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CCRS Public Allies Program Makes a Positive Impact Through Delaware Nonprofits

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Public Allies program members celebrate.

1:09 p.m., May 25, 2010----Public Allies Delaware, a part of the University of Delaware's Center for Community Research and Service, is wrapping up its 2010 Public Allies AmeriCorps program, in which 29 young leaders, or allies, have been making contributions to the Delaware community over the past 10 months.

Established in 1994, Public Allies Delaware places allies in paid professional apprenticeships at local nonprofit agencies for a 10-month period. In addition, the allies come together for retreats, community projects and training sessions to expand their knowledge of nonprofit work.

The Delaware program was the first Public Allies program in the nation to affiliate with an institution of higher education.

When we affiliated with UD in June of 2000, all other Public Allies sites across the country operated independently of local institutions and were far more reliant on the national office based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says Christina Garrett-Morrow, director of Public Allies Delaware. In 2008, the Public Allies national office mandated that all Public Allies sites -- now 18 strong -- must operate with a local affiliate partner. This is a result of Delaware's success. The partnership assists us in achieving the organization's value of asset-based community development.

In the past, various UD departments have hosted allies during their apprenticeship experience, including the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship and 4H Cooperative Extension. Allies have also been able to collaborate with multiple service initiatives led by UD faculty, including Kathy Denhardt's Youth Street Outreach project, Steve Peuquet's Blueprint Community efforts and Yasser Arafat Payne's Participatory Action Research project.

Public Allies is changing the face and practice of leadership in communities across the state of Delaware, Garrett-Morrow says. This has been an invaluable partnership that has allowed UD faculty and from all the colleges to share their research and knowledge to enrich our Allies' nonprofit leadership training program and, in turn, the organizations and communities they serve.

As the 2010 Public Allies Delaware program comes to a close, here is an in-depth look at four allies and their experiences.

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Meghan Erdman worked at the Brandywine Zoo.

Meghan Erdman at the Brandywine Zoo

For Meghan Erdman, a 2009 graduate of Dickinson College originally from Millersville, Pa., the 10-month Public Allies program was the ideal next step, as its mission statement fell in line with her values.

Public Allies has pushed me to have a more elaborate and diverse understanding of communities and their issues, she says. The program has helped expand my personal and professional network, and it has made me feel more prepared and experienced with being able to handle issues of conflict.

Erdman's background with animals helped her realize that a partnership with the Brandywine Zoo through Public Allies Delaware would be a perfect fit. She had previously helped establish an animal-assisted therapy program at the Cumberland County chapter of the American Red Cross.

Erdman says she has enjoyed her experience working at the zoo, especially because she can choose to spend time indoors doing research or outdoors, educating the public and working with the animals.

Every day is a learning day at the zoo, she says. I was not an animal science major so I'm always learning new things when I incorporate animals into the zoo's programs. Other than that, the schedule is never the same.

At the zoo, Erdman serves as an event coordinator. She has organized many events for various occasions at the zoo, including holidays and visiting school or senior citizens' groups, in addition to weekend events for the general public. She also helps run the Close Encounters program, where guests can get an up-close and personal glimpse at wildlife.

All generations still need education on wildlife and conservation, she says. It's fun to teach people and help them eliminate their fears, biases or worries about wildlife.

Daneya Wheeler at UD 4-H Cooperative Extension

Originally from Queens, N.Y., and currently a UD student, Daneya Wheeler first heard about Public Allies while she was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology. When she transferred to UD a year ago, she found out about the Public Allies Delaware program and thought it would fit in with her plans to get involved with the nonprofit sector.

Wheeler's placement is with the 4-H Cooperative Extension program on the UD campus. At 4-H, she has prepared a curriculum to teach youth about self-image, decision making and drug awareness. She also has received grants to conduct community events, including a talent and fashion show at Servium Girls Academy and a fair and parade at the Boys and Girls Club in Middletown.

I love being a Public Ally and working with kids, she says. It's not just an apprenticeship. I not only teach life skills, but I learn them as well and have learned a lot about myself. It's been a really good experience.

Her time with Public Allies has helped her realize that she loves to teach kids and has the desire to have a career that is giving to the community.

Melissa Santasa at the West End Neighborhood House

Melissa Santosa joined Public Allies because she saw it as an opportunity to do meaningful work and build her capacity as a leader, and it gave her the opportunity to participate in activities that benefit and connect people to their local communities.

Santosa's placement is as an employment assistant in the Education and Employment Department of the West End Neighborhood House, where she teaches work readiness to young adults aged 16-22. She said she has a personal connection to West End, as she attended programs there when she was younger.

I was excited about my placement, because it would allow me to teach students skills that would empower them to find and keep employment, she says.

Santosa says the Public Allies program has given her connections that have turned into friendships and working partnerships, as well as a more informed perspective on how to be a community leader.

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Colin Barratt, left, worked with Autism Delaware.

Colin Barratt at Autism Delaware

Colin Barratt, a 2008 UD graduate, came to Public Allies Delaware as a way to continue pursuing his passion for community service. Prior to Public Allies, he spent a year with the AmeriCorps state parks program and served as a volunteer coordinator at Fort Delaware State Park.

At Autism Delaware, Barratt works with adults who have Asperger's Syndrome and helps them learn job development skills and techniques such as resume maintenance. He provides them with opportunities to volunteer in the community and coordinates volunteers at events such as Autism Delaware's annual Walk for Autism and its celebrity golf tournament.

It's totally a different world, he says, comparing the two AmeriCorps programs in which he has participated. Public Allies has given him more experience in an office, has a strong team-building component and offers lots of training for allies to become better leaders, he says.

Prior to working with Autism Delaware, Barratt says he had never worked with people with disabilities, but he liked the feel of Autism Delaware when he was looking for a placement and was eager to try something new.

Since he started, Barratt says the people he has worked with have been wonderful. A defining moment for Barratt came when one of the nonverbal adults he works with tried to speak to him for the first time.

Just to hear his voice was something special, he says.

Barratt says he thinks the Public Allies program is a great transition program for college graduates, who may be unsure about what to do after college, to discover things about themselves.

Public Allies has helped make be become like a walking billboard for AmeriCorps, he says. I don't think it will end anytime soon.

Article by Jon Bleiweis

Originally published by UDaily.

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Public Allies Delaware, a part of UD's CCRS, is wrapping up its 2010 Public Allies AmeriCorps program, in which 29 young leaders, or allies, have been making contributions to the Delaware community over the past 10 months.
5/25/2010
 
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