Retracing my Life Map

At a recent Learning and Development day at the Starbucks Headquarters in Seattle, I was pleasantly surprised by the insight I gathered on my own life.

What I’ve recently learned about myself is that I’ve always been the person who never really knew what was next in life for me. In talking about what was next, most times it’s always been: “I’m working on figuring it out.” I’ve never had specific long-term goals. Every thing has sort of fit the expression: we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In high school, I didn’t have a dream college. I didn’t have a dream career and I still don’t. I went into my Freshman year as “undecided” or as “undeclared” as I preferred to call it.

Retracing my life map, I zoomed in on different pieces of what has made me who I am – who I was as a grade school student, who I was as a college student, who I am because of my family, and who I am right now.

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I used these notes to talk about life story to strangers to professionals at Starbucks and it was nice to be able to write it down, see, and hear how my story is unique and different from others.
  • Grade School Student: I found the theme of knowledge. I was always curious about things that I didn’t know about or had never tried. Joining clubs and sports that challenged my intellect, leadership, and various skills.
  • College Student: I found the theme of service and leadership. I joined communities and took on roles that were focused on empowering others through relationship-building, leadership, and meeting others where they are at.
  • Family: I found the theme of creating a path of my own. As the oldest of seven siblings, a first generation American and college student, and daughter of parents who didn’t complete High School, I internally told myself that I had the power to determine where my path can go.
  • Present: I’ve been focusing on values that I have been letting guide me, professionally and personally: self-awareness, growth, and goal-setting.

So the million dollar question is: what’s next after City Year?”

What I can say is that in thinking about the path that I’ve created and what’s next, I’m finding that I want to take my love and values for these themes in my life to help empower others to be their best selves and to use their path to strengthen their values and lead them to where they feel purpose and joy. I want to use my skills in creative storytelling and communication to share the work and experiences of communities and individuals.

Where this will lead me, I’m not sure, but as usual, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Back to Where it Began

Last night, I went back to the elementary school I served in last year for their Math Night. Walking through the front doors always takes me back to when I would get off the bus and relax on the chair in the lobby for a few minutes before our 7:30am circle. This time, I was greeted by their current City Year team. I walked happily down the stairs to the cafeteria and immediately saw a student from last year who told his City Year to tell me to come to Math Night so he could see me. He was being lectured by his mom and a teacher as I walked up toward them and that was humorous to me. I quickly decided to not interrupt their conversation and then heard a chiming of “MS. NHOELL!!!” Three of my students from last year ran up for hugs. It was so nice seeing familiar faces and getting free pizza 🙂 I was so busy looking for students and being approached by students and staff. It was so crazy to think that this was the community I was a part of before the one that I’m currently in. My cup was being filled with so much joy! Before I knew it, I was reminded that I was a volunteer and that I had to go to my station for the night.

Math is definitely not my biggest strength, but luckily I knew how to measure the diameter of a cookie! Students had to pick a cookie and measure its diameter with a mini ruler. Once they had their measurement, I’d give them a sticker and say, “You measured the diameter of your Oreo! NOW you can eat it!”

It was great seeing so many students and their families excited about math together. So many students swarmed my table. You could say it was because I had free cookies, but I’d like to think it was because good ol’ Ms. Nhoell was back.

Who can brighten your day?

As I mentioned previously, City Year is a unique experience. It’s challenging and rewarding. At times, it’s easy to think that it’s just challenging. When I need to be reminded that it’s also rewarding, I know that I can count on others who are going through this unique City Year experience as well. Particularly a Team Leader and particularly a good friend of mine – Deanna.

Taking a moment from power greeting to take a little selfie together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

When I first met Deanna back in August of 2015 and found out she was also from North Carolina, I was excited to have that connection, being that I moved across the country not knowing anyone. It was even cooler finding out that our hometowns were just 25 minutes apart from each other. As Corps Members were assigned their school teams, oddly enough, the two of us were assigned to the same school team and were both assigned to work with the third grade team in English Language Arts. Out of the 84 other Corps Members, it was about as close as two people could work together in City Year. Same City Year site, school team, grade level, and down to the same subject to tutor. With this, we were given opportunities to collaborate, considering that our work was similarly aligned.

As the year progressed, I learned more about Deanna. I learned about what she was interested in, how she spent her time outside of work, and who she was a person through quality time and collaboration. We ran our after-school group together. We were responsible for a program, catering to our 10 third graders, with high quality and effectiveness. We did this by making sure they understood not just the ELA lesson, but also some social and emotional skills along the way. It went without saying that we had high expectations for ourselves and our students and working together was not only easy, but enjoyable.

Deanna and I both serve as Team Leaders this year and I still find it easy and enjoyable to collaborate with her. We may not be on the same school team, working with the same students, but I love that we both make time to self-care with each other by spending quality time with together. I’ve always admired her patience, integrity, empathy, and ability to provide perspective. There have been countless times where she makes me think about another way to think about a situation with care and authenticity. Not many people have this ability and I consider myself lucky to call someone like Deanna a close friend. She helps me be my best self and I really can’t thank her enough for just simply being her. So when time’s get a little challenging, you bet I can count on Ms. Deanna to brighten up my day with her light. Who can brighten your day with their light? Let them know.

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Deanna, I’m so grateful that City Year has brought the two of us together because knowing that I have a lifelong friend is pretty freaking cool. Thank you for being you.

On Time and Here Every day!

It’s Tuesday and at our school that means that it’s “No Tardy Tuesday!”

Attendance is a focus that is important to the school and also City Year because we know that when students are at school, that’s when they have the opportunity to learn. When they’re not at school, they’re missing out on learning.

Every Tuesday, at 7:55am, our Attendance Coordinator goes on the intercom and congratulates everyone that is in their classroom on time. He then plays a song that has been requested by a student and for about a minute, the song is played for students to freely dance and get their energy out, all in celebration of being on time to class.

This morning, the song was requested by a student who LOVES John Cena. I’m talking about LOVES him so much that his nickname is John Cena and he embodies John Cena’s personality with his super serious face and overall demeanor. With all that said, the song he requested was John Cena’s theme song (the infamous song he walks out to before he starts his wrestling match). When I heard the song he requested, I cracked up because I was imagining the student’s reaction to the song playing and how serious he would take it! Don’t know what the song sounds like? Click here:

This gave me lots of joy this morning and made me realize what great effort is going into our attendance work at our school. Even when students are late, we take the time to write each student a pass to class and ask them what color they’re feeling on the mood meter. After they’ve identified their emotion, they’re sent to class with their teacher now knowing how to adjust their communication and teaching based on how that particular student is feeling.

I’d say our goal is not to have every single student with perfect attendance, but for every single student to feel like their presence is valued and that their voices are being heard when they are at school.


MLK Day of Service


In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and his dedication to service, City Year Seattle/King County hosted our MLK Day of service at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Southeast Seattle.

On this national holiday, there weren’t any students in sight as I walked through the doors of the elementary school at 7:30am. Immediately, I was pulled aside to assist in some last minute touches before all 200 volunteers arrived. There were a few mural outlines that needed to be done, but as I walked through halls, I saw how much work had already gone into making the school much more vibrant and lively. After making sure things were set, I walked into the school cafeteria where there was a sea of red jackets ready to serve.

More outside volunteers started to arrive and I could only imagine how overwhelming we looked in our red jackets. With this in mind, I went around to some of these unfamiliar faces to ease any apprehensions they might have had in working alongside our already close-knit team of 89.

It wasn’t until someone mentioned “powergreeting” that I decided to stop my mingling and head outside to welcome our guests and volunteers with some high energy and cheeriness. Our powergreeting was filled with so much laughter, goofy dancing, and spirit that you couldn’t walk past us without smiling ear to ear! We even powergreeted Mayor Ed Murray!

From there, it was all fun with volunteers painting murals throughout the halls, mulching outside of the school, and City Year corps members facilitating various social justice workshops. The mural painting was most definitely my favorite part because they were representative of the school community and the cultures that make up the school population. I even found a Laos flag and HAD to take a photo with it! It was so great to see our community come together and take the time to create a new look and feel to reflect how great the school was. With the finished product, I was excited to see how the students would react to their “new school” the very next day.

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



Gettin’ Crafty!

The principal is very fond of the fact that I enjoy making visuals and so when she asked if I could work on the huge bulletin board in the main hallway, of course I said yes.

“I was thinking something like The Starry Night, but it doesn’t have to look exactly like it of course. Are you sure it’s not asking too much?”

“Oh no, I’d love to do it,” I answered as I realized that I’ve never created anything remotely close to Vincent Van Gogh before. The challenge was super exciting to me and so I got started on it the very next morning at 8:30am and was finished with the background around 11:30am. I had lunch and then stuck the title on with some help from a fellow corps member since 5 ft. Nhoell is only vertically capable of so much.

As I was working on this, there was not a single passing person that didn’t have anything to say about it. It was surprising in the most wonderful way. Staff members asked if I did art like this outside of work and were surprised when I said no. They told me that my art makes the students happy and that it makes a huge difference for the feel of the school. It was nice to have the staff pass by several times throughout the process and each time giving a genuine expression of impression.

It was great receiving such positive feedback from others and at the same time, I was really impressed by myself. As someone who doesn’t practice this sort of art during my free time, as it was coming together, I was honestly surprised by the result. I enjoy creating visuals for others for the look and feel of a space and so when it comes to taking the time to create these visuals, I don’t find it to be tedious and draining. If anything, it’s fulfilling and joyful!

The bulletin board is going to bordered by stars that showcase what hopes and dreams parents have for their children and also the hopes and dreams that students have for themselves!

Showing Some Love

I love showing my appreciation for others. It gives me joy and I love the joy that it gives others. One of my prominent love languages is words of affirmation and so I love giving and receiving personalized appreciations and words.

As a Team Leader, I set a goal to appreciate the whole staff before winter break. With this, I put my latest hobby to some use and created some messages. These little messages will be passed out at our next staff meeting. The staff will have a chance to pick one or two and write a customized explanation of the appreciation to their colleagues. They can use the ones I’ve created or write up their own with blank sheets that will be out on the tables as well.


I did this with the hope that this will give an opportunity for our school community to slow down to show our gratitude for one another. With feelings from the election, parent-teacher conferences, and it just being that busy time of the year, kind words and positivity are in much need!

The Team


Here’s the people I work with every single school day. A unique group of individuals, indeed. They each possess some valuable strengths and I’m so lucky to be working with them. Although I am the “mentor” or “coach” this year, I know there is so much to learn from this group right here. I’m excited to see what we experience individually and collectively as a group this year.