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Giving a Year, Getting a Lifetime

Deloitte helps City Year put at-risk students – and volunteers – in a position to succeed.

Deloitte LifeEvery year in the United States, nearly one million students drop out of school. And 50 percent of those dropouts come from just 10 percent of schools. Contrast that with the fact that, by 2018, two-thirds of the nation’s jobs will require at least some form of postsecondary education – requiring a high school graduation rate of at least 90 percent. With today’s rate of only 76 percent, the country is falling woefully behind.

City Year is a nonprofit organization started in 1988 by two Harvard Law School roommates who believed that America’s young people could be an enormous resource to address some of the country’s most challenging issues. City Year asks its participants to lend their enthusiasm to one year of full-time service in high-need schools. City Year is a member of AmeriCorps – a federally funded network of national service programs that engages Americans in service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment – and is one of the largest AmeriCorps programs in the country.

In the 25 years City Year has been in existence, 18,000 volunteers have given a year of service, committing 26 million hours, and served more than 1.3 million children.

City Year is focused on helping students in the third through ninth grades. Its goal is to double the number of students in the schools where they serve reach their sophomore year on track and on time (students who reach 10th grade are four times more likely to graduate). City Year’s strategy is to keep an eye on a new set of “ABCs”: poor Attendance, disruptive Behavior and Course failure in math and English.

Through the experiences of three Deloitte practitioners – Erin Moss, Brendan Lehan and Bill Copeland – we see firsthand how City Year changes lives in many ways. Their stories bring to life the powerful effect an individual can have – on both those in need as well as those who are giving.

Being the eyes and ears . . . and sometimes the voice

Erin Moss, an analyst in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice, says she has long been interested in community service and before she began her career, she decided to spend her time with City Year where she served at the Browne Education Campus in Washington, D.C. While at Browne, during the 2010-11 academic year, she managed a team of eight AmeriCorps members, assisted a teacher in a classroom, helped with after-school programs and started a dance team at an associated high school.

“Today’s teachers have a lot to handle,” Moss says. “It’s difficult in a roomful of kids to give each one individualized attention, especially for children with special needs. Unfortunately, some students fall through the cracks. I was able to help by being an extra set of eyes and ears.”

In one memorable instance, Moss says she helped give a student his voice. She remembers a boy around seven years old who had great difficulty with verbalization – he would make “cooing” sounds instead of using words to express himself – and was academically falling behind. When she asked another AmeriCorps member to help, they soon discovered, with the help of a speech therapist, that the skin that connected the boy’s tongue to the base of his mouth was too short. “It wasn’t that he didn’t know what he wanted to say, he was just physically unable to do it,” Moss says. “We set up regular appointments with the speech therapist, and the result was a huge impact on his development.”

Experiences such as this lend themselves well to the work that Moss does today. “City Year taught me that if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to fixing a problem, solutions are created. In Consulting, unique issues arise and we don’t necessarily have all the answers, but through hard work and leadership, we give clients the confidence that we’ll help them get to where they want to go.”

From AmeriCorps to corporate America

Like Moss, Brendan Lehan, an analyst in Deloitte Consulting’s S&O practice, was interested in full-time service after graduating from college. Dedicating his time to the Blackstone Elementary School in Boston, Lehan spent two years as a City Year AmeriCorps member and also participated in the Deloitte City Year mentorship program.

Lehan’s participation in Deloitte’s mentorship program was a stepping-stone to his future. “My work with a Deloitte mentor when I was in City Year acquainted me to the world of consulting,” he says. “I met practitioners working on pro bono City Year projects, and I was impressed by the idea that I could combine my career with community service.”

Lehan is now looking forward to becoming a Deloitte City Year mentor himself. “My mentor was extraordinarily helpful to me,” he says. “And I look forward to paying it forward. I like the idea that I can support someone during a City Year experience as well as help an individual realize career goals. It’s a great way to stay connected to the service that City Year is doing and put to use my experiences – both those I developed while in the corps as well as in my time at Deloitte.”

Fatherhood and philanthropy

Bill Copeland, Deloitte’s U.S. Life Sciences & Health Care and U.S. Health Plan leader, is the recipient of the City Year Greater Philadelphia 2012 City Year “Idealist of the Year” award, a member of the Greater Philadelphia City Year Board and the father of a former City Year corps member. He says he has an unusual vantage point with regard to the City Year experience. “When I was growing up, my mother mounted a plaque on the steps leading to the garage attic where my brother and I hung out,” he says. “On it was a quote from Edmund Burke that read, ‘All it takes for evil to succeed in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.’ I didn’t understand the implications of that simple truth until I knew City Year.”

Copeland has instilled this sense of duty in his family, and his son Billy served with City Year when he was 16. “I really saw him transform into a man through this experience,” Copeland recalls. Due to a rigorous high school football schedule, Billy was unable to get a full-time summer job, so his father suggested he serve with City Year. After his second day, he decided that after high school he wanted to defer college for a year and spend that time as a City Year corps member. And so he did. “He left the house each day for a year at 6 a.m.,” the elder Copeland says, “and when he came home, he would tell us stories of the people he met, the school he worked at, and the sort of things that he saw. He matured so much based on that experience.”

Each morning he would stuff his school bag with preassembled box lunches that he would slip to kids who didn’t have enough money for lunch. While Philadelphia did have a free lunch program, many of the kids weren’t taking advantage of it, so, Billy took it upon himself to help these kids any way he could. “When I look back on it now,” Bill Copeland says, “I see how experiences like this also transform the lives of the corps members. It easily makes them realize what they have, what they are capable of doing for themselves, for others and society as a whole. I am thankful for Billy’s experiences and commitment and quite honestly, I believe he received one of the most critical skills of a leader: being able to see an issue from a perspective that you wouldn’t normally have.”

Proliferating role models

City Year’s leaders and corps members will tell you that the dropout crisis is complicated, but that it can be solved. And organizations like City Year, which partner with teachers and principals to work with at-risk students to achieve their potential, are part of the solution. “Moreover,” says Copeland, “many of these kids never get the opportunity to think about what an academic career could give them. They don’t have positive role models and often they don’t have the opportunity to look around and see other people like them succeed. But City Year is different; it’s diverse and it has incredibly talented young people, with most volunteers between the ages of 18 and 24. The kids get attached to them and they see someone they want to be and all of a sudden what they thought was impossible becomes a real possibility.”

Over the last several years, Deloitte has completed many pro bono projects, which, according to City Year leadership, accelerated the nonprofit’s program. In one case, Deloitte built a simulation model for data that allows City Year leaders to make informed decisions about how best to deploy the corps members and where they should focus their staff. The model also helps schools determine the number of volunteers they need and the sessions that would be most beneficial to their specific student body.

“Through our pro bono work we realized City Year schools needed to start their programs earlier in children’s lives,” says Copeland. “We did a simulation that showed when you start helping children as late as the third or fourth grade, their chances of going from off-track to on-track greatly diminish. City Year changed the model based on our findings and instead of having a scatter-shot approach, we created a natural progression. The kids are going into middle school and then high school prepared and accountable, and this paves the way for them to graduate. That’s just one example of where we took Deloitte knowledge and intellectual capital, applied it to a City Year problem and had a dramatic impact.”

  1. Source: Closing the Implementation Gap, Balfanz, R., Bridgeland, J., Brice, M. &Fox, J.(2012). Building a grad nation: Progress and challenge in ending the dropout epidemic in our nations schools, annual update 2012
  2. Source: In School and On Track: A Plan for Transformational Impact, US Education Reform and National Security. New York, NY: Council on Foreign Relations
  3. Source: In School and On Track: A Plan for Transformational Impact, A. Carnevale, N. Smith, and J. Strohl, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2010), Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., and Strohl, J. (2010). Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.
  4. Source: In School and On Track: A Plan for Transformational Impact, Blakely et al., 1987: Drake et al., 2001; Hall & Hord

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