By Andrew Kramer

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Each year, Philadelphia’s City Year program helps thousands of students in high needs schools graduate and find success.

Executive Director Darryl Bundrige explains they recruit young people in the region to do a year of service in those schools that show low test scores and attendance rates and have high rates of suspension and detentions.

“They serve as mentors, role models, providing after school programming and other services to help students stay on track and in school to help realize their potential,” he tells KYW Newsradio.

It felt like a pep rally Thursday night as over 200 City Year AmeriCorps members rushed into the Pennsylvania Convention Center to kick off the 2017 season….while also celebrating the program’s 20th anniversary.

“There’s so many things going on in the world that give you cause for sadness,” says Bundrige, “and yet these 205 young people who are taking time out of their lives to give back to others just reminds me of all the good there is in the world.”

The new members pledged to make a difference in the lives of 12,000 students in Philadelphia schools this year.

“These students deserve the world and every opportunity they have, so working with them is one step closer to giving them all those things they deserve,” says Jill Blanchard, an AmeriCorps team leader at an elementary school in North Philadelphia.

“The work that I do with the students in the communities and being able to advocate for students who are often marginalized and pushed aside has been incredibly rewarding for me,” adds Juan Antonio Lopez, also a team leader this year in Hunting Park.

Former Philadelphia Governor Ed Rendell was recognized during the celebration for his contributions to the program. He helped bring City Year to town.

Since 1997, over 3,400 AmeriCorps members have given more than 5.5 million hours of their time to benefit over 150,000 Philadelphia students.