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City Year: An NFL “Inspire Change” Story

Boardroom’s profile of the NFL’s “Inspire Change” partners rolls on with City Year, an organization helping schools and students in systemically disadvantaged communities.

In an era where sports leagues are looked on more than ever to set an example in the community, the NFL and City Year seem like natural partners. The NFL launched its Inspire Change program in 2017 and partnered with City Year, an organization that work with students in systemically disadvantaged communities, in 2020. In that time, the NFL has invested heavily in City Year’s Whole School, Whole Child initiative, which has helped students in 350 schools across 29 cities.

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What is City Year?

Let Chris Mann, Senior Vice President of Development at City Year, explain:

“At its essence, City Year helps schools and students succeed, and we do that while preparing the next generation of leaders who can work across lines to make a positive impact in their communities,” he told Boardroom.

Through partnerships with teachers and schools, City Year aims to take diverse teams of its AmeriCorps members that want to serve in their communities, normally ranging from 18 to 25 years old, and trains them to work alongside students in schools. 

In all, City Year helps approximately 220,000 students annually in school-related subjects like attendance, literacy, math, and behavior. The organization’s goal is to increase high school graduation rates. 

Service leader Cameron Munroe, front left, and City Year Denver staffs greet students as they enter Highline Academy Northeast in Denver, Colorado on Friday, October 19, 2021. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The NFL and City Year

City Year is in its second grant cycle with the NFL after initially being awarded a grant in 2020. Before the Inspire Change Initiative began, City Year was already involved with the Kansas City Chiefs. However, when the initiative launched, the Chiefs introduced City Year to the league office to get things kicked off. 

It isn’t just the Chiefs and the NFL, though. City Year has relationships with the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, and Chicago Bears. 

Throughout the conversations with the league, Mann said City Year was never nervous about whether it would be awarded a grant. Instead, the meetings were filled with excitement.

“I think it’s because we had seen those relationships with the Chiefs, the Rams and the 49ers and how aligned the league was with what we were trying to do,” Mann said. “We felt like this was an opportunity to take what we were seeing in our local partnerships and bring it to a wider audience.”

The NFL funds City Year’s Whole School, Whole Child program, which brings together 3,000 of City Year’s AmeriCrops members to serve as full-time student-success coaches and partners with 350 systemically under-resourced schools. The league also funds City Year’s training and support to prepare its members for virtual, in-person, and hybrid service during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The NFL has been critical in our support [by] enabling us to continue to improve and deliver Whole School, Whole Child programming across the country, but also they were really important in the wake of the pandemic,” Mann said. “They helped us pivot our model from in-person and in-schools to think about what a virtual service model could look like and how we could continue to support students in schools across that virtual environment.”

City Year is aiming to provide resources and access to students to enable them to succeed. Ideally, Mann said, this means City Year would like to build relationships with each NFL team to maximize their reach in each of those cities.

“We’ve found that the partnership has been a great fit and a really awesome chance to share City Year’s work and help get our brand out in front of a much wider audience,” he said. “That has served us really well both in recruiting young people to come and serve and be aware of what we do, and also to have some really cool experiences for some of our AmeriCorps members. [They get to] come out and be recognized and awarded at their local NFL stadiums. We even had an AmeriCorps member get to announce a pick at the NFL Draft.” 

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About The Author
Randall Williams
Randall Williams
Randall Williams is a Staff Writer covering sports business and music for Boardroom. Before joining the team, he previously worked for Sportico, Andscape and Bloomberg. His byline has also been syndicated in the Boston Globe and Time Magazine. Williams' notable profile features he has written include NFL Executive VP Troy Vincent, Dreamville co-founder Ibrahim Hamad, BMX biker Nigel Sylvester and both Shedeur and Shilo Sanders. Randall, a graduate of "The Real HU" - Hampton University - is most proud of scooping Howard University joining Jordan Brand nearly three months before the official announcement.