After college I completed a year of service with Public Allies New York an Americorps service program. A national program with sites around the country the mission of Public Allies is: “to advance new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation”. This experience had a great impact on my faith, my vocation and my worldview. Though Americorps is not a Christian organization because it focuses on community service many Christians have participated in its programs. Teach for America, is one of the most well known of all the Americorps programs and 50% of its membership identify as people of faith. As shown by Christ’s words in Matthew 25 service is essential to the Christian faith, so it is no surprise that many Christians are seeking ways to serve. As young Evangelicals increasingly seek to serve in urban areas programs such as Americorps can be a great option.
While serving in Americorps Public Allies I had the support of a program manager, trainings onissues such as diversity and teamwork, the opportunity to work in a New York City non-profit, and the chance to implement a Team Service Project (TSP). I was able to do this with a diverse group of young people from all over the country, as well as native New Yorkers who wanted to serve at home. We received an enormous amount of support and guidance as we dealt with the difficulties that might come up as you serve at-risk communities. Though Public Allies did not have to live together in community, there are Americorps programs where you can live with other participants. In my Public Allies class I met fellow evangelicals whose faith prompted them to serve, while learning to work with those from different faith traditions. Upon, completing the year of service some of my friends have gone on to seminary, law school, politics, social work and the arts. With a living stipend, relocation assistance and medical coverage a diverse group of young people were able to serve, some within their communities.
During last year’s historic election Public Allies gained attention because First Lady Michelle Obama served as the Executive Director of Public Allies Chicago. Following in First Lady Obama’s footsteps is Edward Gonzalez-Novoa the current Executive Director of Public Allies New York. Mr. Gonzalez-Novoa holds a B.A. and certificate in Theater and Dance from Princeton University and Masters degrees in Divinity and Education from Harvard. I spent sometime interviewing Mr. Gonzalez-Novoa who was born in Queens, N.Y. but raised in New Jersey, a Catholic he served as the Spiritual Director for a Boston gospel choir and worked in the faith community educating and fundraising around the issue of H.I.V. During our interview Mr. Gonzalez-Novoa spoke of his call to service and why he has hope in the next generation of leaders.
Why did you attend seminary?
I always believed I was called to service. I wasn’t sure if I was called to ordained ministry. At Princeton and Harvard I studied theology as the foundation for service. I wanted the latitude to explore different faculties of service: education, non-profit classes-the full breadth of service connected to and grounded in theology.
How has your faith influenced your work in education and service?
While writing my undergraduate thesis Mary Mother of God, Mother of Defiance under the advisement of Dr. Cornel West I studied Mary Mother of Jesus as a model for social action and referenced my mom and Dorothy Day. Dr. West commented on the three women who influenced me: Mom, Mary and Dorothy, these women and Dr. West modeled the lifetime of service I envisioned for myself. They each led lives of reflection, study and service in action, each modeled these characteristics in different ways. As a student, in my personal relationships and career I tried to integrate those three characteristics into myself and my work.
What does service mean in this time of economic crisis?
Public Allies is located in the heart of Wall Street which creates greater opportunities to serve because the need is so great, it created a sense of urgency and responsibility that service is no longer optional in these times it seems irresponsible not to be involved in service, because we all have the capacity to serve and lead.
What potential do you see in this generation of young people?
I see that the younger generation has an access to info, media and one another in a way that allows them to be informed, heard and connected in ways we haven’t seen before. I see hope from the older generation that I feel have a readiness to embrace and cultivate new ideas and new leadership, they think it is good for younger people to have an impact.
How should young Christians get involved in service to their community?
The most important thing is for them to listen, because I believe the call to service comes in different ways. I think they need to actively learn about the communities they are living and serving in, study the issues and develop the skills that are best suited for their own strengths and the strengths of their communities. They need to prepare themselves to serve and not to save.
What are your hopes for the future of Public Allies in New York City and Americorps nationally?
I would love to see Public Allies New York increase our impact on engaging diverse leaders, strengthening civic engagement, non-profit organizations, and communities. We do have a model that allows us to have a significant impact on specific neighborhoods by addressing multiple issues and to address multiple neighborhoods affected by a single issue. By our breadth or by the concentration of our focus we can mobilize current and future community leaders. I would love for more people to see service as a career choice and not just as an extracurricular activity. I would also like to see more young people engaged in service outside of their careers, so that regardless of their career they would see service as a lifetime commitment.
What leaders do you look to for inspiration?
My mother, Dorothy Day who was committed to thought and action, Dr. Cornel West because he speaks the same on 125th Street (in Harlem) as he does in a Princeton lecture. Bill Moyers because he does not talk down or up, there is integrity in speaking to the mind, body, and soul you have the nurture this in yourself and the communities you serve and this is why Public Allies is important to me because it combines organizational values, reflection, skill-based training and internships doing meaningful work anyone of these is important but combined they are a powerful force.
For more information about serving with Americorps visit:
Edward González-Novoa is the Executive Director of Public Allies New York and has over 12 years of experience in education, youth leadership and community service. Prior to coming to Public Allies, Eddie served as the Director of New Perspectives at Bank Street College, the Director of Training & Resources and After School Services at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and as Co-Founder and Program Director of Jumpstart New York. An aspiring writer, amateur singer, and former dancer, Eddie believes that his multiple passions have fueled his personal mission: to lead through service and serve through leadership.