Reflections on #HarvardinJacksonMS

It has been about two weeks since 20 Harvard grad students stepped off a plane in Jackson, Mississippi. For many (and by many I mean all but two), it was their first time in the state or even the Deep South. Six years earlier I had set foot in Mississippi for the first time as well. Since then, I have adopted Mississippi as my own, and I treasured being with my friends from the Harvard community as they discovered the place Tom and I now call home.


Over the last week, friends from Jackson and Cambridge have asked me about the trip. The answer I’ve settled on is that the week was like getting married again. Every day. For a week. We had such a full schedule. I was completely exhausted by the end. After the fellows left, Tom tucked me in on Friday evening at about 7:30pm.

But I also left the week with a feeling of deep gratitude. That gratitude was for the fellows and their constant enthusiasm for Jackson and its people. That gratitude was for Tom’s family and our friends who went out of their way to help with breakfasts, gift bags, group spaces, and much more. And that gratitude was for all the leaders in Jackson that spent time with our group and shared their passions, their struggles, and their unyielding requests that every single Harvard fellow move to Jackson after they complete their schooling.

It was one of the fullest weeks of my life and one I will not forget. Our wonderfully charismatic photographer, Tom Fitzsimmons, captured the week, and below are some of my favorite images from each stop along the way. Our meetings focused on Mississippi health, education, and racial justice. I hope this is not the last group that Tom (Allin) and I get to share a tour of Jackson with, but I have a feeling it may be one of the most memorable. We remain grateful to everyone involved. Here is a recap of the week in images…

Day #1 Dinner at Parlor Market


Day #2 Breakfast at the Allins home with Bishop Ronnie Crudup (New Horizon Church) and Ann Phelps (Saint Andrews)




Day #2 UMMC with the Jamie Bardwell (Women’s Foundation of MS) and Dr. Michelle Owens (UMMC)

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Day #2 Driving Tour of Jackson by Tom Allin



Day #2 Lunch at Hal and Mal’s with Malcolm White (MS Development Authority)

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Day #2 Clarion Ledger with Jerry Mitchell (Investigative Reporter)

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Day #2 Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion with Dr. David Dzielak (MS Division of Medicaid)

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Day #3 Education in MS with Rachel Canter (Mississippi First)

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Day #3 Education in MS, Part 2 with Babak Mostaghimi (MS Center for Education Innovation)

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Day #3 Lunch at Two Sisters Kitchen


Day # 3 Medicaid Expansion with Corey Wiggins (MS Economic Policy Center)

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Day #3 Community Development with Bill Bynum (Hope Enterprise Corporation)


Day #3 Cocktails at Apothecary, Pig ear sandwiches, and pizza at Sal and Mookies

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Day #4 Mississippi Center for Justice with Beth Orlansky, Courtney Choi, Linda Rigsby, and Paheadra Robinson

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Day #4 Barksdale Reading Institute with Michael Cormack and Kelly Butler

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Day #4 Mississippi NAACP with Derrick Johnson (President)

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Day #4 Obesity in MS at UMMC with Dr. John Hall and Dr. Kenneth Vick (UMMC)

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Day #4 Human Rights Campaign with Rob Hill and HRC Staff and Supporters

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Day #4 Closing Reception at the MS Museum of Art



We had a blast and can’t wait for more experiences to file under the #HarvardinJacksonMS hashtag.

Holding on to Fall

Hold on to your hats folks because it has been a blustery start to November in Boston! Luckily, my sister, Emily, came to visit last weekend when it was not cold enough to need gloves or snow boots. We took full advantage of our fall weekend with trips to the dog park with Charlie, an afternoon of beer flights at Harpoon Brewery, and some good eatin’ at Sportello in downtown Boston.

We also nerded out in true Welker fashion with a visit to Harvard’s Natural History Museum. We checked out their mineral hall, their extensive collection of glass flowers, and lots and lots of bugs. I walked around most of the time in the mineral hall asking Emily things like “What’s the difference between Sulfur and a Sulfide?” which we really needed my dad to answer (such is the life of being the daughters of a chemistry professor). The museum is completely fantastic and as I’ve said before, I would recommend it for a good morning indoors if you live in Cambridge.

Emily is an awesome guest because she also knows how to have fun by laying low. We walked around the corner to Savenor’s for some lamb and made a tasty shepard’s pie for dinner one night. We also teamed up to try to stop the spread of pretend epidemics through multiple late-night rounds of the board game Pandemic.

I’m glad Emily escaped Boston before the cold weather hit and even more glad she came to visit.

After Emily’s visit, it was time to get ready for our Halloween preparations. I went “all out” with a carved cat pumpkin and a bowl of m&m’s and KitKats. We had an Allin household record of **one** trick-or-treater – a super cute, five-year-old version of Bumble Bee the Transformer, complete with transforming moves to show us.

I met another sensational 5-year-old this week when John Kim, a fellow student in my master’s program, invited us for dinner at his apartment. John’s youngest son had me counting Halloween candy, playing video games and chatting about nerf guns from the second I walked in the door. John and his wife, both from South Korea, fixed a full spread for us and several other students. The meal was topped off with soju that he brought to share with friends here in Cambridge.

Last but not least, it has been a semester of writing for me at the Kennedy School. I’ve been busy editing articles and selecting associate editors as the editor-in-chief of the Kennedy School Review, a student-runScreenshot 2014-11-02 20.48.04 policy journal here at HKS. Occasionally, I get to do some fun writing of my own, and I did a little piece on one of our favorite restaurants, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, for the school’s newspaper. You can read it here if you’d like!

Until Next Time,


Charlie the Poodle Turns 2!

Two years ago, on September 30th, the creature that Tom and I treat like our child was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I tricked Tom into meeting standard poodle puppies during a weekend trip with our friends Mindy and Kelli to take in an LSU v. Mississippi State football game. We fell in love with one poodle, Charlie, because he walked straight into the front door while looking in the other direction.

When we called two days later about buying Charlie, the breeder told us that he had already been selected, and worse, there were no puppies left to adopt. I may or may not have shed a tear in my office cubicle. I was so disappointed.

Several days later my phone buzzed with a text from the breeder. The woman who had originally gotten the poodle puppy was not able to take him. Would we still be interested in the puppy? Duh. No brainer. And just like that Tom was tricked into a puppy, and Charlie the Poodle became an Allin.

It has been two years full of moments we treasure and moments we want to rip our hair out. To celebrate Charlie’s second birthday we want to thank all of you who have tolerated his jumping, nibbling, drooling, barking and nuzzling. We love you for it and so does the poodle.

Happy Birthday Charlie the Poodle. Bring on year 3!

Apples and Fluff

Fall is creeping in up in Massachusetts. School has started. The boots have come out of the closet. And our apartment’s heat has been tested.  This weekend we grasped what might be the last 80-degree days until May of 2015.

People in the Boston area love to talk about “leaf peeping” and apply picking, but a lesser topic of pride and conversation is marshmellow fluff. Marshmellow fluff is essentially a marshmellow creme, and it seems to be best known for being spread with peanut butter on bread to make a Fluffernutter. What does this have to do with our fall weekend? Well, apparently marshmellow fluff was invented in Somerville’s Union Square, a five minute walk from our home. “A confectionary shop owner named Archibald IMG_4615Query, who made the original recipe in his kitchen, and then sold it door-to-door to customers, was the first to whip it up in 1917,” reports Boston Magazine.

To celebrate, Somerville’s Union Square has a Fluff Festival each year in honor of fluff. Since Charlie the Poodle is the closest thing to fluff that I own, we decided to check out the Fluff Festival together.

We met up with our two favorite neighborhood friends, Matt and Kim, to check out events like fluff jousting, try different restaurants’ takes on the Fluffernutter sandwich, and meet the Fluff King. Charlie was a hit, but he was not impressed by the Fluffernutter sandwich I inappropriately offered him and was absolutely terrified of the Fluff King. Matt and Kim were fantastic sports putting up with our slow walking and my need to have a photo with Charlie and the Fluff King.

After a true Somerville Saturday, I joined Will, Reetu, and Brooke for another activity New Englanders claim as their own (but that really people everywhere in the US do) – apple picking. We had free reign of rows of apple trees – McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, Gravenstein, Macoun, Red Delicious – to name a few. Just in case there was any question, apples off the tree are much better than apples from the grocery store (I think Will ate ten).

We left with half a bushel of apples (read too many apples), cider donuts, and pumpkins. So far I’ve made an apple crisp, and apple butter is up next for one evening this week (I have to figure out how to can things first).

What a wonderful weekend. I hope there are many more this fall, and we’re grateful for the friends that shared it with us.

Stay tuned. Tomorrow is Charlie the Poodle’s 2nd birthday (!), so you know there will be pictures.

Philippines Part 2

Several Filipinos we met with throughout our trip spoke about the importance of family in their culture. Whether it was children in indigenous communities not moving away because of family ties or a reference to family ties being stronger than other identities – like political party, religious affiliation, or nationality.

Everyone we met also talked about the traffic. Metro-Manila’s roadways are crowded with cars, trucks, jeepneys, motorbikes, and pedestrians. Traveling a few miles can regularly take hours. So our group spent a good amount of time in our van, and, as a newcomer to the Philippines, I found this to be a vantage point for exploring the beauty of Manila and its residents. Several images I captured throughout our trip came from our van window. Here are just a few.

We had the chance to advance the conversation about Metro-Manila beyond traffic when we met with Vice Mayor Joy of Quezon City (the neighboring city of Manila). Her team walked us through their current initiatives in housing, disaster response and waste maIMG_4108nagement. Each also spoke about the challenges of their work in a ever-growing city with a large population living in sub-standard housing. I will note that listening to a city official discuss disaster management for earthquakes, volcanoes, and typhoons that all threaten the location where you are meeting is a fairly nerve-wracking experience, and one that will quickly make you appreciate the challenges these leaders face in protecting their population (I’ll stick with the snowstorms of the Northeast instead).

Later that evening, we had a really amazing opportunity to visit with several colleagues of the late President Cory Aquino (wife of Ninoy Aquino) in her childhood home. Several staff from the Aquino foundation also joined us for dinner and conversation. The group talked about the perseverance and decision-making of Cory Aquino and their on continued commitment to a better Philippines. The entire conversation was moving, and it was capped off by a beautiful performance from two of the younger staff members from the foundation. Even Philip joined in on the singing after a lot of group prodding and we luckily have photographs to prove it.

We also discovered that teenagers in the Philippines regularly carry around a really long stick that holds a camera phone far enough way from you to take a high quality “selfie.” At first, we didn’t understand what the groups of girls were doing holding a large stick out in front of them, but eventually we figured out they were taking group selfies with them. Of course, we needed one. So on our free day, Sean made the sacrifice and got one for the group (read himself). We then found endless opportunities to use it throughout the rest of the trip.

We also got to try “halo-halo” or mix-mix on our free day. IMG_4172Halo-halo takes shaved ice, sweetended condensed milk, some sort of jello, syrups, ice cream, and even fruits or red beans and mixes them all together in a sort of bizarre milkshake. Yes.

The next day we hopped on an airplane and headed south for 3 days in Culion. More to come on the island’s beautiful beaches, immeasurable hospitality, and snorkeling over a Japanese war ship.


Philippines Part 1

No better time to write about a trip than when you are still jet lagged from the journey. For the last 11 days I have been traveling (through slow, chaotic traffic jams) across the Philippines with 9 students from the Kennedy School. The trip was led by a group of students including the one-of-a-kind Philip Dy, an HKS student from the Philippines. We spent a large portion of our trip meeting with non-profits and service organizations located in both metro Manila and Culion, a small island community in a province south of Manila.Screenshot 2014-09-01 08.14.22

The trip marked my first time traveling to Asia and my first flight longer than 6 hours. In total, the flights from Boston to Chicago to Hong Kong and then Manila span a time frame longer than 24 hours. While the trip there went smoothly enough, Tom will tell you I’ve been a basically dysfunctional human for the last 2 days trying to adjust to Boston’s timezone.

On August 20th a handful of students all arrived in Manila’s NinoyIMG_4008 Aquino International Airport – named for a national hero and former Senator that was assassinated  in 1983 for opposing the Martial Law governed the state until the mid 1980s. His wife, Cory Aquino, became president after Ninoy’s death spurred a national movement for democracy in the Philippines.

We arrived around 2 in the morning ready for some much needed shut eye. Instead,  we were greeted by a spread of food prepared by Bernice’s mom (Philip’s mother-in-law). She fixed us a porridge which, if I remember correctly (as this point my lack of sleep was not helping my memory), is a late night snack Filipinos love. She laid out dishes with hard boiled eggs, scallions, shredded chicken, dried pork, dried mini shrimp, garlic, and fried tofu. She also prepared milk fish (Bernice’s favorite) and another pork dish for us. The meal of just the beginning of Bernice and her mom making us feel like we were part of their family. She later bought us souvenirs and helped us navigate the overwhelming seafood selections at the dampa.

This would not be the last time we were greeted unexpectedly by food. Filipinos basically eat 5 meals a day – breakfast, miryenda, lunch, miryenda, and dinner – with miryenda being the word for snack. Almost all meetings throughout our trip had some sort of food whether a KFC sandwich or fried bananas (yum).

After our late night meal at Bernice’s home, we were off to the Cenacle Retreat House where we would stay during our time in Manila. The retreat house is run by the Cenacle Sisters and is located close to the Jesuit university that both Philip and Bernice attended. Staying in such a peaceful place gave us a welcomed change from the hustle of metro-Manila. IMG_4151During our first full evening in Manila, we had dinner with HKS alumni that live in Manila and are working on a range of issues – education, public revenue, and law. We went to bed on our first night with full bellies and feeling incredible welcomed in the Philippines.

The next day we traveled to the University of Ateneo – where Philip attended undergrad – and met with staff and students from a study abroad program run through the University of San Fransisco. Instead of a traditional study abroad experience, students in the Casa Bayanihan program take classes while also doing extensive service work in the community. We got to visit the community they live in near campus and have lunch with all the participating students. I particularly enjoyed the conversation I had with a young, Filipino woman who joined the program after finishing her studies at Ateneo. We talked about the bakery her parents ran in her home province, her quest to use her business major to create larger good in her country, and her growing interest in hiking.

After lunch, we headed to old-town Manila for a tour of the Intramuros – meaning within the city walls. We walked through beautiful historic homes and the church and monastery of San Agustin. Close to 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholic as a result of Spanish colonization in the 1800s. Unfortunately, the church and several other buildings were damaged during World War II because Japanese troops were located in the area. While we enjoyed the tour of old Manila, our tour guide may have stood out beyond the buildings. He referred to Jesus as “Mr. JC” and described how Filipinos told the Spanish “Hey, we are sick of you,”  when resisting Spanish rule. There were many grad students giggling at his presentation style, but he definitely kept us entertained.

Next, we stopped by the Golden Mosque – constructed in the 1970s as a welcoming gift to Libyan President, Muammar al-Gaddafi, although his trip never occurred.

And finally, after a long day, it was time to EAT again. We drove across town where we met Bernice’s mom and brother at a dampa for dinner. Dampas are large, open air fish markets located within a complex of restaurants. You pick the seafood you want from the market and then walk it over to the restaurant of your choice for dinner. We were completely overwhelmed by the all the choices, so Philip and Bernice’s family took charge of the selections while we headed up to a private room with a karaoke machine. We ended up with enough food to feed 50 people – crabs, shrimp, oysters, clams, squid, more squid, and individual coconuts to drink. The dampa was a really amazing experience even though we had enough leftovers for a week.

Our next day brought another trip to Anteneo, a lunch with the vice mayor of Quezon City, and – most important of all – the group’s discovery of the “Selfie Stick”. I’ll leave you with a Selfie Stick teaser. More to come.IMG_4099


A Post with Echo & Co.

A few weeks ago I wrote on some of the work I’m doing with Echo & Co. throughout the summer. Last week the company celebrated their 10th anniversary and a merger with Teal Media. They also launched a beautiful, engaging new site to complement the celebration. This week, they did another pretty exciting thing in my book… let me author a post on their blog.

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Equally awesome is that I also now have a user profile on their site, which I think are wonderful little introductions to each staff member. You can see the rest of the team and learn fun facts about each of  them here.

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Dog Days for Charlie the Poodle

Cambridge is heating up. The poodle is napping on cold floors, and the dog days of summer are upon us. IMG_3287As I’ve written about too much already, we live in a terrifically dog-friendly area. Between the dog parks, vet, and groomer around the corner, Charlie has all he could ask for without having to get in the car. Which also saves Tom and me from the car full of poodle drool that inevitably comes from putting him in the 4runner whether it be for 15 minutes or 15 hours (we’ve done both).

We did, however, have to put him in the car to head to North Hampton, NH a few weeks ago. But it was totally worth it to see Charlie romp around the beach and play chicken with the waves.

Back at home, Charlie has also made friends with Tudor, a 5-year-old boy. Tudor lives across the street from our park and religiously comes out to play whenever he spots Charlie from his window. Tudor loves to ask the other dog owners at the park “How old is your dog?” and then proudly tell them that Charlie is only 1 1/2 years old. Charlie chases Tudor around the park with his bike or soccer ball, and eagerly awaits Tudor’s shorter-than-usual toss of his tennis ball.

Even though Charlie gets lots of play time at the park with friends like Tudor, I’m also gone most of the day now because of my internship with EchoDitto. Lucky for us, EchoDitto loves a good pooch party in the office from time to time. Last week, both Charlie and Rascal, Nicco’s westie, spent the day in the office together. Charlie didn’t stop exploring the office or even sit down until about 3:30 in the afternoon, so all the Ditto’s got a bit more of Charlie than they probably anticipated. But we made it through the day, and he only shredded 3 Wikipedia stress balls (in case you forgot it is a tech firm, that will confirm it). He also got invited back. I, however, was exhausted after monitoring him and working all day and do not have plans for him to return in the near future. Overall, Charlie gets a B+ for office etiquette given he is a less-than-2-year-old poodle.

It’s pretty great to be a poodle AND an Allin. You get to travel, make new friends, and enjoy a comfortable work-life balance. Some days when Charlie is really lucky he even gets a few cheerios or an ice cube. Maybe as the dog days of summerIMG_3239 heat up even more he’ll get multiple ice cubes.

Until Next Time.

My Summer of Tech

Two of the abnormal things about going back to graduate school are 1) I get a real summer again and 2) I go back to “summer associate” status. Luckily, the team at EchoDitto – where I’m spending May, June, and July – are an exceptional bunch working on compelling, meaningful projects. About 12 people work in EchoDitto’s Somerville office with the rest based in D.C. or scattered across the country. This July marks the firm’s 10th anniversary.IMG_3148

EchoDitto describes itself on its site saying “We empower leading organizations to have a greater impact through the creative use of new technologies. We design participatory campaigns and build technical tools that enable individuals and organizations to make the world a better place.” For me, that means spending each day with a team that is not only digitally capable and savvy but also building careers with an eye to generating a positive impact in the world. We also have the option to get Boston Burger every Friday for lunch and the office is charlie-the-poodle friendly – unexpected perks of the office.

If you are interested in the work they’ve done to build sites for progressive organizations and institutions, I would definitely recommend checking out some of their profiles. Some of my favorites are Project AWARE and the community portal for divers we built, and a site for thousands of events across the country connected to Food Day (mark your calendars for October 24th).

Earlier this month, I also got the chance to travel to NYC for the Personal Democracy Forum, one of the nation’s largest gatherings of people interested in using digital tools for social good, public services or political action.

I got to geek out at talks by Rebecca Mackinnon, An Xiao Mina, and Anthea Watson Strong. And discovered some resources I will absolutely take advantage of in the future – like civic participation platform Loomio.

I particularly loved Loomio’s story of coming into formation. The New Zealand-based site was started by a team of developers interested in creating a better method for participants in the region’s Occupy movement to communicate and make decisions. Today, clubs, government agencies and coalitions worldwide are using Loomio to make collective decisions. I snagged a screenshot from them to give you a sense of some of their tools, but I recommend checking out their site if you are currently looking for a way to better organize many different groups and their opinions. Screenshot 2014-06-22 15.11.21
To complete my summer of tech, I’m also taking a Coursera course through the University of Michigan on Python programming language. For those of you who are interested, the next section of the course doesn’t start again til October, but as someone with limited programming experience, I can attest that it is very accessible. So go ahead! Click on some of these links and start thinking about how tools in the digital space can make this world a better place.

Until Next Time.



#allin for the World Cup

My heart is still a little heavy from Portugal’s last second goal for a tie vs the US last night. However, that said, I could not be more proud of the quality of play from our team. It was a fantastic game to watch…one that had Tom and I jumping off the couch and screaming loud enough for people to hear us down the street through open windows. My heart is only heavy because I felt like we really deserved, and had an opportunity to, win.

Tom and Nick on the edge of their seats during US v Portugal.

Tom and Nick on the edge of their seats during US v Portugal.

But fear not! Nate Silver and his blog give us a 75.8% chance of advancing out of the group stage. Here are all the potential scenarios for how the US can advance. I’m already ready for Thursday…

Our World Cup Hashtag

It goes without saying that Tom and I are excited about Adidas’ chosen hashtag for the World Cup. “#allin or nothing” is about as close to perfection as you can get for us. Their “Wake Up Call” ad brings some goosebumps and a chance to feel the excitement of soccer and the once-every-4-year spirit of the World Cup that can seep into your heart…especially since it features Argentina’s Messi, and I keep replaying his stoppage time goal v Iran from this weekend.

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Showing my advertizing ignorance, I was particularly proud that I was “clever” enough to come up with the “allin”concept before adidas. All the way back in 2013, was born. However, my ego was quickly deflated when I realized adidas launched their “all in” ads in 2011 and have been showing ads under the tagline for many years (time for a cable subscription). So while I’m not as innovative as I thought, at least our friends are thinking of us as “#allin” flashes across their tv screens and minds.

IMG_3383We’ve had a ball (ha) watching the World Cup this year. Last Monday, we saw the US slip passed Ghana with our favorite bar tenders at the Kirkland Tap and Trotter. We had hot dogs and beer to form our American spirit as we watched. They now do a different hot dog every Monday on a pretzel bun, and I’m not willing to say how many different options I’ve already tried. The photo from their Facebook page shows you how awesome they are.Screenshot 2014-06-22 09.42.35

If soccer itself is not your sport, at least there are some fantastic post-goal celebrations you can get on board with… Colombia and Ghana have both made headlines with their full team dances.. a trend I wouldn’t be sad to see more NFL and NBA teams emulate.

Regardless of the fitting hashtag associated with the World Cup, it has been a welcomed addition to our already full summer. We are ready for more weeks of wins and witch doctors but, unfortunately, not Wayne.

I’ll close with a piece of memorabilia from my sister – Emily’s – days of soccer stardom. Enjoy this gem and get ready for Thursday at noon.

Until Next Time.

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