Leadership in action: Kervin Leonidas ’10 earns multiple awards for public service

In July 2011, Kervin Leonidas ’10 was awarded the Presidential Gold Service Award, signed by President Obama, for giving over 1,000 hours of public service to the community as a member of Public Allies. He also received two AmeriCorps Eli Segal Awards for public service – one in 2010 the other in 2011 – with stipends totaling $6,682.

“It was obvious to me from the start that Kervin wasn’t afraid to lead,” said Nancy Hoogasian, assistant director of RIC’s Development/Annual Fund.

As a RIC student, he came to work for Hoogasian on the RIC Phonathon to help raise money for the college, and Hoogasian noticed, then, how invested he was in serving.

“The first thing he would do when he came to work was check on how much money we had raised the day before,” said Hoogasian. “He was determined to raise the most money, and his competitive spirit motivated the other Phonathon callers.”

Leonidas was 2010 Class President and a member of RIC’s Student Community Government. RIC President Nancy Carriuolo said that as an undergraduate, he “demonstrated outstanding leadership and devotion to service.”

Leadership and commitment also led him to sign up, upon graduation, for AmeriCorps VISTA, a national service program designed to fight poverty.

Assigned to the Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation, he immersed himself for three months in community outreach, neighborhood revitalization, foreclosure prevention and in managing a summer camp.

For another 10 months he worked for Public Allies in Washington, D.C. Public Allies’s mission is to create the next generation of leaders in young adults like Leonidas, by preparing them for public service through paid full-time apprenticeships at nonprofit organizations. Public Allies also provides rigorous leadership training.

First Lady Michelle Obama was one of the first executive directors of the organization in the early 1990s, while President Barack Obama sat on the board.

With a stipend of $1,600 a month and medical benefits from Public Allies, Leonidas was sent to work at Byte Back. Four days a week he provided employment counseling and computer training to low-income residents of southeast D.C.

“Getting jobs for people who live in the southeast quadrant of D.C. is very hard,” said Leonidas. “D.C. is very segregated. People here are often unemployed or underemployed, so they get a bad rap. I have to ask myself what inequalities are going on to force people to live in such devastated communities.”

Yet in spite of the hardships he saw, Leonidas said he greatly benefited from the emotional bond he established with his clients. He met seniors, adults, youth and orphans, all who had their unique ways of thanking him.

“People would come by my office with things they had baked for me or they might tape a thank you note to the door,” he said.

Each Friday he engaged in leadership development training provided by Public Allies. He and other members attended workshops, seminars and trainings in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Public Allies also put together team projects for the group. Members gave a presentation at the end of their 10-month term, demonstrating how they met the learning outcomes of the program.

Leonidas said working with AmeriCorp and Public Allies has only solidified his commitment to public service. But it was his own father, of Haitian origin, who most influenced his capacity to grow as a leader.

“He taught me to be an upright man,” Leonidas said. “He taught me to strive for success. He calls me every week and tells me how proud he is of my work.”

Leonidas’s future goal is to become a dean in higher education or a superintendent of schools.