The Journey Begins: A Partnership Designed to Unleash the Spirit of 21st Century Innovation

The Journey Begins: A Partnership Designed to Unleash the Spirit of 21st Century Innovation
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August is always an exciting time of year at City Year. In the weeks ahead we'll be welcoming our new corps of 2,700 idealistic leaders to begin their year of service across our 25 sites. After a couple weeks of Basic Training Academy, they will don their red or yellow jackets and begin providing service in nearly 250 high need schools across America, touching the lives of 150,000 students over the course of the academic year ahead. Working in close collaboration with teachers, administrators, and other community partners, our corps members will spend their days engaged in a strategic, data-driven, large-scale effort to measurably increase graduation rates in cities across the nation.

This year, August is exciting for another reason as well. For the first time, we have agreed to formally serve as the leadership development partner of another innovative and entrepreneurial organization, the Millennial Trains Project. After many months of planning and hard work by the MTP staff, the first-ever MTP cross-country train journey will depart from San Francisco the morning of Friday, August 9th; ten days later, the journey will end when the train pulls into Washington DC. On board will be a remarkably diverse community of 24 innovative leaders, each of whom has proposed their own unique social change project and then crowdfunded at least $5,000 to bring those projects to life. It's a dazzling cohort of change makers, and MTP has turned to City Year for support in unleashing the full transformational potential of this ten day journey exploring some of the most vital frontiers of 21st century American life.

MTP and City Year are working together to inspire a generation to heed the call to adventure that summoned pioneers and innovators of previous generations to pursue lives of boldness, courage, and purpose. So easily we forget that in years past, it was widely viewed as impossible and inconceivable that we might one day be able to travel across the entire country by train (or, later, airplane), or wire the entire nation with electricity, or put a man on the moon, or develop technology that allows for wireless access to much of human knowledge using a device that fits comfortably in our front pocket. If all of those things are utterly commonplace today, it is only because previous generations stepped up to explore new frontiers, confront vital challenges, and summon the courage, passion, intellect, and spirit of innovation required to achieve the impossible.

It is exactly this spirit that inspires City Year's efforts to confront the high school dropout crisis. One million students drop out of school every year and more than half of them come from only ten percent of our nation's schools. There is surely a widely held view today that this sort of large scale, deeply entrenched social problem is too intractable and complex to transform. We and our many partners, champions, and collaborators working on this challenge and are already well on our way to proving that notion to be wrong. And we are proud to partner with the Millennial Trains Project in a joint effort to harness, develop, and unleash this same spirit in the bold pioneers about to embark upon a different but very much related journey of personal, communal, and national transformation.

It is very appropriate that this partnership is uncharted terrain in so many ways. Will the trains run smoothly? Will the schedule go as planned? Will the pioneers be able to advance their projects powerfully at each stop? Will City Year's adapted curriculum engage, inspire, and transform MTP participants the way it does City Year's corps members?

We've all done our best to think through the challenges. We've made our plans, and brought a wealth of experience and hard-earned wisdom to our efforts to date. But as every pioneer knows, plans and designs can only get you so far; at some point, the only way to know what works is to just give it a try...and then learn all you can from your adventures on the frontier.

For us, that time has finally arrived. At 9am on Friday, August 9th, the first ever Millennial Train will roll out of San Francisco and begin to chase the eastern horizon. On board, a small but mighty community of pioneers will embark upon an adventure that is certain to set them on the path to their destinies in ways that they can surely not imagine or predict. And although all of us can easily review the trip agenda, none of us on the train knows right now how this journey will impact our own lives, our nation, and our world in the days, months, and years ahead.

I'll be back with a new blog post at the end of the trip to let you all know how things worked out. In the meantime, you are invited to join us virtually by "liking" the Millennial Trains Project and City Year on Facebook, and following @millennialtrain, @cityyear, and @maxklau on Twitter. And I'll leave you all with these words by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell:

"What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: Do I dare?"

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