Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gaining Inspiration from Jocelyn Allen’s Divas4Life

Jocelyn Allen, Notre Dame c/o 1991 is a former Pasquerilla West Most Distinguished Woman who is continuing to make her distinct mark on the world around her. In celebration of the philanthropy of the holiday season, we sat down with Allen to discuss her inspirational non-profit Divas4Life, an organization dedicated to contributing to the growth and development of young ladies.

This Detroit native was a hotshot Public Relations representative for General Motors when she realized that she could be putting her numerous work perks to a good cause as a member of a small church in East Detroit. “I was travelling all over the country for GM,” Allen explained, “and my fellow church-goers would get so excited about my travels—asking me ‘What was it like meeting Will Smith? Or how was it to go to that awards show?' ”

Allen notes that her Pastor would even reference her travels in Sunday morning sermons. “it dawned on me, not so much that I was blessed, I knew that I was blessed—it became obvious to me that I was in a position to pass it on.

It was in that moment that Jocelyn realized not only that she was so incredibly blessed, but more importantly that she was in a position to pass on these blessings. Upon receiving tickets to fabulous events, she would get permission from GM to take youth from her church to various events. “This simple act of kindness was such a momentous occasion for my fellow church-goers,” Allen recalled. “I loved hearing them talk about what they saw and who they met for months following the event!

When Allen moved on to the position of Youth Director at her church, she started working more closely with the young women of the congregation. “I wanted to expose these young ladies not just to these fabulous events, but what it means to be a professional lady,” she explained. Thus the inception of Divas4Life, a program dedicated to fostering determined, inspired, victorious, adventurous (DIVA) young women, ages 8-18. “And it wasn’t just something I felt I should do, but something that I had to do. God had placed me at that place and that time for a reason,” Allen stated.

Divas4Life is a grassroots organization that focuses on etiquette, financial literacy, career planning/education among many other things. The group of young women is thirty or less, so that each girl can get the attention she deserves. One signature event of the program is Dinner with a Diva, which is essentially a career-day type dinner that highlights the successes and struggles of an adult Diva. Another important highlight of the Divas4Life calendar is the annual Cabin Retreat to Northern Michigan, where the girls experience horseback riding, canoeing, and workshops. Allen is excited for the prospect of taking the girls to Disneyland after telling a major Disneyland executive about her work with Divas4Life.

This September, Allen was able to bring the girls to Notre Dame, which Allen credits with teaching her the importance of taking a cause and believing in it 100%. “It was the Stanford game weekend, so campus was buzzing with excitement!” she recalled. After giving the girls a self-guided tour of campus, complete with anecdotes from her time as a student, Allen and her Divas joined an incredibly accomplished group of ND Women for a luncheon workshop. The panel featured Lois Conrad-Jackson, Frances Shavers, Valerie Waller and Jackie Rucker. “I was absolutely in awe in the candor, grace and strength of these women,” Allen stated. “I gain just as much as my Divas when I get to hear the story of a successful woman. I was so grateful for this powerful conversation.” Allen was even more excited when two of her Divas left Notre Dame’s campus, abuzz with the possibility of being Domers themselves!

Interested in getting involved with Divas4Life? Whether its’ event tickets, a venue for workshops or your own story of success, Allen promises no kind deed will go unnoticed!

For more information visit the Divas4Life website or contact Jocelyn directly.

Jocelyn Allen, thank you for showing our young ladies how to be truly Determined, Iinspired, Victorious and Adventurous!

Your compassion is absolutely infectious!

The Simplicity of Kindness: BA_ND Jason Mims 2011 Recipient of William D. Reynolds Award

For 1975 Notre Dame Graduate Jason Mims, life is refreshingly uncomplicated. You help people by completing simple tasks over and over again. And one day that string of events will amount to something magnificent.

And that is the frills-free mantra behind Mim’s incredible success as a mentor and visionary for Tampa’s underserved youth. Through his nonprofit the MIMS (Motivated Individual Minority Students) Institute, he has been encouraging and inspiring young people to seek the gains of higher education since 2002.

Mims’ passion and dedication for helping high-achieving public school students realize the opportunities afforded by a secondary education is being recognized by the Notre Dame Alumni Association with the 2011 William D. Reynolds Award. This retired Lieutenant Colonel will be recognized Saturday, April 16, 2011 during halftime of the Blue and Gold game.

According to Mims, The MIMS Institute is based on two fundamental activities: fellowship with students and their parents, and an active presence in the Hillborough County school board. “I will meet with students over pancakes at the Village Inn Pancake House,” he explained, “or sometimes I will bring pizza to their high school. We discuss grades, their extracurricular activities, and most importantly what it takes to be an exceptional candidate at an outstanding secondary institution.” Mims is also able to get a sense from his mentees of the everyday challenges of students in public schools—especially those of black males. “I listen to them and share with them my resources,” he shared. “This is my opportunity to hear their struggles, while also promoting academic excellence.”

Since 2001, Mims has also routinely attended school board meetings in an effort to gather information about the exceptional opportunities that are available for high-achieving students in Hillsboro County. “Many of our students— students of color— don’t have access to or don’t believe they have access to opportunities such as ACT/SAT prep, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate course. I seek to expose them to these unknowns.” These visits to school boards are not just a way for Mims to simply gain information. His presence at these meetings is also a chance for him to establish relationships with school district leaderships, which then allows him to advocate on behalf of his mentees.

When asked what influenced his decision to start the MIMS Institute, he immediately referenced his experiences at Notre Dame. “Forty years ago, I became a part of the Notre Dame family when I got my acceptance letter in the mail,” Mims explained. “But when I entered Notre Dame with ten other young men from San Antonio, I realized I was the only one from a non-Catholic/public school. It always haunted me that so many young men of color in public schools don’t know about the opportunities that exist for them.”

In 1995, Mims returned to Notre Dame for his twentieth reunion, and he brought six young people from Tampa with him. Seeing those students completely awestruck by Notre Dame’s campus fueled something inside of him. Mims took another trip to campus in 2003, following a taxing year in Kuwait. “I just had a sense that I had to go to Notre Dame following my year of active duty— I had a feeling that I needed to be there, a sense that I needed to be on campus, and one of the first places that I ended up at was the Grotto,” he stated. During that trip, Mims also had the opportunity to have lunch with Ben Finley Sr. (Notre Dame c/o 1960 and 2000 recipient of the William D. Reynolds Award) and Dan Saracino (former Assistant Provost for Enrollment). That opportunity to see another Black Alumnus who was involved in recruiting efforts that were so appreciated by the University furthered Mims’ passion to intensify his involvement.

Though Jason encourages students of the MIMS Institute to consider Notre Dame, his primary goal is for his mentees to be top applicants at excellent secondary institutions. Mims’ very first student accepted into Notre Dame served as a model for future mentees, and his dedicated service has been an incredible success since.

When asked how other Black Alumni can get involved, Mim’s response is simple, of course, “You have to be passionate to be successful, but if the passion isn’t there in the beginning, just do small things like fellowship with one or two kids. It will grow from there.”

For more information on the MIMS Institute, please visit

Jason Mims, the Black Alumni of Notre celebrates you for your tireless dedication to our young people!