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Leah Kelley


Youth Service Corps

1619 E. Kalamazoo St.
Kalamazoo, Michigan 48912
With collaboration and positive social change in the driver’s seat, Leah Kelley of Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing is motivating youth to think more about their role in creating positive shifts in community health. She leads the center’s Youth Service Corps, which engages community youth in food access projects through hands-on work and learning activities. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Allen Neighborhood Center Youth Programs Coordinator Leah Kelley: Great leaders lead by example and will never tell someone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. I strive to be a positive mentor for the kids and engage in the activities as I hope for them to. I also think great leadership is about being trustworthy and building relationships, as well, to be more aware of the strengths of those you are working with. I see leadership as an overseer that helps guide collaboration and positive change, which guides how I try to lead our creative Youth Service Corps members.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for our kids is that they would achieve their goals, big and small. After each YSC session, members reflect on questions posed, and we’ve asked them to share their goals related to a future career or otherwise. We then give resources
Increased collaboration and shared resources help a community to thrive.
to help them get there, for example, directing them to a youth music camp or providing information about volunteering at a humane society. We’ve also brought in representatives from the Peace Corps, Food Corps, and our own AmeriCorps to tell them first-hand about expanding their hearts for service. Creating personal relationships with each member has allowed us to see how those goals may grow and change, and it’s always inspiring to see their passions.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Increased collaboration and shared resources help a community to thrive. While I see great evidence of this at Allen Neighborhood Center and in the Lansing area, it could always be expanded and improved upon to grow in efficiency and effectiveness in the social sector.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We evaluate our program with pre and post surveys to help us gauge Youth Service Corps member improvements in specific skills. The progress of our three main projects is clear to see by several scattered visits to the park and the eastside. Getting
...Garden-In-A-Box is my favorite project because of the clear impact on the neighbors in getting them started small with home gardening and the opportunity of relationship-building.
Park Cart on the ground and in the park, expanding the fruit trees and garden beds in Edible Park, and continually delivering 20 Garden-In-A-Box boxes give a testament to the progress we’ve made just in the last year.
What are you most proud of?
Seeing the impact on our YSC members has been the most rewarding experience for me. Many of them express changes in their community activity and health since joining the program. Seeing youth stick with the program and go on to college, as our longest-standing member Marjai Kamara just did, is what makes me proud.
In addition to this, Garden-In-A-Box is my favorite project because of the clear impact on the neighbors in getting them started small with home gardening and the opportunity of relationship-building. I am so proud when recipients expand their gardening in future years.
Reflecting on your career, what would you say was your greatest professional learning experience? 
In addition to working at Allen Neighborhood Center, I am currently an attendee of Michigan State University for an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and agriscience. Merging my learning here as youth programs coordinator with my learning at MSU has been hugely helpful, in that I am further reflecting on my work at Allen Neighborhood Center in the context of what I am learning in the classroom, and able to relate my career to the theories presented at school. I am very thankful to learn in both contexts intertwined. 
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Program Profile


  • Allen Neighborhood Center
    Allen Neighborhood Center (ANC) is a non-profit community development agency that supports sustainable, healthy, networked and stable neighborhoods on Lansing’s Eastside.


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