This year, Get IN Chicago is proud to partner with Public Allies and host Alexis Willis as our Program Assistant.  Public Allies is a rigorous AmeriCorps program that places young leaders in full-time, paid apprenticeships at nonprofits and provides intensive skills training, active community-building projects, personalized coaching, and critical reflection.  Alexis will primarily support our program team, lending her skills to projects with our community partners, direct services, and operations.  If you haven’t met her yet, learn more about Alexis from our Q&A!


Alexis Willis
Program Assistant and Public Ally, Get IN Chicago
Hometown: Chicago
Current Neighborhood: Lincoln Square
Alma Mater: Columbia College (major – theater)


Why did you decide to join Public Allies?
My aunt actually told me about it – she’s a program director at a nonprofit. Her organization hosted a Public Ally, so she saw firsthand that it was a valuable program on both sides.

I knew I needed internships to learn what kind of work I want to do. A major can’t help you figure that out quite like a job experience.  Public Allies seemed like a chance for me to learn in a supportive environment.  There are 50 other Allies in my group, and I get to go through this year with them.  The structure of the program also acknowledges that all of us are early in our careers and gives us a chance to learn and grow.


How did you end up at Get IN Chicago?
I really liked Get IN Chicago’s mission, values, and the fact that they focus on a special population (acutely high-risk youth). What also struck me was their holistic approach: they don’t just support activities, but therapy, mentoring, and even programs like the arts. I also liked how they value evidence-based research and not just doing something because it sounds like a good idea.  They have talked to therapists and are finding out what works.


Which projects have you worked on at Get IN Chicago so far?
At this point, I have been helping process grant proposals and keep track of community work. The proposals are very dense, and reading through them has been a learning experience. It’s also been interesting to shadow Lisa M. (Director of Programs) and Crystal (Program Officer) as they review proposals or hold conference calls to see what they look for, which questions they ask, and which questions the grantees need answered.

I’ve really enjoyed sitting in on staff meetings too, just from the professional aspect: seeing how everyone communicates with each other, hearing what people need for their different positions.  I like hearing Toni’s (Executive Director) perspective – what is important to her, what she is saying, and how she wants to support the whole team.


What insights are you gaining about youth violence?
I think that a lot of youth get underestimated. If you have the right ingredients and present ideas or programs in a certain way, you can interest them. A lot of the violence seems to be associated with joblessness.  The situation in some of these communities forces kids into survival mode, putting them at odds against each other.  But ultimately, youth want things to do.  They want to be validated.  They want community and support systems – and many times, those things might be even more important and valuable than money.


What do you hope to do after your service year ends?
Honestly, I’m hoping to leave the country! I love travel, and I haven’t been able to do it for a few years. My big dream is to create the next World’s Fair: I want to put on the ultimate visual and performing arts festival.  Music, dance – those are the things that transcend culture and speak to humanity.  I’m so inspired by the World’s Fair.  I want to empower the average person.  I will say though, it’s a little funny because I actually don’t go to a lot of festivals because I don’t like being around huge crowds.  I’m inspired by Indian festivals and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro as well!  So we’ll see how this goes.


How do you like to spend your Saturdays in Chicago?
I like to spend them relaxed. Sleep in, take it easy, and then in the evenings, I like to go out to world music and local cultural events.  I also love the Gold Coast because 1) it is home to Velvet Taco, and 2) Restoration Hardware is my favorite place to visit.


Three Facts
1. I play two bamboo flutes: the Egyptian and the Shakuhachi (Japanese)
2. I like to paint and decorate wine glasses.  Eventually, I’d like to do glass-blowing.
3. I can make myself have a lazy eye.  I’d like to use it for something – maybe a movie? Or maybe I’ll dress down one day with my lazy eye as a social experiment to see how people treat me..