Who is this evil villain???

There’s only one way you can find out …


Staff Q&A | Meet the people who read your applications

Nicole Thomas

Nikki Thomas

Who she is: Director of Ally Recruitment & Alumni Relations and Program Manager, Public Allies Milwaukee, and a Chicago Ally in 2007 and 2008

Originally from: “I grew up as a Military child (moving every three to five years) and thus have lived in California, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Japan, Korea, etc. After all of that I consider California to be home because I was born there and ended up graduating from high school there. However, my family roots are in Chicago and the surrounding area.”

Her Ally experience: “I was an Ally for two consecutive years with Public Allies Chicago. My first year (class of 2007) I was placed with a scholarship foundation as an Educational Coordinator, and my second year (class of 2008) I was placed in the P.A. Chicago office as their Alumni Engagement Coordinator.”

Before Public Allies  “I was finishing up my undergraduate degree in Biology while being a pharmacy technician ad working on campus as a student worker.”

What’s it like at your workplace right now? “Times are busy around our office; we are currently wrapping up an Ally Class while simultaneously recruiting for Ally applicants and Partner Organizations. Since our Ally application deadline just passed, my personal goal is to have over 200 applications reviewed by staff within two weeks, coordinate, communicate, and schedule at least 100 interviews with applicants and engage our PA MKE Network (Alumni, Board Members, Partners, etc) to assist with interviews, while ensuring that all of our fellows meet all requirements to graduate from our program.”

What made you interested in becoming part of Public Allies? “I can honestly say that all of the Core Values caught my attention, but Asset-Based Community Development drew me in as a new way to look at a community and be able to advocate in a more effective way for my own communities. What kept me involved was the experience of what diversity truly is; Public Allies’ version of diversity pushes beyond usual expectations. There is more to the meaning of diversity. Or participants come from different backgrounds, experiences, education levels, ages, abilities, political interests, ethnicities, ideology, sexual orientation, geographical locations, income levels, gender identities, religions, etc. (the list could go on). The beauty of it all is that everyone wants to learn and is willing to step out of their ‘Comfort Zone’ to do so. Every year, it never fails, I see that learning take place within myself and others.”

Bob Marley

On your desk: “Every time I feel defeated I look to this poster for inspiration. It reminds me that nothing comes easy and it’s worth it. It’s especially important because I received this as a gift from one of my fellow Allies during my first-year experience.”

Complete the following sentence: If you become an Ally, be ready to. . .  “grow personally and professionally through being accountable for your actions within your placement, Team Service Project, training and your fellow Allies.”

In 21 words or less: What are the three most essential ingredients for a successful Ally experience?

“Time management of  program and personal life.

“Networking with your class and partner organization.

“Push for growth and learn by sharing experiences.”

Video | What are Allies getting done?

Earlier this year, 10 of the Public Allies communities took part in a “Fill-a-Flip Blitz.” Each used a company-issued Flip camera to videotape stories about what was going on around Ally Nation.

We’ve receieved Flip material from six of the 10 participating communities so far. It has been my job to log all the material and turn it into edited videos, and I gotta say it’s easy to feel like an underachiever as I listen to these interviews — with Allies, Alumni, staff, and the people who are working with Allies in their placements. There are so many passionate, capable people doing and supporting Public Allies work.

Anyhoo, some of the videos you have seen and will see on this blog come from the Fill-a-Flip project, and here’s one more. I spliced together snippets of interviews with 16 Allies as they described the work they are doing in their placements. The interviews come from Arizona, Chicago, Maryland, New York and North Carolina and were conducted in April. The Allies you’ll meet here are at or near the end of their placements now, and getting ready for Presentations of Learning (PublicAllySpeak for year-end reports) and graduation. Give ’em props for all they’ve accomplished! Their names, in order of appearance, with their Ally communities …

Ashley Brown, North Carolina; George Morse, North Carolina; Ben Garcia-Spitz, Chicago; Megan Anderson, Chicago (you may recall her from an earlier post); Ella Nguyen, North Carolina; Brandon Johnson, Arizona; Yasmeen Nanwalala, Chicago; Eduardo Cordon, Chicago; Tarnasia Lundy, New York; Kelsey Addy, Maryland; Robert Wheatfall, Chicago; Robbie Flick, Maryland (with his boss); Bola Odejayi, Maryland; Akil Meade, Maryland; Raquel Rodriguez, Maryland (with one of her mentees); and John “JD” VanSlyke, Chicago.

Guest blogger | The Short Straw

Erin Deters

Today we have a guest blogger, Erin Deters. We asked Erin to tell us about an exhibition she curated on a topic that has a lot of resonance for us all. 

Hello, my name is Erin and I am a Public Ally working in Cincinnati, Ohio, placed at Clifton Cultural Arts Center. When I began my placement at CCAC and learned that I would have a chance to create a personal project, I immediately knew I wanted to find a way to explore people’s personal struggles in this economy. I created Short Straw, an exhibit featuring artists reflecting on the emotional and professional impact the recession has had on their lives.  


The show featured 15 local and national artists, and was on display in CCAC’s gallery for the whole month of April. Curating Short Straw allowed me to dive into the Cincinnati arts community and has been an amazing journey.  

I was shocked and spurred to action when I discovered an article in the Wall Street Journal by Sara Murray  titled “The Curse of the Class of 2009,”  which discussed research showing that entering the job market in a poor economy impacts your career advancement and wages for a decade or more. The title of the show reflects artists’ alarm at having drawn the short straw for opportunities. 

As I engaged artists around this theme, I began to learn more about their struggles to pursue art as a career and lifestyle and not just a hobby. The show includes a Master of Fine Arts diploma transformed into a paper airplane, a series of intimate illustrations inspired by weekly trips to sell plasma, and a triptych depicting three figures interacting with life-sized slot machines/booby-traps. These works reveal the how the artists in Short Straw are combating frustration and despair with playfulness and inventive thinking. 

When I began this project I had just moved back to Cincinnati – my home town – to reevaluate my career options after a frustrating and fruitless job search in New York. Short Straw helped me explore and overcome these feelings of frustration, and also turn them on their heads by finding whimsy, delight and inventiveness instead of challenges and closed doors.  

                                                            -Erin Deters, Short Straw Curator, CCAC Program Coordinator & Public Ally Cincinnati 2010 

Promotional postcard from the show.


Read the CityBeat story about Erin’s show.

Staff Q&A | Meet the people who read your applications

Jennie Yeow

Who she is: Program Manager, Public Allies Delaware and a Delaware Ally in 2005 and 2006

Originally from: The Cool Spring neighborhood on the Westside of Wilmington, Del. “I am currently renting and renovating the house I grew up in.”

While an Ally: In her first year, she was an assistant teacher at a child care center. As a second-year Ally she worked in-house with Public Allies Delaware.

Before Public Allies: “I was in high school!”

Why Public Allies? “I wanted to surround myself with a group of people who were passionate about social issues with the desire to do something with that passion. I felt like I had won the lottery when I found out about Public Allies!”

What’s it like at your workplace right now? “Crazy! My goal is to balance all things end-of-the-year — 360’s, gift seat, interviews, the matching process, presentations of learning, three-way meetings, retreat, and graduation.”

Most common question you’re hearing right now? “I’m getting a lot of questions (with a nervous quality to them) about presentations of learning. It’s also that time of the year for resumes, cover letters, and recommendations.”

How have the Allies on your team made an impact in your community? “Like all Program Managers, I think my Allies are rock stars! Since mapping a couple of neighborhoods on the west side of Wilmington, my team has been working diligently to facilitate the community’s creation of a recreational baseball league for their youth, centered on an underutilized baseball field at their neighborhood park, Judy Johnson Park. Their underlying hope is that this project will serve as a common goal around which west side neighbors can work in partnership to foster a more vibrant, engaged, and united community.”

Complete the following sentence: If you become an Ally, be ready … “for anything. You will be forced to stretch and grow in ways you could never have imagined. It’s never exactly what you think it’s going to be!”

In 21 words or less: What are the three most essential ingredients for a successful Ally experience?

“1. A willingness to listen and learn from others.

“2. Trust in the process!!

“3. Passion for what you are doing. You won’t make it 10 months without it.

“(I tried to stay under seven words per ingredient, but it didn’t work out.)”

On your desk: “It was tempting to pick the kitten-a-day calendar that my partner gave me for Christmas. It definitely helps when I need a distraction! On a more serious note: On my bulletin board I keep cards, notes, e-mails, etc. that Allies have written to me. When I’m feeling discouraged, they remind me of the awesome work that we’re doing at Public Allies.”

Jennie's kitten-a-day calendar

Topical Punch | A soft-skills education gap?

Tuesday mornings, we offer up Topical Punch, a post that examines emerging issues in leadership, nonprofits, and areas that reflect the Public Allies mission.  We invite you to share your comments and talkback!

We’re betting that an article in the Sunday New York Times headlined “Plan B: Skip College” got a lot of people talking around the brunch table.  When I read it, I could practically hear my parents gasping from 860 miles away — the idea seems radical to those of us who equate college with success, enlightenment, freedom, intellectual capacity, and terrific dating possibilities. If you were raised in a family like mine, the idea of skipping college was an admission that you had no interest in making anything worthwhile out of your life.

(There’s an inherent contradiction going on there because my forebears didn’t attend college and did quite well for themselves, but that’s another topic.)

The premise outlined in education writer Jacques Steinberg’s story is basically this:  When you add up the costs of a college degree and apply them to job-market realities, there are some valid return-on-investment questions. Take, for instance, this observation: “Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.”

(“You mean comparative literature isn’t as lucrative as it once was?” quipped the Village Voice in a snarky retort to Steinberg’s story.)

But what caught our attention is a point made later in the article: Many skills employers say they need most aren’t what schools are teachig anyway. “Such skills are ranked among the most desired — even ahead of educational attainment — in many surveys of employers,” Steinberg wrote.

And what are those skills?

Problem solving, conflict resolution, active listening, the ability to work with others.

Sounds to us a lot like Public Allies’ Five Core Values — the skills we believe leaders need in order to make lasting change in their communities. (For the record, here’s a quick rundown of Public Allies’ Five Core Values: Collaboration, Continuous Learning , Diversity and Inclusion, A Focus on Assets, and Integrity.)

Another excerpt from Steinberg’s story:

“In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to ‘solve problems and make decisions,’ ‘resolve conflict and negotiate,’ ‘cooperate with others’ and ‘listen actively.’  Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.”

Our CEO, Paul Schmitz, told us he heard the same thing last month when he attended Ashoka Future Forum. During a session called “Skills for the 21st Century,” a Manpower, Inc. representative shared pretty much the same observations about skills identified as highly valued by employers.  Here’s a press release quote from Bill Drayton, Ashoka CEO and founder:

“Society, employers, educators and parents need to recognize that our children’s successful personal and social development must start with a mastery of several complex skills – empathy, teamwork, leadership and change making.” 

These are things we at Public Allies like to hear, and not just because  it’s validating. We believe these qualities are central to our mission to advance new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation. It also gives us a good feeling about the way Allies are positioned in Great Big Wide World. Maybe those of you who are in the job market should use the quotes here in your cover letters, and explain just how you used collaboration, continuous learning , diversity and inclusion, a focus on assets, and integrity  to coordinate volunteers, mentor kids, generate support for a rehab project, untangle a human knot, or any of the other amazing ways you cultivate yourself and your communities.

Topical Punch wonders …

Do you agree that skills involving communication, collaboration and listening are in short supply in the work force?

If you’re an Ally or Alumni, what has been your experience with these “soft skills?” Have you found that this skill set sets you apart? How have you been able to put those skills to work?

In your experience, are these skills given proper attention in the educational system?

What examples have you seen of an educational institution or other program bucking the (apparent) trend and incorporating these values effectively?

We’d love your thoughts and comments.

A related link …

Steinberg’s blog “The Choice,” Demystifying College Admissions and Aid”

Video | Why Public Allies? Episode 7

Nelly Nieblas, Los Angeles Ally ’05

Director of Public Policy and External Relations

In this video, Nelly Nieblas talks about her route to Public Allies Los Angeles, to Harvard, to Washington, back to L.A., and finally back to D.C. as the newest member of the Public Allies National Staff. There’s lots more to her story than we could fit in a two-minute video, but we have a feeling you’ll see her here again.

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