By Drew Mitrisin, City Year AmeriCorps Member
City Year offers its AmeriCorps members a unique opportunity to spend a lot of time building relationships with people who are champions for our cause. We get to go to NBA games in the mayor’s suite, serve on MLK Day alongside the President’s Chief of Staff and have roundtable discussions with corporate vice presidents and leading lawyers in DC. I had the opportunity to have breakfast with members of Washington, DC legal community in November, where I was introduced to Jason Mayer. The first thing I noticed about Jason was that he knew a lot about City Year. It was, at first, confusing to talk to someone who knew so much about the day-to-day work of corps members. Jason eventually revealed that he had served as a corps member in Philadelphia during the 2001-2002 school year. Our breakfast conversation in November was short, but I was fortunate to reconnect with Jason in January and have a chance to learn more about his continued commitment to City Year. I wanted to talk to Jason about life as an alumnus of City Year and shed some light on why he feels compelled to serve on the Associate Board and as Chair of the Alumni Board.
The stories and insights Jason shared with me were exactly what I needed to hear as I prepare to transition out of my corps year and into my next stage of life. To quote a phrase that reaches from coast to coast within City Year: “We are standing on the shoulders of giants.” Sometimes those giants spend some time working in the clandestine service, but we’ll get into that later.
Jason met City Year through his parents. He had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Diplomatic History and International Relations and wanted to take a gap year before pursuing an advanced degree. As I mentioned earlier, Jason served during the 2001-2002 school year, a year shaped heavily by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Jason’s service in Philadelphia made a tremendous impact on the students at Warren G. Harding Middle School, but it also helped crystallize for Jason the type of career he wanted, at the intersection of public service and security. As a corps member, Jason worked to improve the lives of disadvantaged children and along the way developed skills that would help him succeed during his Security Studies Master’s Program at Georgetown University. He eventually graduated with his advanced degree from Georgetown and went on to work for the National Counterterrorism Center, The New York Stock Exchange, The White House National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. He now works as a Senior Director for The Chertoff Group specializing in global security and risk management. But Jason traces his interest in public service back to his year as a corps member.
“Hardest job. Strap on your boots. Buy into the mission.” These are three phrases Jason used to describe his work as a corps member, yet they are phrases that relate to his current work as well. Jason continuously echoed a sentiment that connected his new mission with that of City Year’s. While City Year corps members are not involved in security or risk management, we do attack social injustice each day, and that is due to the support we receive from people, like Jason, who continue to stay involved in City Year, even after their direct work in the school has finished.
“Simply by showing up for the kids, every day, you can make a huge impact in their lives,” was one of the thoughts Jason shared regarding his time as a corps member. This specific quote was mentioned in the same breath as Jason’s fondest memory. On the last day of school, the entire class had written Jason letters. He hadn’t expected the entire class to write to him and certainly did not expect one of his toughest students to get sentimental. The student wrote to Jason saying how much he meant to him and how grateful he was that Jason made himself available each day to be supportive and to help them learn. Jason still has all of the letters he received from his students that day in a shoebox in his house. He told me it is one of his most prized possessions. For someone who has done so much public service to our country, it inspires me that Jason still makes time to “make better happen” in the lives of children. Thank you, Jason Mayer, for your continued support of City Year, for inspiring corps members and students, and for your commitment to serving our country.