ICYMI: Commentary: Orlando’s students depend on AmeriCorps

 

Garry Coates, 27, is a 2017 Teach For America-Orlando corps member and a math teacher at the Academic Center For Excellence in Orlando

Orlando Sentinel

November 20, 2017

As I grew up, my family taught me the importance of finding my purpose, being happy and giving back. Though I worked to do just that, it wasn’t until college, when I joined a community service organization called Circle K International, which encourages members to pursue creative ways to serve the needs of children through local service projects and fundraising, that I truly found the joy of giving back to my community. This would ultimately become my purpose in life, leading me to join two AmeriCorps programs — first, City Year Orlando and then, Teach for America-Orlando.

Federal funding for AmeriCorps is at risk, and I fear that others in our community like me — dedicated to service and passionate about giving back to the community — will not be able to pursue these opportunities and follow a career path that truly fulfills them. Our community, and so many others throughout the country, will miss out on the enormous impact these leaders can have.

After I graduated college, I became a social worker. I was helping others, but I wasn’t as energized about the work as I had been when I was involved in more hands-on work in the community. I felt like something was missing, and when I heard about City Year, a national service organization whose sole purpose is to help students in high-poverty urban schools get back on track, earn their high-school diplomas, and graduate ready for college and career success, I knew it the right opportunity for me. I joined City Year Orlando in 2016, where I served in Orange County Public Schools, building youth up to become amazing leaders.

Before school, I stood outside daily to greet our students and welcome them to the start of a successful day of school. During school, I called home to speak with parents about student absences, just to make sure everything was OK, and participated in one-on-one reading and math interventions to guarantee our students’ success. After school, I would host club programs, or join in with our school’s club programs, to further engage the students. Outside of schools, I would give back to the Orlando community through various service projects promoting a positive community. I could #makebetterhappen, and this motivated me more than anything. That’s what drove me to go the extra mile, and that’s what drove my fellow City Year corps members to do the same. In return, I had the unbelievable privilege of witnessing my students achieve growth during my year of service. But along with that growth, I also saw the trials they faced daily, and because of that, I vowed to get deeper into the school system and my community.

I joined Teach for America-Orlando, an AmeriCorps program that gave me the opportunity to get in front of the classroom as a teacher at the Academic Center of Excellence in Orange County. Teach for America is addressing the challenges of unequal access to an exceptional education that affects students in Orlando, and all around the world. Like the organization, my personal mission is to give each of my students an opportunity to receive the education they deserve regardless of their backgrounds. Just one month in, I can already see my students’ potential.

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal eliminated funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that operates AmeriCorps. Though the tide turned when the House and Senate proposed updates that included AmeriCorps funding at fiscal 2017 levels, it is still critical that we do all we can to get strong funding in the final budget.

Many leaders across the nation are fighting daily to keep AmeriCorps funded, but the fight is nowhere near over. We still need more supporters and advocates for AmeriCorps. If you are looking for a worthy investment, AmeriCorps is the place to go. AmeriCorps requires grantees to leverage federal investment to secure matching support from private, philanthropic, and local sources. Every AmeriCorps grant dollar results in an additional dollar investment by community partners. Through National Service, we can meet the needs of our communities with a low-cost solution.

I ask that you join me in influencing our members of Congress. We ask that they protect the funding of AmeriCorps so that teachers like me can give back to our communities, and give our students the education they deserve.

Garry Coates, 27, is a 2017 Teach For America-Orlando corps member and a math teacher at the Academic Center For Excellence in Orlando. He is also an alumnus of City Year Orlando.