written by Caroline Watkins, Proud AmeriCorps Member serving on the Capital Area United Way team at Capitol Middle School

They may be outnumbered, but the boys of the Capital Area United Way team at Capitol Middle School know what it means to be committed to service. AmeriCorps members Josh Epstein, Trevor Perry, and Joe Rutkiewicz give us a peak behind the buzz cuts and let us know some of their secrets to success in City Year!

1. Why did you join City Year?

JE: I joined because I feel that City Year allows me to focus on truly helping the kids and their problems both in and outside of school.

TP: I joined City Year because I feel like it is my duty to give back. I can relate to the trials and tribulations my students are battling to overcome each day. I'm still a kid at heart for the most part, so I have a lot to offer these children!

JR: I joined City Year because of my love of kids.  I wanted to see a change for the better in the lives of kids and myself.

2. What has been the most challenging part of City Year?

JE: The most challenging part is definitely just trying to break down the walls of the kids. Many kids have a front or wall and aren't trusting of others at first, but after getting to know them I understand why they have those walls. Once you do break down the walls and begin to get to know the kids, there is never a dull moment.

TP: The most challenging part of City Year is accepting the fact that you can't reach every child in ten months, but you must continually stay positive and aggressively strive toward the goal of impacting as many students as possible.

JR: The most challenging part has been patience.  I cannot expect to see an immediate change or for them to understand a new topic quickly.  I just look for little changes and those are my victories, no matter how long they take.

3. Favorite City Year value?

JE: My favorite value is Ubuntu because everyone is connected, and you never know how doing something for someone else will ripple back to you.

TP: My favorite City Year value is not necessarily one of the core values but I really like the idea "be quick to help and slow to judge" that we recite in our pledge. I love this value because, in our lives, it's so easy to presume something about a person even though we have no idea about what that person has gone through in their life and how their experiences shape who they are today.

JR: Belief in the power of young people.  My students have incredible potential and I believe they will make a difference in the world.  

4. Why do you like being on a team?

JE: I like being on a team because it gives me a chance to get to know people from all over the country. It’s also just a huge help at work. There is so much going on in the schools and so many tasks we have to complete that it really helps being able to split up the work.

TP: I like being on a team because it gives a chance for everyone's strengths to be highlighted, weaknesses to be masked, and it makes you very grateful for others. 

JR: I love being on a team just because of all the personalities.  They blend and we all balance each other.  I know that if I need anything, there will be someone I can rely on.

5. What’s one thing you’ve learned this year?

JE: I learned that nine plus ten is 21. It’s from a video that my students really like to joke about.

TP: This year I've learned that working with young people is my passion in life.

JR: I have learned how to dance this year.  My kids dance everywhere and it was bound to happen that I would as well.

6. Favorite student quote?

JE: My student wrote a letter to pizza because he loves it so much. It starts with “Dear Pizza” and the whole thing is great.

TP: My favorite kid quote thus far was a passionate retort to the question "could you live without fried chicken forever?" The student responded as if it was the craziest question ever and exclaimed, "You're crazy, you're crazy, you've got to be kidding me!"

JR: My favorite quote is "Mr. Joe, vegetables should be illegal."  I was eating a salad.

7. What do you like most about Baton Rouge?

JE: I really like the levee downtown.  It’s right on the Mississippi River, and the sunset is awesome.

TP: My favorite thing about Baton Rouge is the communal feeling of the city. Even though it's very spread out there are still various free and wholesome family activities that help bring all smaller communities together to create one larger community that encompasses everyone.

JR: Rama is one of my favorite spots.  It's somewhat hidden, but it has some of the best Thai food I have ever had.

8. What’s one thing that’s always in your City Year backpack?

JE: Coffee. Always coffee.

TP: One thing that is always on my backpack is my Upward Bound program pin. Whenever my motivation is low, this pin reminds me of some selfless individuals who were committed to making sure I did well in school and was on track to attend college. When I think of how important the people who helped me in school are to me, I realize that I have the opportunity to be that type of catalyst for change in a kid's life.

JR: In my backpack I always have the book Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.  My teacher gave it to me at the beginning of the year and I love it.  It was the first poetry book I ever read, and it reminds me of when I was in my students’ shoes.

9. Best City Year moment of 2014?

JE: Definitely when I got invited to my student’s birthday party. 

TP: I love watching the kids dance at school! When I see that expression of pure joy for the simple fact that they are young and alive it gets me fired up!

JR: The best moment of the year was when one of my students told me they wanted to be better at the beginning of the year.  She is one of my top students now.  She has worked very hard to be "better" and she is always getting "better."

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