Tag Archives: Service

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


Building a Future- Block by Block

29 Jan

Over 20 years ago, a movement to transform the lives of children and families in Central Harlem began on one small block. The driving force was a non-profit organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), and in the beginning, no one believed that they could succeed. And it isn’t hard to see why. The area was poverty stricken, crime ridden, and filled with an overall sense of hopelessness. The odds were completely against their favor, but somehow, they succeeded- and succeeded big. Today, the HCZ’s efforts spans to almost 100 blocks.

On January 21, 2013, the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI), an organization modeled after the HCZ, began its own transformational journey in Liberty City. As the world woke up to celebrate MLK day, MCI mobilized almost 200 volunteers and residents to begin transforming its first block. After speaking to residents and community leaders, it became clear that a physical transformation was needed to take place in Liberty City before the more personal, intrinsic changes could occur. The streets were dirty and a lack of beauty in the area left residents without any inspiration to work towards their dreams.


Over the course of the day, volunteers and residents planted flowers and shrubbery in front of 39 apartment units, about 30 flowering and fruit trees, and 3 vegetable gardens. They rid the block of trash and gave the entire area a complete makeover. Kids played in the “kid’s zone,” getting their faces painted, listening to volunteer readers, riding the play train, and painting garden stones. The energy was high and despite the huge amount of work that went into the day, everyone had an amazing time. Overall, the day was a huge success, but the true victory was in the process. As you looked out at the scene, you saw volunteers from organizations like AmeriCorps Public Allies and VISTA, Teach for America, I Have a Dream Foundation, Girl Power, Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast- TOP (Teen Outreach Program), along with individual volunteer’s, partner with residents who live on the block to make these changes happen.  District 3’s Commissioner Edmonson also picked up her shovel and came out to help the cause. We may have all had our individual affiliations, but on that day, we truly became one single force to be reckoned with.

When you go out on that block today, the change is tangible. It looks and feels like a place where you want to raise your kids, a place where a child wants to grow up. And this is just the beginning. MCI hopes that, like the HCZ, in 20 years it will look out at Liberty City and see almost 100 blocks completely transformed.

I, Too, Sing America

3 Jul

As a member of Public Allies, reflecting on the meaning of service is a daily occurrence. Public Allies pushes service beyond band-aid approaches into the realm of inquiry that seeks to address the root causes of different social issues. As Allies, we also leave the experience different than what we were before. For me, service is more than giving to others, it is also how I expand my identity as an American and a global citizen. Each service opportunity opens a gateway for me and for those who am I serving with, to expand notions of responsibility and community.

In high school and college, service was how I came to identify as an American. Volunteering with various agencies afforded me the chance to interact with communities in a way that left indelible marks on my identity. Through service, I began to understand the interconnectedness of people across this country, and that I had a responsibility that went beyond my own needs.

A reading of the poem I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes, at a gathering at Eagle Rock School reminded me of these memories that form my current identity. As an African-American growing up in this country, many times I felt displaced. Service served as my bridge to connect me with others with similar struggles and hopes.

Below, you will find the full poem.

I, Too, Sing America.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.”

Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Spirit to Serve Day

5 Jun

On May 16th I participated in an event that I have spent months planning, organizing, worrying, and dreaming about called Spirit to Serve Day. On this day over 100 volunteers from Marriott’s Architecture and Construction team arrived at my placement site, The SEED School of Maryland, to complete service projects on our 52-acre campus alongside our 6th and 7th grade students. In total, over 200 people participated in the service projects and bringing the total number of hours served to over 600.

I won’t say that everything ran perfectly or event smoothly at times, especially when I turned around and saw students painting themselves rather than the fences. However, it was an amazing experience and the volunteers were able to see the direct impact of their work. Students were also able to work closely with role models who spoke to them about the importance of education when it comes to determining your career as well as the positive impact you can make in a corporation and as an individual in your community.

Working closely with the facilities and maintenance departments at SEED volunteers completed beautification projects, such as planting flowers around our welcome sign and student-built meditation garden; painting the softball backstop, a beautiful mural on our basketball courts, fences around the basketball court, and courtyard picnic tables; and cleaning out the auditorium in preparation for renovation. Now our fences look like they were built yesterday and construction was able to start early!

To honor their service and dedication to our school, we presented Marriott’s architecture and construction team with the Governor’s Citation for Service presented by the Governor’s Office for Service and Volunteerism.When I graduated from college in 2009 or even when I first found out I would be placed at The SEED School of Maryland a year ago I never thought I would be able to coordinate an event so large with so many different projects, collaborators, and parts. With the training I received from our Director (and my program manager) Laura at Public Allies Maryland in event planning from the wonderful people at Business Volunteers Unlimited, I felt prepared and excited for the challenge. I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity like this again, but if I ever do, I’ll be ready!

College access in Baltimore

7 May

Since October I have worked with the other second-year Allies at Public Allies Maryland on our Team Service Project (all the Allies at Public Allies Maryland are split into teams ranging from 4-6 people to work on a community service project in Baltimore utilizing the Asset-Based Community Development model) to address the issue of college access in Baltimore.

We know college access is a HUGE issue, so we looked at the assets Baltimore already had around this issue and decided to partner with a wonderful organization called Upward Bound. The Upward Bound Program provides Baltimore City Students with exceptional college preparatory services, emphasizing academic excellence, individual expression, and service to school and community. The program assists them in developing the academic and social skills necessary for success in high school and matriculation in post-secondary education.

When we met with Upward Bound’s Executive Director Greg Hunter we asked “What is the one thing you would do if you had unlimited time and resources?” And he said that he would put on a College Access Fair for Baltimore students not only in his program, but other organizations that work on the college access issue as well.

So, on April 14th, we hosted the first annual Upward Bound College Access Fair!! Our fair included representatives from local and out-of-state colleges, breakout sessions for parents and students presented by Bank of America and The Maryland Higher Education Commission, and all students received a free copy of From US to U: An Inside Look Into College from Those Who Know Best… College Students, thanks to a generous donation from the book’s author, Samantha Zipp-Dowd.

This was the first time I had planned a large event or fair before and I am already using the same skills at my placement site at The SEED School of Maryland for an upcoming service day. I never would have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for Public Allies. It was challenging and stressful at times, but at the end of the day I felt amazing knowing I had not only built capacity at a nonprofit, I had made a difference in the lives of Baltimore students.

Here are some pictures from the event:

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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?

Pittsburgh’s Team Service Projects

9 Apr

Happy April! Just to give you an update on what has been going on in the South Side of Pittsburgh…

Healthy Futures! (My Team)

Team Healthy Futures in Pittsburgh is partnering with South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA), a volunteer run organization that “maintains, fosters and improves the quality of life, safety and unity of the Slopes neighborhood” To all you outsiders, “Slopes” is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s “South Side full of hills, historical houses with panoramic views, and… steps (A necessity to get from A to B for the pedestrians/visitors).

SSSNA has made a partnership with Grow Pittsburgh and the City to replace an abandoned, littered baseball field with a community garden! Residents can rent out a plot to grow organic, fresh produces. A great asset, since most homes in the Slopes do not have adequate space for gardening.

My team is beginning to build a partnership with Voices Against Violence, a program that has a mission “to provide effective intervention and prevention activities in a proactive way that strategically reduce interpersonal conflict among youth and individuals to address issues that impact negatively on under served communities through innovative grass roots approaches that engage youth and community residents. ”

Our Objectives:

  • to create a sustainable summer gardening program for Voices Against Violence.
  • empower teens by teaching organic gardening, healthy food choices, and food security values

Our Outcomes:

  • enable behavioral change related to eating habits and food choices
  • assist in fostering strong work ethics and build skill sets
  • inspire lifelong community stewardship


Photo By Lake Fong: Read article here!

healthy futures

Veterans and Military Families!

Another team service project, Veterans and Military Families, will be organizing and hosting a BBQ for veterans and their families in the South Side of Pittsburgh.

This is not just any BBQ! They have been building partnerships with nonprofits and organizations to showcase the services available to veterans and their families that they otherwise may not know are out there. It will also be a great networking event, enabling veterans and families to connect with each other while the community shows appreciation for their past service and sacrifices.

Economic Opportunities!

The Economic Opportunities Team will be partnering with Hot Metal Faith Community Church to host “Souper Saturdays.” The Hot Metal Faith Community Church has a service called “The Table” …a “community kitchen with a heart to serve the South Side community.”

Economic Opportunities are building a program around that service, by providing monthly events where community members can come get a meal and receive services that will assist them in reaching economic opportunities. At these “Souper Saturdays” their will be free haircuts, resume & computer assistance, free hygiene products & clothing (professional wear) and organizations that explain how to apply for food stamps and other government assistance.


Holding up their “Souper Saturday” Sign

As you can tell, we are quite busy over here! What are some other Team Projects across the nation? 🙂 (Thats if you have not shared already)