By Raquel Martinez, corps member at Compton Avenue Elementary

Vanessa Gonzalez (Corps Member), Dr. John Deasy, Allison Graff-Weisner

“I want you to picture a small child no older than 10 years old…” These were the words spoken by Vanessa Gonzalez, a first year corps member, and an individual who is also part of my team at Compton Avenue Elementary. Those words, the ones about a small child, were the ones that had captivated the audience into a humbling silence. For 8 minutes she did more than just speak.

Vanessa was asked to tell her City Year story at the Microsoft YouthSpark event at the University of Southern California on Saturday, January 18th. Microsoft YouthSpark is a company-wide, global initiative that has partnered with 186 youth-serving non-profits and 30+ programs to create new opportunities for youth in 100 different countries. The event consisted of Vanessa’s story, along with a discussion with prominent leaders from Los Angeles education, government, and the civic community who shared their insights and perspectives to address the youth opportunity divide.

For me, Vanessa was the highlight of the event. When I look back to that day I remember her trembling words as she addressed me, obviously nervous about the countdown to her grand event. While her debut got closer I noticed that her appetite had also disappeared. A moment that brought forth a nostalgic memory

For me, public speaking hasn’t always been my forte but when I was placed in a similar position about a year ago the emotion that had won out that day was shame, because my thoughts were a representation of myself. How could I tell someone about me when there was nothing particularly special to say? Vanessa however had exuded everything that I couldn’t on my first try; courage.

I was thrilled to hear Vanessa say, “I am now proud to say that I am first in my family to have graduated from college…,” it brought tears to my eyes because in that instance, I realized the legacy that had captivated and left the audience awestruck. The empowerment that Vanessa exudes is exactly what Microsoft YouthSpark is representing.

Let me pause for a moment, before I attempt to describe what happened next. While revisiting these events I see with a fresh clarity how the words uttered brought forth a stronger need for change, “With more than 75 million unemployed youth around the world, we must work together to close this divide in order to secure the future of our youth, and of our global economy.”

The second portion of the event provided a panel of outstanding backgrounds that came together to discuss the current divide that the youth face, not only in the United States but also around the world.  Dr. John Deasy, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) said, “We will give resources to all LAUSD youth, but specifically in the communities of need, because it’s the right thing to do!”

As I watched intently to each educator’s personal opinion on the dilemma at hand, and how they plan to take action, I realized how my involvement with City Year and the solutions provided by Microsoft were one in the same: providing the best future for our youth.

Although this is my second year as a corps member, it’s always a humbling experience to hear people talk about the opportunities others strive to create for our youth. It’s these talks of opportunity that I am able to bring back to my own 4th grade class and helps to rekindle my spirit.

Our work would not be possible without the generous support of sponsors like Microsoft, who funds City Years’ math work nationwide.  My fellow corps members at Compton Avenue Elementary and I are honored that Microsoft invited Vanessa to tell her incredible story at the YouthSpark event.

  In February, Tanya Shah, a corps member at Clinton Middle School and Alex Owens, a corps member at Santee Education Complex had the privilege of sharing their City Year stories with a group of Microsoft employees at their new office in Playa Vista. Both Alex and Tanya shared stories of how our City Year Connect Software, provided by

Microsoft has supplied them with the necessary resources to help tutor their students in math.
Check out more photos here.

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