Tag Archives: interview

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

Following heartlines

9 Dec

This month, we have asked the ALLY SNAPSHOT bloggers to describe someone inspiring they have met in their Public Allies experience. Here’s one of the posts on this theme. (* A special thanks goes out to Michael Matsey for helping design the questions for this interview. Also, some computers may require the use of headphones/earphones for the videos.)

“Just keep following the heartlines on your hands. Keep it up, I know you can.”
~ “Heartlines” by Florence + the Machine


This is Shelley. She hails from Canada and is a bright light in the world of Public Allies. She lives and breathes the Public Allies mission every day. She follows her heartlines, her passion. She is also what some would label as an “old soul”: full of wisdom, insight, and compassion for others. Her enthusiasm and passion is a great motivator for Friday trainings.

To better understand Shelley, I decided to interview her. This interview also shows just how inspiring Shelley is. I felt the best way for you to know Shelley is to see her speak. To start, here are videos about why Shelley became a staff member and her prior work.

Shelley’s journey to Public Allies is similar to mine. Both of us have a counseling background a deep desire to help others. (See “The Road after Public Allies”.) The Public Allies mission statement, which Shelley discusses in the “joining P.A.” video, was also a major reason why I applied for the program. Public Allies’ focus on improving local communities by training young adults to be leaders, plus working with nonprofit organizations sounded promising for an idealist like me. Trainings are definitely a highlight of the week. Shelley does a great job taking the helm on trainings. Her views on leadership and her values impact the way these trainings are put together. See these videos to learn more:

I found it interesting that Shelley strongly believes that everyone can lead. Before starting with Public Allies, I was used to the old ideal — the one where leadership was about the role you play at work, home, or in other group settings. Since being in the program, I have begun to redefine leadership. This definition is still a work in progress but here is what I have so far: “A leader is someone who is fully committed to his/her choice of passion. Someone who has a fire in their heart, is willing to work with others to shape and mold his/her vision, and serves as a role model to others.”

I fully believe that Shelley fits the definition I have drafted. You can tell by the way she talks and interacts with others that this is true. She is a role model. To learn more from her, I asked her for advice she would like to share. Here is what she said: