City Year Red Jacket Society Leadership Conference

City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown and Sandy Edgerley, National Chair of the Red Jacket Society, welcomed nearly 100 Red Jacket Society members, civic and political leaders, and City Year leadership and staff from across the country to the inaugural Red Jacket Society Leadership Conference in Boston on November 16-17, 2015.

“The members of the Red Jacket Society represent a transformational force for City Year,” Michael said. “This rare chance to spend time together and build a critical mass of philanthropic leaders who believe in the power of the City Year Jacket marks a bold, new effort for our organization. Each member is helping City Year reach its ambitious goals and maximizing the impact we have in schools every day.”

The gathering provided an opportunity for rich discussions about City Year’s place in the national education and service ecosystems, exploration of strategies for scaling the Red Jacket Society, and deepened connections across our community of leaders and champions.

Highlights of the two-day event in Boston included an opening reception at Bain Capital, hosted by City Year National Board Chair Jonathan Lavine; dynamic remarks from former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen; and a deeply personal Red Jacket dedication ceremony at Sandy's home.

Creating Opportunity

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick kicked off the conference, sharing his inspiring personal story.

As a young boy growing up in a crowded apartment on the South Side of Chicago, Gov. Patrick vividly remembers sharing a bedroom with his mother and sister after his father left. He spent every third night on the floor, rotating between top bunk, bottom bunk, and the floor. Though money was scarce, he recounts being raised in a close and nurturing extended family. His grandmother taught him “that being a member of the community is seeing the stake that you have in your neighbor’s dreams and struggles, as well as your own.” My humanity is tied to yours. Ubuntu.

“I’ve been in more classrooms where those red jackets are making magic happen!”
— Gov. Patrick told the Red Jacket Society members.

“I went to big, broken, over-crowded, under-resourced, sometimes violent schools,” Gov. Patrick said. Though he excelled academically, young Deval Patrick’s choices could have been severely limited because of poverty, race and zip code.

But when he was 14 years old, a national nonprofit, A Better Chance, offered him a full scholarship to Milton Academy, a prestigious Massachusetts private school. The experience changed the course of his life and offered him a deeply personal understanding of how nonprofits can play a pivotal role in creating opportunity for others in ways that benefit both individuals and society.

Gov. Patrick’s extraordinary story bears witness to the power of those organizations and the people who work with and for them. He graduated from Harvard College, traveled to Africa on a Rockefeller Scholarship, and then attended Harvard Law School. He was later appointed assistant attorney general of civil rights by President Bill Clinton. In 2006, he was elected the 71st – and first African-American – Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He now works at Bain Capital, leading a new initiative focused on social-impact investing.

An unshakeable commitment to creating opportunity for more Americans, particularly children and young adults, has defined his leadership and fueled his long-standing support of City Year. As a two-term governor, Deval Patrick brought Massachusetts’ state funding for education to its highest level and implemented a series of reforms designed to close achievement gaps between low-income students and their middle-class peers. He sees the work of City Year as central to these goals.  “I’ve been in more classrooms where those red jackets are making magic happen!” Gov. Patrick told the Red Jacket Society members.

Heartfelt Appreciation

Michael Brown thanked Red Jacket Society members at a reception hosted by City Year National Board Chair Jonathan Lavine, Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer of Sankaty Advisors.  The talent, passion and commitment of City Year’s biggest individual supporters provide critical resources, support and leadership to the work going on in hundreds of classrooms across the country, Michael said.

“Building a community of leaders focused on scaling the Red Jacket Society nationally will be central to our collective success,” said Michael. “Because of your support, the nearly 200,000 students we are serving this year are benefitting from tutors, mentors and additional resources in their schools that are designed to help them thrive. Thank you for all you do to help City Year continue to innovate, improve and reach even more children who deserve access to a high-quality education and pathways to success.”

Thank you for all you do to help City Year continue to innovate, improve and reach even more children who deserve access to a high-quality education and pathways to success.”
— City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown

Improving Education in Urban Public Schools

City Year President Jim Balfanz provided an insider’s view into the challenges facing urban education in “The President’s Address.” He noted that a recent third party study found schools that partner with City Year were two to three times more likely to realize gains in math and English. He explained that City Year AmeriCorps members and staff across the country are dedicated to effecting significant, positive change for students, families and educators in the most under-resourced schools in America.


“You are making a huge difference in the lives of thousands of students in cities across the country and providing critical support to thousands of young adults who wear the City Year jacket every day,” said Jim. “Thank you for your leadership and for pushing us to think critically about how to continue to enhance our impact in the communities we serve.”

Jim said he believes that Red Jacket Society members will play an essential role in helping City Year to reach its goal of building our nation’s urban graduation pipeline.

Learning from Leaders

Jonathan Lavine held a dialogue about U.S. politics and the power of civic engagement with David Gergen, a former advisor to four U.S. Presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton) and current CNN Senior Political Analyst.  Gergen expressed concern about the current era of intense partisanship, America’s eroding quality of politics and public discourse and the loss of civility and compromise. This environment makes national service even more important, as the majority of Americans no longer believe that major problems can be solved by government alone, said Mr. Gergen.

That’s why organizations like City Year, which promote cross-sector collaboration among government, businesses and nonprofits and seek profound social change, are more needed today than ever before, he said.

Building the Red Jacket Society

How can we work together to inspire more dedicated leaders to join the Red Jacket Society across the country? A panel that included City Year Miami Board Member Ana Mari Ortega, National Red Jacket Society Vice Chair, and Founder and Creative Director, Ana Mari Ortega, LLC; City Year Chief Marketing Officer Gillian Smith; and Gordon Trafton, City Year Denver, Red Jacket Society chair and Special Advisor to the Canadian National Railroad Leadership Team, provided insight into how to tell the City Year story to various audiences. They also shared advice about how to recruit new Red Jacket Society members, leverage special events and manage partnerships.

Relationships are key, Gordon said. His relationship with City Year Director of Major Gifts Tracy Valentine, who first introduced Gordon to the organization, helped build a sense of trust that grew as he got to know the team at City Year Denver.

But it was a visit to the classroom, where he saw first-hand the impact City Year AmeriCorps members were having with students in the classroom every day, that persuaded him to become more involved with the organization and eventually join the Red Jacket Society.

“The kind of work we are doing in support of City Year means we are meeting different people from around the country who are motivated for the same reason and for the same cause,” Gordon said. “We are volunteers, but this work is about the relationships we are developing and will develop over time.

Red Jacket Dedication Ceremony

The City Year Jacket, whether red or yellow, is a symbol of hope, inspiration, caring and support for the students and schools City Year serves. Since 1988, more than 20,000 City Year AmeriCorps members have dedicated their jackets to an individual or group who greatly influenced them.  Red Jacket Society members ended the inaugural conference with a deeply personal and inspiring jacket dedication ceremony.  

“The dedication ceremony was a really special moment, and it felt very powerful,” said National Red Jacket Society Chair Sandy Edgerley, a City Year Trustee. Sandy hosted the ceremony at the home she shares with her husband Paul Edgerley, Bain Capital Managing Director, a long-standing supporter of City Year. The jacket is one of City Year’s most important symbols and serves as a daily reminder to the 3,000 City Year AmeriCorps members who wear it every day of their dedication to a cause greater than themselves and to the students they serve.

Gathering in a “Strong Circle” surrounded by City Year staff and leadership, members dedicated their jackets to a person or a cause that had inspired their service to City Year.

We are pleased to share a new jacket dedication page with messages from volunteer leaders that attended the 2015 conference. We will be updating this page and including new dedications as more members receive their jackets in 2016.

Click on the photo below to read their messages.