City Year was founded on the belief that young people possess the capability and passion to bring change to their communities if given the right tools and mentors to guide them. We look for that same belief when recruiting our AmeriCorps members for each service year. Our students deserve to have leaders in the classrooms that see their greatness and want to help bring it to the surface. Mario Fedelin (San Jose/ Silicon Valley, ’04, Philadelphia, ’05) was, and still is, one of those leaders.
Planting his roots in service from a young age as a mid-year City Year AmeriCorps member in San Jose in 2004, Mario has proven that young people can be catalysts to positive change. He served beside other idealistic young people from different backgrounds which turned out to be a challenging but rewarding experience for him. His program manager, Chris Corneille, saw potential in him and encouraged him to come back for a second year of service. Mario was unsure if he was qualified to lead others but City Year helped boost his confidence in his leadership skills. With Chris’s support, he decided to return as a senior AmeriCorps member, this time serving for City Year Philadelphia. The 2004-2005 corps year was the startup year of their City Heroes program, a leadership development and community service program for high school students. Alongside the leadership of impactful City Year champions, Mario helped take the program off the ground and supported young adults in serving communities of Philadelphia. Mario quickly became known for his talent in implementing and leading civic engagement programs and was asked to join a national task force to help support and launch the Chicago Heroes program eventually leading him to move his life to Los Angeles to found City Year LA. Contributing to the development of these programs was his first taste of social entrepreneurship.
After working several years for City Year Los Angeles, he decided to return to the heart of his passion, community service and youth development, and start his own non-profit organization. Inspired by the City Year Heroes programming, Mario wanted to create a Saturday program that would encourage youth to learn and engage in dialogue about issues that affect their communities and then go out and do the field work necessary to combat them. “Society says that you have to be of a certain age, a certain skill set, a certain degree of education in order to be responsible and lead big things. City Year helped me understand that the power of young people is vastly underestimated and the only thing young people need is a platform” Fedelin says.
This was the thought that sparked the idea for Big Citizen HUB, Mario’s non-profit organization that focuses on “expanding the social capital of youth through curiosity, gratitude, team and adventure.” With the support of the City Year community, he and his business partner, Beth Bayouth, were able to raise the funding needed to launch with an inaugural group of 88 middle school and college participants, called Big Citizens. In 2016, Big Citizen HUB expanded their middle school program and launched a high school program, engaging over 202 youth ranging from ages 11 to 26. This January Big Citizen Hub will launch its largest program of 241 big citizens from over 70 zip codes and 14 cities in Greater Los Angeles.
The success of Big Citizen HUB is proof of the power of young people. Mario’s Big Citizens have completed hundreds of service projects throughout Los Angeles tackling issues such as poverty, homelessness, and climate change. Despite long commutes to the Big Citizen HUB’s office and even longer days, they have managed to maintain a 90% retention rate and expand their group every year. When given the necessary resources and the right leaders, youth have the power to create positive change. “Our young people are not deficient, they don’t need to be fixed. They are our greatest resources just waiting to be tapped.”
With passionate leaders like Mario paving the way for young idealists, the sky is the limit for the next generation.