Allison Hollander is part of the solution. She has been for years. This spring, armed with a new master’s degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and years of front line experience in nonprofit volunteer work, Allison is heading out with some clear ideas about how to help individuals, families, and communities to achieve a better quality of life.
“My interest in nonprofits stems from the places I’ve volunteered, some great people I worked with and the people we were serving. Some nonprofits do a really good job. Others I found frustrating, and those are the really motivating ones. I kept thinking I want to be part of an organization like this and be able to make it better.” Always, she has kept her focus on the people she wants to help.
Allison started volunteering as a preteen in her hometown in Metro Detroit and never stopped. After helping out at a preschool, at summer camps and in mentoring programs as a teen, she started years of volunteering at shelters serving homeless youth.
When Allison attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, her interest in volunteer work grew. Double majoring in psychology and organizational studies, she worked at a youth shelter and began volunteering on the shelter’s crisis line as part of a service learning course.
“I kept going back to the department asking to do this service learning class over and over again, listing it under different course numbers. By the end, I was a shift supervisor at the youth shelter, training other volunteers, and leading the service learning class as a facilitator,” Allison said. “When I moved to Chicago, I knew I had to find a youth shelter because I just loved this work. I guess volunteering is the common thread that runs through everything for me.”
Arriving in Chicago, Allison spent two years working with Teach for America.
“My experience at Teach for America was invaluable,” Allison said. “I had been a volunteer for years and wanted to learn how these organizations functioned from the administration side. This was my first chance to be on the management team of a large nonprofit.”
Even though Teach for America was a demanding job, Allison still volunteered on the side. “I was in the office all day, never seeing the ground-level impact of my work, and that just wasn’t working for me,” she said. “I wanted to maintain a balance, stay personally involved with the people we were serving."
In 2007, Allison combined her day job with volunteering at the Night Ministry in Chicago’s West Town. Here, she worked with homeless youth, including pregnant and parenting teens, teaching resume building and interview skills. She also began facilitating a bi-weekly healthy relationship group for female residents, something she continues to do. At the same time, Allison was a volunteer at the Broadway Youth Center in Lakeview, testing youth clients for HIV and STDs.
Now, her future became clear. “When I was working at Teach for America and volunteering, it all came together for me. I knew what I wanted and I knew the School of Social Service Administration was the right program for me. I saw the opportunity to get a strong education in management – where I felt my career was going – while also continuing to work closely with the populations the nonprofits were serving.”
Upon acceptance at SSA, Allison was awarded the Leila Houghteling Scholarship. “That really helped. The scholarship covered most of the cost of tuition and let me focus on my studies,” she said. Allison elected a concentration in administration, and divided her elective courses between management courses and youth and family studies.
The program combined classes in administration with intensive field experience in nonprofit and government agencies. In year one, Allison was happy to be placed at Youth Organizations Umbrella in Evanston.
In her second year, she has been working in the Office of Policy and Advocacy in the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services. Here, Allison has been drafting sections of the state and federal policy agendas, assisting with the development of new legislation, doing policy research and analyzing youth programs and food access issues. Her recent work included co-authoring the report evaluating the City’s summer youth employment program now featured on the Department of Family and Support Services website. She loves it. “I’ve never done policy work like this before and I’ve had the opportunity to participate on so many different levels.”
Now wrapping up her graduate studies, Allison also will have to give up her current volunteer work at the Night Ministry and with Chicago Cares. “It’s hard to do, but I'm looking forward to putting my education to work in a job that combines program design and management with direct service.”