MEET AN ALLY: Kyara Mendez Serrano supporting Latinx cancer patients & survivors in central Indiana

Public Allies Indianapolis member Kyara Mendez Serrano cooking at Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana’s Latino Family Night.

Every year around 450 local nonprofits and government agencies (our partners) engage with Public Allies in order to increase their capacity to carry out their missions and impact more lives. In many cases, our Members provide unique skills, experiences, and a deep understanding of the communities our partners serve that allow them to uniquely support these great organizations.

For example, Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana (CSCCI), which aims to “ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community”, recognized a need to better engage and support the growing Latinx population in central Indiana. To achieve this, CSCCI partnered with Public Allies Indianapolis with the following goals:

  • Manage and grow Latino Family Night to reach survivors and caregivers in need of services.
  • Recruit volunteers and medical professionals in order to expand and diversify programming.
  • Reach out to underserved clients at Eskenazi Health to provide basic needs and supportive and engaging programming to increase attendance at chemotherapy appointments.

Furthermore, CSCCI understood that to achieve these goals they needed to bring in someone who not only spoke Spanish, but had personal roots and connections within the Latinx community.

Since September of 2018, Public Allies Indianapolis Member Kyara Mendez Serrano has been working diligently to help CSCCI achieve their goals. In describing some of the success she’s had, Kyara shared: “I have a new participant in my Spanish programs. She seems very excited to start participating in everything that we have available and taking advantage of the support system that comes with being part of these programs. When she came to the first program, her daughter told me that she wanted her mom to take advantage of all the programs we provide since her mom is mostly in the house alone. She told me that she was thrilled that her mom could now enjoy other people who have endured the same things she is currently going through.”

“When she came to the first program, her daughter told me that she wanted her mom to take advantage of all the programs we provide since her mom is mostly in the house alone. She told me that she was thrilled that her mom could now enjoy other people who have endured the same things she is currently going through.”

In addition to triumphs like these that are making an impactful difference for Latinx people fighting cancer, Kyara has also recruited new volunteers to help with programming and has created a Latino Family Night Volunteer Manual to ensure the program can be continue to be sustained. Cancer Support Community is excited to maintain the gains that Kyara has helped them achieve.

As Kyara’s term of service comes to a close, Cancer Support Community is now better positioned to support the Latinx community in central Indiana. This is just one example of the impact Public Allies’ AmeriCorps Members are having across the country.

Since launching in 2009, 185 diverse & talented leaders have graduated from Public Allies Indianapolis and approximately 75% continue to work within the nonprofit and government sectors in the area. Public Allies Indianapolis is operated locally by Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center and supported through the generosity of Serve Indiana.

CEO Jaime Uzeta to Speak at Social and Emotional Learning Exchange 2019

Jaime Uzeta to moderate “The Future of Work” panel at inaugural Social and Emotional Learning Exchange, October 2019.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) will host the inaugural Social and Emotional Learning Exchange October 2 – 4, 2019 at the Marriott Marquis in Chicago, IL. The theme of the inaugural conference is Defining Quality in the Context of Innovation.

The Social and Emotional Learning Exchange is a unique and timely opportunity to gather individuals committed to the comprehensive development and success of all students. Participants will learn with and from those at the frontiers of social and emotional learning research, policy, and practice and discover new ways of collaborating with one another to amplify their impact.

Public Allies CEO Jaime Uzeta has been confirmed to moderate “The Future of Work” Panel, which will feature a conversation focusing on competencies the current and future workforce must have and the promise of social and emotional learning (SEL), a relationship-centered and humanistic approach towards education. Per CASEL, “Research has shown time and time again that content knowledge (now easily accessible on a mobile device) is not as important as a set of foundational interpersonal and intra-personal skills: the ability to collaborate and effectively communicate, flexibility, creativity, problem-solving, empathy, and perspective-taking.” Given that the Public Allies Leadership Practice introduces hundreds of Ally Apprentices annually execute the 10+1 Leadership Actions which align closely to SEL pedagogy, Public Allies is excited to advance this conversation for the 600 that will be in attendance.

To register for the conference, click here.

CASEL is transforming American education through social and emotional learning.
As a force for field-wide unity, strategy and collaboration for 25 years, CASEL is dedicated to ensuring that a systemic approach to scaling SEL nationally is a sustainable model for generations to come. CASEL is proud to host a national forum focused on ensuring high-quality work while advancing learning and innovation in our field.

MEET AN ALLY: Channtal Polanco & Iyamidé May

Public Allies members come from diverse educational and professional backgrounds, yet they all have a calling to serve something greater than themselves and see Public Allies as a pathway towards achieving that. Current Public Allies Arizona Members Channtal Polanco and Iyamidé May are great examples of this. Channtal has her high school degree, and was employed at Head Start Phoenix until she continued her education full time; while Iyamide holds a graduate degree in leadership, and had left her position as a program manager in the disaster management sector.

So how is it that these two strong women who were on different career paths came to Public Allies and how is Public Allies contributing to their short-term and long-term career aspirations? We caught up with them for our latest MEET AN ALLY post to find out.

What drew you to Public Allies?

Channtal Morales, Public Allies Arizona 2019

Channtal: What drew me to Public Allies were many things, one being that I’ve had the opportunity to meet Alums who spoke highly of Public Allies Arizona. I have known about Public Allies for several years, but was in a way hesitant to make the commitment knowing I had a child to support and all the unknowns that may have come with Public Allies. After a while working in my community and serving, I yearned to continue to grow and be challenged. I had high hopes that joining Public Allies would renew my thinking, challenge me, and grow me in ways I haven’t been in the past. I was ready for leadership development and to be equipped to make lasting change within my community.

Iyamidé May, Public Allies Arizona, 2019

Iyamidé: What drew me to Public Allies was that it was an answer to a prayer; my life had been centralized around pursuing more, doing more, being more–all related to being “successful”, well at least my perceived ideas of what success looked like by societal standards. I reached a pinnacle point in my life, where I felt empty in the midst of being busy and full of tasks. I was yearning for something that could cause me to grow into more of a servant leader, to be selfless, to pour out the love that overflows from within my heart, and to really be stretched to expand in humility. The leadership development and building capacity focus within the Public Allies description pulled me right in.

How is Public Allies advancing your own leadership development?
Channtal: Public Allies has been advancing my leadership development by giving me the opportunities for trainings in which I’ve been able to create healthy boundaries, harness my voice as a community member, and serve in a greater capacity. I have been able to get a greater sense of myself and how I can be an asset to building and serving communities.

“Public Allies is advancing my leadership by giving me a greater understanding of self; what I like, what I don’t like, what I can handle, what I can’t handle, what I’m good at, and what I know I need to work on.” – Iyamidé May, Public Allies Arizona

Iyamidé: Public Allies is advancing my leadership by giving me a greater understanding of self; what I like, what I don’t like, what I can handle, what I can’t handle, what I’m good at, and what I know I need to work on. Through the various Public Allies experiences, I’ve been able to: become aware of the benefits of productive time management, establishing boundaries, negotiating, and learning how and when to assert myself. I’ve been able to paint a picture of what kind of work environment will allow me to be the most effective, and so much more.

How is Public Allies contributing to your short & long-term career aspirations?
Channtal: Public Allies is equipping me to become the person I am called to be. As I am constantly engaging with youth in my placement I am learning skills that will benefit my future aspirations by being challenged and pushed outside my comfort zone. I am an introverted person and self-describe as a wallflower, but I am constantly growing and learning how to make a difference by serving in my community through my placement at Arizona State University’s Opportunities for Youth Initiative. Public Allies is an experience that has given me the opportunity to grow my confidence in self, and be an empathetic leader.

“Public Allies is equipping me to become the person I am called to be.” – Channtal Polanco, Public Allies Arizona

Iyamidé: The Public Allies experience has been cultivating me into a more resilient individual (human-being), for my future as a global innovative servant-leader through the opportunities of being exposed to Arizona’s changemakers, along with access to a myriad of resources and support that I otherwise would not have had the privilege or access to attain on my own.

What are you planning to do immediately after Public Allies and what are your long-term career aspiration(s)?

Channtal: Immediately after Public Allies as a first generation Chicana college student I am hoping to continue my education at Phoenix College and graduate with an Associate’s of Arts by Spring 2020. Shortly after I obtain my Associates in Arts I will attend Arizona State University. I am also currently working on creating a non-profit program that will be provided to underserved communities around health and wellness. My long-term career aspirations aren’t defined just yet but I know that my heart is to serve and provide support to uplift communities.

Iyamidé: Immediately after Public Allies, I’m planning to pilot my program that is centered around lifestyle and emotional development, with a focus on helping individuals establish their identity outside of their environment. My long-term career aspirations are to not only have my program(s) in schools, municipalities, etc., but to also become a world-renowned speaker on trauma, mental health, and building/cultivating relationships and connections.

Public Allies CEO Jaime Uzeta Calls for Expanded National Service Opportunities for Individuals from Underserved Communities

Public Allies CEO Jaime Uzeta testified before the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service on March 29th, 2019 at the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. The 11-member bipartisan commission is tasked with comprehensively reviewing the Selective Service System, along with military, national and public service.

Jaime was one of the featured panelists for the National Service Hearing: Creating More National Service Opportunities panel, which focused on exploring “options to support an expansion of national service in America, including requirements for new sources of funding, new program models, systems, infrastructures, and/or partnerships.”

Jaime encouraged the Commission to examine how national service can continue to expand its impact in the following ways:

1. Encouraging greater national service participation from underserved communities.
2. Diversify the types of organizations that can engage with national service.
3. Encourage the federal government to incentivize the engagement of nontraditional participants in service, such as Opportunity Youth and formerly incarcerated citizens returning communities.

Jaime was joined in the panel by Kaira Esgate, CEO, America’s Service Commissions; Brian Larkin, Program Officer of Flint, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Natalye Paquin, Esq., President and CEO, Points of Light; and Shirley Sagawa, CEO and Founder, Service Year Alliance.

Given that only a few that are offered this prestigious platform, this was a powerful opportunity for Public Allies to shape the future of national service. Jaime stated:

“As one of the original AmeriCorps programs, we feel strongly about the need and opportunity to make National Service more accessible to youth from underserved communities. To that end, this was an excellent opportunity to help inform the Commission’s ultimate recommendations to policy makers.”

The hearing was one of 14 total public hearings the Commission is holding throughout 2019 before delivering their final recommendations to Congress, the President and the American people in March 2020.

Click here to watch a recording of the “Creating New National Service Opportunities” panel. Jaime’s prepared remarks are available here.

Public Allies Alum Marquisa Wince (Milwaukee, ’17) Awarded the B.A. Rudolph Scholarship

Congratulations to Marquisa Wince, Public Allies Milwaukee class of ’17, for being awarded the B.A. Rudolph Scholarship at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The B.A. Rudolph Foundation awards this $12,000 scholarship annually to a woman who is a rising second year at the school and who best embodies the mission and values of the Foundation.

“We are proud to support Marquisa as a student and a change maker in her work to reform structures, systems and institutions that pose a threat to justice. We applaud her work to advocate on behalf of communities that are often overlooked and under-resourced,” said Mary Bruce, Executive Director of the B.A. Rudolph Foundation.

Earlier today Marquisa took to social media to share the role Public Allies played in her own leadership journey, stating:

“PA Milwaukee played a vital role in getting me where I am today! I remember writing & editing my personal statement for the Clinton School & Law school while serving as an Ally.”

Congratulations, Marquisa! We’re all happy to call you one of our own and look forward to watching as you continue on your leadership journey.

To read more about Marquisa, see the full press release here.

MEET AN ALLY: Jermal Muhammad – Public Allies Connecticut

Jermal Muhammad, Public Allies Connecticut Class of 2019.

Meet Jermal Muhammad, a second year Member at Public Allies Connecticut. Jermal is Lead College Access Advisor at Higher Heights Youth Empowerment Program (HHYEP) where he has been piloting a citywide FAFSA completion drive in New Haven, Connecticut. When we checked in with Jermal, he had already held 8 FAFSA  workshops and assisted over 150 students to complete their FAFSA forms.

But here’s the thing. Jermal was only tasked with completing 4 FAFSA workshops. When asked why he’s gone so far beyond what was asked of him, Jermal replied, “When I was in high school I felt like there were opportunities and resources, but I didn’t know about them. They weren’t promoted in a hands on way, and no one made an effort to make that personal connection with me to understand what I hoped to do after high school. I don’t want any student to not apply for college because they don’t think they can or don’t know how. I don’t want them to repeat my experience.”

And that’s what makes Jermal’s story so interesting. Having grown up in the foster care system, he graduated high school in 2006 and went on to obtain an associates degree. He then began taking courses at Western Connecticut State University in psychology and social work. By all measures, Jermal was on a successful path. Then things hit a snag. At 24 years of age, he no longer qualified to receive state assistance for higher education.

“I had timed out of the [foster care] program and they told me it was going to be really expensive. I didn’t know how to make it work. I hadn’t done my FAFSA. I thought I would just take a year off. Then I had my son and I was concerned about how I as going to pay for school while raising him.”

Jermal continued to put off school and found himself at 30 years-old working as a part-time security guard earning around $7,000 per year. In the spring of 2017 Jermal was contemplating his future. He wasn’t certain what he wanted to do, but the long-time foster youth mentor and head coach of the Hamden Popwarner team knew people kept telling him he was great with youth. That’s when a friend talked to him about their experience in AmeriCorps and how it had helped develop their leadership skills. Inspired, Jermal began looking around and found out about Public Allies Connecticut.

Accepted into the program in the fall of 2017, Jermal is completing his second year of Public Allies and credits it with giving him the confidence he needed to go back and finish his bachelors degree.

“When I have parents and students come up to me thank me; it’s the confirmation that I’m making a difference. This is the type of difference I want to make. I want to make a difference with people. I want them to feel safe, and have access. Public Allies [through leadership trainings and the experiences I’ve had] built my confidence to go back to school. It’s woken me up.”

Jermal will soon begin taking courses at Albertus Maginus College in New Haven, Connecticut with the goal of someday becoming a school principal, because, “They set the tone for the culture of the entire school.”

Click here to learn more about how you can Join Public Allies.

For more information on the challenges children raised in foster care have in obtaining college degrees, see here.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama Joins Public Allies In Young Leader Workshop In Northern California

In celebration of her best-selling memoir, BECOMING, Mrs. Obama reunites with Public Allies as part of visit to San Jose, California.

San Jose, CA.  — On Friday, former First Lady Michelle Obama participated in a special youth leadership workshop event hosted by Public Allies, an organization she helped shape.  Public Allies is a national nonprofit focused on developing diverse community leaders (called Allies) in 25 communities across the country. The apprenticeship program recruits talented young leaders and provides them with leadership and career development while diversifying our country’s talent pipeline. Mrs. Obama has a longstanding and meaningful relationship with Public Allies, having served as the Executive Director of the Chicago Chapter in the 1990’s and remaining a strong supporter during her time in the White House and after.

Mrs. Obama joined thirty current Allies and program alumni, the legacy of leadership tenure, by participating in their weekly leadership workshop and training. “Public Allies was my favorite job. I meet Allies and Alums all over the country and they are doing amazing things and I know the future is bright.” she told the group. “It was at Public Allies that I first understood that I would always be ‘becoming.'”

“Public Allies is about cultivating the ‘Michelle Obamas’ of this generation — giving young adults at the start of their careers the leadership skills to be change-makers in their communities while creating a more diverse leadership pipeline in this country.  Today was inspiring and meaningful on many levels, welcoming Mrs Obama home to her Public Allies family,” said Jaime Ernesto Uzeta, CEO of Public Allies.

In BECOMING, pages 175-182, she writes about the significant impact her experience with Public Allies has had on her life and career:

“I’d been hired to be the executive director for the brand-new Chicago chapter of an organization called Public Allies. Public Allies [is] all about promise — finding it, nurturing it, and putting it to use. It was a mandate to seek out young people whose best qualities might otherwise be overlooked and to give them a chance to do something meaningful. To me, the job felt almost like destiny.

The most exciting part for me was finding the Allies themselves…..Who were the leaders? Who was ready for something bigger than what he or she had? These were the people we wanted to encourage to apply, urging them to forget for a minute whatever obstacles normally made such things impossible, promising as an organization we would do what we could …

….I’ve been amazed over time to see how many of our recruits did, in fact, succeed and commit themselves long term to serving a larger public good. Twenty-five year after its inception, Public Allies is still going strong with chapters in Chicago and two dozen other cities and thousands of alumni across the country. To know that I played some small part in that, helping to create something that’s endured, is one of the most gratifying feelings I’ve had in my professional life.

For the first time in my life, really, I felt I was doing something immediately meaningful, directly impacting the lives of others while also staying connected to both my city and my culture.”

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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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:


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.”