Tag Archives: introduction

Chapter 1: Hello

26 Nov

Hi, my name is John and welcome to my journey as a Public Ally in the Twin Cities.  During my term of service, I will be talking about my experiences as a Public Ally, my cohort, my background and my personal goals.

It’s already been a month in at Public Allies Twin Cities, so let me catch you up on what has happened.

At the beginning of October, I met my fellow allies and over the past month we have gotten to learn so much  about each other. One of the funniest activities was going rock climbing at Fort Snelling Base Camp during training week.

Here is a picture of me at top of the wall at the Fort Snelling Base Camp:

My fellow Public Allies:

For my placement, I am at The Sanneh Foundation. Their mission is to use the appeal of sports, especially soccer, to unite diverse communities, helping at-risk youth develop into leaders and experience success.  The Sanneh Foundation is located in St. Paul and has reach across the Twin Cities and around the world.  Prior to Public Allies, I was already a volunteer at The Sanneh Foundation, so it was great to continue doing something I enjoyed while also be a part of Public Allies.

At The Sanneh Foundation, I am the Programs and Community Outreach Coordinator where I coordinate the various the programs the organization runs. Some of the programs are College Prep 101; where student athletes are taught about college, the importance of academics and community engagement and the NCAA recruiting process, and Sanneh Soccer; such as after school soccer programs and free soccer camps over the summer. And I get to play soccer with youth everyday.

Here is a picture I took at one of our events in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

There is so much more to say but I am going to leave it at this. I look forward to my adventure as a Public Ally and blogging about it.

‘Tis the season

20 Nov

If you had told me 6 months ago that I would soon be working at a non-profit organization and loving every minute of it, I would have looked at you like you were one twist short of a slinky. Back then I imagined that my holiday season would be filled with studying for stressful law school exams and prayers that winter break would finally arrive. Instead, I find myself surrounded by the smiling faces of my co-workers and the joyful presence of kids who deserve all the wonders that the season has to offer.

The cliff notes version is this: Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a lawyer. When I got to college I majored in legal studies and excelled in all my courses, but something was missing. My LSAT came and passed, my applications were ready to be sent, but my heart told me that something wasn’t right.  I decided to take a brave leap of faith, and instead of sending in those law school applications, I sent in an application to the Public Allies Miami program. I knew that I was starting a new chapter in my life, and something told me that Public Allies was exactly what I needed to begin my journey. Thankfully, I was right.

I was placed with the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI), a non-profit organization that aims to transform the lives of children and families in Liberty City, Miami. Children here may be growing up in the midst of poverty and violence, but they are just as vibrant, beautiful, and full of potential as any other child in the world. Working with these kids brings a smile to my face everyday, but nothing highlights the positive impact that non-profit organizations have on the community quite like the holiday season. While most kids get dressed in fancy costumes and run through the streets on Halloween, kids in Liberty City don’t get the same experience. While many kids get all the presents on their wish list during December, kids in Liberty City are lucky to get even one toy. Non-profit organizations like MCI strive to change that, and seeing the look on a child’s face when they are handed a Halloween costume or a holiday toy makes it all worth it.


MCI staff members handing out Halloween gift bags filled with candy, books, and school supplies at Charles R. Drew K-8 Center

As we begin to carry out our holiday initiatives like our Halloween Character Day event and Toys-for-Tots distribution, I realize that I have never felt more confident in my decision to take the path less travelled. Non-profits and the Public Allies program do amazing things for communities all over America all year round, but there is truly nothing more inspiring than being a part of this amazing community of leaders and change makers during the holiday season

It feels right to be here

30 Apr

I’m Narinda Heng, second-generation Khmer American, compulsive writer, and Los Angeles nomad. Since 2007, I’ve lived in at least 5 different parts of LA County and had nearly a dozen different occupations. (Thank goodness I’m not the only wanderer in PA.) In 2011, I found myself applying to be a Public Ally in Los Angeles.

What brought me here? I’ve worked at an archives, an Asian American theatre company, an art+community space, and I have known for a long time that employment in the nonprofit sector is where I feel most comfortable. I worried that perhaps I had too much experience to enter the program, but I was irresistibly drawn to the 5 core values of Collaboration, Continuous Learning, Diversity & Inclusion, Focus on Assets, and Integrity, and PA Los Angeles’s particular emphasis on critical self reflection. And the truth is that while I had much experience in helping to create space for artistic expression and discussion around social justice, I had never held a direct service position. Public Allies offered a way to explore what I knew to be challenging work with the support of dedicated staff and peers. It’s an incredibly fortunate position to be in.

And now, here I am, just over six months into my time serving as a Public Ally and Case Manager at SRO Housing. I had been interested in Los Angeles’ Skid Row community for a long time, but it was not until the opportunity arose through Public Allies that I was able to feel I had the capacity to do the work. What I’ve found is that I had more capacity than I realized and that there is more potential in the neighborhood than generally discussed. I had the opportunity to share my experience in PA’s February eUpdate, and I’m glad to be able to continue to share my experiences at PALA here in addition to the Public Allies Los Angeles Insider blog.

(I’d like to note that I’m writing this on the anniversary of the 1992 LA Uprising. The civil unrest that took place when I was seven years old shaped the Los Angeles that I live and work in today, and it would be remiss not to mention that.)

Meet the Bridgeport, CT Public Allies!

8 Feb

Hey everyone,

So I realized that I had been referencing some of the Public Allies Connecticut (PACT) Bridgeport Allies but hadn’t officially introduced you- how rude of me, I know!  Check out the pic below to see what we look like and then scroll down to learn more about us.

Bottom Row, left to right: Tinesha, Melissa, Akira, & Isabelle (me!) Middle Row: Program Manager RJ, Samantha, & Christine Top Row: Beatriz, Heaven- Lee, and & Ben

First Year Ally: Tinesha Sneed

Placement: Southwestern CT AHEC (Area Health Education Center); Bridgeport, CT

Goal for This Year: “To take on the experience with an opened mind and an opened heart.  To try my hardest to change MY world not the WHOLE world.”

First Year Ally: Melissa Gabso
Placement: CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association); Oxford, CT
Favorite PACT Experience So Far: “Going ice skating at the Bushnell Park [Hartford, CT] Ice Rink and learning firsthand how civic engagement can pay off in real tangible terms.”

First Year Ally: Akira Ford

Placement: Saint Luke’s Lifeworks; Stamford, CT

Favorite PACT experience so far: “When Heaven- Lee and I went kayaking during Core Retreat!”

First Year Ally: Isabelle M. Delgado

Placement: FSW, Inc. (formerly Family Services Woodfield); Bridgeport, CT

Most Interesting Thing I’ve Learned About Bridgeport: “Bridgeport has a large Portuguese and Brazilian population- and with them they bring several good restaurants!”

Bridgeport Site Program Manager: RJ Mercede

Favorite PACT Experience So Far:  “I have two favorite PACT experiences so far- team building exercises at Core Retreat (including the flawless execution of the “Double Piggy Back Ride”) and Bridgeport TSP’s first team breakfast together.”  (See below for the photo.  Shout out to Heaven- Lee, Beatriz, & Ben!)

First Year Ally: Samantha Santos

Placement: Bridgeport Neighborhood Trust; Bridgeport, CT

Most Interesting Thing I’ve Learned About Bridgeport: “Bridgeport has so much potential; it’s like an ‘unpolished jewel.’ “

First Year Ally: Christine Santos

Placement: Domus; Stamford, CT

Favorite PACT experience so far: “When we packed six people into a Trans Am to meet with [local community organizer] Angie Staltaro at Bridgeport City Hall!”

First Year Ally: Beatriz Santiago

Placement: Saint Vincent’s Dispensary of Hope; Bridgeport, CT

The most interesting thing I’ve learned about Bridgeport:  “A lot of our land was polluted in the past, which makes it difficult [but not impossible!] to rebuild.”

First Year Ally: Heaven- Lee Giovinco

Placement: Saint Luke’s Lifeworks; Stamford, CT

Favorite PACT experience so far: “Pot luck brunch on full day TSP days.”  [Heaven Lee introduced us to the calorie laden but oh so delicious microwaveable-waffle-with-caramel-ice-cream-and-whipped-cream "breakfast" combo!]

First Year Ally: Ben Pharr

Placement: Operation Hope; Fairfield, CT

Favorite Quote: ” ‘Every sound you make in life echoes in eternity.’ -Unknown”

2.0 (Second Year) Ally: Sharaya Smith

Placement: Bridgeport Public Library, Volunteer Services Coordinator

Favorite PACT experience so far: “For me, it would have to be Core Retreat from my first year.  It totally changed my life!”  Below, Sharaya poses as The Public Ally From the Future for our Newspaper Fashion Show during Core Retreat!

2.0 Ally: Shon McKenzie

Placement: Bridgeport Housing Authority; Bridgeport, CT

Goal for this year: “To graduate this Public Allies year with a great experience behind me.  I also plan to further my education by getting my Master’s in Psychology for a great career.”

Shon listens carefully during a CL Friday training.

2.0 Ally: Veronica Swain

Placement: GBAPP, Inc. (Greater Bridgeport Area Prevention Program); Bridgeport, CT

The Most Interesting Thing I’ve learned About Bridgeport:  “It has a thriving artist community.  I wasn’t aware of the richness and cohesiveness of the creative community until I moved here and began working in Bridgeport.”

Veronica showing off her illustration talent as she presents her galaxy- themed Life Map during Core Retreat.

Nice to meet you!

White picket fence dreams? Not so much.

30 Nov

Probably like most college students nearing graduation, I was beginning to get a little freaked out about what my next step would be. The “right thing to do” would be to find a well- paying job, get married, churn out 2.5 kids, and buy a McMansion with a white picket fence (complete with a really hideous minivan)… right? Not so much. I realized that although such a traditional path works for some, it wasn’t for me. I went to school for Social Work so I knew I wanted to do some type of work for the empowerment and enrichment of people’s lives. I knew I wanted to make a difference in my community and its stakeholders. But how?

I couldn’t have made a better choice than to participate as an AmeriCorps Public Allies member. This program is developing my leadership skills in what I like to think of as both a personal and public way. This is especially true of Continuous Learning (CL) Fridays (the best part of the program, in my opinion!) During CL Fridays, all the Connecticut Allies meet and engage in personal and professional development activities. Trainings so far have focused on Kingian Non Violence Conflict Reconciliation, Group Theory, Change & Transition, the current state of the educational system, and Meyers- Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) results among other topics.

It’s so good to have a feeling of perpetual growth through the program. More importantly, I know the skills I’m developing are ones I can carry with me into my next endeavor and even life in general. One example is that after discussing today’s education system, I realized I need to figure out why I don’t want to work in schools. So I reached out to a local school social worker and friend of Public Allies CT and will be shadowing him in the next couple of weeks!

Speaking of life in general, I’m faced once again with this question, “What’s my next step?” Do I want to do another service program? Do I want to move cross country (like fellow Ally and blogger Phil Drew did when he moved from Washington State to serve AmeriCorps in Hartford, CT)? Do I want to find a long term job? Do I want to go to grad school? No matter what, my Public Allies experience is cementing the realization that to engage in service (through volunteering, through working for and with nonprofits, through being not just a resident but a community member) is a super fulfilling way to move through life. Here’s to planning for a successful future!

My path to Public Allies (and beyond!)

30 Nov

Almost exactly one year ago, I began to consider what I was going to do after I graduated. I attended a panel called “Beyond the Cubicle” sponsored by my college’s career services department that focused on employment opportunities in the non- profit world. I went in not knowing what to expect, having never had a “real” job before, and came out knowing that I was going to apply to Public Allies.

I’ve always felt a little torn between my two primary interests: social justice and the arts, specifically literature. Sometimes, especially in the college setting, the connections between the two are not immediately apparent. For the most part, I indulged my love of literature in classes and seminars, while I explored social inequality in my community through extracurricular activities. So, when it came time to search for jobs, I found that most of my community experience came from things like voter registration drives, working in a local community garden and interning at a food justice nonprofit.  

Painting a rain barrel at the community garden

Being the nerd that I am, I am happiest in a classroom setting. I find that classroom discussions often yield the most valuable learning experiences – interpretations that I haven’t yet explored, perspectives that I haven’t yet seen and opinions, just waiting to be challenged. Yet, I often found that these classroom discussions offered little or no space to talk about the role that arts and humanities play in social justice.  

A picture I took freshman year of college to prove that I did, in fact, study.

At the “Beyond the Cubicle” panel an Ally from Public Allies Delaware talked about teaching visual arts classes in schools where funding for the arts had been cut. That was when it all began to make sense to me. Just as access to healthy food is a social justice issue, a quality arts education is something that should be, but isn’t, available to all. After being admitted to Public Allies D.C., I was placed at the PEN/ Faulkner Foundation. Their mission statement – bringing together readers and writers to promote a love of literature – resonates with my desire to make the humanities more accessible. I was especially drawn to the practice of bringing both books and authors into classrooms. That way, students are exposed to contemporary poems, fiction and literary nonfiction that they can take home, mark up, read and re-read at their own pace. They are also exposed to the authors who are, in fact, people just like them offering anecdotes, jokes and advice.

A year ago I doubt I could have imagined where I would be today, living in a new city and doing a job that seems too good to be true. But, I’m here, finally exploring the connection between the arts and social change and beginning to envision how I can work to effectively promote both.

It is inhuman to impede another’s progress

29 Nov

Have you ever had that moment when you read a passage in a book that rings so true to your life you can’t help but remember it long after you’ve finished the book? In You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers, a novel about two friends who find themselves in possession of $40,000 and decide to travel the world to give it away, one of the characters proclaims: “It’s inhuman to impede another’s progress.” This quote, as simple as it is, captures the philosophy behind why I do what I do.

My parents, African-Americans who grew up in Mississippi during the ’50s and ’60s, instilled in me a thirst for equality through lessons they bestowed upon me from their experiences. They made sure I understood that two of the greatest sins of humanity are the desire to control others through the suppression of facts and the act of denying someone their rightful place as an equal participant in the development of humanity. The ultimate tool to defeat these injustices is education. So when I meditate on why I now believe in the power of education for societal change, my thoughts always go back to my parents and how I was raised to believe that we are all capable of extraordinary actions.

I wanted to be a part of Public Allies because I knew I would be able to do work that aligned with my own philosophy about service. The mission of service is not to save people. Service is about working with people so that they can liberate themselves. In all my activities I have sought opportunities that kept true to this. As a field organizer on Barack Obama’s campaign, one of my main responsibilities was training volunteers to be leaders in their own community, who in the end deserve most of the credit nationwide for this success. When I worked for The Young People’s Project in Boston, I ran a workshop with youth on how their education can be a tool for social change. In the West Bank, I facilitated discussions with refugee youth on what they would want in a future Palestinian state.

I knew the Public Allies program would fit perfectly into this trajectory based on the core value of its mission statement: everyone leads. I knew that this program, and specifically the one at Eagle Rock School, is where I belong. I had decided to apply to the Eagle Rock site over a year before the deadline. That’s how sure I was that this program was the right fit for what I believed in and what I wanted to do. And now that I’ve been a member of Public Allies for over two months now, I’m still sure I made the right decision.

Love at second sight

28 Nov

I was nine the first time I stepped foot in New York City. Fourth-grade school trip, actually. I can’t recall all of what I did or even how it went, but I do remember thinking: too cold, a bit dirty, and just a bit crowded. But then again, I was young, naïve, and absolutely certain that New York and I would never cross paths again. You see, I was a child of sunny and suburban South Florida and that’s all I’d ever really known. So now, 15 years later, it’s fitting and rather ironic that I would find myself making a grand return to the city that I once swore off. Choosing Public Allies, choosing New York of all places, ended up not necessarily being a hard choice, but one that arrived at particular time in my life where it felt just right.

When I was in college, it took me a long time to figure out what the word “passion” really meant. As I understood it, passion is defined as a “powerful feeling – a kind of yearning, or zest for something.” I remember as a freshman being told that it’s important to start to think about the very things that drive us, move us (and hopefully this in turn would become a declared major at the same time). So I went on a search and tried your garden variety of different classes and clubs. But it took until the end of my sophomore year for me to start to realize what I needed most.

It was 2008, the middle of an election year. I remember it fondly because it was when I had made my second-to-last major switch, moved off-campus on my own, and started to have one of those mid-college life crises. It was during that summer that I decided I needed to pay more attention to the world around me. I started asking a lot more questions. I started to challenge my thoughts and long-standing beliefs. I began tracking the candidates more closely — their issues, their positions. I started keeping an eye on the values that mattered to me personally: equality, acceptance, inclusion. That’s when it hit me.

I needed to get my hands dirty.  I needed to care more. I needed to do more. I started getting involved and invested in the dialogue and the discussion. I started to educate myself on advocacy work, LGBT rights, and social justice issues. I could no longer just be an observer of the political process, I wanted to be a part of it. I joined our student LGBT organization and began to surround myself with people who shared a similar interest in working to build more inclusive spaces. And after some three lovely years of doing just that, and after meeting some of the best friends of my life, I craved more. I needed to find a way of taking what I’ve done and bringing it to the next level.

That’s how I came to Public Allies. That’s why I chose New York. I knew that the combination of this program and this city would be the best place for me. To find opportunities, embrace new challenges, and hopefully prove my nine-year-old self wrong at the same time. We’ll see how it goes!

Path to here

28 Nov

If you give a man directions, he’ll know where to go that day. If you teach him how to read a map, he’ll be able to find his own paths for a lifetime.”

(The quote goes something like that, right?)

Public Allies asked us to introduce ourselves to you, the lovely audience, by sharing our paths to here.

I think a lot about paths. Partly because I’m a nerd. Mostly because I spent my childhood on a path I didn’t know I could leave, most of college leaving it without realizing, and a couple of years in a metaphorical ditch crying: “Oh no! Where am I? How did I get here? Where should I go now???” I felt doomed by all the ditches, and inequalities modern civilization had on offer. Then I bought some hiking boots, learned to read topographic maps, borrowed machete and climbed, mapped, and hacked my way onto new paths. Literally. There was no tragedy in any of this:

sawing my way outSonoran Desert HikingClimbing

So where did I come from? Imagine a yellowed ocean chart. The continents are outlined with fountain pen ink and thin arrows draw my great grandparents’ paths from their shtetls in Ukraine to the gates of Ellis Island. But immigration’s not all pretty nostalgia. To the East, there is fire at their heels from the villages being burned in pogroms. To the West, that fire reemerges from their fists as they are blacklisted organizers for workers’ rights.

The fire is powerful and violent. And when I myself finally noticed it – it overshadowed the computer glare reflecting the Google map of my comfortable suburban childhood – it scared me. I had to learn to contain history in my belly. It burns there yet. My dad is a physicist and he would tell you: energy cannot leave the universe. (My mom is French teacher, so she’d say: “l’energie ne peut pas sortir de l’univers”). But I do not spew its violence back out upon the world. I transform it instead to kindle the light by which I bear witness. And draw maps.

Thus my path to here: To Kayam Farm and to Public Allies. Step 1: We’re learning how to draw asset maps- maps of the valuable people and institutions- of the communities we’ll work this year. From there, we’ll organize people on paths to positive change, and leave our maps for the next generations to use.

I’ve had some years to think, and some time to put down the machete to wield the pen, so stay tuned to learn more about how did I get here? and if you like maps so much, why are you doing an Americorps program for little pay when you could be studying GIS technology and earning a salary? … and be part of my map into the future.

I always knew I’d end up here

25 Nov
Cincinnati’s current class of Allies!

I have often been asked, “Why Public Allies? How did you get here?” I feel I can’t answer that questions without talking about my parents.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I became aware of the many injustices plaguing the world but I do remember feeling it from a very young age. I have many memories of myself as a young girl with my parents by my side, absorbing everything around me. I remember the three of us marching for immigrant/migrant rights in Washington, D.C., and seeing the Zapatistas go by, chanting for justice. (Later, a book by a major Zapatista figure would become a powerful emotional connection for me about social and political justice movements on a global scale.) Another time, I took a trip to view the AIDS memorial quilt when it was on display to memorialize the lives that had been lost to AIDS. And I will never forget the time my parents and I happened to be on vacation in Toronto during a Gay Pride parade. We walked amongst rainbow flags and glitter on our way to our hotel. I can remember my mom helping me decide on my 8th grade history project when I was struggling between researching the Black Panthers or Delores Huerta.

At this point I can’t tell if these are completely my own memories (sans the history project) or if I have pieced them together via stories my parents told me about my youth. Either way, these experiences have shaped my life. My parents let me view and experience the world without bias. They always answered my questions with complete honesty while at the same time reminding me that what they said was not infallible, thus encouraging me to find out the answers for myself.

This trait stuck with me throughout my life, especially in college. My biggest question revolved around academic vs. action. I was always searching for ways to turn the academic talk around social injustice into the actions I had seen others take part in. Because I could no longer merely talk and theorize, I dropped out. Unfortunately, after I dropped out I had no idea where to start. I became jaded and lost. This brings me to Public Allies.

Public Allies is the perfect balance between talking and acting. Through Public Allies I am finally finding ways to combine academic theory and real-life experience into work that will help make the lasting social changes I have always known were possible.


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