City Year Columbia: Spreading Joy to Others

From the moment I started speaking to Brittany Chambers, there was a smile on my face. Even over the phone I knew that she was a joyful person. Her attitude was truly infectious. And without a doubt she carries that with her wherever she goes. A 2015 graduate of Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia, Brittany not surprisingly has chosen a career path that includes service to others. Her first stop along this journey is as an AmeriCorps volunteer for City Year.

City Year is an education-focused nonprofit that works to help keep students in school and on track to graduate by uniting teams of diverse, young AmeriCorps members for a year of full-time service in schools. By focusing on attendance, behavior, and course performance, corps members serve as tutors, mentors and role models who are uniquely able to help students and schools succeed. In South Carolina, City Year deploys 24 AmeriCorps members who serve in Richland One and Lexington County School District 4.

Brittany first learned about City Year when she attended a business program for seniors at ODU. While at the event she noticed a man in a bright red jacket and khaki pants. Curious by nature, she decided to introduce herself to him. Mr. Reid was the DC representative for City Year. He shared with her information about the organization and the opportunities available to young graduates.

From that first conversation, City Year resonated with Brittany. The work of the organization aligned with everything that her Mom had inspired in her. Evelyn Chambers started her career teaching elementary school students and later worked with special needs students in middle school. She loved the education field. It was her way of spreading joy to others. Brittany wanted to do the same thing. So she decided to apply and was accepted into the corps.

Last July, Brittany started her City Year work at John H. Lietchy Middle School in Los Angeles. Situated in a neighborhood known for its violence and immigration issues, these kids’ daily lives were beyond anything she had ever experienced. One day, one of her students shared with Brittany that she had seen a fellow classmate get shot in the head.

“While City Year trained us on how to handle various situations and how to be there for our students, nothing can really prepare you for something like this,” Brittany shared.

Unfortunately, Brittany’s stay in LA was cut short in September, when she received an urgent call from home. Her beloved Mom had just been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was not good. Brittany immediately returned home to South Carolina to care for her Mom and spend some quality time with her before her passing in December. During this time she found out that there was a City Year program in Columbia. She was hopeful that she might be able to continue her year of service when she was ready to return to work.

On January 5th, Brittany did just that. She started bringing joy to the 3rd and 4th grade students in Ms. Bolen’s class at Sandhills Elementary School. She helps the students with their english, math, science and social studies. “I am there to support Ms. Bolen. I am not there to take over the classroom,” she chuckled.

And while at the time of this interview Brittany had only been at Sandhills for a few short weeks, she already spoke lovingly about her students. She is helping one particular student, Mikeria, to improve her reading skills. “I said, ‘Let’s go out of the classroom to read together.’ As Mikeria read to me the first time, she struggled with many words and mumbled them. I reassured her and asked her to read with confidence. I encouraged her to say the difficult words out loud. Now, Mikeria is no longer mumbling and she is starting to read with confidence. This just warms my heart,” said Brittany.

I concluded our interview by asking Brittany why she volunteers for City Year. First and foremost, she is inspired each day by her Mom and the positive spirit she instilled in her.  And then she shared with me her “Why I Serve Statement.”  Brittany stated the following with confidence and commitment, “I serve City Year because I believe your ethnic background, your financial background and your neighborhood do not define who you are or where you can go in life.” Now that is a joyful and powerful statement if I ever heard one.

For more information about City Year, please visit www. www.cityyear.org or call 803.727.1578.

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