According to Paul Schmitz, leadership development and community engagement are one and the same. “Leadership is about taking responsibility – both personal and social – for working with others on shared goals.” Schmitz is the CEO of Public Allies, and in his most recent book Everyone Leads, he explains how the Public Allies training model has molded individual participants into community-based leaders. We’re delighted to be able to host Schmitz at our upcoming 38th Annual Luncheon and hear him present on his inclusive redefinition of leadership, what he has learned from his experience as a leader, and the core values of being a socially engaged leader that both he and Public Allies promote.
Behind the success of the organization are the stories of the program participants, who developed a focused sense of leadership and passion for working in communities. We’ve asked some Public Allies alums to talk to us about where they are right now and how the program enriched their capacities to be community leaders. Their responses are below.
Esteban "Steve" Ramos
I am the Executive Director of Fresh Youth Initiative, which is a youth service organization based in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. I actually started at the organization in 2000 during my fellowship with Public Allies, and I’m the only alum from the inaugural class who still works at his or her partner organization. I was first situated at their satellite site, and after 3 months of serving as an intern, I was asked to fill that position after the director had resigned. It’s been really gratifying to be involved with my organization and to be able to see how our work touches the lives of thousands in the community. Our framework for engaging youth is very similar to Public Allies, and we recruit youth to participate in community service to help build their leadership skills and to engage the community in revitalizing projects.
Public Allies really helped me develop as a leader. In the early stage of the program, I was in a major crossroads in my life, and didn’t know what direction to take. The program helped me find a sense of purpose. One of our first tasks was to develop a personal mission statement, and this process helped me realize that I wanted to be a mentor and help others who were also at a turning point in their lives. Public Allies also helped me develop a sense of belonging to my community, and also has provided me with support and guidance that has helped me in all stages of my career.
I can directly attribute where I am to Public Allies. After completing the program, Paul Schmitz recruited me to join their staff, and now I serve as the Director of Public Policy and External Affairs.
Public Allies shaped me as a leader. My parents arrived to this country with very modest means – my mother was a refugee from El Salvador, and my father was an immigrant from Mexico. I was first aware that my family situation made me different when I went to government offices with my parents and acted as a translator. I noticed the stares and the eye-rolling from the governmental employees, and knew that they were reluctant to deal with us. The Public Allies training program helped me recognize my assets and talents, and made me an insider, even though for most of my life I felt like an outsider. I’m now proud of my story and that I’m the first person in my family to graduate from high school and obtain a college degree. I am my parents’ American dream.
I currently serve as the executive director for the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention, a statewide, membership-based charitable organization that builds safe, healthy, and resilient African-American communities through research, training, and advocacy.
I was an Ally from 1994 through 1995 when First Lady Michelle Obama served as the Chicago site's executive director. I was placed at the Mayor's Office where I served as the program coordinator for the Mayor's Schools Partners Program. I matched Chicago public schools with corporate sponsors willing to commit $10,000 per year for 3 years toward improving students' learning environment. Public Allies prepared me for effective community leadership in a number of ways. First, it helped me understand the inextricable, and sometimes co-dependent, relationship between our city's private, non-profit, and public sectors. I was able to witness first-hand how our city can get things done when all three sectors work together. I also witnessed how good ideas never achieve their intended goals when each sector works in its own silo. Second, with its focus on asset-based community building, Public Allies helped shape the lens that I bring to my work. I strongly believe (as does the ILAACP) that the best prevention-based solutions are rooted in the community and build on its existing assets. Last, but not least, my appreciation for continuous learning was developed early on as a result of being an Ally. To this day, I am always seeking out opportunities to increase my knowledge content about a particular issue or strengthen my ability to be an effective non-profit manager.
My current Role is Executive Director of Community & External Affairs for the University of Chicago Medicine.
I am confident that without my Public Allies experience I would not be where I am today. I learned on a daily basis how to build strong teams, organizations and communities while addressing pressing social issues. My Public Allies Apprenticeship opened my eyes and networks to the diversity of a city and truly shaped my world view. The lessons learned about approaching communities, collaboration and inclusion from my classmates and community partners continues to inform my activities as a community leader and guides our quest to create a model of urban health on the Southside of Chicago. I’m deeply appreciative of the leadership training provided by Public Allies and remain committed developing of the next generation of allies.
JD Van Slyke
Currently, I work as a Community Outreach Associate for a nonprofit called Upwardly Global which helps immigrants, refugees, and asylees who were professionals in their home countries find careers in the U.S. that match their experience.
Public Allies gave me comprehensive knowledge of volunteer management, development, marketing and communications, board governance, finance, and community organizing. When you work at a small organization, as I do, it is so imperative to have this holistic knowledge. More importantly Public Allies connected me with like-minded people and mentors. Going into the workforce from Public Allies you have a direct network of over 50 young professionals, working throughout the nonprofit sector, who you can call on at a moment's notice.
Come hear more and take part in this crucial conversation about leadership development and community engagement at our Annual Luncheon on June 28. To inquire about available seats, give us a call at 312-327-8923.
~Allison Rosenthal, Member Services Associate
-Photo courtesy of Public Allies