City Year began as a small idealistic venture in the heart of Boston, but it has grown into a global nonprofit largely because of its worldwide corporate participation.
More than half the financial support for City Year’s mission comes from corporations and foundations, which helps further the fight against the public school dropout crisis across the nation. According to the City Year website, through these partnerships, the education-focused, nonprofit organization has been able to expand from 50 City Year AmeriCorps members in 1988 to 2,700 leaders who serve in 240 schools throughout 26 U.S. cities as well as South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Corporate partners include companies like Comcast NBC Universal, PepsiCo, Microsoft, and BainCapital. Chris Mann, vice president of corporate partnerships for City Year, explained that the capital provided by these companies, enables provides for individual support in the form of in-class tutoring, mentoring and after school programs to students that need that extra care and attention.
“These corporations are helping support capacity, such as with the recruitment of corps members, and leadership development. They also often provide additional funding which can help identify and support local sites that may be in need of the influx of corps members,” Mann said.
When corporate sponsors do join the City Year team, Mann said there are many benefits including branding and logo placement, the ability to impact youth development, as well as the chance to sponsor youth teams by implementing their own staff that can volunteer to work directly with students.
“Obviously corporations want to bring about the branding and awareness of their corporation, but they also genuinely want to give back to these schools. Another focal point is their own employee engagement. Their staff offers specific skills they can bring to the table. For example, Microsoft has people that are very good in math and engineering and they come out and work with the students during a ‘Math Night,’ or a science and technology event,” Mann says. “There are many diverse ways in which these companies get involved and they all help these students stay on track with studies and attendance.”
Typically, when it comes to approaching a corporation to be involved with City Year, Mann tells company leadership that because of issues like poverty and hunger, students’ ability to both get to school and be ready and able to learn is affected, resulting in a U.S. high school drop out every 31 seconds.
“Less than 60 percent of students in certain urban communities are reaching the sixth grade. But as bleak as that sounds its a solvable problem. We know where these students are and we know how to help them as early as elementary school,” Mann said. “We then target those in danger of dropping out and provide the intervention to the right students at the right time and that’s what we talk to our partners about. We show them that with the correct resources, we have the ability to give students the extra support which can help bridge the gap between what schools give and what students need.”
And along with educating partners on the issues and providing statistics that surround U.S. drop out rates, he also speaks about “how special” the corps members are and what they are doing to directly impact the lives of students on an every day basis.
“Corps members are made up of idealistic recent high school and college graduates that are giving one year of service to these current high school students and they are a highly impressive group. There is an incredibly diverse population among corps members with 60 percent that are people of color, 83 percent that are college grads, and 58 percent who are interested in engaging in a teaching career,” Mann says. “Before they are sent into the schools, they have 3,000 training hours under their belt, and they can relate to these students and can reach them in a way that maybe a teacher can’t. They are peers that the students can identify with and can trust and open up to.”
Leila Bailey-Stewart, managing director of national recruitment for City Year (right), began as a corps member 12 years ago and has continued on because of its ability to join forces with organizations across the country. She explained that the nonprofit not only focuses on education but also affectively produces positive change within students that helps them finish high school and move on to college. Throughout her years of involvement, Stewart says she has gone so far as providing wake-up phone calls to make sure students are on time for class. She said her involvement has helped change the lives of students throughout New York, but has also afforded her “amazing experiences,” that have changed the trajectory of her own life.
“I am from the Bronx and when I was a corps member I worked with kids one-on-one and in small groups in East Harlem and other public schools throughout New York City. The fact that I was from the area and understood what students are going through and showed them extra care and attention helped them overcome barriers – things that were holding them back from being successful,” Bailey-Stewart says. “After serving for two years I decided to work in a capacity of leadership and that opportunity has expanded my skills and allowed me to grow. And through all of my experiences I have been able to show students a microcosm of what life can be and show them the possibilities that life can offer after achieving a high school diploma.”
And through corporate partnerships, Bailey-Stewart said her and other City Year teams have also been able to execute larger scale events such as their annual summit, which reach students from across all socioeconomic walks of life.
As far as Mann is concerned, helping students achieve educational success will always be in the best interests of corporations. He said the more kids that graduate, the better the economy will be, which will help further companies internally, as well as fuel commerce which will inspire economic growth and a better environment overall for the community and the country in general.
“Corporations are mostly driven by results. So for these businesses to see a boost in business, and a return on their investment is huge. Companies are starting to realize that the more dropouts there are, the more students are going to be incarcerated or dependent on social services, which puts more pressure on the community and the country as a whole to support them and that is a huge concern for our economic future and smart companies recognize that,” he said. “So the bottom line is that the return on investment is good for student, the society, the company and the employees that work for them. It’s a win-win and it works for us all.”