Another guest post from my favorite guest blogger – my daughter – who just finished her summer at home, making a difference and learning how much she could do.
In what could fairly be considered classic teenage behavior, I bribed my mother to do something for me by promising to write this blog post. (But in my defense, I bribed her to help spread the message of an advocacy organization I am currently interning for, because her Facebook posts reach far more people than mine. I did not bribe her, say, to do my laundry or let me see my friends.) With those confessions out of the way, why am I writing this post?
I’ve spent the summer interning part-time at Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) in Philadelphia. It’s a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to helping children in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and it deals with issues like healthcare, nutrition and family security, and education – K-12, early childhood, and arts education. It’s been a fantastic opportunity that opened my eyes to the world of advocacy and definitely sparked my interest in possible future career paths. But it also left me thinking, more broadly, about the little things we can do and the issues we aren’t even aware exist.
Before I showed up at PCCY, I didn’t know anything about the Philadelphia City Council, the Pennsylvania legislature, or the funding debates surrounding education in PA schools. I didn’t know that undocumented children were not covered by a healthcare initiative deceptively called “Cover All Kids” or that school breakfast programs reach far fewer students than school lunch programs, even though most of those kids don’t eat breakfast at home. Coming to work the first day – the first few weeks, to be real – I was overwhelmed by how little I knew about these issues. And yes, I was overwhelmed because I felt unprepared for my job, but more so because I was realizing the extent of my ignorance about issues that I felt passionately about – but had never bothered to research the local realities of. I had always cared vaguely about educational inequality, but it seemed somehow too difficult to actually figure out what was going on around me, or get involved. Yet to my surprise, once I started working at PCCY, I quickly got a grasp on the information I needed to know. Am I an expert on the Philadelphia school system? No, not in the least. But I have a basic understanding of any current funding debates, and on the specific topics I researched and wrote about, trust me, I have a lot to say. Which made me realize it may be hard to know enough to make advocacy a career, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. By reading a few email updates a week, I can stay on top of the issues I care about. By raising awareness, signing petitions, sending emails to legislators, and donating time or money to organizations, I can make little contributions that turn my knowledge and concern into action.
It’s better, I’ve realized, to make a small difference locally than to be overwhelmed by the global implications of a problem and not do anything at all. This is a philosophy that I find surprisingly hard to stick to. I’ve always been an idealist, and I want to study issues until I can find their roots and conquer them all at once. But while I’m still in college studying those issues (and, let’s be real, probably learning that it’s completely impossible to conquer them all at once), I can get involved in more concrete ways. And so that’s my goal for the upcoming school year: to keep myself updated. To keep taking those small actions. To know, and change, what’s going on in the world around me, because I learned this summer that it doesn’t take long to make a difference if you just get involved.
(I promise that I didn’t write this to promote PCCY, but honestly, clearly what I recommend is getting on those email lists that give you current updates and quick hotlines to how you can help. So if you’re from the Philly area and interested in knowing more, I’m planning on keeping myself updated next year by staying on their email list, and I would recommend looking them up and letting their email list/Facebook/Twitter help you stay involved.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!