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Public Allies National Leadership Institute August 2017

A gathering of Public Allies staff, board members, and leaders from across the nation celebrated our organization’s 25th anniversary in Minneapolis last August 2017. Above are some highlights from our National Leadership Institute.

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AMERICORPS ALUM, FUTURE DOCTOR: MY SERVICE EXPERIENCE MADE ME A BETTER LEADER

Corey Benjamin (pictured far right) is the firstborn child of an immigrant father from Haiti, and an immigrant mother from Liberia who in the early 1980s fled to the United States after a violent government coup in her home country. Corey says that growing up he recognized the deep sacrifices and struggles his parents overcame to give him the opportunity to become the first in his family to attend college.

“Whenever I think I’m having it tough,” says Corey, a 2016 graduate of Public Allies AmeriCorps program in Washington, D.C., “I think back to the journey of my parents.”

Today, Corey is making his parents proud. He’s starting his second year of medical school at the University of Virginia, and is on track to become the first doctor in his family. Beyond his parents, Corey credits his Public Allies national service experience with helping to illuminate his path and showing him what’s possible in his life and work.

“My service experience made me a better leader,” says Corey. “It helped me figure out what I need to do.”

Corey says his Public Allies service experience—where he spent four days a week working at America’s Promise Alliance—really gave him a window into people’s lives and community impacts on their health.

“As a doctor, I’m going to advocate more for social services and things outside of the hospital that may affect patients’ health,” he says, adding: “It’s one thing to want to do good, but it’s another thing to do good.”

Learn more about Corey by watching this short video produced by Service Year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuWL3UOEwu8

FOR SOMALI-BORN HASSAN DAHIR, HELPING REFUGEES FEEL WELCOMED IN THEIR NEW COMMUNITIES IS DEEPLY PERSONAL WORK

When Hassan Dahir was barely a toddler, the central government of his country — Somalia — was overtaken by force and fell. During his boyhood years, Hassan’s country was dangerously divided between warring factions and violent armed groups.

When he reached his teenage years, Hassan’s mother made a difficult and fateful decision that would change his life forever.

“Al-Shabaab, which was the most dangerous religious group in Somalia, started to take teenagers by force in order to use them to fight their opposition,” Hassan says. “Therefore, before they could come to take me by force, my mother decided to send me outside of Somalia — anywhere I can get peace, security, and a better life.”

Since then, the road that Hassan has traveled has taken him to live in Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine, and — since 2014 — Anchorage, Alaska. There, Hassan has become one of the first members of a new leadership initiative — Welcoming Communities Corps — which was born out of Public Allies’ 2015 strategic plan and started thanks to a partnership between Public Allies, Welcoming America, and AmeriCorps VISTA. His Welcoming Communities Corps placement is with the City of Anchorage.

The first cohort of Welcoming Communities Corps leaders includes a diverse array of U.S. immigrants and citizens working in places like San Jose, Detroit, and Anchorage. All are working to cultivate educational and employment opportunities for new immigrant and refugee populations.

For Hassan, this is deeply personal work. “I know what refugees face, because I am one of them, and I can feel what they are feeling and understand their plight,” says Hassan, who speaks Somali, Amharic, and English, as well as some Russian and Arabic. “I’ve decided to help refugees and believe my unique perspective can be helpful.”

What many aren’t aware of is that Anchorage has one of the most diverse refugee populations in the country, and includes people from Somalia, Sudan, Bhutan, Congo, Iraq, Burma, Ethiopia, Eritria, Russia, and Ukraine.

Hassan, who also worked for four years with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as an interpreter, is working on bringing a Civic Engagement Academy program to Anchorage to engage diverse members of the community in civic and public life.

“Anything that connects our diverse communities and brings us together,” Hassan says, “will benefit everyone.”

AFTER MORE THAN A YEAR IN PRISON, YOUNG PHOENIX MAN CHANGED HIS LIFE COURSE AND JOINED PUBLIC ALLIES TO FIGHT FOR DISCONNECTED YOUTH

“I know what they’re going through, because I went through it.” This is how Felix Moran explains the value he brings to Opportunities for Youth, the organization where he is placed as an AmeriCorps Ally in Phoenix, Arizona. After going to prison at 17 for burglary, Felix struggled to get employment. But he was determined to  be a powerful force for good in his community — especially for the countless young adults like him who find themselves without jobs and higher education. That’s why he joined Public Allies, and why he is committed to effectively doing outreach to young people who are facing challenges as he once did. Read and watch his inspiring story. He is  just one of thousands of examples of why Public Allies, AmeriCorps, and national service are great investments!

CINCINNATI ALLY SEES FRUITS OF HER WORK THROUGH STORY OF MAN WHO HAS BROKEN CHAINS OF UNEMPLOYMENT AFTER PRISON

Last September, Maria Todd began her 10 months of service as an AmeriCorps Ally with the organization Cincinnati Works, which helps individuals get on the road to economic self-sufficiency and away from poverty. In this story of hope and the power of service, Maria shares the story of a man, Hanif, whom she met right after he had been let out of prison. “Hanif had been in prison longer than I have been alive,” Maria writes. Yet thanks to his commitment and to the help he received, Maria writes that Hanif has succeeded in finding employment and “breaking the chain that could have led on and on for generations… Although he has made mistakes in his past, he has pushed to overcome them.”Read her story.