Generation Citizen first found me only twenty months ago (it feels more like twenty years) in a cold, dimly lit classroom of the NYU Steinhardt School of Education. I was fresh off the plane from a semester in Prague, CZ, and during my obligatory soul searching while abroad I had concluded that I wanted to help people — young people, and specifically young people who weren’t presented with the most optimistic set of options. I was majoring in Political Science, and I enjoyed it in a very academic way. But I was without a passion. I decided that in order to contribute most effectively, I must start at the source of society’s potential: education.
Enter GC — and more literally, enter Sarah Andes, GC’s New York City Site Director, into my Intro to Education History class in January of 2012. As she spoke briefly but proudly before the class about her program called Generation Citizen, I was immediately enamored with the concept: college students going into the city’s public schools to teach kids the value of civic engagement, by actually working on a problem in their community. This captured me immediately. During my time at NYU, I had developed a Holden Caulfield-like scorn for “organizations” on campus that were dedicated to “improving” a “social issue”—for two years I had been constantly inspired by reading campus clubs’ self-aggrandizing bios, only to be disappointed by their “work” that consisted solely of meetings in crammed Village coffee shops complaining about the crusade of their choice. From those mere five minutes of Sarah’s pitch, I knew this was different.
Sitting in the front row of the class, I interrupted Sarah for the first of what has since turned out to be hundreds of times (I hope to clear a thousand by New Year’s Eve):
“So, you lead the class yourself? And are in charge of lesson plans?”
“Yes,” she said.
“And the kids are really choosing their own issue, and working to implement the change in their neighborhoods?”
“Yes,” she said.
“When is the deadline to apply?”
“Tonight,” she said.
I gave Sarah my information, and was teaching as a Democracy Coach at I.S. 204 in Long Island City, Queens the next week.
Since that day, due in part to myself, in part to a growing team of dedicated NYU students, and in large part to Sarah, our chapter at NYU has continued to flourish. That January, I joined an organization in its relative infancy — not only Generation Citizen as a whole (founded in 2008), but the NYC program and especially the NYU chapter (both founded in 2011). And yet, despite the growing pains of being a young organization run by young people that asks a lot of its young volunteers, I have never had nor seen such dedication in my life. Everyone is in overdrive all the time, and for no other reason than because we believe in our work. As a Democracy Coach I distinctly recall sprinting up and down subway stairs, carving through the crowd like a running back during the morning rush hour in order to get from my Queens classroom (where I was a teacher) to my NYU classroom (where I was a student) on time. I watched Sarah lead two days of Democracy Coach training over the weekend before the start of each semester, remaining genuinely upbeat the whole time to ensure our college students did not succumb to the drear of a weekend spent in a classroom. The next year, as Chapter Executive Director of the chapter, I witnessed our NYU DCs enter some of the toughest schools in the toughest neighborhoods before the sun was up, and produce stellar results.
Honestly, my biggest fear upon accepting the position of Greater Boston Program Associate with Generation Citizen? That my Caulfield-esque disenchantment would return once I began working in the GC office, instead of with the grassroots infantry of college volunteers; that it would turn out that the higher rungs of the organization were detached from the relentless grind of our college students, and did their work for work’s sake rather than for the sake of passion.
My first true introduction to our full-time staff at Generation Citizen was a few weeks ago at the annual staff retreat. For about 48 hours, the 13 members of our team spent every second planning, discussing, and developing the best way to serve our students. There was barely any time spent on anything else. We worked through the curriculum during breakfast. We had jovial team-building late into the night. We helped each other, we proactively disagreed with each other, and most important to me, we each expressed our sincere devotion to this work. I left knowing that I was in the right place, itching to begin, and grateful to continue with Generation Citizen.
When people ask me when I started work with GC, I can’t help but give a convoluted answer: “A week ago—but, well, technically, a year ago. But actually, almost two years ago.” I feel that I have a unique understanding of this program compared to the rest of our staff, in that I am the only member to go from Democracy Coach to Chapter Executive Director to a full-time employee of the organization— and yet, there is so much to learn from them and so much for us all to learn together. So, as much as it feels like I’m a GC veteran, today is really my first day.
– Drew Lombardi, Greater Boston Program Associate
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.