By Bryana Schreiber
Where do we start? Experts offer some ideas:
JOIN—OR CREATE—AN ADVOCACY ORGANIZATION
If you see a need, there’s likely an organization you can find that is already working in that space, but you can also start your own. While studying at Indiana University, Sneha Dave founded the Health Advocacy Summit (healthadvocacysummit.org), a nonprofit organization that facilitates advocacy events and yearlong programming for adolescents and young adults with chronic and rare illnesses across the U.S. and abroad.
Dave lived with severe ulcerative colitis since the age of six and was extremely ill for the majority of her childhood. At 14, her large intestine was removed, followed by several other surgeries conducted in an attempt to give her a better quality of life. By her junior year of high school, she was finally able to go back to school full-time.
“Unfortunately, a chronic disease is exactly that—chronic—and while my condition is not as severe as it once was; it has had lasting effects on my childhood and my life as a young adult,” said Sneha.
Dave found hope in bringing people together. “At the Health Advocacy Summit, our goal is to build a sustainable movement that will empower the voices of young adults living with chronic conditions and ensure that they are given the opportunities and resources they need to thrive.”
If you are interested in getting involved or more informed about issues like economic or racial justice, mental health or education, go deeper. Interested in advancing education? Attend school board meetings to deepen your knowledge of the challenges facing schools and to learn where you can plug in to make a difference. Campus and community events can raise awareness, too.
The Faith & Action Program at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis sponsors a public event each fall to create awareness of issues relating to poverty. We are all equipped and called to come alongside people living in poverty—whether through activities such as advocating for justice, mentoring, volunteering and championing low-income neighbors, according to IU grad Lindsey Rabinowitch, Program Director for the Faith & Action Program.
“Those in poverty, especially generational poverty, have often experienced deep trauma,” said Rabinowitch. “Poverty is complex, therefore our approach to breaking the cycle of poverty must take a holistic approach. Investment in relationships and walking with those in their journey out of poverty must be a key ingredient. They need hope and to know that they matter, their life matters.”
DO WHAT YOU CAN
Involvement can also be on a more direct level, like getting involved in a school, in your neighborhood or a school serving an underserved community. Faith & Action Grant Recipient Pastor Jeffrey Johnson of Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis encourages individuals not to worry about how small their church or organization might be or what position they might or might not hold, and to instead simply look around and see what they can do. “No act is too small,” he said.
The message: If you can’t build a library, buy a child a book. If you can’t endow a scholarship, help a kid with school supplies. If you can’t house a family, help them with a home repair. “Get in where you fit in,” Johnson said. “Even if you can’t do everything, you can do something. Whatever you can do, do it, knowing that the impact of an act of love and kindness usually exceeds the actual size of the act.
GET INSPIRED & INSPIRE OTHERS
Once you’re informed and involved, spread the word to others so they see how easy it is to get involved and make an impact. If it changes the life of one student, your time was well spent. Know and use social networks and capital. Talk with friends, neighbors, clergy and elected officials about the critical need for access to high-quality early-education opportunities for all children.
BE A MENTOR
The impact mentors and role models can have on children, especially in a society where parents too often are absent for one reason or another, are tremendous. Rather than seeing that simply as an unfortunate contributor to the problems of poverty, we each should step up and find a way to serve as a mentor to someone with fewer advantages.
REJECT THE PREVAILING NARRATIVE
Shine a light on systemic and cultural factors that hold people in poverty. We have a new narrative about poverty that is focused on “all of us” and not “us vs. them.” Too often, we overlook individuals in the community because we accept assumptions about others. Put yourself in a position to interact with those who are different than you or who you might disagree with. If we reject those assumptions, we will see the humanity sitting across from us and begin to make a difference in the world.
EDUCATE ON EDUCATION
Dennis Bland, Director of Center on Leadership Development, has shared in a past event that many children don’t value education because no one has ever explained why education is beneficial. Children don’t feel school is a privilege; they feel it’s a requirement. Help them see the value of education by explaining how it can change their lives. Teach a child why he or she should become educated, and you’ll give him or her a chance to rise out of any difficult circumstances.
Regardless of the position you hold or your role in the community, think about how you are going to use your power and influence to implement lasting solutions to local challenges.