Guest blogger | Funny, but sad, but in the end — inspiring

Casey Bridgeford

Today’s guest blogger is Casey Bridgeford, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll remember that we introduced him to you back in April in one of our staff Q&As. Casey is a program manager at Public Allies Indianapolis. This post, along with a link to this video, originally appeared in his personal blog, Revenge of the ILLIgans!  The headline sums up how I felt when I saw the video and then read Casey’s post. — DMB

 

Many people are waiting on a “real” leader to step up and solve the problems we are facing. They would argue that our country is standing still, and in some cases sliding backwards because politicians just don’t get it. Some would say that it is because most of our religious leaders are either corrupt or worse — cowards. Even other people would say that greedy businessmen are the problem.

What I believe is that the problem is me. I am the problem. Everyone like me who has passed up on an opportunity to help themselves is the problem. Anyone like me who has overlooked the opportunity to share their extra (knowledge, time, money, strength) is the problem.

The buck doesn’t stop with the politician — it stops with me. It stops with normal people. We are the answer we have been waiting for. Everyone of us who is the problem … is also THE Solution.

For the past 14 months I have been working with a community organization called Public Allies, which operates with the mindset that Everybody Leads. This simply means that everyone brings something to the table. There is no such thing as an extra person. Each person has something to contribute. Most people will contribute their time, talents, and passion, if given the right opportunity and support.

Public Allies gives that support to young adults who have made up their minds that they don’t look like a leader, leadership looks like them.

Without programs like Public Allies, people keep addressing problems the same way. We look for the expert to tell us what our problem is and how they are the only one who is able to fix it for us. Its this kind of thinking that has us stuck on an escalator with no good sense to walk the rest of the way. We are so used to depending on others, that we miss the opportunity to solve our own problems.

So when you wake up and look yourself in the mirror, remember you are looking at The New Face of Leadership!

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Speech | What sets Public Allies apart

When people hear that Public Allies is an AmeriCorps program that involves a 10-month service apprenticeship for young adults, they often lump us in with other youth service programs. The list is long and full of amazing groups doing important work; we’re honored to be in their company. But sometimes the lumping tendency does a dis-service to service groups in that it overlooks our distinct differences. At Public Allies, we believe that our inclusive, collaborative definition of leadership is what sets us apart.

That’s why I’m posting the speech below. It was delivered by our CEO, Paul Schmitz, at the plenary session of this year’s annual Independent Sector conference. I think it does a wonderful job expressing Public Allies’ approach to leadership. If you’re thinking of being an Ally, this will help you understand what it’s all about. I hope you find it inspiring and thought-provoking. -DMB

Paul Schmitz

My greatest influence growing up was John Lennon, who said. “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”… I never understood that, either, but he also said. “Think globally, act locally.” And I understand that and it frames how I think about dealing with some of the big global challenges we are facing today.

I think people need to see change where they are to believe that solving bigger problems is possible. If we are to build civil society in an increasingly uncivil culture and solve problems, we must think more from the bottom up.

Steve Heintz, CEO of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, quoted Peter Drucker that in turbulent times, we cannot solve problems today using yesterday’s logic. I would add to that we also can’t solve problems using yesterday’s leadership…

Now let me be clear about that. I am not voicing a rejection, but an invitation for you to make our tables bigger, broader, and more diverse. There is still a seat for you.

At Public Allies we talk about changing the face and practice of leadership, because if you change who is at the proverbial tables, the tables themselves must also change.

By changing the face, I’m saying that we must bring more diverse people and perspectives to our tables. It is imperative. As a sector we fail to do that.

One of my Allies a few years ago was doing her presentation of learning. It is how they demonstrate what they’ve learned at the end of our program. Her supervisor, a boomer and ’60s activist, asked her what his generation of activists and leaders needed to learn that her generation understands. She replied, “Your generation sees diversity as an ideal, something to believe in. We learned that it is an action, something you do.” 

 Our sector believes in diversity very well, but we don’t do diversity well. That must change.

 And if we change who is at the table, the table itself must change. We must think about how to solve problems differently.

Many of our nonprofits here today have grown a lot. We’re serving more people, we’re managing better, we are achieving more outcomes, and we have evidence our programs work. Yet, social problems linger and racial and other disparities have grown. 

In my community, we have had a dramatic increase in youth programs, after-school programs, education organizations, choice schools, charter schools, teaching programs, and all the rest. If I consult their websites, annual reports and funders, they are all meeting lots of outcomes and some have won national awards and recognition for evidence and innovation. But it doesn’t add up. In fact, despite all these “proven” efforts, we continue to have the worst 3rd grade reading scores for African American children.

There is no evidence that the aggregation of evidence-based, control-group-researched, outcome-focused services add up to needle-moving change on important issues. Improved strategy, management, outcomes, and evidence are probably necessary to move the needle, but they are not sufficient.

Perhaps we have to reverse-engineer how we think about solving problems. We need to look at communities where the graduation rate is up 20%, the crime rate cut in half, teen pregnancy down by a third and figure out what added up to produce those results. My hunch is that there were successful programs but that they were combined with political will, organizing, advocacy, community engagement, and community building. Top down solutions don’t work if they don’t engage communities in the solution.

The pendulum has swung over the last 20 years toward an emphasis on nonprofit leadership as management and service as science. What has been lost is the art of service – how we lead, engage, and organize with communities. The science of service may be necessary but it is not sufficient to create real change without the art of service.

So I think that to address these big challenges, we have to get real about how we engage diverse communities so that we can really begin to solve problems closer to home.

A success story that’s front-page news

A program in Baltimore supported by Public Allies Maryland was the subject of a front-page story recently in The Baltimore Sun. The headline: Nine years later, a school project that many thought was only a dream becomes a reality. It’s about a project called The Dream House, and it’s a truly impressive story about what can happen when a community is determined. Here’s an excerpt:

No one thought they’d ever really do it. Not even their teacher, who helped them draft the pledge. Yet the kids and their teacher from a rough part of town incorporated, raised more than a half-million dollars, fought government bureaucracy, changed a neighborhood’s mind about inner city kids and turned a derelict eyesore into something beautiful.

Since Allies so often work behind the scenes, this story didn’t pop up on our Google Reader, and it didn’t mention Christina Drushel, Maryland Ally ’10. But we found out about it from Program Manager Laura Bumiller, and then asked Christina to tell us about the part she played in helping these youth achieve their dream. Here’s what she wrote:

Christina Drushel

“Thanks to Public Allies, I had the amazing opportunity to be placed with The Youth Dreamers. It has been my role as the Community Outreach Coordinator to go into the community and get the residents aware of and involved with the Youth Dreamers and create new and exciting ways for the Youth Dreamers to connect and better serve their community.  In order to achieve these goals, we formed the Community Engagement Team, made up of four middle school Youth Dreamers and one high school Youth Dreamer, to brainstorm and implement events, such as Info Nights, Service Days and many pavement-pounding campaigns to get the word out about the Youth Dreamers, their events and community opportunities.

“It has been an amazing experience to be a part of the Youth Dreamers during this historic time in their long nine-year history.  The excitement surrounding this year is real. I can feel it every time I walk into the house or the classroom; I can see it every time there is a new furniture delivery or the students finish a project in the house; and I can hear it whenever the students laugh and cheer for their accomplishments.

“The opening of the Dream House is just the beginning of the Youth Dreamers’ mission of creating a safe and empowering place of youth.  It is a joyous feeling to know that I played a small role in making this Dream come true and it is a feeling that will bring me joy for years to come.  The Youth Dreamers have shown me that I should never be afraid to dream and I should always believe in the beauty of my dreams.”

Here’s a link to the full story. To find out more about Youth Dreamers, visit www.youthdreamers.org.

Video | Why Public Allies? Episode 4

Hanaan Joplin, Chicago Ally ’10

Yet another in our series of videos asking Allies, Alumni and others: “So, what’s the point of being an Ally?” In this video, Hanaan Joplin talks about his placement at The Cara Program (also featured in Episode 3, starring his colleague Megan). Hanaan reflects on ways in which the Ally experience has challenged him to step outside his comfort zone. And, he treats us to a sampling of his rapping skills.

Introducing Tuesday Topical Punch

Just stirrin' things up a little ...

Starting today, you can tune in each Tuesday for “Topical Punch.” We’ll look for a juicy news or commentary item that gets us thinking and will maybe get you thinking, too. Of course, we’re aiming for topics that hit close to Public Allies’ core values or that deal with service in some way. Today’s topic fits the former category.

What’s Your Isolation Index?

We at Public Allies talk a lot about diversity and inclusion because we believe in it. Leaders can’t truly lead — much less solve the looming problems of the day — without bringing all sorts of ideas, opinions and people to the able.

So what does that mean in our day-to-day lives? For starters, it’s intriguing to think about where we get our information. Because information sources are so splintered, there’s a widely held perception that the average person seeks out sources that reinforce his or her own opinion.

Slate puts that idea to the test in a recent posting on this topic. It includes a profiling tool (they promise it’s private) in which you can see what your browsing history says about how open you are to a variety of information sources — and hence a variety of opinions. Or so the thinking goes.  “This isn’t about your own political views,” write the authors (Chadwick Matlin, Jeremy Singer-Vine and Chris Wilson share the byline). “It’s about those of your fellow readers. So if your online diet only consists of the Drudge Report, the New York Post, and HotAir.com, you’re going to come across as pretty isolated. If you make occasional forays to the New York Times and Huffington Post, you’ll seem catholic. Our calculations don’t include how long you spent on each page—only that you’ve been.”

The post includes a nifty Ideological Media Map, in which different websites are evaluated according to levels of “liberal” and “conservative” visitors, then graphed to show their relative popularity. Some of the descriptions might surprise you (Slate is about half and half) and others will confirm your assumptions (The Huffington Post is 70% liberal ). Yeah, they’re labels, but it’s a starting place for a worthwhile discussion.

The article centers on a recent study by two researchers from the University of Chicago that found many people do go to websites that don’t share their political points of view. That’s encouraging.

So, what does your index tell you about yourself? How many sites in the Media Map have you checked out? What’s one that you find yourself dismissing, and what would you discover if you spent some time to explore it?

And, in thinking about the people you hang around with and the websites you browse, how often do you find yourself exposed to a point of view that challenges your own?

Here at Public Allies, we need to ask ourselves the same questions. Makes me wonder: If we as an institution took the Isolation Index test, what would the analysis say about us? (Full disclosure: I took Isolation test and got a message that they didn’t have enough data on me! I’m going to try again from my home computer.)

We think they’re all worthwhile questions. And you?

 

Snapshot: I’m going to Disney!

But where's Space Mountain?

Yeah, but not that Disney. This is John “JD” VanSlyke, Chicago Ally ’10, outside  the Disney II Elementary Magnet School in Chicago.  It’s where he works as a Public Ally. Among his list of duties: launch a service club for K-3 kids, answer phones, open doors, plan for the creation and funding of a digital music lab, find funding for the installation of artificial grass for the recess yard, plan afternoon programs and — last but not least — recess and lunchroom duty. Those last two jobs, says JD, have “really challenged my ability to command a room.” (Photo by Althea Yau)

Got a Snapshot to share?

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