Guest blogger Elias Cepeda (left) is a new program manager at Public Allies Chicago. One of his colleagues has been videotaping the activities of Chicago’s new class of Allies. This video shows one of their exercises. Elias was kind enough to put it in some context so you won’t be left wondering why a bunch of grown adults keep saying “vroom” to each other.
At first glance it resembles a slightly out of control inside joke – 30 or so people in a circle gesturing back and forth between one another, with sound effects. One after the other blurts “vroom!” or “oil slick!” or “pit stop!” while waving a hand, twirling a finger or putting both arms in front of their body.
In fact, it’s a well-planned morning exercise on the fifth day of core training for Chicago’s 2011 class of Allies. Mari Meyer, the program manager who facilitated the activity, explains what is going on:
“We are working as a team to get our imaginary race car around our track and there are certain sounds and movements that are required to do that successfully. For example, a side twist push and ‘vroom’ sound allows the car to move, and then a screeching brake sound and a hand against the direction the car is coming from stops the car and turns it around.”
It’s an exercise Meyer learned through her theater experience as a youth. The idea is to move participants out of their comfort zones. The mix of physicality and sound takes into account different kinds of learners.
If the activity looks and sounds silly to observers, they’re not alone. At least initially, many of the Allies themselves – all adults working on very serious issues in the community, full time – weren’t so sure about Meyer’s race car simulation. “At first people are skeptical, especially older people,” she says. “They think it is silly and think, ‘how am I going to look?’ But once they start getting into it everyone lets go and it gets funny, noisy and loud. People get engaged and everyone gets excited when it’s their turn and they are able to add in their own creative expression.”
Engagement, collaboration and creative expression, all towards a goal. Now it starts to make some sense. The seemingly unruly and silly exercise actually fits very well into the Public Allies paradigm.
“So much of our program is about building strong leaders that are not only able to lead and work effectively, but also collaborate on a team. It is not only about being accountable for themselves but also about communicating with partners, peers, teammates and co-workers. That is so crucial to them developing as well-rounded leaders. In the game, they have to think, ‘how am I going to work effectively with all these other people to make this car go ‘round?’ ”
:: Visit the Public Allies Chicago web page here.