Put simply, City Year Little Rock is a win-win situation.
Madhav Shroff describes it best.
“[City Year provides] an extra resource to schools that are in need of that extra support,” he says. “Service as a City Year corps member is direct service. There are many people, especially young people, upset with various issues with our current society, and City Year is an outlet to put frustrations into action.”
Shroff is an attorney at Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates and Woodyard and is a recent addition to the CYLR board. The organization is one he is very familiar with because he, himself, was one of those dissatisfied young people looking for a way to impact change.
“I first applied to CYLR in the midst of a quarter-life crisis in the summer of 2014,” Shroff says.
He had just finished earning his master’s in biomedical sciences from UAMS and was second-guessing his plan to apply to medical school.
“I was unsure what my next steps were, but I knew that I wanted to give back directly to those who needed it most.”
Young and fresh, just out of graduate school, his energy and education were the perfect fit for CYLR. He spent the next school year teaching, tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth to help prevent Little Rock’s drop-out crisis.
“I loved it, so much so that the next year I signed up to manage my own team of eight at JA Fair [Prep School] to put City Year’s evidenced-based model to work,” Shroff says.
CONTRIBUTING TO THE VISION
“CYLR bridges the gap between what schools are designed to provide and what children need to succeed,” says Jennifer Cobb, senior vice president and executive director of the local nonprofit organization.
“We recruit, train and support AmeriCorps members, ages 17-25, from diverse backgrounds to serve full-time in central Arkansas public schools.”
The young adults provide student success coaching for attendance, literacy and math skills, and social and emotional well-being to ensure all kids, regardless of race or economic background, receive an excellent education and have the confidence, self-esteem, academic and soft skills to thrive.
“We contribute to a clearer, bolder vision of what public schools can be for all children: places of learning, exploration and belonging,” Cobb says.
A member of the AmeriCorps network, CYLR is a true public-private partnership. It receives monetary support from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the City of Little Rock and the Little Rock School District.
“This funding alone does not cover the cost of putting AmeriCorps members into classrooms,” Cobb points out. “Individual, corporate and foundation donors are instrumental to our success.”
Little Rock’s organization is one of 29 City Year sites across the U.S. committed to helping students achieve their full potential. AmeriCorps members are “student success coaches,” providing holistic support to ensure all children have the academic, emotional and social skills to succeed in and out of the classroom.
“Their efforts pay off,” Cobb says, “with studies showing schools that partner with City Year are two to three times more likely to improve on math and English assessments.”
GIVING & GETTING
Cobb asked Shroff to join the board of advisors as one of its first alumni members, and Shroff jumped at the chance. His main goal as a board member is to support corps members during their term of service, and as someone who has been in their shoes, he knows it can be a challenging year.
“I want to make sure that they have someone in their corner,” says Shroff, who recognizes he was “lucky enough to get the best public-school education that the state of Arkansas can give” at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts. “But to me, it was inequitable that 50 miles away, there were students who did not have the opportunities and experiences that I did growing up.”
Frustration surrounding that unbalance of opportunity was the catalyst for his involvement in this organization’s mission.
“City Year is a nonprofit organization that helps prevent the Little Rock drop-out crisis by teaching, tutoring and mentoring at-risk students in the Little Rock School District,” Shroff says. “Secondary to that goal, City Year is a professional development and leadership organization that primes corps members for civic engagement.
“As a corps member I had the opportunity to speak to the Arkansas Board of Education, which was impactful in the sense that I felt that I was advocating for the students of Southwest Little Rock.”
Shroff served with CYLR for two years and achieved his goal of giving back to his community by helping students succeed and reach their own goals. He was a team leader, an expanded role reserved for outstanding returning AmeriCorps members.
After graduating from CYLR, he dually enrolled in the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law and The Clinton School of Public Service.
“Through it all, he remained active in our alumni network and served on our Red Jacket Ball Committee,” Cobb says.
It’s not hard to see the parallels that can be drawn between his work as an attorney and the way he prioritizes community involvement, both values reinforced in him through his time with CYLR. In addition to the CYLR board, he serves on the board of the Central Arkansas Library System, Information Network of Arkansas and the Young Alumni Board for the Bowen School of Law.
“I think that it is important for people, especially young people, to get involved within their communities and help enact change,” Shroff says.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Cobb joined CYLR in October of 2021.
“It’s a privilege and honor to lead this legacy site, founded in 2004 by President Bill Clinton in his home state,” she says.
Overseeing a team of 12 site-based staff and 30 AmeriCorps members who serve in the Little Rock School District, she collaborates with the senior leadership team to manage and evolve strategies, practices and culture while guiding AmeriCorps member recruitment efforts and working with the board on community engagement.
“We are always looking for young adults to become AmeriCorps members,” Cobb says. As student success coaches, these individuals receive biweekly stipends, education awards for tuition or student loan debt, access to scholarships and 200+ hours of professional development. “CYLR is an unmatched opportunity for young adults to help students thrive while building their career readiness.”
“To no surprise of anyone who already knows her, [Cobb] brings the energy and the positivity,” Shroff says. “I have only known her for nine months, but it’s pretty obvious that she is the Energizer Bunny.”
Leading with transparency and vision, he says Cobb “doesn’t sugarcoat the gaps in metrics and service,” adding that “she has a plan of attack to help improve her staff, her corps members and the students’ lives.”
Cobb and the organization are on the cusp of launching two initiatives: CYLR’s Women’s Leadership Council in January 2023 and the CYLR Teaching Fellows Program in March 2023.
“We designed the council to enhance the professional development of our AmeriCorps members who identify as female,” Cobb says. “We believe connecting them with strong female leaders will help them build the confidence and skill sets needed to tackle challenges during their service and in the early years of their careers.”
The Teaching Fellows Program was created to help make it easier for City Year AmeriCorps members to become certified to teach in Arkansas.
According to Cobb, members will first serve as student success coaches, then enroll in an educator prep program during their second year while serving in schools, earning course credit and fulfilling classroom practicum hours. At the end of their two years, they’ll have earned an alternate teaching certification.
ADDRESSING LITTLE ROCK'S NEEDS
CYLR says students in this area face significant challenges every day. The organization works with four partner schools in the district and impacts about 3,700 students every day. Of those students, 89% are considered low-income or eligible for food assistance.
AmeriCorps members support teachers and staff in delivering instruction that serves the development of the whole child and is responsive to the diverse racial and cultural needs of Little Rock youth.
City Year was built on the belief more than three decades ago that uniting and empowering diverse teams of idealistic young people and supporting them as they solve some of our country’s most difficult challenges can change the world for the better.
At its core, CYLR says the importance of diversity, belonging, inclusivity and equity is and has been threaded throughout its foundational values, which include things like service to a cause greater than self, students first, collaboration always, belief in the power of young people, social justice, leadership that fosters a blend of great humility with intense professional will, empathy, inclusivity, ubuntu — a term borrowed from the Zulu tribe of South Africa which means “I am a person through other people, my humanity is tied to yours” — teamwork and excellence.
The mission-critical diversity, equity and inclusivity work is ongoing with the understanding that it takes courage, commitment and discipline from all members of the City Year community.
In Little Rock, corps members can truly make an actual impact, and for their service, this community offers many opportunities to develop meaningful personal and professional relationships with several leading LRSD officials, city leaders and champions of CYLR.
AmeriCorps members participate in a number of service projects throughout the year with community partners like EngageAR, Clinton Foundation, Arkansas Foodbank, Our House, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Habitat for Humanity, Little Rock Parks and Recreation, Centers for Youth and Families and more.
Though there is an age requirement for corps members, anyone can become involved with CYLR.
“If you are outside of that range, nominate a potential corps member to CYLR. Additionally, reach out to me or the City Year staff. The corps members need professionals to support them and provide professional development,” says Shroff, who does just that, joining forces with CYLR staff, AmeriCorps members, alumni and board members to help build a stronger tomorrow.
For more information, visit cityyear.org.
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