Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If You Can Make It Here....

My niece Helena (my sister's one daughter out of 4 boys) graduated from high school in 2009 and felt led to postpone collage for awhile to go into a program with AmeriCorp - A program dedicated to national and community service.  Within the program there are different avenues one can apply to be involved in.  Helena chose a program called City Year.  Once accepted into the program, corp members can choose one out of 21 US locations to work...Helena decided on  New York City.  Below, in a nutshell, is what City Year is all about.
At City Year's 21 locations across the United States, teams of diverse young people called corps members serve full-time in shcools for 10 months working to improve student attendance, behavior and course performance in English and math.
Although this is a 10 month program corp members can re-up for another year if they choose.  Helena is on her second year. Her 1st year she worked at P. S 123 New Lots School located in East New York, Brooklyn. This year she is no longer in a local school but works now in NYC as a community liaison to raise awareness and support for City Year.

I'm just so impressed with Helena and  her determination to do a hard thing right out of high school when most of her friends went to collage ~ which will be a cake walk for her when she attends in the fall.   I just don't know many young woman or,  let's face it, young men, who would choose to go work in an inner city school in New York City and bypass the "norm" of attending collage.  Which, in my opinion  is a pretty cushy and easy place to be aside from the academic struggles one may encounter.

She was our "tour guide" when me and kiddos, along with my parents made New York a pit stop on our road trip from Virginia back up to my parent's home in Maine.  She lives in an apartment with 3 other young woman, one a Broadway performer, one a Columbia University nursing student and one a PR woman,  who in Helena's words is what you would think when you think of a Manhatten type of woman. 
Helena navigates the city like she has lived there all her life.  She knows where to go to get a good deal, and knows what places are tourist traps.  She lives off a stipend and manages her money like a pro.  She is active in a local church and has made many good friends in the city and I'm certain has impacted many lives in tangible, real ways.
I love this girl...not just because she is my niece, but because she is unique.  She is well-spoken, focused and has a true servants heart.   I pray Tess will look up to Helena as a role model and besides Tess already thinks she is cool because she took her on the Subway!
 I like to give "shout outs" where they are due and  Helena is definitely due one!  I also fully realize she did not become this way by accident. There of course was a natural hesitation and initial concern from her mom and dad, but they let her make that decision and then gave her their blessing to go. So "shout outs" to Suzanne & Charlie for also doing an understandably "hard" thing for them - letting their only girl venture off into the big city on her own.  My sister and brother-in-law raised her in such a way to be dependent not on herself but rely fully on God, and with that as a basis, she is not afraid to step out and explore new ventures!   

I asked Helena to describe her experience in a few short words, this is what she said...
" City Year was consuming, inspiring and fulfilling.  I learned and experienced in 10 months more than I learned in 12 yrs. of public education.  I have experienced the world through NYC's diverse streets, and I have learned through the words of my fellow peers."
I told my parents as we left her...
"In the words of the famous song, 'if she can make it here, she can make it anywhere!"

Helena's apt....she is at the north end of Central Park.   She said all the metal of the cityscape is tolerable because she wakes up and sees the park. 

The itty bitty, teenie, weenie elevator up to her apt.  It was just a tad sketchy.

Tess dancing in front of THE tree at Rockefeller Center

It's NYC....need I say more?!

                                Our very fashionable NYC beenie hats.

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