Donning the Sweatshirt of Service: Reflections from a Second-Year Ally
When I think back on my time with ASU Lodestar Center's Public Allies Arizona program, many different memories and candid moments pop into my mind. Particularly, I think of an image of a certain well-worn Public Allies hooded sweatshirt — our unspoken uniform of service. Every service day, there it would be. Rain or shine or paint, it would be there.
That sweatshirt is a reflection of my experiences in a lot of ways, and I think it's a symbol that unites a lot of us in the nonprofit sector, beyond Public Allies. It's a rather unassuming (some might even say unattractive) emblem of our collective pledge to do a service for this country. We take pay cuts, put ourselves out there, and take risks — all to make a difference. We all look similar in our sweatshirts, and the mission and goals of our work — to do good service, to help others, to create change — unite us even more.
But, inevitably, that sweatshirt comes off once we get home from a long day of service, and the visible link to one another and the tangible attainability of our work becomes harder to see.
I often found myself asking, "What do you mean I have to create a volunteer program, or put together an advocacy training, or plan a Halloween carnival? Remind me again how this is linked back to reducing poverty in this country, or creating sustainable local food systems, or increasing graduation rates, or fighting institutional oppression? Can we break that down one more time? Because I'm lost."
Yet I think that that's the real beauty and power of this work. It demands that we remember, as individuals, that what we do on a daily basis, on the regular — planning that Halloween carnival or participating in a homeless count across the city — matters. The work that we do matters. It demands a perspective that is self-reflective, microscopic, local, and grand. Which is also what makes this work hard. Great and hard.
As Aldous Huxley put it, "Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him."
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In putting on those sweatshirts, we all agree to stand together, so that we can be active participants in what happens to us and around us. We're all drawn to this work because we care about our communities and our country. We care about one another and about the inequities we see around us.
My experiences with Public Allies was incredible and memorable. Over the last two years, eight of my peers and I have completed over 27,000 hours of service — that's years of service — and given our voices and passion to the task of shaping social justice here in the valley.
This year alone, Joseph Perez created an entire collaborative program that uses hip hop to teach students about life. Analisa Xavier implemented Native American Connections' first ever teen after-school programs. Michael Soto traveled to every corner of Arizona to facilitate a comprehensive arts education program he designed. Kelly Williams impacted the lives of almost 2,000 students at Camelback High School with her guidance and support. Hannah Davis successfully placed over 200 volunteers in schools around the valley with Communities in Schools programs. Karina Ybarra helped develop support and programming specifically for Latino students here in the valley, and Alyssa Brooke-Gay changed the fabric of sustainable living and food justice in Tempe with a community garden that has attracted national attention. And that's only what the second-year Arizona Allies accomplished.
I donned my sweatshirt, eager to make a difference, and I stand today with peers as a proud Public Allies Arizona alumna, knowing that with or without that sweatshirt we can make a difference. I hope that you'll join us.
Angela is an Arizona native and has found her passion in safe schools work and student organizing. From marketing to teaching to volunteer coordination and mentoring, she uses her experiences and skills to work with marginalized and youth populations. Angela looks forward to a lifetime of service and anti-bias work, and she believes in the power of community and education.