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A Culture of Idealism

November 9, 2012

By Meghan Donohue, Corps Member Proudly Serving at Belaire High School

You may have an idea of what City Year does, but do you know what City Year is?


 culture: the set of shared attitudes, values, practices, and goals that characterizes an institution or organization

 idealism: the practice of forming ideals (ultimate objects or aims of endeavors, especially those of high or noble character) or living under their influence

As a corps member, I envision the world as a better place. Specifically, I imagine a place where all children have the opportunity to succeed in school, and City Year’s culture of idealism cements the foundation to stabilize the growth of this viable reality. From the bright red vest I wear everyday to the way I welcome my students to school, City Year’s powerful culture of idealism is always intentionally breathing valuable context, identity, and purpose into my service, and in turn, shaping my dream of a more just world. 

From the outside looking in, the culture of idealism can be a difficult thing to take in. Why do they all wear Timbs? What’s with all of the cheery chants? Do they ever sleep?

Here’s a brief break down of some important cultural components and operations: 


-Idealism as a skill: the skills of Idealism can be put into practice by Imagining, Recruiting, Transforming, and Inspiring.

Civic power and capability is attainable by anyone: we embody Spirit, Discipline, Purpose, and Pride to effectively complete any task. We work to develop and strengthen the civic capabilities of Civic Idealism, Civic Leadership, Civic Tools, and Civic Literacy.

Civic commitment and idealism must be protected against civic dangers: danger!

 –Civic Ideas: Democracy, Patriotism, Citizenship, and National Service.

 –Core values: we embrace a set of shared values.

 1. Service to a Cause Greater than Self,

2. Students First, Collaboration Always

3. Belief in the Power of Young People

4. Social Justice for All

5. Level Five Leadership (humility, will, boldness, courage, and perseverance)

6. Empathy

7. Inclusivity

8. Umbuntu (“I am a person through other people; my humanity is tied to yours”)

9. Teamwork

10. Excellence

 -Courtesy as a tool for engagement and change: exhibit power courtesy to change yourself and others. Be nice to others. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Hold the door open. Say thank you. Smile. These details can make a big difference. For real.

 -Founding stories:  a collection of stories that inspired the culture of idealism. To read these influential stories, check out


 -City Year Pledge: pledge performed during PT (Physical Training). We say it, mean it, and do it (and we also memorized it).

PT (Physical Training): a tool for joining together the City Year community. Corps Members line up to execute various standard and City Year-style exercises to promote Spirit, Discipline, Purpose and Pride . It’s one of those things where you have to do it to truly see it. Here’s an example.

 -Power tools: unique techniques used for anything and everything  City Year.  Civic power tools are constructed to be easily accessible (anyone can use and understand them). They are also aimed at holding every person in a group accountable while possessing simple and straightforward steps. Examples of civic power tools include:

 -Front Most, Center Most: audience fills an arena from front and center to demonstrate interest and respect for the speaker

-Hands Up: raising a hand in a noisy group of people signals a response of quietness ; gets people’s attention quickly without yelling to be quiet

-NOSTUESO- Means “No One Speaks Twice Until Everyone Speaks Once.” Used in group discussion to discourage specific individuals from dominating the convo (I wish we used this approach in my college philosophy classes).

 -Logo and Uniform: represents civic service, City Year, and Americorps while uniting the CY community. Besides the layered meaning of the logo (check out, the classic red jacket is perhaps City Year’s most recognizable symbol.

 -Leadership Compass: highlights different leadership styles and approaches to help people recognize their strengths and weaknesses and learn to become more well-rounded leaders within a group of people. An effective leader showcases all four compass points: North for Action, South for Empathy, East for Vision, and West for Analysis.

 -Putting Idealism to Work (PITW): various snippets full of City Year wisdom, guidance, and inspiration. When in doubt, look at a PITW. My personal favorite: PITW #177 Laugh at least once. Every day.


In order to meet City Year’s organizational goals of helping students succeed in school while developing civic leadership, action, and change, every member must manifest the culture of idealism.Just as the City Year pledge suggests, I strive everyday to serve as a City Year member to the very best of my abilities, and this venture involves embodying and embracing the culture of idealism (on a side note, I also strive to get at least eight hours of sleep a night to ensure optimal performance). Without this unique culture to frame the actions and ideas of City Year, there will be a lacking sense of both personal and unified impact, transformation, and success. City Year simply cannot be City Year without its culture of idealism, for City Year is a culture of idealism. It influences everything we do!


If the culture of idealism speaks to you, then connect yourself with our vision! The next application deadline is Nov. 15th. Visit to apply and join a culture that seeks to make a difference.

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