"My Greatest Opportunity"

January 2015 

How and why my decision to join Public Allies radically changed my life

By Meghan Dillie*

Public Allies presented me my greatest opportunity. My recently completed 20 months of service with Public Allies Pittsburgh’s AmeriCorps program gave me access to the knowledge and resources I needed to radically change my life.

At a very basic level, being an Ally provided me with a modest living stipend and health care coverage, which I hadn’t had in years. I was able to access the care I had been in need of for so long.

But this opportunity gave me so much more. During my time in Public Allies I became the first person in my family to graduate with a college degree, obtained my driver’s license, saved enough money to buy my first car, built my first emergency savings fund, gained valuable work experience in the nonprofit sector, and even met President Obama at the White House with other AmeriCorps members.

Public Allies also provided me with opportunity by connecting me to a network of support. I created an individual development plan each year I was in the program, and I worked with a personal coach and mentors to assist me in achieving my goals. I was connected to supervisors at the community nonprofit organizations where I was placed. We'd meet weekly to discuss my progress, and we identified my successes and challenges. Importantly, I learned next to my cohort of Allies and Public Allies alums, a group of people so diverse in interests and backgrounds, yet so like-minded when it came to service. Participating in the program encouraged me to become more engaged in my community, which in turn allowed me to access a deeper and broader spectrum of support.

Lastly, my service with Public Allies provided me with the opportunity to become more self-aware and confident in my own capacity as a young leader. It realigned me with my higher purpose of service to others. Public Allies staff encouraged me to focus on developing values-based leadership, which called me back to my sense of duty to my community. I was able to tune in to my own personal values and make deliberate decisions on how to embody them in my daily life. This, for me, was the real value of my Public Allies experience: the opportunity I was given to dedicate myself to serving others.

When you give opportunity to someone who hasn’t had it before, not only do you get a return on your investment, but you generate more opportunity. Giving someone an opportunity means that you create access where there previously was none; you eliminate barriers for someone who feels blockaded and stagnant. Opportunity means giving someone the chance and the hope she needs to change her life.

Programs like Public Allies have the power to make dreams come true for people who have never had the capacity to envision a future for themselves. These service programs offer a chance for people like me to reaffirm and redirect to our life’s purpose.

I believe that opportunity is a common thread that connects us all; it has a ripple effect. Public Allies and my placement organizations took a chance on me. Now, I work full-time as a caseworker, teaching the same skills that my caseworkers and coaches taught me, at the very same agency where I initially learned those skills through my term of service.I’ve learned that the true impact from giving just one person a shot is not something that is easy to measure, but it is easy to observe. I see it in the faces of the clients I serve every day, watching smiles spread across their cheeks when they realize that they too can dream and achieve their goals. I hear it in my mentee’s voice when she tells me that I’m her role model. I feel it when I’m volunteering in my community, whether it’s picking up trash or answering a hotline phone.

Merriam-Webster defines opportunity as “a favorable juncture of circumstances.” Two years ago, I approached a sort of crossroads in my life; I was presented with the chance to participate in the Public Allies program. Public Allies was my favorable juncture. I was given an opportunity, and now, I am in the position to give opportunity to my clients and to my community. So, what really happens when you give someone opportunity who hasn’t had it before is that you create an unending cycle of benevolence, and the opportunity is paid forward.

*Meghan Dillie was born in West Virginia and grew up in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, where she faced challenges with generational poverty and mental illness. She currently lives in Pittsburgh and works as a Family Economic Success Caseworker at Community Action Southwest. A first generation college graduate, Meghan holds a Bachelor's Degree in Women's Studies from East Tennessee State University. After completing two terms of service with Public Allies Pittsburgh, which runs an AmeriCorps program in partnership with Coro Pittsburgh, she now volunteers as an alumna mentor for the organization.