Tag Archives: Leadership

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



20 Dec


Opportunity means being given a seat with decisions makers and being equally valued in that space. It is having room to expand and exercise my capabilities.

“Opportunity never knocks. It hangs thick in the air all around you. You breathe it unthinking, and dissipate it with your sighs.”
― Roy H. Williams

Can I really lead?

6 Dec

“Can you really lead, Ugonnah?” This is the question I asked myself after the first day of training when I did my first year of Public Allies. Like most people, I had a vague idea of what makes a leader. Vision, charisma, and the ability to convey your vision in a way to make others want to follow are considered to be basic characteristics of a leader. I am not disputing that they aren’t necessary, but it ignores the idea that says that leaders can be ever evolving and learning, which are traits I really value. Before Public Allies, I never thought that there might be an organization that would equip me with the tools of a good leader by highlighting the strengths in myself and learning to work on the attributes that I would like to strengthen. Sure, there are seminars and workshops that will teach me how to be more forceful and how to use words to persuade others to bend to my will, but that usually depends on changing fundamental things about me or taking an inventory of everything that is wrong with me, which, I can’t imagine, is a fun activity. I found that in my first year I discovered what social issues really spoke to me and was exposed to backgrounds, world views and opinions that made me examine how I see my surroundings. I did a lot of evolving and growing. I saw what I want , and held tightly the idea of “being the change I want to see in the world” as a way to decide my next steps. This second year as a Public Ally, I hope to develop the kind of skills (or maybe the assurance) that will allow me to be a leader and a force of good in my part of the world.

A little less than a month ago, Public Allies Pittsburgh held a training where we, Second Year Allies, facilitated a meeting with a panel of leaders in non-profits in the Pittsburgh area  and discussed the topic “Leadership: Managing with a Vision”. It was an amazing space where we were able to ask these different leaders what path they took to becoming leaders, what keeps them going, and how they keep their staff motivated. The quote that I will take with me from this experience was “Leadership is a process, when following a passion you can always move forward.” I want to follow my passions and grow with these passions, and if I am lucky enough to lead others to making a change where we can work together for a great cause. In my opinion, this kind of motivation keeps your intentions true, and when you feel on the brink of burning out, you can take steps to remind yourself on why you are working so hard. I am really excited about this year, and this panel was a great kick off to the kind of learning I want to experience this year. Public Allies extols the idea of ‘Everyone Leads” and being surrounded by people who genuinely believe it and also celebrates different kinds of learning and leading styles is one of my main reasons for signing up for a second year and will be something I can incorporate into every aspect of my life.

Facing – and Fighting – Years of Decay

28 Nov

I’ve regularly toured dilapidated New York City buildings for the last year and a half. The building I visited Wednesday morning, the former Greenpoint Hotel, is the worst. “Jim,” a tenant there, asked my coworker and I to visit. He looked middle-aged and was a disabled Vietnam veteran who suffered a shrapnel injury that makes his voice sound like a scruffy ninety-year-old. He said that there has been no heat or hot water in the building for ten days– a problem they’ve had intermittently for three years– and he’s called the city repeatedly to complain with no relief.

One of my tasks in the Community Preservation Unit at St. Nicks Alliance is to visit buildings where landlords aren’t fulfilling their legal obligations, particularly to low-income and longtime tenants. We educate the tenants on their rights, help them form associations, and show them how to access resources to solve their housing problems.

Jim’s building is in Greenpoint, a suddenly-chic, historically-working-class neighborhood in North Brooklyn (you may have heard of it as the home of the girls in HBO’s Girls). Inside the building are over 100 single-room units, some barely large enough to fit a twin-sized bed. The tenants share bathrooms on each floor, where the showers are black with mold and leaky sink pipes flood the floors. The halls smell like waste and smoke; the floors, ceilings, and staircases are warping. The only means of cooking are hot plates– a fire hazard– and the windows lack enough fire escapes. Abandoned rooms are left unlocked and filled with refuse. Some tenant’s doors no longer close and have been rigged shut with wire and master locks.

Image(a shower shared by 8-12 people)

As my coworker and I followed Jim down the cold, bright orange halls, other tenants stepped from their rooms, asking who we were and offering information. The tenants are all men; many are seniors, many are disabled, and at least a dozen are veterans. As we spoke, nearly half of them had to excuse themselves to lie down or warm up. Some men who could afford it had bought space heaters, which pose a fire danger in such tiny rooms. One man caught on fire last week and has been in the hospital ever since. They say the landlord keeps an office next door, but refuses to touch the place.

Image(an abandoned room)

The building’s problems are no secret. The city’s website reports over 300 violations in this building. Tenants have been working with a legal services organization for the last three years. Many tenants have filed complaints against the landlord for rent overcharge with the city and won. A 2006 New York Times article detailed the poor conditions and drug problems in the building. But the article made no mention of the landlord’s legal obligations and seemed to imply that all of the tenants were addicts who put up with the conditions by choice, while in reality many tenants are simply seniors, veterans, and others who have no other affordable options.

Almost seven years later, this building remains unchanged. It is the tenants’ reality, day in, day out.

After discussing the tenants’ legal rights and promising to call another local organization to collaborate on following up with a course of action, we left. On our way out, we passed a city council member going into the building, who told us he was hoping to get a story in the Daily News about the place.

These are small but promising steps. But why does it take so long for a community to not only see that some of its most vulnerable neighbors have been living in deplorable conditions, but to then push for and achieve positive and lasting change? There are certainly large obstacles to improving such a building. But, as leaders, we have to ask: how do you get from knowing about a problem to trying to solve it, and from trying to solve it to actually getting the thing done?

By Kelly Wehrle, Public Allies New York (an AmeriCorps program) Class of 2013

What does your leadership look like?

18 Jun

Last month, Public Allies National started the Everyone Doodles contest on Facebook, asking for doodles that answer the question “How do YOU lead?”

Since I don’t use Facebook, I can’t enter the contest, but this reminded me of a question we were asked during the PA Los Angeles Mid-Year Retreat: “What do you want your leadership to look like?” We drew our answer onto our paperbag “mailboxes” which we use to leave one another messages through the retreat.

Outside of my Public Allies work at SRO Housing, personal writing, our Team Service Project at Southern California Library, volunteering for Community Services Unlimited, Inc., and gardening, rock climbing is my other pre-occupation. So of course I thought of mountains when I considered my drawing:

Why a mountain? Well, I thought about what I’ve learned through coaching and training: that our leadership is about our communities; how we must always be grounded in how we can impact others and change things for the better. In climbing, as in leading, we face our fears, explore our limitations, and hold on tight. And through doing that, we discover how high we can actually go. In terms of community work, it’s not until we fully explore our resources and assets, both in ourselves and in one another, that we see how great our community can be.

The little green and red/orange blobs along the mountain are flowers– because it’s not just about getting higher and higher, it’s also the journey upward itself. I’ve been surprised and delighted while climbing on what looks like nothing but rock, only to find a little bush or flower or succulent in a nook along my path. I want my leadership to have that kind of magic and positivity, too.

And finally, I think we also don’t realize what how grand our communities are. That they’re mountains of caring, determination, and perseverance. I want my leadership to remind people of that, too, because that’s what I see.

Contemplating collaboration

12 Jun

On Wednesday, May 30th, the second year allies had the opportunity to facilitate training for the first year allies at Public Allies Maryland. The training discussed leadership, how we define it, what it means to be a “good” or “bad” leader and an “effective” or “ineffective” leader. We also gave them an assessment to discover their own leadership styles after discussing different academic theories about leadership.

However, one of the most moving parts of the training was when my fellow second year ally Shawnice presented the idea of virtue cards. She handed out a card to everyone as a way for us to reflect on our own leadership styles and characteristics; each card featured beautiful pictures of nature as well as a word. The idea behind this is that within every person there is a core set of virtues or values that represent the content of our character. I think the ideas behind the virtue cards really resonates with us as Public Allies because of the five core values that provide the foundation for the work that we do. The word I happened to get, just by chance, was cooperation.

Below you can see a picture of the “cooperation” card front and back.

Reading this card I kept thinking about one of the five core values in Public Allies: collaboration. It’s hard to tell if there’s even a difference between cooperation and collaboration. However, one important difference is that collaboration is done on purpose and is done across boundaries. Collaboration is really a special type of cooperating where you go one step further to include voices that are missing from the discussion and create partnerships in unlikely places. It’s more than just working together to meet a common goal, it’s building a strong team that focuses on the diverse assets each team member brings to the table, empowering others to lead, and working together to achieve something you couldn’t have done alone.

What does “collaboration” mean to you? Share it in the comments below!

Why you should join Public Allies

8 Jun

This is one in a series of Ally Snapshot blog posts on the theme, “Why Public Allies?” If you are thinking of service work, please read on. If you know someone who might be interested, please share!

You’ve heard about Public Allies, you’ve read the blog, checked out the website, googled around… and you’ve ended up here. I’m glad that you did because after being part of Public Allies Maryland for the past two years I will tell you exactly why you should join this truly wonderful and life changing program.

Before I answer your question “Why should I join Public Allies?” I want you to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I want to make a difference in my community?
  2. Do I see a need in my community and want to help even though I may not be sure exactly how to do it?
  3. Am I interested in learning more about the nonprofit sector and how I can build a career while making a difference?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you’re ready for service work. Why should you pick Public Allies over any other AmeriCorps or service program? What makes it so great? What sets Public Allies apart? Why should you join Public Allies?

The 5 Reasons You Should Join Public Allies

  1. Public Allies believes in you. At Public Allies they believe that everyone can lead and that leadership is an action you take, not a position you hold. This is the number one reason I joined Public Allies. I always knew I had the power to make a difference in my community and the world, but I wasn’t sure how I could do that and there weren’t many people out there who thought a receptionist at a veterinary hospital really had that much to offer. Public Allies knows that everyone has the potential and assets to make a difference.
  2. Leadership coaching and professional development trainings. Experts from the nonprofit sector and the community will be there every week to teach and answer your questions to help you develop the skills you already have and make you the next great leader you always knew you had the potential to be! It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to come together each week and learn as a community.
  3. Support. From your program managers, to your teammates on your team service projects, to your partner supervisors, and even the directors, you will be supported. They’ll be there to give feedback, they’ll be there when you’ve had an awesome day or the worst day, they’ll be there volunteering at your events, and cheering you on every step of the way! At Public Allies you really are family.
  4. True and intentional diversity. At Public Allies diversity is not just an ideal. Public Allies purposefully recruits diverse young leaders and works to promote and support leaders from all different walks of life. Diversity can mean so many things from racial, ethnic, class, background, perspective, experience, sexual identity, sexual orientation, gender, to educational and Public Allies intentionally works to include them all. On average, Allies are 67% people of color, 60% women, 50% college graduates (including some with graduate degrees), and 15% LGBT. Diversity is one of the reasons why I decided to join Public Allies because they don’t just talk about diversity or say we need diverse leaders; Public Allies actively does diversity and develops diverse leaders.To quote Susan Edwards from Everyone Leads by Public Allies’ CEO Paul Schmitz: Diversity is an action, not an ideal.
  5. More than 3,000 alumni (and counting!) across the nation working in almost every sector are waiting for you to complete the program and use them as resources to keep developing as a leader and a professional. The end of my second year is fast approaching and the closer it gets the more important our strong alumni network becomes. Check out the Public Allies Alumni page on LinkedIn to get an idea of what alumni are doing now!

These 5 reasons are just the beginning of the many, many reasons why Public Allies is an amazing program to take part in. I hope you’ll join us at the site closest to you and discover all the benefits Public Allies has to offer for yourself.

Calling all Allies & Alumni: What is the number one reason you joined Public Allies? Let us know in the comments!