Tag Archives: Why Public Allies?

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


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.

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!

Corona: Then and Now

1 Jun

The Program Design specialization track visited the Queens Museum of Art the other week to learn about Curriculum Design with my supervisor Lindsay Smilow and Program Manager Max Chang. They started their training day with a walk through the Queens neighborhood of Corona. Keeping in mind the following questions they then created some great collages, throwing in the idea of Corona: Then and Now.

  1. What do you notice about the community? What stands out in terms of assets?
  2. What can you glean about the people through what you see, hear, smell, etc.? What can you glean about the history of the area?
  3. If possible, speak to one community resident along the way about highlights of the area and their experiences living in the neighborhood?

As you may have learned from my Queens Muse blog post – some of our Public Allies are talented artists! Here’s a neighborhood I created out of their community mapping inspired collages.

A New Dimension of Service: Public Allies & Queens Museum of Art

30 May

Check out the following blog post I wrote for the Queens Muse Blog as an explanation of the partnership between my PO and Public Allies…Trust me, it’s worth it to scroll down.

 is the School Programs Assistant at the Queens Museum of Art. For more from Pema follow her on Twitter @pemadb or check out her blog posts for Public Allies.

Public Allies at the Queens Museum of Art discussing their art inspired by a walk through Corona

Q: What do a charter school, a tenant’s right association, an LGBT center and the US Fund for UNICEF all have in common with the Queens Museum of Art?

A: They are all partner organizations for Public Allies New York.

Public Allies New York (PANY) is a leadership development program that places young people at non-profits with socially driven missions throughout the city. For those Queens Muse blog readers familiar with the organizations mentioned or AmeriCorps (of which Public Allies New York is a branch), it may come as a surprise that a museum qualifies as a partner. But when you think about the way that QMA is a unique public space that offers community based programming and exhibitions for those who might not have access otherwise, then it begins to make perfect sense.

QMA Family and After School Programs Assistant Harley Jones and I are both 2nd year Allies placed here for our 10 month fellowship in the Education Department.  By design, Public Allies has all of the Fellows juggling two different hats at all times: dealing with the full time placement aspect of working in the Education Department supporting school, family, and after-school programs, as well the other components of the “PANY-verse” that we are required to complete. That means training sessions, retreats, a specialization track, Three Ways, 360s, PMs, PISDs, TSPs and other acronyms and lingo that we Allies speak fluently. For example, a project that came to fruition from partnering with Public Allies is our Team Service ProjectObjects with a Story, a Teen art exhibit we are having in partnership with the Queens Library. Check out our work in action at the opening of Objects with a Story at the Queens Library at Flushing on May 5th from 4 —6 pm.

Another point of intersection was last week’s visit by 15 Public Allies in the Program Design specialization track, who came as a part of their weekly training to learn more about Curriculum Design from our Manager of School Programs, Lindsay Smilow. QMA Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl also spoke with the Allies, looking to them as the next wave of community leadershe mentioned the way arts organizations can benefit from learning about the way service organizations help communities. Successful examples of such learning at QMA exist in both Shaun El C. Leonardo’s Heart of Corona Initiative site-specific artwork, and artist Tania Burguera’s  Immigrant Movement International.

Public Allies encompasses a national umbrella of organizations that upon first glance may seem far removed from the art world. By becoming an 2011-2012 partner, the Queens Museum of Art established a new dimension of service for a new class of Allies.

Harley and I on Psychedelic Thursday – inspired by Queens International 2012: Three Points Make a Triangle

Brainstorming, gift-seating, and crafting at mid-year retreat

11 Apr

You’ve heard it before, especially from people who are much older and wiser than you– every year seems to go by just a little bit faster.  This year’s been no exception:

Our Public Allies term is more than half over!

Whoa…I guess times flies when you’re having fun (and working hard)!

To mark this event, all of the Public Allies from the Twin Cities gathered at our Mid-Year Retreat in early March.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to this retreat.  I highly value my weekends and my down time, so knowing that I had to be “on” for most the weekend was a little daunting.  As always, though, I enjoyed myself once it was over.  Here are some highlights:

Re-defining innovation – One of my favorite workshops was on rethinking the innovative brainstorming process.  “Is it always that the boss is going to have the best ideas?  Unlikely.”  If you want to replenish those creative juices, take a look at this video from the innovators at IDEO:

Gift Seat – Each of us got to give feedback to the other members in our team service project.  At first it felt like this could turn in to a modern-day episode of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” but the process was really enlightening.  We don’t celebrate each other enough!  The gift seat process was a perfect opportunity to tell each other our appreciation, as well as things they could improve upon, that’s not always offered in everyday life.

Arts & Crafts!  – When was the last time you got to sit down and do like they do in elementary school?!  That’s right – we got some arts and crafts time.  We sat down with old fashioned scissors, glue sticks, and colorful paper to make a scrapbook of our Public Allies experience so far.  What a great bonding experience (and a large mess to clean up…)!


Ending the day with gifts to each other – We started these things called “gift bags” at the end of our core week training at the beginning of our service year.  We each decorated our bags, and put little notes in each other’s gift bags with encouraging words, compliments, and other uplifting things.  The bags travelled with us to our retreat!  Below, Shameika takes a few moments to fill up her fellow allies’ bags to end our weekend.

Who Said ‘Glee’ Moments Don’t Happen in Real Life?

11 Apr

One of my favorite aspects of Public Allies is the fact that you meet so many incredible people through the program that you might not get the chance to meet otherwise.  Fellow Allies in the Twin Cities program incredibly musical!

At training a few weeks ago, our afternoon session consisted of taking a “community walk.”  Groups of Allies walked around North Minneapolis to really take the time to pay attention to what we could see, hear, taste, feel, and smell around the neighborhood where we all come for training.  The result?  A very “Glee” moment.  Take a look!