Greggory Ohannessian: Presentations of Impact 2020

Greggory Ohannessian: Presentations of Impact 2020

Hello! My name is Greggory Ohannessian, and I am an Autistic person who is a member of Public Allies Arizona. If you have met me, you know I am upfront about my disability. Get to know me better, and I will tell you about my wants, dreams, goals, interests, and so on. For instance, I can talk about Movies and TV Shows all day because it is one of my interests. One movie I enjoy watching is City Slickers, a comedy that has a scene where two characters discuss finding your “one thing” in life. As “life moves pretty fast” (to quote Ferris Bueller), I am still looking for my one thing. Unsure what to do next after spending eight and a half years as a full time college student at ASU, my mom urged me to get a job.

After trying and failing to apply for work, my former college instructor insisted I check out career services, who informed me about a job fair in Tempe that eventually led me to Public Allies. My mom suggested I find work at Ridgeline Academy, a K-8 charter school, since I have spoken there prior. When I mentioned Public Allies to the school’s principal Keven Barker, I was facing a dilemma because he wanted me to work for him. During our conversation, he told me Ridgeline was a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which meant I could work at Ridgeline while also being in Public Allies. After completing the application and going through the interviews, I was accepted and placed at Ridgeline Academy as an Intervention Research Specialist. I said, “Keven, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful apprenticeship!”

If anyone asked me about my most meaningful experiences as a Public Ally, the first thing that comes to mind is the Core Training and Retreat. One week, I learn the ins and out of the program and nonprofit work. The next, I am at a retreat in Tucson with other Allies who I just met, and we start connecting with each other through team building activities and sharing stories with our life maps and cositas (or personal items) on day one. Day two is where I am hanging on for dear life as I navigated a Ropes course 40 feet high that felt satisfying to complete as I ziplined to the ground smiling from ear to ear. It gave me great confidence going into my first day of work and my first full-time job. While on the Ropes course, I had a feeling this experience foreshadowed the unexpected events to come while I was in the program.

If I learned anything about myself this year, it is that I will always face one more obstacle to sidetrack me from accomplishing my goals. In my effort to obtain the required 1700 service hours and conquer my placement’s service objectives, I have dealt with many setbacks. Managing my time working from home during school breaks has been difficult as I tried to balance family time with work time. Unexpected setbacks also occurred, such as adjusting to the recent Covid-19 outbreak and losing a cousin from California. The latter hit me hardest because he was a year older than me, and his unexpected death caused me to reevaluate my own life and what I needed to do to make an impact with the time I have left. While these and other setbacks made it difficult to catch up, it has motivated me to work harder than ever before.

At my placement, I analyzed their current intervention program to determine what was working and not working to make sure Ridgeline was a fully inclusive school. I examined academic scores, survey data, behavioral referrals, and other program indicators. I also researched 10 schools nationwide that modeled full inclusion and found common strategies like co-teaching and constructivist theory, as well as unique qualities such as Career Pathways for high school students. As a result, I developed training materials for the staff based on my research and made it sustainable by pre-recording a presentation using Google Slides and Zoom Video Conferencing. While in the process of developing and delivering a whole staff training, my supervisor reminded me that I was on track for completing my service objectives.

Outside of my placement, I worked with three members of my cohort for a Team Service Project, focusing in the area of Education. With the time spent in-person and online via Google Hangouts, we collaborated and presented “Post High School Options” to members of the Boys and Girls Club of the Valley, and made pamphlets as well. Due to Covid-19, we made adjustments and shared our presentation using Zoom. I also had the opportunity to participate in Service Days like cleaning up a school in Downtown Phoenix, marching in a parade celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and serving lunches at my placement to make up the remaining service hours due to Covid-19. Furthermore, I participated in many training opportunities, such as Community Space Days, as well as online training from webinars, courses, and watching pre-approved documentaries from home. On one of the Community Space Days, I engaged others in an Ally-led presentation about disability advocacy and history, and shared my own experiences living as an Autistic person. Whenever I introduce myself and share my story, I become a walking change agent. Every person who has met me once is more knowledgeable of disability now than they were before. As the Allies learned about my background and values, I was willing to learn about theirs as well.

During the Gift Seat at the Mid-Year Retreat, one of the Allies reminded me that while I had great knowledge and experience in disability, I could do better learning about other groups. I agreed with her since disability intersects with race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. In fact, the Disability Rights Movement of the 1970s was influenced by the Civil Rights Movement that began two decades earlier. I had the opportunity to absorb the roots of this movement while attending a trip to Georgia and Alabama with Ridgeline Students, Staff and Family. I visited many historical locations in the cities of Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham. This included (but not limited to): the Rosa Parks Museum, Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the homes of Booker T. Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The most critical places I visited were the Enslavement and Civil Rights Museum in Selma and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. The former was a real eye-opener as I was part of a reenactment where I became an African-American slave and experienced their suffering. As Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird once said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from [their] point of view...until you climb into [their] skin and walk around in it.” The latter was my favorite location because it had an exhibit where I gained a deeper understanding of human rights and how it affects the life of every person, past and present. Overall, this trip demonstrated the importance of the work I have done at my Placement and with Public Allies because it gave me a deep understanding of how important diversity and inclusion is in our society as a whole.

As I near the end of my first year of service, I look back wondering what moment changed my life as a result of my work. It was not just one moment. There were many: Bonding with Allies at retreats and Community Space Days, facing setbacks, researching inclusive schools, understanding the roots of Civil Rights in Georgia and Alabama, serving others, developing a Team Service Project with my group, and numerous training opportunities. My experience in working towards a just and equitable society comes from all these moments that have shaped me into a leader who embraces diversity and inclusion to the max. I learned new skills like project management, and refreshed others such as organization and communication. I have also learned to be more vulnerable and trust others so that I could do more at my placement and fully engage with Public Allies. I am proud of myself for doing this because it led me to experience new things like riding the Valley Metro Bus and Light Rail. Now looking forward, heading “Into the Unknown” (Frozen pun intended), I thought, “My first year was challenging. Would I do it all again?” This is where I say, “Yes! Yes, I would!”

The 10 months spent as a Public Ally have been the most challenging, life-changing, and satisfying moments of my life. I will continue exploring my identity as a leader while also building upon my skills and gaining practical experience by applying for a second year of Public Allies Arizona. This commitment will require me to do more tasks such as facilitating group activities and mentoring other allies. I also plan on returning to Ridgeline Academy as they are in the process of expanding into a K-12 public charter school by adding a new building for high school students. My hope for the second year is that I put more effort into the +1 Leadership Action: Practicing Self-Care, so I don’t get overwhelmed and take care of myself.

Before I end my story, I need to answer this one question, “What is my One Thing?” Honestly, I am still looking. But I do know “one thing”: The love and support I have for others motivates me to advocate for them. At the same time, I must learn to love and support myself so I don’t burn out. When I think of love, I remember the Bible verse in the Armenian church at my cousin’s funeral that says “Love one another” (John 13:34). I also think of the other Bible verse where Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This is the message Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in, who also said in one of his sermons, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only Love can do that.” In closing, we must continue to love and support each other and ourselves regardless. We must also have hope to keep us motivated in reaching our goals. Hope and Love motivates me to advocate for others and myself, and build a just and equitable society.