Each year, Summer Brand Camp ends with a half day Changers of Commerce session. This year we heard from Alex Enriquez, the Start-Up Director for City Year Dallas. You may already be familiar with City Year. But you may not realize what a difference people like Alex, and organizations such as City Year, are having on our lives and our communities.

About City Year

City Year was founded in 1988 by Michael Brown and Alan Khazei, who were roommates at Harvard Law School. Both felt strongly that young people in service could be a powerful resource for addressing some of America’s most pressing issues. They built City Year with the belief that each one of us has the power to make a difference in the world, and they were right.

The name City Year reflects the idea that just as young people enroll in a freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior year in school, they should also dedicate themselves to a “city year” of full-time service, idealism, civic engagement, and leadership development.

City Year is part of AmeriCorps. It carefully selects young adults between ages 17 – 24 who have a high school diploma/GED and who have a college degree (or have attended some college). These young people sign on for an eleven month assignment to help mentor inner city school children. The goal is to increase our country’s high school graduation rate.

City-Year-NewCity Year accomplishes this goal by bridging the gap in high-poverty communities between the support students need and the support their schools are designed to provide. City Year members provide individualized support to at-risk students, while also establishing an overall positive learning environment in the schools they work in.

Since its inception, City Year has grown rapidly. City Year currently has sites in 26 US cities and is also present in the UK and South Africa.

The City Year Difference to Our Communities

Most of us never think about how much the US high school drop out rate impacts us personally. I know that before I met Alex, I didn’t give it much thought. I assumed that high school dropouts either found minimum wage jobs or ended up learning a trade. I knew that learning a trade or attending college increased earning potential over a lifetime, but I had no idea how much it costs us all when students dropout of high school.

  • A high school dropout will cost society $127,000 over their lifetime.
  • In the fall of 2001, the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) had 14,600 first graders.
  • In the spring of 2013, DISD graduated 7,700 seniors, which means that about 7,000 students didn’t graduate.
  • Those 7,000 students who didn’t graduate will cost Dallas about $900 million.

That’s just the DISD story. Nationally, the statistics are even bleaker:

  • 1.4 million students drop out every year.
  • This equates to $1 trillion every 11 years.
  • The unemployment rate for 25 – 34 year olds with a bachelors degree is 2%.
  • The unemployment rate for 25 – 34 year olds without a high school diploma is 14%.
  • The national unemployment rate is 5.5%.
  • By 2020 it’s predicted that there will be 123 million skilled, high-wage jobs available, but only 50 million individuals qualified to fill them.

Imagine what our country would be like if we could break the cycle of high school dropouts in families and communities. Just think of what we could do if we unleashed the potential of these students. Consider the financial impact, too. Increasing high school graduation rates directly impacts city, state, and federal budgets – and our tax rates.

Finally, don’t forget that 2020 is less than 5 years away. A major shortage of skilled labor is on the horizon.

City Year Benefits its Members

In return for working in the communities with the highest poverty levels in the country, City Year Americorps Members develop leadership and professional skills that help them advance in their careers after City Year. They also receive a modest stipend and health insurance. Since City Year is part of Americorps, members also may be eligible for educational funding for graduate studies or can use the funding to help pay off existing or future student loans. Over 100 universities augment the education award in some way, so one year at City Year can really help offset the cost of a higher education.

But there’s much more in it for City Year members. They get lessons in leadership development that will last a lifetime. Additionally, they learn a lot about communication, collaboration, problem solving, decision making, and relationship development. They also get bragging rights, since they’re helping students reach their full potential, while also having a positive effect on the community as a whole.

Support City Year and its Members

More than half of the financial support for City Year’s mission to help students reach graduation and beyond comes from individuals, corporations, and foundations. mbh_TShirtFinal City Year obviously (and gratefully) accepts donations, but organizations such as Aramark, Deloitte, and PepsiCo also provide uniforms, consulting expertise, and seed funding for school turnaround models. Many of City Year’s corporate partners also encourage their employees to volunteer at events in their communities.

You can also support City Year by providing opportunities to its members. Let’s face it: working in an inner-city school for 11 months isn’t a cakewalk. City Year members have excellent leadership skills, but they also have compassion, stamina, and grit. So, the next time you see someone has City Year experience on their resume, take a closer look – and act quickly. Talent like this is hard to find.

For more information about City Year and how to #makebetterhappen, click here.