Recent Graduates Serve in Rochester Youth Year Fellowship Program
Renee Aylesworth and Egzon Beha walked across the stage last May, receiving a St. John Fisher College diploma in one hand and a handshake from Dr. Bain in the other, ready to start their next path in life. Both were to become fellows in the Rochester Youth Year (RYY) Fellowship Program, and with a few short months left of their year of service, they say their experiences have been life-changing.
The RYY Fellowship Program, an Americorps*VISTA-sponsored program administered by the Rochester Regional Network, is a consortium of seven local colleges including Nazareth College, Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Brockport, SUNY Geneseo, the University of Rochester, and Fisher. RYY places talented recent graduates of these colleges at community-based organizations for one year to create or expand initiatives that address the various challenges facing youth and families in Rochester.
Aylesworth, who studied Sociology and American Studies at Fisher, applied to the program because she wasn’t ready to go on to graduate school at the time. She thought the program seemed like a great opportunity to gain experience and develop her professional skills.
“I wanted to attend graduate school and study social stratification, so giving my service to Rochester with the intention of assisting the youth in poverty was a great fit,” she said.
Beha, a Political Science major and International Relations minor at Fisher, wanted to take some time off from school, and said most of the programs he researched regarding government jobs required professional work experience, which, as a new graduate, he didn’t have. He was attracted to the RYY program because it would allow him to stay in Rochester.
Both started their year of service last fall – Aylesworth with the Wilson Magnet Commencement Academy in the Rochester City School District, and Beha with Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services (RRRS).
Aylesworth calls her experience so far “amazing,” and says she has been able to make many connections through her work. Specifically, she works in the school’s Student and Family Support Center, and says she has been very impressed with the amount of opportunities for success that the Rochester community offers its students. Having gone to school in a small town in Upstate New York, she has been able to compare the two educational settings and get a glimpse into the politics ? and many struggles ? the city district faces.
“Not only have I been able to witness the challenges and accomplishments of the district, but I have been able to connect with many agency partners within the community,” she said.
One of her favorite memories from her experience has been two support drives that the Center held. The first drive in December was held for a student whose family had been homeless for some time. The drive gathered enough donations to almost fill their new home with the basic essentials. And on January 19, the Center held a clothing drive for a “Clothing Closet” that Aylesworth is developing at the school. She worked with student volunteers from the University of Rochester, and they collected enough clothes to “more than fill” the closet. Because of the abundance of clothes collected, she was able to contribute to another Clothing Closet at Saint’s Place, a refugee outreach agency.
Beha says his work at RRRS has allowed him to do what he loves – help people. A refugee himself, Beha can relate to what the refugees with whom he works have to go through to find a job, acclimate to a new way of living, and obtain a green card, to name a few things. His main objective has been to help them with job placement.
“I’ve gotten to know many of them and they are very ambitious people,” he said. “I’ve also gotten to better acquaint myself with the northwest section of Rochester.”
He says when his year is over, he will remember the joy of seeing those whom he has helped working at a job they enjoy.
“From time to time, I go and check on the refugees working at their job. Every time I’ve visited, they are all smiling and working hard to get the job done. They appreciate the opportunities that they have been given, and they take full advantage of them,” he said.
One of the many benefits of the RYY Program is the chance the fellows get to network with and learn from each other. Both Aylesworth and Beha note that they have collaborated with the other fellows in their work assignments, making connections that they will take with them long after their time in the program.
“Since I am at a high school, I have been able to connect the other VISTA programs with many of the students at Wilson. The program has allowed me to not only develop a casual relationship with the other fellows, but also a professional one,” said Aylesworth. “We are able to collaborate on ideas and programs, and expand the resources that are offered to the youth of Rochester.”
Beha added that the fellows never hesitate to share information with each other, and that the networking opportunities have been endless.
“We have a close-knit relationship with one another and that makes us more comfortable. We work with several, and in some cases, very different organizations,” he said.
As participants in the RYY program, fellows receive a bi-weekly living allowance, a $5,550 AmeriCorps Education award (or $1,500 final stipend), student loan deferment, healthcare coverage, relocation allowance (if eligible), along with additional benefits. The program is small and very selective, admitting 10 or fewer fellows each year. By keeping the program small, the fellows receive a lot of support, including ongoing skill and leadership development, and one-on-one time with their mentors, which helps them maximize their professional development.
As their year of service comes to a close, both of the Fisher fellows have their next plans in mind – Aylesworth will be taking one more year off before graduate school, and Beha will pursue a career as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with the United States government. The experience has helped Aylesworth decide that she wants to become a youth advocate, and while her initial plan was to apply to a Sociology Ph.D. program, her experience has made her re-think that strategy. She is now looking at obtaining a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Beha hopes to become a FSO because he would be doing similar things to those he is doing now with the RRRS, but on an international scale. He is also considering a graduate education path to earn a master’s degree in Foreign Affairs.
The program is now accepting applications for the 2013-2014 service year, and the deadline to apply is March 15. Applicants must submit the online application, current résumé, transcript, and cover letter.
RYY was founded in 2007, and since its inception, has had 48 fellows complete a year of service in pursuit of the program’s mission at 30 different community partner organizations. In 2008, it became an AmeriCorps*VISTA-funded project, and in those three years, has mobilized over 4,500 community volunteers who have logged nearly 40,000 hours of service. Many fellows have also chosen to stay in the Rochester area after graduating from the program.
For more information about the Rochester Youth Year program and how to apply, visit the RYY website. Interested Fisher students should contact Sally Vaughan, Director of Community Service at St. John Fisher College, at (585) 385-8196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Interact Club that Beha helped start at Rochester International Academy. The club has over 20 students from 6 different countries.