Tag Archives: Inspiration

Kick-Off and New Beginnings

26 Mar

After some unexpected set-backs, my service project with my fellow Allies is finally coming together. My group co-hosted a community event with our partner organization, the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society (IMAS) on the North Side of Chicago. The organization’s mission is “to foster the well-being and self-sufficiency of Iraqi refugees and immigrants in the Chicago-metro area: easing their transition to life in the United States, forging connections between Iraqi and American society, and facilitating the preservation and exchange of Iraqi culture”. With the Iraqi community in Chicago growing, IMAS  is eager to expand its programming and our project focuses on helping the staff build the infrastructure for new youth programs.

My service project team.

Our kick-off event was a great opportunity for interface with the community. Personally, I had very little knowledge of or experience with refugee groups from any background before partnering with IMAS. The opportunity to learn more about Iraqi culture and the refugee experience makes this project even more exciting. The journey began for me at the event, where I had an enlightening conversation with a community member. She approached me to ask for more information about Public Allies and my personal background. After a 40 minute conversation, I walked away feeling like I’d just met one of the most courageous women in the world. She has only lived in Chicago (and the US in general) for about 5 months, but has managed to find a new home and family here after losing her entire family in Syria. IMAS, she said, helped her come back to life. The people she has met are her new brothers and sisters. Of everything she said, one quote will probably stay with me forever:

“When people ask me how old I am, I say 5 months because when I came here 5 months ago I was reborn. It was a new beginning.”

Her attitude towards her experiences is inspiring. Personally, it reminds me to believe in the power of hope and the strength it can give you to start over.


The “Partner” in Partner Organization

12 Jul

Public Allies Los Angeles (PALA) Class of 2012 graduates on Friday. During our Presentations of Learning two weeks ago, we shared our struggles, successes, and learning (they were emotional and eye-opening, and inspired my final post at the PALA blog).  I can say with complete conviction that the coaching I received from Vanessa Vela Lovelace, the emphasis on critical self-reflection, and the training I received from the entire PALA team have helped me become a more effective leader and community member, and I will carry these lessons with me into the next steps of my journey.

What I will also carry is the close relationship that I had with my Partner Organization Supervisor, Victor Constantino, Senior Case Manager in the Seniors Program at SRO Housing. As I reflected upon the last 10 months, I realized that Victor was the figure I worked with most (other than my dear fellow Ally Shameka Dixon), and he has had a huge influence on my experience as a Public Ally. I dedicate this last post at Ally Snapshots to him.

I am so thankful to have had Victor as my PO Supervisor; he provided guidance, encouragement, and a wealth of knowledge and experience. He shared his time freely, which was crucial during the first months of learning to be a case manager. From the very beginning, Victor showed that he was not only committed to the work that we could accomplish as case managers, but also to our development as leaders and as Public Allies. Ultimately, his guidance resulted in Shameka and I both exceeding our output targets at SRO Housing.

Despite facing increased responsibilities and limited time, Victor was willing to share some thoughts about being a PO Supervisor:

My experience working with the Public Allies has been a positive one. As a PO Supervisor it is my professional responsibility to give back; I once sat on the other side of the table. I remember attending CSU Northridge and working my first internship. As nervous as I was, the professors made me feel comfortable and assisted me through the entire process. At the end of my internship I acquired the teaching fundamentals that would help me through this endeavor.
My role as PO Supervisor is to provide a lot of support and direction. Subsequently, the Allies become self-sufficient in fulfilling their responsibilities as case managers. They have been my support as well. They have been my left and right hand. I am fortunate to have had a diligent team pass through the Seniors Program. A lot of the seniors still remember and frequently ask about the Allies. Past Allies have continued in the realm of human services and continue to make a difference elsewhere. I am very proud of them. I have enjoyed being part of their learning process, growth, and an opportunity for a life-changing career.

Thank you to Victor, the Public Allies Los Angeles team, my fellow Allies, and to Public Allies National for allowing me the opportunity to share my experiences here.

And, in case you were wondering, Mr. W‘s tomatoes are doing great!

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

Lessons from Frank Oscar Larson

22 May

You may be thinking, “What the heck are a bunch of museum educators doing dressing up in 50s garb? Don’t they have classes to teach?”. But apart from being incredibly fun, we are taking the time out to mimic our favorite photos from the current exhibit Frank Oscar Larson: 1950s New York Street Stories to understand the subjects of the photos that line the museum walls. By the way, that’s me on the left.

The amazing images found at the link are from a Queens man who was a banker by day and photographer by night. His photographs were left unnoticed until after his death when his grandson Soren Larson decided to approach the Queens Museum of Art with an exhibition idea. I think you can see from the quality of images that the curators wouldn’t have been able to say no.

Frank Oscar Larson took the little free time he had to pursue his real passion of photography and I really took that to heart when I saw these photos. I think it’s incredible that he was able to keep the energy up on the weekends to hone his craft and I was inspired to continue working on my own artwork even with a mountain of work to do from Monday through Friday. Most advice I give to first-year Allies has to do with not stressing out and keeping their own selves in mind ,sometimes in a job where they are usually thinking of others, and I couldn’t have found a better illustration than Frank Oscar Larson. And I find it lucky to be in a space where his work just happened to be hanging right outside of my office door.

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?
When did you realize you wanted to help others?

Brainstorming, gift-seating, and crafting at mid-year retreat

11 Apr

You’ve heard it before, especially from people who are much older and wiser than you– every year seems to go by just a little bit faster.  This year’s been no exception:

Our Public Allies term is more than half over!

Whoa…I guess times flies when you’re having fun (and working hard)!

To mark this event, all of the Public Allies from the Twin Cities gathered at our Mid-Year Retreat in early March.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to this retreat.  I highly value my weekends and my down time, so knowing that I had to be “on” for most the weekend was a little daunting.  As always, though, I enjoyed myself once it was over.  Here are some highlights:

Re-defining innovation – One of my favorite workshops was on rethinking the innovative brainstorming process.  “Is it always that the boss is going to have the best ideas?  Unlikely.”  If you want to replenish those creative juices, take a look at this video from the innovators at IDEO:

Gift Seat – Each of us got to give feedback to the other members in our team service project.  At first it felt like this could turn in to a modern-day episode of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” but the process was really enlightening.  We don’t celebrate each other enough!  The gift seat process was a perfect opportunity to tell each other our appreciation, as well as things they could improve upon, that’s not always offered in everyday life.

Arts & Crafts!  – When was the last time you got to sit down and do like they do in elementary school?!  That’s right – we got some arts and crafts time.  We sat down with old fashioned scissors, glue sticks, and colorful paper to make a scrapbook of our Public Allies experience so far.  What a great bonding experience (and a large mess to clean up…)!


Ending the day with gifts to each other – We started these things called “gift bags” at the end of our core week training at the beginning of our service year.  We each decorated our bags, and put little notes in each other’s gift bags with encouraging words, compliments, and other uplifting things.  The bags travelled with us to our retreat!  Below, Shameika takes a few moments to fill up her fellow allies’ bags to end our weekend.

Objects With A Story: PANY 2nd Years Team Service Project

9 Apr

Fellow Public Ally Harley Jones at the Queens Museum of Art wrote a fabulous blog post on our TSP project, and I really could not have said it better myself. Check out the below to read her words on the exciting art exhibit we have brewing in May. And stay tuned to see the final products.

Queens Teens Create Objects with a Story

Harley Jones is a Public Allies 2012 fellow at the Queens Museum of Art, working as a School Program Educator as well as a Family & After School Programs Assistant.

Every Wednesday that school is in session, our Queens Teens travel from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria to the Queens Museum of Art. Around 4 pm they materialize, with backpacks, cups of ramen and massive donuts from a bakery in Forest Hills I’ve never heard of. An incredibly reflective and (too) smart (for their own good) paid corps of high school students, they work alongside Tim Miller, Manager of Family and After School Programs, and me, Family and After School Programs Assistant, engaging families with QMA’s permanent and rotating exhibitions in the museum’s galleries and art studios.

But for the next two months, their focus is primarily their own art. Each Teen will create a series of two and three dimensional mixed media works for a month-long May display at the Flushing Library. The inspiration for their pieces: a Queens community member whose story intrigues, influences, and inspires them. School Programs Assistant Pema Domingo-Barker joins us for the project, entitled Objects with a Story, as photographer and my team co-captain.

Below you’ll find an interview excerpt by Queens Teen Yocelyn Zare of community member Errol Quest. This Wednesday, we asked the Teens to identify the interview answers they found most compelling. From there, each Teen created a big, bold, preliminary project sketch; they mapped out their first concept, a literal and metaphorical rendering of one interview characteristic on either side.

Yocelyn’s first concept sketch. She literally illustrates Mr. Quest’s unrealized life experience on the left, and figuratively interprets his actual personality on the right.

YZ: Why did you want to become a teacher?

EQ: My mom. I was inspired by my mom, who was a teacher, and my grandmother was a teacher, and my aunt was a teacher, and a couple cousins. I think I was destined to be a teacher because I grew up among teachers, and I loved what they did, and I loved working with kids.

YZ: How did you want to influence kids with science, your subject?

EQ: Science is everywhere. Science is a part of our lives. And in other countries, they stress science more than in this country. I’m trying to encourage students to study. I’m trying to be a role model from the African American community, to show kids from my community that they can strive to become anything. If you look at the stereotypical scientist, it’s not me. It’s the old guy with the white beard and the white lab coat. I’m just trying to influence students to achieve.

Quinn Hu

Peter Keehn

Selena Matos

Miriam Jovanovic

Megan Basaldua

Aubrey Miller

Ian Tousius