SAN ANTONIO - As parents drop their kids off at Rhodes Elementary School in the heart of San Antonio, 23-year-old Winter Harbison and her counterparts are quick to say hello to students walking into school.
"I love coming here and seeing the students smile even though they try to hide their smiles,” Harbison said. “That's one of the funniest things in the morning. It's my pseudo-coffee."
Winter is working her first full-time job since graduating college last May from the University of South Florida. She works for City Year, a non-profit that mentors, tutors and helps find role models for kids in the San Antonio Independent School District.
“It was an opportunity for me to live out on my own and try a new place without my family,” Harbison added. “Although, they have been really supportive.”
The more than 800 miles from Florida to San Antonio may seem like a long way to move, but Winter has traveled before. Her dad is in the Navy. She was born in Missouri, lived in Japan for about a decade, and then spent time on both coasts. Adapting to life, is something Winter teaches the young students she works with every day.
“ Working at a middle school,” Harbison says, “the level of empathy when knowing what the students go through they have to change schools to try new places or rebuild friend systems every time they move around. Knowing that in the back of my head, I know how tough it is. I can tell them it does suck, but it gets better."
Winter is not from San Antonio, but with her background as a military kid she feels right at home in Military City, USA.
“Having so many military bases in one city is crazy,” Winter said. “Just the fact that San Antonio is huge and still being able to see the military support is familiar. You know you're family even though you don't talk to them.”
And as she gives back to the kids at Rhodes Middle School, she continues to share the lesson her military dad has always taught her.
“I don't know if it's a military term,” Winter said, “but my dad always told me to pay it forward. Being a service member, I thought being a service member also meant serving my country as well. Low and behold, Americorp was an opportunity to serve my country and my nation within my community. Helping kids in schools, I was fortunate to have mentors and teachers and now i can do that for kids here.
Because of hard work from people like winter, City Year San Antonio earned a $1 million challenge grant from Valero Energy Foundation to help City Year grow its impact and serve more students in the city.
City Year AmeriCorps members serve 6,000 students in seven San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) schools.