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Last night several of my colleagues and I had the great privilege to attend City Year Washington, DC’s Sixth Annual Gala. City Year, a top notch AmeriCorps program, engages young people right out of high school or undergrad in a year of full-time service in 18 inner-cities throughout the U.S. and South Africa. City Year corps members work on a range of issues from HIV/AIDS prevention, to alcohol and drug abuse, to academic remediation.
While serving as tutors, mentors and role models, both the corps members and the communities they serve are transformed. This is why City Year DC's gala night has become one of my favorite nights of the year -- it's on this night that I have a chance to be uplifted and inspired by the stories of courageous and selfless young leaders who sacrifice comfort and personal gain to brighten the lives of children and families that are so often overlooked by society.
The inspiration was over-flowing this year when 10 year old Lionel Jackson, a student mentee at Francis-Stevens Educational Campus in DC, gave a stirring acapella rendition of the national anthem, and when corps member Kelly Kuerzi bravely shared her heart-wrenching story of overcoming a childhood with substance abusing family members, then teaching her mentees how to do the same.
This year, as in years past, we gathered with hundreds of supporters to celebrate City Year's tremendous accomplishments and to recognize national and local leaders that exemplify "idealism in action". This year’s Lifetime of Idealism award went to Governor Frank Keating, former Oklahoma governor and current President and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers and President of the DC Federal City Council. Governor Keating was introduced by legendary journalist Sam Donaldson, his neighbor, who reminded the audience of the Governor’s exemplary leadership in the wake of the Oklahoma bombings and his distinguished public service career as, among other roles, U.S. Attorney, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and United States Associate Attorney General.
A highlight of the evening was when extraordinary community-minded employees from area companies and organizations were honored as Idealists of the Year. The Case Foundation’s own Brian Sasscer was among the honorees. The following write-up was featured in the gala program describing Brian’s service to the community…
Brian Sasscer has devoted his career to harnessing the power of technology to connect, convene and catalyze. As one of AOL’s early employees, Brian’s technology savvy guided his success deploying hundreds of product launches and becoming a known leader in the interactive services industry. For the past decade, Brian has been applying that same know-how to help numerous local and national nonprofit organizations rethink systems to improve efficiencies and to recruit new champions and donors online. Today, Brian oversees the Case Foundation’s technology and web operations and interactive strategies, ensuring the Foundation and its partners can match effective solutions to social problems with interested individuals from diverse backgrounds across the Web in a fun and easy way. In addition to leaving a successful career in the private sector to follow his passion helping nonprofits tap into innovation, Brian has also been a lead organizer for the past several years of a large community-based race/walk in central Virginia, dedicating countless hours and fresh thinking that helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research and awareness. Brian’s selfless desire to give back and help out combined with his uncommon creativity and ingenuity help him put idealism to action every day.
The night was topped off by an exciting announcement that City Year DC is planning to expand from its current 80 corps members to 330 in the next five years. The expansion is due in large part to the successful Whole School, Whole Child pilot, in which corps members served full-time in four DC public schools this year. Jeff Leonard, long-time City Year DC supporter and president of the Global Environment Fund announced that he would be giving the first $1 million to kick off the $10 million expansion campaign!
The Case Foundation helped bring City Year to Washington, DC and our founders, Steve and Jean Case were honored with the Lifetime of Idealism Award in 2007.
We tip our hats and share our hearts with the exceptional corps members, staff and volunteers of City Year DC. Congratulations on a great year and a fantastic night!