Video | Honk if you’re an Ally

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.

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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.

Why it’s a great idea to host an Ally

We recently collected video interviews from Public Allies sites around the country (there are currently 18 of them). Using a Flip video camera, Public Allies staff collected stories about our organization. This video contains a sampling of comments from people who supervise Public Allies at their nonprofit organizations. By watching it, you’ll get an idea of the many different roles Allies fill and the impact they have. We figured it would be a nice post to start your week, because everyone in it is happy (to have an Ally). Enjoy!

You can find details about hosting an Ally on our official website. Most sites are still accepting applications for the 2010-11 year.

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)

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