Washington woman embraces community commitment

May 18, 2013
Meghan Dillie, 25, of Washington, sits at her desk at Community Action Southwest in Washington, where, among other responsibilities, she has helped facilitate the “Getting Ahead” program that educates clients about developing a plan to escape poverty. - Denise Bachman / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Meghan Dillie grew up in Amity and lives in Washington, and she has no plans to leave the area.

In fact, the 25-year-old is so committed to her community and making a difference that last summer she applied – and was accepted – to Public Allies, Pittsburgh division.

Public Allies is the signature national service program of AmeriCorps, a federal program operated by the Corporation for National and Community Service that provides grants to private nonprofit organizations and schools to contribute to the cost of stipends, benefits, training and other support for their volunteers.

Dillie began serving a 10-month apprenticeship in September with Community Action Southwest in Washington, where she has helped implement the nonprofit’s strategic plan, recruited clients, promoted financial independence and prepared income taxes.

One of her favorite projects, however, has been helping to facilitate the “Getting Ahead” program that educates clients about developing a plan to escape poverty.

“There’s a lot of discussion,” Dillie said. “It’s very thought-provoking. There’s a lot of analysis about our economy, our community and ourselves.”

The Public Allies program is quite demanding. In addition to volunteering at CAS four days a week, Dillie is required to attend weekly intensive skills training and leadership development seminars, plus coordinate a community-building team service project.

She and Pierce Marratto of Canonsburg, an AmeriCorps volunteer with TRIPIL, are planning a Community Share Fair. It will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at LeMoyne Community Center in Washington.

Those who attend can “bring what they can and take what they need,” Dillie said, such as household items, clothing and toys. There also will be a skills exchange, whereby a hairstylist, for example, could offer a haircut for cupcakes.

“It’s an effort to build a stronger community,” Dillie said. “I grew up here. I live here. I want to effect change. I’m very invested in this project.”

The highlight of her AmeriCorps experience, however, was a one-day trip to the White House and a roundtable discussion with President Barack Obama. Dillie, who writes the National Public Allies blog, was one of 12 AmeriCorps volunteers hand-picked by the Corporation for National and Community Service from its pool of 80,000 volunteers to make the trip.

“It’s still unbelieveable,” Dillie said. “It was an extraordinary experience that I would never have done in my lifetime.”

She toured the Oval Office and the West Wing, admired the Emancipation Proclamation and heirloom plants from President Thomas Jefferson’s term in office and ate mint off the plant in First Lady Michelle Obama’s organic garden.

Dillie said Obama previously served on the board of Public Allies, and the first lady was a project director who helped build Public Allies, Chicago division.

“The president talked about community service and serving in your neighborhood,” said Dillie, who was seated at the head of the table. “He reiterated how important what we’re doing is.”

When her apprenticeship with CAS ends, Dillie will resume online classes at East Tennessee State University to complete the required credits for her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and social work. She is expected to graduate at the end of the year, and, ideally, she would like to take her experience with Public Allies to the next level by serving an internship.

“It’s been a really exciting experience for me. It’s kept me busy in a good way,” Dillie said.

At the same time, she acknowledges that “Public Allies is not for everybody.”

“It requires a lot motivation, dedication and love for community,” Dillie said. “It’s been wonderful to me. It’s changed my life.”

Denise Bachman is an award-winning journalist and veteran of the Observer-Reporter. She joined the staff in 1981 as a sports writer after graduating from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. After working in various capacities, she has served as the managing editor of production and lifestyles editor for the past several years.

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