June 15, 2005

cyzygy 2005 - Day Two

On the second day, I participated in an exceptionally inspiring forum that helped me regain my faith in the City Year network while continuing to realize the lack of idealism at CYCO.  The forum I attended was a roundtable of all the Clinton Innovation Award winners from this past year.  Technically, I won the award before my site's leadership changed their mind about letting me do the project and refused the grant money, so I attended it.*  The roundtable showed me 17 other projects across our small network that were allowing City Year to become great and inspire true transformative change within the communities they worked in.  Many projects that were completed with the grant funding were much more ambitious than my own and I was awed that their sites allowed simple Corps Members, in many cases, to complete the tasks.  This renewed my faith in City Year.  I realize they were not saying one thing and doing another.  The headquarters leaders and some sites actually understood what City Year is trying to do and sought to implement it as best as possible.  Accordingly, this made me more bitter toward my own site as I realized how I had been cheated throughout the year.  I realized that my ideals and ideas were sound and within the realm of what City Year was.  I just wish my site had the gumption and initiative to live up to those ideals.  The day at cyzygy included a ceremony where all the award recipients received letters from former President Clinton thanking them for their contribution and innovative spirits.  I could not stop from thinking how I should have been on that stage being recognized for making Columbus a better place.  It was a shame the shortsightedness of my site refused to allow my to complete a project already approved by our national organization.  After this part of the day, I more or less shut down until day three.  My mind was bitter and confused and I was unable to operate or remember much.


*A few notes on my Clinton Innovation Award and what led up to this day:

In late November and December, Corps Members were asked to submit grant proposals to their site and the national staff for consideration of a number of grants set up by the Swartz family (the Swartz family operates the Timberland Company, City Year's best and biggest sponsor).  Feeling ambitious and empowered by City Year's idealism, I decided to apply for two grants that would solve one of the issues I had encountered thus far--funding for service initiatives.  Somehow, City Year Columbus was unable to find any money in its $1.6 mil operating budget to purchase $100 worth of materials for a project I planned.  As such, I felt a few fundraisers--City Year style--were appropriate to raise the needed funds.  I applied for a grant to run a Serve-A-Thon and another to establish "Columbus Serves" where corporations and local universities would pay City Year to host training and service events for their members.  After much persuasion, the CYCO staff decided to approve my grants and off they went with two others from our site to the committee of "big-shots" at headquarters to see if they were funded.  After a 1.5 month wait, the results were in and Columbus Serves received $500 of the proposed $3250 grant.  Upon deeper investigation, I discovered the shortfall was because the committee felt the project could happen without funding, but thought the grant would give it some added legitimacy.  I agreed.  In fact, legitimizing the idea was why I applied for the grant in the first place.  We did not need the money to accomplish the intended goals, but it would be nice to have the backing of the headquarters staff going into the process.  It would be hard, but very rewarding.

Needless to say, I eventually learned "the site" had decided to return the funding.  I felt exceptionally betrayed.  Why had they approved an idea only to say they did not trust me enough to carry it out?  To add insult to injury, I was never consulted during the decision-making process that ended with the grant money returning to headquarters--if any such process did occur.  Thus, when all the Clinton Innovation Award excitement was taking place at cyzygy, I was not in the best of moods to receive what I witnessed.