The national nonprofit City Year, which trains 17-to-24-year-olds to run intervention programs in K-12 schools to improve graduation rates, accepted more new members from UCLA this year than from any other school or university in the country.
UCLA is one of more than 2,000 schools where City Year recruits. The program is part of AmeriCorps, often described as the domestic version of the Peace Corps. City Year members commit to one year serving the program, and receive a modest cost-of-living stipend and money toward their education. This year, 54 Bruins will join City Year programs at K-12 schools in Boston, Jacksonville, Little Rock, New York, Sacramento, San Jose, Seattle, and of course, Los Angeles. In 25 cities across the country, City Year strives to bridge the gap in high-poverty communities between the support that students actually need, and what schools are designed and able to provide, said Erica Eddings, a regional recruitment manager in Southern California.
“I think part of why we have so many new corps members from UCLA is that there’s a spirit of service among UCLA students,” Eddings said. “Once a student arrives on campus, that mindset becomes a part of who they are. A lot of Bruins also tell me that they’re attracted to full-time service. Many have volunteered with K-12 students through campus clubs for a few hours a week and they’re excited to do it full-time. City Year is a great way to serve while building important career skills, like teamwork, leadership, public speaking and analyzing data.”
Volunteering is a key component of UCLA’s three-part mission of education, research and service, so it’s no surprise that a commitment to public service leaks into students’ DNA, said Rachel Corell, head of the UCLA Volunteer Center.
“The Volunteer Center has worked very closely with City Year for the past three years, and every year the number of UCLA students applying to and accepted by City Year grows,” Corell said. “Our students take the True Bruin value of service very seriously, and City Year is a great way for them to start a career in service.”
The Volunteer Center runs events year-round, including an annual project with City Year Los Angeles. Every Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bruin volunteers join City Year corps members at an underprivileged L.A. school for beautification projects, including painting educational murals and inspirational quotes on the walls. Students also hear about City Year through programs like UCLA’s annual Non-profit Networking Night, run by the Volunteer Center, the Career Center, the Office of Residential Life, the student Community Service Commission, the alumni office and Partnership UCLA, Corell said.
Jackey Arriaga, who graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in sociology, often volunteered through her community-service-based sorority, Sigma Delta Sigma, which joined many Volunteer Center projects. Arriaga just completed her first year with City Year Los Angeles, and signed up for a second year as a team leader.
“I have a passion for education reform and I learned a lot about LAUSD at UCLA and [through] volunteering,” she said. “City Year works directly in those schools, and their mission to reduce the high school dropout rate really attracted me. I really enjoy working in these schools, and I feel like the best way to give back to the community is to join an organization that helps these kids.”
Ashwin Kumar, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s in political science and a minor in film, said he enjoyed his undergraduate volunteer experiences and internships so much that he knew he wanted a career in public service. He starts his first year in City Year later this summer. He was also inspired by his parents, both immigrants, who camped in line for two days to get him into a good elementary school and always reviewed his homework and tests with him after they were graded to make sure he understood any questions he had gotten wrong, he said.
“That support paid off,” Kumar said. “That intensive academic support is a privilege that not every child has access to. But now [in City Year] I have the same opportunity to provide academic support and help kids build confidence in their abilities.”
Three other UCs were among the top 10 schools sending new corps members to City Year, with UC Riverside coming in third, UC Santa Barbara fourth, and UC Santa Cruz 10th. Among the 54 students from UCLA, most of whom are recent grads, several of the Bruin corps members will begin their second year with City Year, this time as team leaders, Eddings said.
“Over the past four years alone, we have had over 100 UCLA alumni lead and serve in schools and communities across the country,” Eddings said. “We are so grateful for their commitment, passion and leadership.”