Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Slam Dunk for Browntown!

By Meredith Stuart 
Ten months ago, our team of six Public Allies was welcomed to the Browntown community to complete our Team Service Project.  We were to work with Browntown residents, neighborhood youth and local government officials to increase the capacity and sustainability of youth initiatives in the community.  Our team was lucky to have a group of truly invested community partners from the Browntown Civic Association, the City Council, neighborhood institutions, and of course the BCA Kidz Club - a junior civic association run by local teenagers to give the young people of the neighborhood something to do and a safe place to be.  
Browntown Kidz Club members
Early on, we conducted a focus group with Browntown’s young leaders to identify a project.  They decided that a neighborhood basketball league and cheerleading squad would have the widest appeal to their peers and offer the most potential for sustainability.  The Public Allies Team started to meet with the BCA Kidz Club twice monthly in order to improve their sustainability as a self-governing group and their succession planning to engage new members to replace members who age out of the group.  By leading these activities, we helped them to develop a mission statement, a case for support, position descriptions, internal and external communication strategies, and an increased comfort with networking and elevator pitches.  
The confidence of the young leaders with whom we have been working has grown substantially over these last ten months.  In February, members of the BCA Kidz Club who attended a Stakeholders’ Meeting for their Basketball League found it difficult to be heard by the new adults in the room and difficult to assert their ownership over the league.  By April and May, the same representative was participating confidently with adults in a meeting about developing support for the Kidz Club and youth activities in general.  The Kidz Club also began to present updates about its activities and answer impromptu questions from the monthly Civic Association meeting, usually attended by over 30 adult residents.  They were interviewed extensively for a Front Page feature in the News Journal and were able to clearly communicate their message.  
The Basketball League has significantly increased the community’s support for it’s young people.  Many residents volunteered their time and donated their money (over $1500 was donated to the league from individuals)  to make sure that the league was a success.  There has simply been an increase in momentum in more ways than one.
The Basketball League has engaged over 90 young people from Browntown, Hedgeville and beyond.  It is incredibly popular and its success is a testament to the need to focus on the assets of the community and the projects that the community itself identifies.  The Basketball League was conceived by the BCA Kidz Club and a group of dedicated residents of all ages with incredible social capital were able to make it happen.  In the short term, it has increased the reach of the BCA Kidz Club and young residents’ interest in their programs and activities.  
In the long term, our work with the Browntown community has inspired collaboration with Parkway Academy, the Hedgeville Civic Association and Girl’s Inc.  The foundation of these partnerships are built on a shared desire to support and grow youth initiatives in the area and we are optimistic that they will continue in the long term.  

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Public Allies Delaware – What’s Not to Like?


I am always excited to see the return of October because during those 31 days I get to be part of an effort to raise awareness about the seriousness of breast cancer, reminding everyone that 40,000 women in the United States still die annually from this disease. But no matter how busy I am, I set aside one morning in October to attend Meet the Allies and meet a new class of idealistic young adults who, over ten months serving as Public Allies, will make a difference in non-profits like the one I serve.

Today, think of how vital Public Allies Delaware is to organizations trying to stretch a dollar to the far reaches of the state during a time when we are still recovering from the worst economic downturn in more than 50 years. Frankly it’s huge and I bet the directors of organizations such as West End Neighborhood House, Delaware Hospice, United Way and the Metropolitan Urban League – just a few of the organizations where Public Allies now serve – heartily agree.

Chadeia Mitchell, a second year Ally who will work in our organization for another 3 months as part of the 2012-13 class, has already been through a rigorous leadership training program led by professionals in the region’s non-profit world. We expect her to extend our capacity for outreach and survivorship programming and we truly believe she will continue to develop professionally. And who knows where that will lead?

One of our former Public Allies, Caitlin Dalik, was so outstanding in her Ally placement with DBCC that when her year was up she found fulltime employment with us as our Public Affairs Coordinator. Another former Ally, Kelly Kershaw, was similarly impressive and is now an Executive Assistant with the Coalition. Both Kelly and Caitlin have become integral parts of our organization because of Public Allies Delaware.

It’s been my observation that the recruitment of candidates for this program, which extends from the First State all across the United States, has only gotten stronger. These young people are so impressive that we joke that they're a little intimidating in both their passion and skill. As for the training they receive, it’s gotten better, too. The motto of this outstanding organization, with its commitment to leadership training in the non-profit sphere, could well be: Public Allies Delaware – What’s Not to Like? 

Vicky Tosh-Morelli is Director of Information Services for the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.