Tag Archives: Public Allies Los Angeles

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!


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.

Springtime in Skid Row

23 May

One of the challenges of writing about working in Skid Row is trying not to romanticize or gloss over the reality that thousands of people live daily, and at the same time try to convey that this is a place filled with human beings who are both half empty and half full, no matter what side of the desk they may sit on. (The “half-empty and half full” language comes from Everyone Leads.)

As I consider how to find balance between perpetuating harsh images of Skid Row and worrying that I might write through a rose-colored lens, I realized that there is plenty of media out there about dirty streets, crime, and need. That’s the part that most people already know. What I really want to do is add to the growing awareness that Skid Row is a community, and along with the pain and struggle here, there is also hope, art, and celebration.

Which brings me to Mr. W, the client I first wrote about a few months ago. Mr. W has been  a joy to work with, from his stalwart independence to his willingness to share his story with me. Weeks ago, Mr. W told me about some gardening that he was doing in the courtyard of the Norbo, and that I should go down and have a look. At the time, there were a few tomato and pepper seedlings, and other things sprouting that I couldn’t identify. I happen to have a great love of gardening myself, so I was extra-tickled to see Mr. W’s efforts. I asked whether he’d be alright with me showing him and his garden to the internet and he said, “Oh, I’d love that.”

So, I present to you the man known to his neighbors as “Dr. Greenthumb”:

Mr. W in the courtyard with a little pot he planted for me

He also showed me the plants that he had growing on his windowsill:

The windowsill garden. He says that one year, he had plants growing three feet into the hallway!

I tried to decline the green gift but he insisted. I took it home and a few days later, this is what it looked like:

The plant-splosion: unruly, unexpected, and utterly delightful

Expect more updates on Mr. W’s garden before the year is out! I hope that you’re as inspired by his loving efforts as I am. He’s definitely made me want to tend my own little plot with a bit more care.

Have you planted a garden this spring? What’s in it?

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.)