- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

More than 100 supporters attended yesterday’s kickoff ceremony of a yearlong program in which 75 volunteers aged 17-24 committed themselves to a year of service to schoolchildren in the District.

Volunteers, supporters and leaders with City Year Washington, D.C., waved American flags and spoke about their hope and excitement on a clear, beautiful morning at Upper Senate Park with the Capitol in the background.

“We are united in our commitment in improving the Washington, D.C., community this year,” said Ejike Chima, a senior member of the City Year program, which is run through AmeriCorps.

The day’s atmosphere was full of enthusiasm, as the City Year volunteers, adorned with the bright red jackets that have become their most recognizable symbol, entered the ceremony singing and dancing.

Each volunteer has pledged 1,700 hours of service for the upcoming year, through one of seven “teams” that addresses different community needs.

The teams will work mostly with students at D.C. public and charter schools, teaching, supporting and leading students both during school hours and at after-school programs.

Chris Murphy, executive director of the District’s City Year chapter, said the program aims to “build a stronger D.C.” by tackling serious issues within the city. Teams will speak to 10th graders in the public schools system about HIV/AIDS prevention and educate the young people about substance abuse.

The volunteers will be working to solve problems, such as illiteracy, that Mr. Murphy said are, “not just nice, they’re necessary.”

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who spoke at the ceremony, praised the efforts of the City Year participants and repeated her belief that the District’s troubled schools can be fixed.

“I have a tremendous amount of faith, hope and confidence that we can turn this system around,” said Mrs. Rhee, who urged the City Year participants to “keep your enthusiasm” and “keep moving forward.”

After the ceremony, the City Year participants began their service at Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Northwest, where they painted and landscaped the school grounds.

City Year is active all over the United States, with programs operating in 17 cities, including a new program in Los Angeles. The program also has a location in South Africa that is beginning its third year.

Like the programs, volunteers hail from all corners of the country but bond through their shared experience.

“Everyone here is so different,” said Rich Greene, a volunteer from Laurel, “but we’re all here for one reason — to help.”

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