It all started with a flyer. In 2001, Ramona Ramos (she/her) (Public Allies Wisconsin ‘02), a mother of two with a love for community building and leadership, was introduced to Public Allies through a friend that recognized her passion, and that’s where this legacy begins. 15 years later, Ramona’s first son, Elio Garcia (he/him) (Public Allies Wisconsin ‘17 & ‘18) also found himself falling in love with the program and all that it has to offer in their community.
“I applied to Public Allies and took a chance because what did I have to lose? I went for it,” Ramona says. “I wasn’t 100% sure what it was at the time, but I knew that it sounded perfect for me. PA really changed my life.”
And Ramona’s first year was far from easy, her cohort experienced 9/11, together. Post 9/11, there were a lot of changes taking place with AmeriCorps. A National Ally Council was created, with representatives from cohorts across the country, to advocate for the Public Allies Apprenticeship. As a representative of Public Allies Wisconsin, Ramona traveled to the Capitol to fight to save Public Allies.
“I always feel like 9/11 made our class a lot closer and it gave our work a lot more meaning,” Ramona says. “We stayed together and cried together. We comforted one another and that continued throughout the entire program year. It also happened to be our 10 year anniversary that year. I always tell these stories because I think it’s very meaningful to our cohort work. I still have the VHS from the annual event talking about the work that we did. It was a big celebration and event for everything that we had gone through together.”
Elio grew up listening to Ramona’s stories and memories from her program year, and credits her for suggesting that he consider joining Public Allies. Before applying, Elio recognized that he had a lot of maturing to do, mentally and emotionally, as a hard-headed 22-year-old. But fate brought him back to PA when he was ready.
“I was initially going to UW-Stevens Point, and it wasn’t working out for me, mentally and emotionally. A dear friend of mine had just passed away very tragically and I just had to get back home,” Elio says. “I was considering attending the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) or doing PA and I chose MIAD, but had to take a step away after about a year. That’s when I joined Public Allies.”
“It was like a handoff of something that’s a part of me and that did so much for me. It gave him the skills just like it did for me,” Ramona says. “I always felt, as a parent, comfort to know that he was in good hands and learning good things from the program. Public Allies gave me a sense of ease, knowing that he was learning and thriving.”
Following his two service terms, Elio was hired as the Program Manager, Director of Ally Pathways at Public Allies Wisconsin. When another role opened up that sounded like a fit for Ramona, Elio convinced her to apply.
“I had always envisioned coming back to Public Allies in some capacity,” Elio says. “After my second year I went back to MIAD and finished my degree, and used a lot of the things that I learned in PA to do it. One of my pathways was to finish my degree. The program works, and now I’m the Director of Ally Pathways. It’s funny, because it’s a full circle moment.”
“A lot has changed and the world has changed since I was an Ally,” Ramona says. “It feels like a reboot, Public Allies 2.0. I’m getting the learning that I didn’t know that I needed, again. It’s making me a better human being. The lessons are there and they become a part of you, but getting back into the Public Allies world that we know, it reinforces it and gives you learning that you didn’t know you needed.”
“I told my mom to just do it. She was staff alum, #PAAlum, and a great plethora of skills in her resume. The worst that they could’ve said is no. And my mom got hired. For us to be on the same team, my mom has access points to PA from a different time and the knowledge she has on that historic era of PA till now and how much it’s changed– it’s even changed a lot since I graduated! To have all of that knowledge in the mix of the team, it’s awesome,” Elio says.
Public Allies gave Ramona and Elio the confidence, knowhow, skills– and platform, and they hold it with them always. And now, PA is an integral part of their family through two generations of leaders. Their passion for the Public Allies program and how it can impact the lives of people shines through their interactions with everyone they encounter, especially now as colleagues at Public Allies Wisconsin.
“It’s a joy to be here as the Director of Strategic Partnerships and I couldn’t be happier to be in a position where I can build up our community and bring others into this world,” Ramona says. “And then, to stand in awe of Elio and all of his knowledge and accomplishments too. I raised Elio, but Public Allies embraced him and built him up and empowered him to be who he truly is. And here we are together, it really has left a lasting imprint on our family and it has really become a part of our home. ”
“My mom is the blueprint in a lot of this. There’s options and avenues of work and she’s always pushed me to consider alternatives. Especially for being an outwardly presenting male, people often say we have to work with our hands, or do blue collar work and trades, or traditional careers,” Elio says. “She’s always held the space for doing art school which is my ultimate passion. She always got me to think outside the box whenever I felt like I was stuck in it. We’re parallel going upwards, together.”
Now, Ramona and Elio get to experience the beauty of Public Allies once again, being there for each other’s “firsts,” and teaching one another in so many ways. They have the opportunity to witness every best moment as a leader in this community, learning how to be better, more conscious human beings along the way. The pair hopes that their love for PA has rubbed off on others in their family, and that their legacy of service can continue on.
“I’m excited for the work that Elio and I are going to do together and the work that our family will continue to do because of this organization,” Ramona says.
“There’s someone else bound in the family to get involved with Public Allies at some point. I’m excited to see who is next in line. You’ve gotta be involved and care about the right things. Our family sits down and defines things and gets charged up, but it’s from the influence of the Public Allies mantra,” Elio says. “A field like this is a community effort, it takes a village. What the PA model is, community is at the center of it and maintaining it is essential.”