ASU Lodestar Center


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Public Allies Arizona graduates inaugural Tucson cohort and celebrates Allies' resilience in 2020

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Members of the inaugural Public Allies Arizona Tucson cohort will graduate on December 3, 2020, after 10 months of service. Top row from left: Marsha Brogden, Jacqueline Santamaria, Nahelia Jimenez, Kelly Liska. Bottom row from left: Allison Castro, Alvaro Diaz, Terrence Telford, Deandra Binder.

by Alexandra Conforti, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

December 2, 2020

“This road has not been an easy one,” Marsha Brogden said. “Coming from a small town across the U.S. with everything I could fit in my car was a big test of bravery for me. I told myself if I could at least get here, I could do anything. With no family, very minimal friends, and no job lined up, I didn’t know what was in store for me … I knew I wanted to do something of value.”

Enter Public Allies Arizona, where this year Brogden and seven other emerging leaders became the first class of Allies in Tucson. As they near their program graduation, the cohort is ready to celebrate the program milestone and reflect on the success that has furthered their futures and that of the program.

The ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation’s Public Allies Arizona program has changed the face and practice of leadership throughout Phoenix-area communities since 2006. In 2020 the program expanded to Pima County with a cohort of Allies and a full-time program manager based in Tucson, an exciting first for the program and the ASU Lodestar Center. The 10-month paid AmeriCorps program places young leaders at local nonprofits for full-time apprenticeships. Members come together from diverse backgrounds to work toward more just and equitable societies. They learned from their placements at nonprofit and public organizations how to address local needs.

Lou Haiduk, program manager for the Public Allies Arizona program in Tucson, said that the biggest difficulty was the inability to organize large community projects due to the pandemic. Allies instead were tasked to adapt the focuses of their individual projects and work on capacity-building exercises, neighborhood projects, and made the best of reaching out into new territory. Tucson Ally placements in 2020 included Pima Community College, the City of Tucson, David and Lura Lovell Foundation, Tucson Clean and Beautiful, and Greater Tucson Leadership.

“We had the opportunity to really help out communities there in Tucson. ... It’s a great asset to have Public Allies in the larger cities, so it was just exciting to be able to provide nonprofit support to those communities in Southern Arizona,” Haiduk said.

This year’s cohort faced the challenge of being the first group of Allies in Tucson, as well as working through COVID-19. Resilience was a common theme in the successes of the program and allowed the group to bond over the transformational experience.

Although the Allies worked at separate organizations day-to-day, they had the opportunity to connect in person at the start of the program year in February and found unique ways to confer with one another virtually. They also came together for their Team Service Project (TSP), a key component of the program, working closely with the other Allies and a community partner. “The cohort is a big part of our learning model and we really seek for them to use each other as support through the program,” Haiduk said. “They were still able to build connections virtually, it was just a little different.”

Photo of a virtual conference. 9 screens, each with one person wearing a black shirt with the "Public Allies" logo on it.

Alvaro Diaz, a member of Public Allies Arizona in Tucson who was placed at Greater Tucson Leadership, said his team project was with Community Gardens of Tucson. He completed social media projects, promotions, and assisted in finding new ways for the gardens to be inclusive toward the diverse Tucson communities. He said he was able to “apply from a professional and personal standpoint” the concepts of collaboration and communication into the nonprofit sector.

Despite COVID-19 and the cohort having to go virtual, Diaz said he was “amazed at how comfortable” he felt around the other Allies. “From my experience, I saw the amazing resiliency that Public Allies and my placement demonstrated in adapting to a completely new reality. I think that Public Allies provides an amazing environment, full of people who are all going through or went through the same experiences as you. That provides trust and makes it easier to connect with the ones around you.”

Diaz said that he has learned a lot about himself through this experience and that his graduation from the program will mean a lot. “Knowing the amount of things that can be done in the Tucson community through Public Allies makes me feel privileged to be part of the first of many cohorts that will change the perspective of leadership in my community. I am excited to see the next generations of Allies and share with them as much as I can to improve our community together,” Diaz said. “It has been a great experience of learning new skills and expanding my vision of what I want to do in life and how to accomplish it.”

Nahelia Jimenez, whose first foray into nonprofit work was through Public Allies Arizona, said that she feels “extremely proud to be part of Tucson’s first cohort” and looks forward to furthering her nonprofit participation in the future.

“I have learned to appreciate and love my community and nature,” Jimenez said. “I found joy in volunteering and getting together with my fellow Allies and members of the community. I found that I have a true gift for helping others.”

Each Ally worked to complete their Presentation of Impact project, which includes a video, written story and a virtual poster to be featured at the end of their service, discussing the impact that they made with their placement organization, and how they feel they have grown as a person throughout their 10 months with Public Allies Arizona.

Deandra Binder, student and community program coordinator at Pima Community College for this year’s Tucson Public Allies cohort, said that “having an opportunity to participate in the community and figuring out what my capabilities are” was a challenging but well-worth-it experience. Binder focused on helping Pima to create an active presence in the community, aided recruitment and virtual schooling support, and researched local events that the college and volunteers could partake in for Tucson.

For her TSP, Binder said that she and other Allies created the initiative “Keep Tucson Pretty,” which included a clean-up plan and tree planting. She is in the process of working out a second year of Public Allies service with Pima Community College. Other members of the cohort are also pursuing more work with their placement organizations.

“I learned a lot about accountability, and learning about mindfulness was also really interesting to me. Everything we learned really culminated into things we can apply to the real world,” Binder said. “I think that it’s just a huge achievement for all of us that we were able to reach our goals and a lot of us are wanting to do a second year so that’s a really big success too. Each of us has grown in some way since we first started.”

The hour-long virtual graduation day on Thursday, December 3, will feature Tucson Mayor Regina Romero as the keynote speaker, and highlight each Ally’s final project presentation and their accomplishments in 2020 to commemorate the Public Allies Arizona breakthrough in Tucson this year.