Finding an Ally

Posted on Tuesday, November 22 2011 by Heather Brandon

CT Public Allies 2012

Statewide CT Public Allies for 2012

Last night I attended a public discussion hosted by the new crop of Public Allies—about 14 young people (pictured in the larger group at right) based in Greater Hartford and looking to make a positive difference. Part of their role here over the next seven months is to generate a team service project (see their recent press release). Already, they’ve done a great thing by putting together the public forum. They plan to delve further into “how we can celebrate positive aspects of Hartford communities, improve media coverage, and give exposure to overlooked social services, organizations, and educational activities available within the city.”

Determined to focus on Hartford’s assets, the Allies facilitated small group discussions asking questions about perceptions of Hartford, both good and bad. In a way, this allowed my own small group to vent and gripe about others’ venting and persistent gripes about Hartford:

“It’s viewed as an unsafe place to walk around, as though every street is totally ripe for getting mugged. Well, my friend did get mugged once.”

“One person told me I shouldn’t enter my kids in the public schools, that I’d have to homeschool if I moved to Hartford.”

“People think there’s nothing to do here. It drives me crazy.”

“My apartment got broken into the day I moved into it. But my friend in another part of town leaves his back door unlocked when he goes fishing for the day and nothing happens, because he knows his neighbors are watching out for him.”

“People think I moved to Hartford because I’m eventually on my way to Boston or New York. But I’m here because I want to be here.”

Colin McEnroe’s summer column about Hartford as appropriate for misfits came up—”the city that really needs you.” Generally the group seemed to accept the idea that Hartford has a lot of room for people who live here to influence what it is, and what it can become, and yes, maybe we’re even a little odd for having such passion about it.

Public Allies CTWe were invited to think about what we like best about Hartford, and what endeavors could maybe help to turn around its negative image. Our small group focused on youth activities, homeless outreach/empowerment, and use of the arts. Other ideas that emerged from the  groups included finding ways for more of the city to have fun together, and ways to reach more neighborhood residents. Kerri Provost at Real Hartford has details about some of the ideas that were discussed.

The Hartford Allies team is impressive, and they seem dedicated to the city and ready to learn what’s necessary to put their service project together. Their bios are below. They can be reached via connecticut [at]

Greater Hartford Public Allies Team

Erinn Arbalaez
Husky Sport
Erinn grew up in CT and attended the University of Connecticut, double majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Human Rights. During her senior year of college, she started volunteering and then interning with the non-profit organization, Husky Sport, which does youth programming in the North End of Hartford. She was excited when she learned about the Public Allies program and saw it as a chance to continue working with the Hartford community. In the future, she would like to continue working in public education and advocating for the right to education.

Claudine Constant
Hartford Food Systems
Claudine is coming back to Public Allies as a second year and she is really looking forward to it. She had an amazing experience the first year, and had a lot of personal growth, and found a place that she feel like she could call home, Hartford CT. She discovered where her true passions within social justice are, and that is food justice. Before Public Allies she was a public health major at Southern CT State University, but didn’t have any idea what she could do with that degree. Completing her second year will give her the necessary tools and knowledge to fully grasp the degree of Public Health, and make an impact on her community of Hartford.

Kim Dirschka
Hands On Hartford
Kim moved to Hartford a year ago for another AmeriCorps position. As she finished that term, she continued to realize how much non-profit agency staff is stretched thin while the need for the services provided only continues to grow. The closer the end of her term got, the more she realized she wasn’t ready to leave the population she had been working with. She was lucky enough to join Public Allies and Hands On Hartford, which allows her to continue working to meet the basic needs of Hartford residents.

Philip Drew
Our Piece Of The Pie, Inc.
Throughout his first year of AmeriCorps service, Phil interacted with Public Allies at multiple Hartford- area organizations. The Allies exhibited professionalism, dedication, and kindness at all times and seemed like a team he would feel fortunate to join. So, when time came to think about a second year of service, Public Allies was his first choice. He is so excited to become a 2011-2012 Ally and he can’t wait to see what the Allies can accomplish!

Ashley Hamel
CT Association for Human Services
Ashley joined Public Allies because it will help her become a more involved member of her community. The program is unique, and the experience is dynamic and challenging. Public Allies will help her grow as a professional, as a person, and as a new leader in her community.

Emily Kaas
Hands On Hartford – Peter’s Retreat
Emily chose to become a Public Ally because she saw this as a wonderful opportunity to experience what it means to be a community, and how she can better help to build and strengthen them. She chose to come back for a second year to continue that education and fully immerse herself in the Hartford community.

Lanham Marks-Hamilton
There are many reasons Lanham is excited to join Public Allies. She looks forward to the co-op opportunity between nonprofit organizations and a continuing leadership development program. She believes in the advancement in organizations that have less of a goal to make money and more of a goal to achieve a civil purpose. She is also an advocate of constant learning. No matter where you are in your profession or what your age might be, she thinks that everyone can gain from continually engaging in development programs that foster personal leadership and cooperation in their career fields.

Allison Musgrove
The Village For Families And Children
Allison is completing a second year of Public Allies because she had such a phenomenal experience last year; yet still feels as though she have more growing to do personally and professionally. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island in May 2010, she wanted to gain experience working in social services. She was able to do that and more while participating in Public Allies and working at the Village for Families and Children. She is excited to now be living in the community in which she will be working in and to see what another year of Public Allies has in store for her!

Al Riccio
True Colors
Al grew up in greater New Haven and recently moved to Hartford. As a transgender youth, he experienced firsthand some of the struggles common to LGBTQ kids today. He understands the need for promoting inclusive spaces, learning environments, and resources for sexual and gender minorities. After attending Southern Connecticut State University for a year and a half, he became an anti-war and LGBTQ rights activist. He believes that my experience with Public Allies and True Colors will give him the skills necessary to operate his own non- profit organization or work in the non- profit sector. He hopes to bring about social change in a way that strengthens and builds communities and positive connections among all people.

Amarillys Rodriguez
Community Renewal Team
Amarillys’ parents had careers in the public and non-profit sectors, which ignited her interest in social justice issues; particularly in education, housing and community development. After graduating from Pomona College with a degree in Public Policy Analysis, she wanted to gain experience in these fields. She heard about Public Allies from friends who were Allies in other cities and thought it would be a great way to learn as well as reconnect with and give back to her hometown. Eventually, she hopes to go to graduate school for public policy and non-profit management and continue working for positive social change.

Linnea Rudeen
Hartford Public Schools
Linnea was born and raised in Olympia, Washington and recently graduated from Whitman College with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Sociology. Linnea was drawn to the Public Allies program because of its emphasis on community building both amongst the allies and through nonprofit work. In the past she has worked with nonprofits focused on food security and urban agriculture, but she is very much looking forward to tackling a new issue which she has cared personally about for many years: the quality of public schools. She hopes that her experience with Hartford Public Schools and Public Allies will help her gain the skills to strengthen communities and address the needs of those around her in the years to come.

Derek Santiago
Husky Sport
Born and raised in Hartford, CT Derek intends to find new ways to contribute to the community that shaped him. Derek’s goal is to continue his education while concentrating on non-profit work. He participated in events volunteering with Public Allies before he knew he’d even apply. Having seen how enriching a program it is he hopes to gain experience, enhance leadership qualities, and narrow his focus on what career path to pursue long- term. Derek is very enthusiastic about volunteering, working with children, and the arts. He considers himself an advocate for fitness and healthy living especially regarding the youth.

Nordia Savage
Hartford Public Library
Anyone can get by, but Nordia wants to make a difference. Having emigrated from Jamaica and growing up in Hartford, the cycle of poverty and violence was a constant presence. Choosing to turn negativity into positive results, she thrived academically and took advantage of various opportunities. As a 2010 Williams College graduate, she credits her continued success in large part to her family and the positive support systems that she was introduced to and has worked to establish. She realized that these same systems are not readily available to everyone and would like to change this. PACT affords her the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to make a difference.

Jennifer Sweat
Northwestern CT Area Health Education Center Jennifer applied to the Public Allies Program after serving with the Youth Health Service Corps AmeriCorps Division at Northwestern Area Health Education Center (NWCTAHEC). She had an extremely positive experience with NWCTAHEC and is looking to increase the depth and breadth of her understanding of the non-profit network in Connecticut after working the greater part of the last 10 years in the Food and Beverage Industry. Public Allies offers that opportunity as well as new ways to develop as a leader in her community.

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