By Marco Herndon, City Year Washington DC ‘12, Incoming People Operations Associate, Google
I’m grateful that Malia Obama brought gap years into the national conversation. I, too, took a year off before going to college, but for me the year was a year on, not off. By doing service for a year with City Year, an AmeriCorps program that works with students in America’s most high-need schools, I was able to build a bridge to many more successes.
I grew up in Washington, D.C. and was raised to believe in giving back to my community. When the time came for me to go to college, it was only natural for me to first take time to repay my teachers, neighbors and friends for all the support they had given me. When I heard about City Year, I knew it was for me. Though I could have served in any part of the country, I signed up to serve in my hometown. Staying in the District would enable me to learn more about social justice, the nonprofit world, and help students from high-poverty communities. City Year gave me all of that and more.
City Year is a national education organization that helps students in high-need urban areas stay in school and on track to graduate from high school, ready for college and career success. This year, more than 3,000 City Year AmeriCorps members serve 196,000 students in 292 high-need schools in 27 urban communities. In exchange for a small stipend and education rewards upon completion, Corps members provide high-impact student, classroom and school-wide supports, working full time from before school starts to when after school ends.
City Year AmeriCorps members exhibit a range of different "Gap Years." Some corps members serve in City Year between high school and college. Others take a year off during their college years. Others join after they graduate from college for a year of service before they go on to graduate school, law school or medical school. This range is due to the diversity of the corps, which is 18-24 years old. The organization also offers corps members a variety of training, skills development and leadership experience, so a service year can support a number of career trajectories.
During my year of service working with students, parents, teachers, principals, and business and civic leaders, I learned the value of hard work, gained self-confidence and realized significant personal growth. I discovered how to problem solve and overcome challenges. I also gained communications, project management and other professional skills that have supported my career advancement. It also opened my eyes to all the different paths a career can take. The team I worked with included a fundraiser who had been a hedge fund manager and a chief of staff who had been a lawyer. Seeing these non-traditional paths really helped me formulate my own plans for the future.
After City Year, I went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I majored in history and urban studies. Last summer I interned in the People Operations Team at Google. I was fascinated by the strategic side of human resource management and the organization’s decision-making process. So, when a job I was interested in became available, I applied immediately and was accepted. After I graduate this spring, I’ll begin work as a People Operations Associate at Google. It’s a rotational position that will allow me to see different dimensions of the company over the next two to three years and I couldn’t be more excited.
In the future, I may eventually focus on helping the Latino community with immigration issues and education access. This much is clear: many of the remarkable opportunities in my life today are due to my choice to take a year of service between high school and college. City Year is a career accelerator and I strongly encourage others to take this leap.
If you enjoyed this check out: