Tag Archives: reflections

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.


How do you measure a year in the life? (Shout to RENT fans!)

18 May

Hey folks,

So as you can imagine, things are getting pretty hectic as we wind down the year. Public Allies were asked to serve for one academic- length year/ 10 months/ 1700 hours. Most were conducted at our nonprofit Placements, as well as our Continuous Learning (CL) Fridays and Team Service Projects (TSPs).

So how do you measure a year in the life? Here’s what I came up with:

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of tea

In cubicles, in volunteerism, wall decorations

In phone calls, in documentaries, in leadership panels

One hundred and two thousand, zero minutes

How do you measure a year?

In service, in gratification, in learning, in mileage reports

In service days, in counseling youth, in running work events

In AmeriCorps gear, in potlucks, in museum visits

One hundred and two thousand, zero minutes

How do you measure the life of a Public Ally?

It’s time now to sing out, tho’ the story never ends

Let’s celebrate, remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the growth! Remember the growth! Seasons of growth!

P.S. Here’s the theme song from the Broadway hit!

P.P.S. Can you tell I’m half laughing, half crying as I write this? I am SO corny. 🙂


22 Feb

Meditation, rumination, deliberation, cogitation, study, thinking, imputation, aspersion, reproach, criticism.

For Public Allies in Pittsburgh, mid year is fullllllll of everything stated above.  Reflection of what we accomplished… what we need to improve… our struggles and our successes. Reflections on diversity. Reflections on each other, our teams and whats to come.

To be honest, the whole process can be… well… uncomfortable. Not the negative sort of uncomfortable. Rather an intensive learning, “get out of your comfort zone to experience something new” kind of uncomfortable. The kind of uncomfortable you thank yourself for going through, sort of uncomfortable…

A perfect mid year retreat example: Comfort Zone Activity.
Before mid year retreat, Pittsburgh Allies were ask to step into a place where they felt they did “not belong” and have a conversation with someone/people in that setting.

Program Managers asked us to first write on a piece of paper what our comfort zone is. Then we were asked to write down our experience from the comfort zone activity.

Where did Allies go? Bars, Places of Worship, Homeless/Recovery shelters, Protests, Streets of neighborhoods in which they were not comfortable in for various reasons…

Overall it was a powerful exercise. It was interesting to see that some Allies’ comfort zone made other Allies uncomfortable, and vice versa. It made you think of what you may be able to learn from each others past experiences. Most importantly, as we described our experiences, we became aware of the assumptions we may have of this zone… allowing us to break down the barriers and learn what is holding us back from experiencing these places as well as the people in them.

Sadly I do not have any pictures of retreat… I left my camera at home… wahhh wahhh!

BUT I do have pictures of a mid year service day!!! Pittsburgh Public Allies beautified downtown Pittsburgh by picking up trash with Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.




On being as garlic

4 Jan

“Donkey: Ogres are like onions. We have a lot of layers.”  — Shrek

I have been absent of writing as winter has set in.

It is not for lack of ideas wringing my brain. Just that they needed to rest.

The onion-layers bit is not only a metaphor from Shrek, but a metaphor used in the study of Kaballah: an ancient Jewish mysticism still used as a spiritual practice by many people today. Jewish mysticism and moon-lore would also tell you that near the beginning of December, when the Jewish Calendar month of Kislev began at the new moon, so began the month of dreams.

To mark the new moon, we at Kayam Farm took on the onion’s culinary cousin and completed our planting of garlic and metaphors. Garlic, like daffodils, is a bulb. You make a hole in fertile soil, and push in the piece of garlic you might otherwise have eaten an inch deep — before the ground’s too hard with frost. Then the garlic waits. And you wait. And when the moment is right in late spring, your efforts will come to fruition when a green shoot pops out of the ground, and that one piece magically or miraculously or naturally, as science would have us understand it, has turned to a head of 10-12 pieces.

Winter work on a farm is like this garlic and it can feel like work of the spirit or the soul. It’s about as close as I get to such things in asking myself: what is it that I must plant now, and allow it to sit, hibernate, and rest in order to come to fruition in the spring?

And what will you?
freshly harvested garlic

Farewell 2011

3 Jan

 The Accomplishments, Surprises and Frustrations of Year 2011.

And Yes, Public Allies was the highlight of my year. Enjoy.

JANUARY: “I want to move Oklahoma”

I grew feelings for a guy I went to college with after my move back from Thailand.
The reality: he lived in Oklahoma. I bought a plane ticket to Tulsa to see if it I should move to be with him… Another reality: No job in place, no money in my bank account…minimal family/friend support.

I look back and think, yikes – Erin, wakeee uppp! I mean, he was wonderful. He was smart, always involved… a complete sweetheart. Not to mention, we shared a common passion: Education (He was in Teach For America). What was not wonderful was the risk of moving with only a relationship to arrive to. It just didn’t feel right. Obviously, I stayed in Pittsburgh.  Ironically, I applied to Public Allies while waiting in the airport for my flight back to Pittsburgh.

A heavy heart, but no regrets.

students tulsa

A visit to a Tulsa classroom.

FEBRUARY: NYC here I come!

I interviewed with NYC Teaching Fellows. NYC swept me off my feet. The lights, the culture, the people…Well, I ended up being waitlisted for NYC Teaching Fellows, then rejected. Devastated, but things happen for a reason.

At least I got to eat some grade A street cannolis in Little Italy, walk Times Square and visit with some close friends in the best restaurants. I love Pittsburgh, but Public Allies NYC, I am jealous!


Relaxing in Central Park after my interview

MARCH: My first job offer! … Family, I am moving to Jackson, Mississippi . . .

I ended up landing a position to be a community organizer for Planned Parenthood Southwest.  Last minute, I did not end up taking the position. I was so torn. My family is my biggest supporter, but not with this decision. I also was not sure if I was ready for a year in a campaign lifestyle. I felt horrible. Last but not least, I feel a big part of the decision was knowing that  I would be hearing from Public Allies pretty soon.


Planned Parenthood Campaign prior to Public Allies

APRIL:  “And the waitress is practicing politics . . .”

The end of March I decided to coordinate a county Sheriff campaign while bartending on the side. The regulars asked me frequently for any updates:

Erin, where are you moving now? — Not moving.
You want to teach??  — Yes, but none of the four teaching programs accepted me… (eek!)
Politics?! Are you a democrat or republican?  — starts to walk away…
You want to be in the nonprofit sector?! — I want to make a difference.
Do you know you will never make good money?! — sighs, some people just don’t get it…

That was the point where I thought I would be serving bar food and alcohol for the rest of my life. Ahh! 😦

MAY: I was invited to Selection/Interview Day!

Finally, something was going in my favor. I was going to Public Allies Selection Day! I knew there was a reason why I was not in Oklahoma, NYC or Mississippi and was still serving ribs at a local grill.

All I can remember from this eight-hour (?) selection day was completely breaking down during my one-on-one interview. The interviewees were asking me questions that required me to reflect on the last year. Thinking of all that happened, I started crying (Campbell, I hope you are reading this). I was so embarrassed.

On Election Day … of all days … I found out I was invited to the second interview process. I remember running out of the campaign headquarters, screaming and jumping up and down. Finally.

JULY-PRESENT: I was placed at The Education Partnership as the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator. 

Over 300 volunteers and 2,300 service hours later, supporting students and teachers in our community … I feel that I made the right choice!

Fall Distribution2

Teachers with cars full of free supplies!


Students excited about receiving their "power tools"

2012 … Now what?

It’s sad to know that the program will end in June, and I have to do this application process allll over again: Second year in Public Allies? Try again and apply to other teaching programs? Teach abroad? What about my boyfriend? …uh oh…

I will keep you updated…