Tag Archives: AmeriCorps

From Washington, PA to Washington, D.C.

21 May

As a child, I often told my mother that it was my dream to go to the White House and talk to the President about how I wanted to “change the world by helping people.” I was very young, but I understood at an early age the true power of the presidency. I knew that if I wanted my story to be heard, and if I wanted to make change happen, I had to go directly to the source of political power: the President. As I grew older, this dream grew distant, and I became apathetic about how I was living my life. Until recently, I had completely forgotten about this dream of mine.

On Friday, April 12th, my dream was revived as I joined 11 other AmeriCorps and CNCS members in walking through the gates of the White House. As I took my seat in the Roosevelt Room and then, as I shook President Obama’s hand and introduced myself, I felt a surge of energy and immediately recalled my long-lost aspiration. At that very moment in time, I was living my dream. I was participating in a roundtable with the President, where I and other service volunteers had the opportunity to share our personal life stories and our experiences of hardship and success in our volunteer work. I was invited to tell my story to people with true political power, people who have the ability to change lives in a very real sense. President Obama thanked me and the other volunteers for our service and spoke about the importance of volunteering in our communities. He encouraged us to stay motivated and to persevere when faced with setbacks.

After the roundtable had ended, President Obama took us on a private tour of the Oval Office, where we had the chance to see the Emancipation Proclamation, the Resolute Desk, and the Presidential Seal on the ceiling. When President Obama had to leave to tend to other matters, he sent us with top White House officials through the West Colonnade and the Rose Garden, where the flowers were in full bloom. We then walked to the South Lawn, where we met with White House Executive Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses. Bill guided us through the First Lady’s garden, which includes a bee hive and compost bins. There, he shared with us a story about the organic heirloom plants (including sea kale) whose seeds had been passed down from Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello. We were even invited to pluck fresh mint leaves right off of the plant to taste them.

Spending the afternoon discussing service at the roundtable with the President and the other volunteers was an invigorating and rejuvenating reminder of why I serve: to decrease suffering, to benefit others, and to make a difference in my community. Since my trip, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for the great outpouring of kindness from others. My community has supported me in every way possible. A brand new business suit was donated to me for my trip, as I couldn’t afford to purchase one on my own. My co-workers threw a Stars and Stripes themed surprise party for me and made a lovely little card for me, as well. Public Allies staff walked me through the process of forming my narrative and helped me to gain the courage to tell my story. My close friends and fellow Allies all gushed with excitement and pride over my achievement. It was truly a wonderful experience to receive such support from my community.

I was most touched by a message my sister sent to me just after I arrived in Washington, D.C. She said: “I’m so proud of how far you’ve come, Meg, from the first day when you were nervous and not thinking you were going to make the cut all the way to being one of 12 volunteers chosen to do what you are passionate about. I can’t tell you how honored I am to be your sister. You’ve made awesome leaps and bounds this past year, conquered your biggest fears, and you never once quit. Even when it became overwhelming, you still put your sweat and tears into everything you did. And now, doors are beginning to open to what you thought were unimaginable opportunities. I have so much faith in you and know you will excel in absolutely anything you do. You have the drive, determination, and passion to move mountains. I love you, and I’m so very proud of you.” I was moved to tears by my sister’s message, as I knew that I had become a source of inspiration for her.

After I returned from my trip, I had the chance to tell my story many times to many different people. Volunteers told me they were honored and proud to have me represent them at the White House, and clients at the agency where I am placed were excited to hear my story and pressed me to tell it over and over again until it felt real to me. Sharing my story with so many people actually became a source of strength for me; I used my vulnerability to make connections with others. I overcame the fear and shame I experienced about my life and my personal experience in poverty by making myself transparent. The authenticity and honesty transmitted through my message encouraged others to open up about their experiences, as well. Since I have started to share my story, I no longer feel shame about my past, and this has influenced other folks in my community to come forward and tell their stories too.

The impact that my trip has had on my personal life, my professional life, and the lives of others who have heard my story has been simply phenomenal. When I was a child, I thought that the only way my voice would ever be heard was if I got to tell my story to the President. Now that I’ve met President Obama and shared my life story with him and other folks in the federal government, I know this to be quite untrue. The real power in my personal narrative came from sharing it with my neighbors, my friends, my family, my co-workers. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to tell my story at the White House, but the real success came from me learning to share my story with my community.

This experience has been both humbling and empowering for me, and I am deeply honored and grateful for the opportunity to share my story with so many wonderful people. My life’s journey from Washington, PA to Washington, D.C. wasn’t exactly an easy one, but I couldn’t have done it without help. So, thank you to those who have offered me unending support and kindness, especially over the last few months. It really means more to me than I can ever truly express.

-By Meghan Dillie, Public Allies Pittsburgh Class of 2013

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An Interview with Nakeisha Neal Jones

3 Apr

In honor of AmeriCorps week last month, I had the opportunity to speak with the Executive Director of Public Allies DC (PADC), Nakeisha Neal Jones. Nakeisha completed the Public Allies  program in Washington, DC. in 1997 and led the same program’s re-launch in 2010. As someone who has experienced being an Ally as well as a staff member, Nakeisha offers an inspirational perspective on the value of AmeriCorps.

Why Service Matters

“Service can build relationships between people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet,” explained Nakeisha. “From my own experience, it can also help you learn more about a community. When I got to college, I decided to volunteer to get off campus. I think it was really good for me because I felt like I lived at Duke and not in Durham.” Similarly, service has the power to change the individual as much as it improves the society. For instance, volunteering taught Nakeisha that “we’re all linked” and enabled her to “use that (philosophy) as a routine way to live. That gift is more valuable than some of things that I’ve done.”

Public Allies’ Assets

Nakeisha believes that PADC can help solve the challenges currently facing our nation’s capital.  Too often DC is divided between the “haves and the have-nots,” lacking a space for “unusual suspects to come together to solve local issues.” By engaging diverse groups that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to work together, PADC builds sustainable solutions to community problems.

Public Allies’ Values

The value that Nakeisha uses most is “continuous learning,” or “the ability to question assumptions and beliefs, understand strengths and shortcomings, and commit to continued growth within a community context.” As Nakeisha explained, “it’s important for us to know why our actions are successful” as well as why we repeat the same mistakes. As change agents, we must study our errors and be open to altering ingrained habits.

From Ally to Executive Director

When Nakeisha was an ally, PADC challenged her “because there were many opportunities for me to reflect on what I valued and why. I realized that some of the beliefs that I held really weren’t as important as I thought they were. The group challenged me to deal with diversity, authenticity and community on a much deeper level that I had experienced before Public Allies. It was wonderful, but the change didn’t always feel good.” Nakeisha returned to PADC to rebuild an organization that shaped her own life path. Her experiences as an ally inspired her to “live the values, do what’s hard, and learn from mistakes,” philosophies that influence how she directs the program today.

The Future of Service

The goal for PADC is to imagine our community in 2023 and to ask ourselves, “What can we say that we had a hand in creating?” Hopefully, we will have built a “healthy, vibrant, relevant, and sustainable leadership pipeline for social good” that is ultimately using Public Allies values, tools, and relationships to solve long-standing community problems.

Final Thoughts

AmeriCorps and other service opportunities help generate a community-oriented culture where it is “normal to give time, talent, and money to other people or causes.” After all, “there’s a role for everyone. We all have strengths. If you’re doing something that’s helping to build a community that’s larger than yourself with whatever time you have, then I’m happy.”

~Angela Miller

Welcome to the Trenches

18 Feb

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Fresh from the classrooms of Butler University, I moved to DC this fall to participate in Public Allies. I was partnered with Metro Teen AIDS, where my job involves facilitating Spanish-language comprehensive sexual education workshops in DC Public Schools. On my first day, a school social worker pulled me aside and declared, “Welcome to the trenches of reproductive health. When you enter that classroom, you’re truly a foot soldier, so prepare to get your feet dirty. Are you sure you can handle these students?” doubt inscribed into the lines on her face as she sized up my small frame and bright, eager eyes.

At the school of the skeptical social worker, I led a game called “myths and facts” with my class of 30 Latino students. One of the most common myths the students believed was that, if a woman has an irregular cycle, she is definitely pregnant. I asked them to recall our previous lessons and to brainstorm other reasons why a person might skip her period. One young female raised her hand and responded, “Ooh I remember! When we were learning about STIs, you told us that it can be a symptom of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea!” Immediately upon hearing this fact, a 19-year-old male student in the front row began shaking and shot his hand into the air. “Ms. Angela, Ms. Angela!” he exclaimed, “I haven’t gotten my period yet! Does that mean I have Chlamydia?” Several students laughed, others looked equally concerned. My poker face intact, I calmly explained the basic concept of menstruation and its link to reproduction. He seemed reassured, but my conception of common knowledge was shattered.

My mission for my Public Allies’ year is to empower DC youth by giving them the information they need to make responsible life choices when it comes to their health. Every day, this task is challenged by the complex realities of our nation’s capitol. My students face a multitude of barriers- from a lack of resources to stressful home lives to language differences- in their quest to climb out of the trenches and to reach adulthood safely. However, these obstacles only solidify the importance of organizations like Public Allies and Metro Teen AIDS. For students in DC, the partnership between PA and MTA embodies the audacious belief that youth from all backgrounds have the agency to live productive and healthy lives.

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As an International Studies major, I was accustomed to discussing critical issues. I could rattle off alarming statistics, such as that “three in ten teen girls in the US will get pregnant at least once before age 20” (www.itsyoursexlife.org). MTA has given me the opportunity to work with the youth behind these statistics and to put my critical thinking abilities into practice. For young professionals, the PA year represents an opportunity to learn about vital topics through an immersive experience. When combined, my undergraduate degree and my PA experience have endowed me with the skills required to succeed in today’s complex society. After all, the real world is much messier than any textbook (or blog post) could convey.

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~ Angela Miller

Photos from top:

Despite snow flurries, Jamal, Angela, and Mike give condoms in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC.

Angela, Mike, Ona, Charlie, Januari, and Zoe hand out condoms outside the Anacostia Metro Station.

MTA’s testing van enables youth to get tested anywhere in the city.

Spirit to Serve Day

5 Jun

On May 16th I participated in an event that I have spent months planning, organizing, worrying, and dreaming about called Spirit to Serve Day. On this day over 100 volunteers from Marriott’s Architecture and Construction team arrived at my placement site, The SEED School of Maryland, to complete service projects on our 52-acre campus alongside our 6th and 7th grade students. In total, over 200 people participated in the service projects and bringing the total number of hours served to over 600.

I won’t say that everything ran perfectly or event smoothly at times, especially when I turned around and saw students painting themselves rather than the fences. However, it was an amazing experience and the volunteers were able to see the direct impact of their work. Students were also able to work closely with role models who spoke to them about the importance of education when it comes to determining your career as well as the positive impact you can make in a corporation and as an individual in your community.

Working closely with the facilities and maintenance departments at SEED volunteers completed beautification projects, such as planting flowers around our welcome sign and student-built meditation garden; painting the softball backstop, a beautiful mural on our basketball courts, fences around the basketball court, and courtyard picnic tables; and cleaning out the auditorium in preparation for renovation. Now our fences look like they were built yesterday and construction was able to start early!

To honor their service and dedication to our school, we presented Marriott’s architecture and construction team with the Governor’s Citation for Service presented by the Governor’s Office for Service and Volunteerism.When I graduated from college in 2009 or even when I first found out I would be placed at The SEED School of Maryland a year ago I never thought I would be able to coordinate an event so large with so many different projects, collaborators, and parts. With the training I received from our Director (and my program manager) Laura at Public Allies Maryland in event planning from the wonderful people at Business Volunteers Unlimited, I felt prepared and excited for the challenge. I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity like this again, but if I ever do, I’ll be ready!

Corona: Then and Now

1 Jun

The Program Design specialization track visited the Queens Museum of Art the other week to learn about Curriculum Design with my supervisor Lindsay Smilow and Program Manager Max Chang. They started their training day with a walk through the Queens neighborhood of Corona. Keeping in mind the following questions they then created some great collages, throwing in the idea of Corona: Then and Now.

  1. What do you notice about the community? What stands out in terms of assets?
  2. What can you glean about the people through what you see, hear, smell, etc.? What can you glean about the history of the area?
  3. If possible, speak to one community resident along the way about highlights of the area and their experiences living in the neighborhood?

As you may have learned from my Queens Muse blog post – some of our Public Allies are talented artists! Here’s a neighborhood I created out of their community mapping inspired collages.

A New Dimension of Service: Public Allies & Queens Museum of Art

30 May

Check out the following blog post I wrote for the Queens Muse Blog as an explanation of the partnership between my PO and Public Allies…Trust me, it’s worth it to scroll down.

 is the School Programs Assistant at the Queens Museum of Art. For more from Pema follow her on Twitter @pemadb or check out her blog posts for Public Allies.

Public Allies at the Queens Museum of Art discussing their art inspired by a walk through Corona

Q: What do a charter school, a tenant’s right association, an LGBT center and the US Fund for UNICEF all have in common with the Queens Museum of Art?

A: They are all partner organizations for Public Allies New York.

Public Allies New York (PANY) is a leadership development program that places young people at non-profits with socially driven missions throughout the city. For those Queens Muse blog readers familiar with the organizations mentioned or AmeriCorps (of which Public Allies New York is a branch), it may come as a surprise that a museum qualifies as a partner. But when you think about the way that QMA is a unique public space that offers community based programming and exhibitions for those who might not have access otherwise, then it begins to make perfect sense.

QMA Family and After School Programs Assistant Harley Jones and I are both 2nd year Allies placed here for our 10 month fellowship in the Education Department.  By design, Public Allies has all of the Fellows juggling two different hats at all times: dealing with the full time placement aspect of working in the Education Department supporting school, family, and after-school programs, as well the other components of the “PANY-verse” that we are required to complete. That means training sessions, retreats, a specialization track, Three Ways, 360s, PMs, PISDs, TSPs and other acronyms and lingo that we Allies speak fluently. For example, a project that came to fruition from partnering with Public Allies is our Team Service ProjectObjects with a Story, a Teen art exhibit we are having in partnership with the Queens Library. Check out our work in action at the opening of Objects with a Story at the Queens Library at Flushing on May 5th from 4 —6 pm.

Another point of intersection was last week’s visit by 15 Public Allies in the Program Design specialization track, who came as a part of their weekly training to learn more about Curriculum Design from our Manager of School Programs, Lindsay Smilow. QMA Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl also spoke with the Allies, looking to them as the next wave of community leadershe mentioned the way arts organizations can benefit from learning about the way service organizations help communities. Successful examples of such learning at QMA exist in both Shaun El C. Leonardo’s Heart of Corona Initiative site-specific artwork, and artist Tania Burguera’s  Immigrant Movement International.

Public Allies encompasses a national umbrella of organizations that upon first glance may seem far removed from the art world. By becoming an 2011-2012 partner, the Queens Museum of Art established a new dimension of service for a new class of Allies.

Harley and I on Psychedelic Thursday – inspired by Queens International 2012: Three Points Make a Triangle

Our Kids Can Lead

2 May

“I believe the children are our future,
teach them well and let them lead the way”
~ “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston

Group photo

On Saturday, April 28th, 2012 I had the privilege of volunteering for PA Chicago’s “Our Kids Can Lead” event in Oak Brook, IL. We were there to introduce service learning to youth grades 4-9. About 22 youth attend the event. The youth worked on one of four themes: Health/fitness, Education, Environment, or Animal Welfare.

I helped six 4th-6th grade students develop the Animal Welfare project. They had a lot of great ideas about our topic: Endangered animals, adoption, homeless animals, animal cruelty, pigs, marine animals, and giant pandas. We ran a vote and animal cruelty had the majority (5 to 1). The youth then decided what type of animals should we focus on within the topic of animal cruelty: It came down to endangered animals or pets. Pets won.

Then the youth talked about what they wanted to do to raise awareness about the problem of animal cruelty. They really wanted to spread the word and suggested the following: make fliers, put ads in the newspaper, get the news involved, word of mouth, host a party, have a rock concert, and run a carnival. They also identified some organizations and individuals they could work with on the project: animal shelters, pet food/supply stores, animal care and control, pet owners, offenders (of animal cruelty), ex-offenders, and other youth.

The group decided to do a skit for their project called “Animal Rescue.” It starts with the narrator introducing the skit and two pet owners (one good and one bad) walking their dogs in the park. A police officer sees the bad owner and takes his dog to the animal shelter. From there, the youth put up fliers raising awareness about animal cruelty and we finish with a song called “Pets Need This” by the Puppy People featuring the chorus of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. Here are a sample of the lyrics:

“What do pets need?
Pets need love.
Pets need caring…”

…Don’t worry about a thing,
Cus’ every little thing gonna be alright.
Don’t worry about a thing
Cus’ every little thing gonna be alright.”

I loved working with my group. They were very bright and enthusiastic. I know they are great leaders for their communities. Here are a few more moments from the day:

Starbucks providing snacks.

 

The youth getting to know one another.

 

volunteering poster

 

Free Rys Rice

Team Free Ry's Rice's Education project presentation.

 

Inspriation 1

Youth talking about inspiration.

 

More photos at Public Allies Chicago Facebook Page.

Food for Thought: What was the first time you volunteered like?
-OR-
When did you realize you wanted to help others?