red jacket is almost a coat of armor,” adds Boston Board member Jim Atwood.

[More: A Community of Learners – Teachers Discuss City Year’s Impact]

From City Year founding staff member Kristen Atwood, to Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral, to teacher Diane Stafford, a 28-year veteran of Boston Public Schools, individuals from all over the Boston community dig deep and discuss the impact that City Year has on them personally, on the corps members serving, in schools, in the city, and in the world.

What are your thoughts? Leave comments below.

Top Five Friday: Best Places to Visit in Boston in the Spring!

By Michaela Kinlock, City Year AmeriCorps Member serving on the Summit Partners Team at Harbor Middle School.

You know what they say, April showers bring May flowers! Here are some great places to visit in Boston in both the rainy and sunny springtime weather. Looking to take your students on a field trip? Wait no more.

What’s your favorite Boston attraction? Take the poll below!

5.) Arnold Arboretum

Arnold Arboretum

Located in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods of Boston, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is the oldest public arboretum in North America!  With its mission to “increase the knowledge of the evolution and biology of woody plants”, the Arnold Arboretum is a great place to visit on a sunny spring day. Spend an afternoon here on a docent or self-guided tour or bring along friends and food for a picnic!

The Arnold Arboretum is easily accessible from the Forest Hills MBTA station on the Orange Line, or the Monument stop on the #35 MBTA bus route.

4.) Museum of Science

Museum of Science

The Museum of Science (MOS) is the perfect place to visit when April showers threaten to keep you cooped up at home. The MOS exhibit halls house both permanent and temporary exhibits. Current exhibits include Geckos: Tails to Toepads, Natural Mysteries, and Dinosaurs: Modeling the Mesozoic.  The MOS also has a Planetarium and Butterfly Garden, and even boasts a five story tall IMAX dome screen located in the Mugar Omni Theater. With admission available to just one or all of these great options, the Museum of Science will make you forget all about the rainy weather outside.

The MOS is available via MBTA at the Science Park stop on the Green E Line.
*For other indoor attractions, check out the New England Aquarium and Museum of Fine Arts! Continue reading

Idealist Interview: Principal Leah Blake

Written by Michaela Kinlock, corps member serving on the Summit Partners Team at the Harbor Pilot Middle School

At City Year, idealism is a highly valued quality.  Throughout my year of service, I have decided to periodically interview and profile individuals who represent what it means to be a true idealist.  This month, I interviewed Leah Blake, principal at the Harbor Pilot Middle School in Dorchester.  Check in throughout the year for more Idealist Interviews!

Ms. Leah Blake came to the Harbor during a particularly challenging period.  She took on her role as principal last February after being asked to take over the position mid-year.  The Harbor Pilot Middle School is now in its second year of state-designated turnaround status, which means that it is has been significantly underperforming for several years. The faculty and administrators have embarked upon many initiatives to not only improve MCAS scores but also the morale of the students and overall culture of the school, which is where the school’s partnership with City Year comes into play.

Why did you want a City Year team at the Harbor?

“I know what kind of work City Year has done in other turnaround schools and I was like, ‘Why don’t we have one?’ We have significant growth to make; we need to make progress and we need a team with focused goals on how to help us achieve this progress…Small group tiered instruction is part of our redesign plan, and its hard to follow through with that without extra support.  The district realized our need, and that with the needs of our students we need [a City Year team].  I don’t know how this school would function without extra support.”

What is your vision for the partnership between City Year and the Harbor?

“Continued growth with supporting our tiered instruction and also continued growth with our after school program and external supports.  I would also like to see the student government grow and develop and see how that relates to the governance board and how students have a voice…By June I would love to see [how City Year’s attendance initiatives translate] to data…to see how the work that we have targeted has come to fruition.  How have the students made progress based on the extra support you all have given them?”

How do you think City Year has helped the Harbor thus far?  Have you noticed a difference in the school atmosphere or the students since the Summit Partners Team’s arrival?

“Oh my gosh, the kids…it’s a different culture.  It boosts the morale of our culture and our staff to have City Year supporting us.  It absolutely helps us move forward together.  City Year creates a culture that we’re all in it together.  Not only do we want the students to succeed academically, but we also want to support them socially and emotionally…You walk into the Harbor and things are just different.  Here’s a school that’s deemed failing, but we don’t see it that way because we’re really working together.  We’ve really put structures in place for students to succeed.”

Harbor Pilot Middle School Principal Leah Blake

Harbor Pilot Middle School Principal Leah Blake

Ms. Blake went on to discuss the specific instances of City Year’s impact on students that she has witnessed in the few short months since the school year began.  For example, one student serving an in-house detention requested to still be able to go to her City Year Leadership Lunch meeting.  Another student proudly displayed a recognition certificate from City Year on his desk during class.  Teachers have even commented to Ms. Blake about the personal transformations some students have begun to make since September.

Ms. Blake is one of the strongest champions of City Year at the Harbor and has really set the tone for how accepting and supportive the staff has been to our team since our arrival in September.  Her dedication to the success of the students, faculty, and the Summit Partners Team are the reason why Ms. Blake represents true idealism.

“It boosts the morale of our culture and our staff to have City Year supporting us.  It absolutely helps us move forward together. City Year creates a culture that we’re all in it together.”

Partner Profile: Ms. Freda Johnson

Every day, corps and staff collaborate with amazing service partners who support us and make our joint efforts successful.  Through their support and collaboration, these partners play an important role in making corps members’ year of service powerful and enjoyable. Below, Ms. Freda Johnson, assistant headmaster of the Freshman Academy at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School is profiled by Kris Bryson, team leader serving on the Comcast Team at the Burke.

The Jeremiah E. Burke High School

The Jeremiah E. Burke High School

“Without a doubt, one of the best parts of serving at the Burke is the amazing staff that I have the privilege to work with.”

This is my second year serving in the freshmen academy at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School.  Without a doubt, one of the best parts of serving at the Burke is the amazing staff that I have the privilege to work with.  The staff at the Burke is hard-working, dedicated 100 percent to doing what is best for the students, and still knows how to have fun. They inspire me every day I am at the school.  In the 9th grade, we are led by our assistant headmaster, Ms. Freda Johnson.

Ms. Johnson oversees anything and everything that happens on her floor and with her students.  Watching Ms. Johnson work, it is immediately evident that the success of each and every one of her students is her top priority.  What makes this attitude even more powerful is that it is obvious to her students as well.  When she speaks, even the toughest and “coolest” of our students listen to her.  They hear and respond to the authority but also the care and mutual respect that is obvious in every interaction she has with them.

Serving in Ms. Johnson’s academy is not a job you can do sitting down.  She understands better than most the importance of City Year’s work and always pushes corps members to do their very best for the students at the Burke.  If you bring an idea to her, rather than turn you down, she is more than likely to challenge you to expand and develop it to achieve its maximum benefit. While she always expects more from us, she is also always willing to share both the work and the responsibility.  Like most great leaders, she is constantly in the trenches, doing no less work than she is asking of her team.

Service Every Day With City Year Boston

written by Laurie Herschman, Communications Manager, City Year Boston

“Imagine if the idea of service, love and giving were a part of all of our days.”

-Taken from Governor Deval Patrick’s remarks at the Massachusetts Remembers September 11 tribute at the Hatch Shell

In the past week, I – as a staff member of City Year Boston – have had two unique opportunities to share in service, love and giving with the community of Boston.

DrJohnson and Principal Harvey Jackson

Superintendent Johnson (in her City Year jacket!) and Principal Harvey Jackson express their excitement for the day of service ahead. Photo by Elliot Haney

Last Friday, I woke up early to head to John Marshall Elementary in Dorchester. As more than 150 volunteers from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the Boston Celtics and City Year Boston arrived at the school’s large playground, the students of the Marshall assembled outside. Soon, voices of welcome, gratitude and excitement greeted the crowd as we heard from the leaders who helped create this large-scale community transformation day.

When the school day resumed, the day of service kicked into high gear. Celtics legends Danny Ainge and Dana Barros helped lead basketball clinics for Marshall students while, in classrooms down the hall, Harvard Pilgrim volunteers created dozens of panel murals to brighten the school walls. Every student at the school started their day of learning by receiving a new backpack full of school supplies, donated by Cradles to Crayons.

Outside, energy remained high as volunteers deployed to paint wall murals, repaint the faded basketball court and create bright playground graphics – four-square courts, race lines and a U.S. map – for the students to enjoy. The finishing touches were put on the Louis D. Brown Peace Garden – a project that City Year and Gillette volunteers had begun several weeks prior – to turn the school courtyard into a vibrant, peaceful spot to learn.

Marshall Service photos

The Peace Garden and basketball court after a day of service

Celtics Co-Owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck addresses the volunteers

Celtics Co-Owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck addresses the volunteers

The day came to a close with proud Boston leaders applauding the hard work of the volunteers and calling for more service and the coming together of community members. Civic and business leaders who spoke at the opening and closing ceremonies included: Mayor Thomas M. Menino; Senator Jack Hart; State Representative Carlos Henriquez; City Councilor Charles Yancey; Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson; Principal Teresa Harvey Jackson; Harvard Pilgrim CEO Eric Shultz; Celtics co-owners Wyc Grousbeck (CEO) and Steve Pagliuca; and Celtics President Richard Gotham.

“Often our first reaction is to notice the differences in people. If you focus on all the differences, it’s easy to become indifferent. We can focus, instead, on how we are all connected.”

-Taken from remarks by Susan Retik, co-founder of Beyond the 11th, on Sept. 11, 2011

On Sunday I woke up early again, but this time I made my way to the Charles River Esplanade to support the Massachusetts Remembers tribute. After a briefing on the day’s activities, City Year Boston helped unfurl a huge American flag, made of mosaic pieces created by Massachusetts students in the weeks after the 2001 attacks. The formal tribute began later in the day with the arrival of the Beyond the 11th Bike Ride (Beyond the Bike) from Ground Zero. After City Year Boston helped guide nearly 220 bikers to the finish line, the riders joined a growing crowd at the DCR Hatch Shell for an interfaith ceremony to pay tribute to September 11, 2001 with moving testimonials, poetry readings and music from the Boston Pops Brass Ensemble and Boston Children’s Chorus.

9 11 Tribute Photos

The American flag mosaic (left and right) created by 50,000 Massachusetts students after 9/11

Beyond the 11th was co-founded by Susan Retik who lost her young husband 10 years ago. This past Sunday, Susan explained that after Sept. 11, 2001, she found herself grateful for the support of family, friends and neighbors. Gradually, as she followed media coverage of the war in Afghanistan, Susan found herself asking: “Who supports the Afghan women when their husbands die in this war? Who helps lift them out of despair?” Her response to herself was: “I knew I could help just one.”

looking beyondHearing Susan’s message to look beyond tragedy and beyond borders and focus on serving others left me re-inspired to return to work this week with a focus on serving to move myself and others beyond circumstance, beyond possibility and beyond expectations.

Did you serve for September 11? Add your service to our map! In 2009, with widespread support of the 9/11 community and bi-partisan backing, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act was approved and included formal recognition that led to the establishment of September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.  On this day and throughout the year, City Year and AmeriCorps members seek to strengthen our communities and build a beloved community through service.  Through the Corporation for National and Community Service, Hands on Network, United Way and other national networks, volunteers from every community in the United States served on September 11, and City Year Boston was proud to support five service projects.

I Serve in the Office Because…

Much of the work we do here at City Year is focused in the schools we serve in. But many of our senior corps members play A Role Outside the Schools that is essential to continue to produce results. From our Boston Civic Engagement team to our office based Project Leaders, every senior corps member works to improve our impact on the city. Development Project Leader Katie Brush describes how her relationship with one of her lunch buddies encouraged her to continue to serve.

Note: Any students’ names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Since signing on to serve a second year with City Year Boston as Development Project Leader, I have been asked many times: Why did you choose the office?

I served last year in a third grade classroom at the Agassiz Elementary School in Jamaica Plain where I spent a lot of time with Kyle, who was one of my lunch buddy mentees and the victim of constant bullying. When he was happy, Kyle was a kind, curious, and bright student, but most days, I would find him at the back of the classroom, fists clenched in anger with tears pouring down his face, unable to sit through the lesson. We spent most of our lunch buddy sessions discussing why it is that people become bullies, building up his self-esteem, and brainstorming positive methods of response, and Kyle turned out to be one of the most insightful eight-year-olds I’ve ever met. By the end of the year, he was no longer the helpless little boy who had entered the third grade; he ended the school year as a confident and empathetic young man who had seized control of his own life. When I asked Kyle what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered that he wanted to become a ‘City Year.’ He is determined to graduate high school, apply to City Year, and serve in his own third grade classroom in Timberland boots and a cool red jacket.

In fact, when he found out that I had been accepted to serve another year, he wrote me the following note:

Dear Miss Katie,

I so hope you have fun this and next year being a super helpful City Year. I wish I was one, but I still got things ahead of me before doing it.



This fall, Kyle will be attending a school that doesn’t have a City Year team.

But I have stepped into the role of Development Project Leader at a unique and interesting time for City Year Boston. City Year has embarked upon the first stages of a scaling plan to expand its presence in schools to serve over 25% of off-track students in the city of Boston by 2013. City Year will grow from 14 teams to 23 in the next year alone, and each new team will need a sponsor. This year, it is my responsibility to engage current and prospective team sponsors in the powerful service that corps members perform in the schools and communities of Boston, because it is the belief and support of our amazing sponsors that make that service possible. So although I’m no longer serving directly in a school myself, by helping to ensure that City Year will be in more schools and more lives, I’m not only serving Kyle and the 19 students in my third grade classroom at the Agassiz, but all of the Boston Public School students that City Year Boston will one day serve who also need tutors, mentors, and role models in their lives.

So here’s my answer: I serve at the office to ensure that there will always be someone at his school who will know Kyle and provide him with the extra academic and emotional support he needs. I serve there so that every child in Boston will have that same opportunity. And I serve so that when he’s ready, Kyle can serve too.

Reflecting on the #cysummit

As I near the end of my time as a corps member with City Year, I can’t help but start to get a little sentimental… okay, a lot sentimental. Every corps member has their one defining moment that in ten years, they will remember like it was yesterday. A lot of us have a few of those moments, and last week, I had the pleasure of adding a few more to my memories.

I was lucky to be one of only a few senior corps members from across the country to travel to Washington, D.C. to be a part of the core summit planning team. It is astounding to see how much work and time goes into planning a three day event, but even more fascinating are the people that do it. I was lucky to meet the best of the best from across the network, a veritable all-star team of City Year staff members from Chicago, Miami, D.C., San Jose, Boston, Rhode Island, and a few others. Many of these people had been working for weeks and months on this project, and when I stepped into the team four days before the event, I was welcomed with enthusiastic open arms.

My role was largely to photograph the event, and it’s easy for me to show my results, especially in a forum like this.  Much of the success of the event however, was based in the leadership, and in the simple clarity of how everything was run.  The photos might not show the stage managers, or the sound engineers, or the 20 people up until 2 a.m. the night before, but they are the ones that ran the show. View some of the photos below, or click to our Flickr collection to see the whole summit!

Lastly, I need to mention that the City Year twitter hashtag ‘#cysummitreceived over 1,000,000 impressions in a 24 hour period! Click the tag to see some of what people had to say.

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Thank You, Bain & Company!

Bain & Company's Team Leader, Steve O'Connell clowns around with three happy students as clothing is being distributed.

Bain & Company's Team Leader, Stephen O'Connell clowns around with three happy students as clothing is being distributed.

On Monday April 24, Bain & Company launched a clothing drive at the Agassiz Elementary School. Bain’s employees have contributed a large assortment of winter clothing and outerwear to the parents and students of the Agassiz School. This effort has been very positive in many ways. Of course, the firm’s donation will help members of the Agassiz School community to endure New England’s harsh winter weather. Beyond that, the company is strengthening its already tight bond with the City Year Boston team as well as with the Agassiz School.

Those of us serving on the Bain & Company Team at the Agassiz School are delighted and humbled by the company’s continued support. The fact that Bain financially enables us to operate and perform our year-long service  is wonderful in and of itself, but Bain’s generosity goes far beyond their continued annual sponsorship. In addition to the clothing drive, Bain & Company provided each of the City Year members on their team with comprehensive, one-on-one résumé coaching sessions. Bain employees also teamed up with us in November to paint and refurbish a homeless shelter for women and children diagnosed with HIV in Roxbury. It’s difficult to express how much we appreciate Bain & Company’s partnership with the Agassiz School. It is evident to us that the people of Bain truly care about improving the quality of the Greater Boston community.

This recent clothing drive initiative is special because we can actually see the positive results every day. When the project was unveiled and the clothes were rolled out to parents and students at the school, an air of excitement emerged. Already 50% of the clothing has been distributed to parents and students here at the Agassiz School. Understandably, the parents were especially excited. Meanwhile, the students responded with great big smiles as we would often see them proudly sporting their new clothes in and out of the building. One student was so excited about her new North Face gloves, that she has been wearing them all day long.

For your long-standing support, limitless generosity, and your continued acts of altruism around the Greater Boston community and beyond, we City Year corps members on the Bain & Company team appreciate you all!

Another boy joins the group as they sport their winter clothing!

Another boy joins the group as they sport their winter clothing.