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City Year Convention an Exemplary Model of True Community Involvement

Column by Orli G. Bahcall
Associate News Editor

Earlier this month, 600 tremendously motivated youth leaders travelled from across the country to attend the national convention of City Year held on MIT campus. The enthusiasm and energy of City Year participants can serve as an example for the MITcommunity.

The good will of the group spread to all who saw them in action and their deafening cheers seemed to define the group's spirit. Indeed, every activity they undertook was done with their unique sense of enthusiasm, optimism, and commitment.

The best example of their spirit came at 8 a.m., while the rest of campus was just stumbling off to work, when the City Year participants began their day by assembling on the athletic field for a hearty round of calisthenics and a lively rendition of the Mariachi dance. These daily exercises are common to all core groups of City Year, and brings them together to start the day of service with some inspirational words.

City Year participants are united, as keynote speaker Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., noted, over a common "yearning for something that is deeper than the material."

City Year participants address this desire for service both by working for their community and by working to better themselves in the process.

And City Year harnesses this power to work with peers from diverse backgrounds, to bring the community together over service. City Year is also structured to instill a sense of civic reciprocity -- giving to the community in order to get something in return.

While Washington debates how to reduce government bureaucracy and increase citizen participation, here in Cambridge, City Year modeled community activism and youth leadership. The convention received bipartisan political support, on both a local and national level, as a model of national service.

Leaders recognize that the power of the individual citizen, when working within our own community, will also write the future of our country.

Within one day, the corps completed the building of two full playgrounds, removed hazardous waste, and ran a carnival for children -- leaving behind several very tangible marks of their idealism put to work in our community. An MIT student's typical accomplishment of finishing a lab or computer program seems to pale in comparison to the work of City Year volunteers.

Our campus was, for a week, reminded of what those unified for a common purpose can accomplish. We saw a model of empowered youth and civic activism in action.

However, City Year was not received by the campus of activists they had expected. After finishing lunch they were surprised to hear from MITofficials that the janitors would not pick up their bottles to be recycled.

I happened to be interviewing the City Year organizers when they first heard about this problem. I was asked why MIT students, who as the future leaders in technology must realize the great importance of conserving our environment's resources, don't implement a more successful recycling system. I was embarrassed to answer them.

Did we let the recycling system dwindle because we don't consider conservation a priority?Or are we so wrapped up with classes and research and isolated from the rest of society that we are content with not improving our school?

Whatever the real reason MITdid not follow through with the recycling effort, City Year's visit made our deficiencies apparent. Where we had accepted a mediocre recycling system, City Year members would not give up. The City Year organizers gave little notice to a discouraging host community, quickly made several phone calls to local facilities, and drove the used bottles to be recycled.

Perhaps our community doesn't value recycling, but we clearly do share many common goals, such as the pursuit of science and technology. But even over these common goals we rarely unite as a community.

Like City Year, MIT thrives on the hard work ethic of its members. If we can harness the energy of the almost 10,000 students deeply committed to supporting science, we too can leave our mark on the American community.

We can ensure that our research is recognized as an asset to society and that national funding is maintained. We can also make sure that everyone in America has the opportunity and skills to access the technologies we produce.

Through the vision of a united community, the MIT campus can follow City Year's example and transform our campus into a place not just hosting, but producing the civic leaders who write history.