Thousands of students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District have been given the tools to build a better future through City Year Cleveland, says the organization’s board chair, Randy Markey.
“We all know the social and economic impact of a high school diploma,” says Markey. “The key that unlocks the door to opportunity is education. If we can find a way to inspire these kids to reach their potential, it can change their lives.”
City Year employs members of AmeriCorps to work closely with teachers and provide mentorship to students. The goal is to boost the CMSD’s graduation rate.
“Look at East Tech High School,” Markey says. “Before we got involved, the graduation rate was 32 percent. Today that graduation rate is north of 65 percent. Did we do that alone? Of course not. But were we a major factor and a building block in creating that outcome? You bet we were.”
Understand the problem
Support for students is provided with a hearty dose of compassion and empathy, Markey says.
“There is a great story about a young student who was consistently late,” he says. “The administration asked the AmeriCorps member assigned to him to look into what was going on. When she asked him what was happening, he said, ‘I have three siblings who are all younger, and they go to two different schools. Because my mom works a third shift, she’s asleep when we leave for school. It’s my responsibility to get everybody ready and out the door before I can come here. Some mornings it takes longer than others.’”
When word got back to the school administration about what this student was doing, the tone of the inquiry quickly changed.
“As opposed to saying, ‘This kid is a disciplinary problem, how do we punish him,’ it was, ‘No, no, no. This kid is a superstar who’s caring for his family. How do we accommodate that?’ You can only imagine the impact that had on that kid’s life. Somebody actually cared enough to listen and help him solve his problem.”
The work continues
City Year Cleveland currently has 78 AmeriCorps members but hopes to boost that to 200 in the near future, Markey says.
“The No. 1 challenge really is matching our fundraising with our strategic plan for scale and expansion,” he says. “While we’re grateful to our existing donors for their support, we continue to work to strengthen those relationships and forge new ones.”
Leaders looking to get involved with nonprofits at a board level should do it for the right reason, Markey says.
“I would recommend that people really think about their own personal values — those things for which they are passionate — and look for opportunities to plug in and engage,” he says. “Get involved in other ways first because sometimes being more hands-on gives you an understanding of how those organizations deliver on their mission.”