Why is community service so often a punishment when it can be such a pleasure?
Last night I went to see a screening of Miss Representation, a documentary that explores how the media’s representation of women has led to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. The film, created by Jenifer Siebel Newsom, challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.
The film was thought-provoking and really opened my eyes to the type of message the media sends to girls and young women. A few facts that really struck me from the film were that while women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world in the number of women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of leading positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.
Miss Representation includes stories from teenage girls and boys, provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem infused with statistics and startling facts.
This film sends a vital message about the importance of media literacy and mentoring young girls and women, so that the next generation of girls is more confident and ready to take on positions of leadership.
Click here to visit the Miss Representation website, learn how we can help change the media and watch the trailer to the film. Find a screening in your own city and take some friends or maybe even organize a screening in your own community.
On Saturday, June 23rd, I attended Wagner High School Girl Up club’s event in Staten Island. I had a great time meeting other wonderful Girl Up supporters and participating in their event. “Walk in Her Shoes” was held at Clove Lakes Park and relayed Girl Up’s mission of helping our counterparts in developing countries through numerous activities, such as the “Walk in Her Shoes” race in which boys were sponsored to race in high heel shoes to signify the challenges girls face every day all over the world and to demonstrate boys’ support in the efforts to end violence against girls and women. In addition, members of the Wagner High School Girl Up club educated people on Girl Up and collected donations. We also enjoyed a live performance, music, games, and even a water balloon fight!
As you might remember from a previous post, Girl Up is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation that gives American girls the opportunity to become global leaders and channel their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls. Through Girl Up’s support, girls have the opportunity to be educated, healthy, safe, counted and positioned to be the next generation of leaders. Campaign supporters are encouraged to give a “High Five” to girls in developing countries by donating $5 or more to provide girls with such basic needs as access to school supplies, clean water, life-saving health services, safety from violence and more.
This event was a great example of how girls are taking action to bring awareness to these issues and speaking out on behalf of our sisters!
As the quote goes, “commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Bob who had the idea of painting this bus, created a goal for everyone to commit one million acts of kindness in his or her life and so One Million Acts Of Kindness was born. Bob is a father of three college age kids and wants to create a safer, more caring world. He bought a used school bus, had about sixty family members, friends and neighbors help paint it and began a ten-year journey to college campuses across the country to help spread his message with his dog Bogart as his companion. I spotted his bus in NYC earlier this week just a couple of blocks away on a residential side street.
How would you spread your message of change?
This summer I am volunteering at Women In Need. It is a wonderful New York City based organization that is committed to helping homeless women and children. The women and children they help are faced with hardships such as poverty, domestic violence, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse, limited education and job skills, and family instability.
9,000 Individuals served each year
6,000 homeless children
2,500 people in a WIN shelter
596 family units in 6 shelters
226 supportive housing units
8 childcare sites
Licensed, outpatient substance abuse treatment clinic
Over 1,000 homeless children served at Camp WIN
WIN is one of the largest providers of both shelter and supportive housing to homeless families throughout New York City each night. Thousands of women and their children sleep in WIN’s transitional shelters and supportive housing units each night. There are six shelters across New York City that provide a safe, clean, independent place for a family to be together while they work to repair their lives. In addition, WIN supplies all families with essential items that many enter the shelters without. WIN focuses on providing a dignified place for mothers to get back on their feet, so the shelter provides classes and programs for the mothers and children, and the support they need to find a job and a place to live.
Visit http://women-in-need.org for more information on WIN and the work they do!
This past week I visited Northwestern University in Chicago. One of the first questions I always ask students and admissions representatives when I visit a college or university is about their service programs. Every college or university will say they are dedicated to community service; however, when it comes down to it, only a select number have very developed civic engagement and service programs.
I was really impressed by the wide variety of global initiatives Northwestern has begun and how committed to community service they are. The level of student community engagement draws me to the University. Northwestern has many options available to its students who wish to give back to the local community and community at large, including a Civic Engagement Certificate Program.
Northwestern has its own Center for Civic Engagement that offers a range of programs that promote civic participation and engaged learning throughout the Northwestern community. Programs are often run in collaboration with other schools, departments and offices, serving a variety of different populations across campus. Below are a couple highlights of the Center for Civic Engagement:
Engage Chicago is an immersive eight-week field study program, designed to give students a powerful summer learning experience in the city. Students are placed in internships at non-profit organizations throughout the city of Chicago where they help to plan and implement projects that support the mission of the host non-profit. The academic coursework, hands-on experience at top organizations and institutions, and thoughtful reflection, Engage Chicago is an opportunity for students to learn about social change and themselves.
Civic Engagement Certificate Program:
The Civic Engagement Certificate Program is a two- year program coordinated in conjunction with the School of Education and Social Policy that gives undergraduates a deeper understanding of the forces that affect communities and how to achieve positive change. Students can use the knowlefe and skilled gained through a curriculum and faculty guidance to improve their communities. In addition, students also perform 100 hours of community service over the two years.
In addition to these specialized programs developed for undergraduate students, one of the colleges within the University is called the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP). The admission reporesentative described the school to me as a place for students who want to create change and make a difference in people’s lives. The school offers different concentrations including Social Policy and Human Development and Psychological Services. I learned that SESP students hold most of the leadership positions on campus, which I thought was very interesting and says a lot about how a long standing commitment to service and social justice define students as leaders and difference makers.
From my visit, I learned that Northwestern is a great place for students who want to be active and engaged members of their community and eager to give back to the world around them.
Since 2001, my school has supported the Susan G. Komen Foundation by participating in the annual Race for the Cure every September.
Last fall, the Susan G. Komen Foundation (“the Foundation”) proposed several changes to the list of institutions it would support financially. Controversy arose as the decision potentially affected access to cancer screenings for many women. Questions about the justice of continuing to support the Foundation were raised nationally and within my school community. After thorough research, and spirited debate and discussion, the student Service Board voted to continue our support of the Foundation through participation in the Race for the Cure.
To develop a position paper, we researched the Foundation’s investment in cancer research, funding of cancer treatment and support services, and the allocation of money for administrative overhead. In addition, students attended the annual event at which the New York affiliate of the Foundation awarded their grants for the year. Grants went to organizations such as the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Planned Parenthood, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, St. Barnabas Hospital, Gilda’s Club of NYC, and Project Renewal, Inc. Students listened to the presenters and recipients to gain a better understanding of who was supported and why. The Service Board debated the issue and examined the governance changes put in place at the Foundation at the national and local levels.
Some factors that influenced the decision to continue our support of the Foundation include:
- The Foundation focuses on providing support to individuals diagnosed with cancer and giving them access to various resources as well as supporting patients’ families.
- The Foundation gives more money, in comparison to other private organizations, to research both causes of and prevention of breast cancer.
- The Foundation’s administrative costs are low so a greater percentage of donations are put to use in a productive programs.
Through this process we learned the importance of thorough research, the tradeoffs in making informed decisions, and what traits we value when we decide to mobilize the resources of the a community in support of a cause.
I was inspired to see the members of the Service Board passionately debate the controversy and ultimately come to a decision based on what we believe was the right choice for our community.
In New York City, well over 14,000 children sleep in shelters every night and every day over 600,000 children go hungry because they live in households in which parents must regularly choose between paying the rent and buying food.
Last year, almost 70,000 children were reported victims of child abuse or neglect. Each and every day, hunger, homelessness, physical and emotional abuse, abandonment, neglect, substance abuse, substandard housing, failing schools and disease endanger children’s welfare and undermine their future.
The Association to Benefit Children (ABC) creates model programs that are easily replicable, compassionate, comprehensive, cost-effective and sustainable. Their focus is on early childhood education programs. There are five early education programs across the New York area. I volunteer at Cassidy’s Place 120 preschoolers who live in poverty and suffer from severe disabilities, serious medical problems and have significant special needs develop, play and learn in nine dynamic and inviting classrooms.
Children, who might otherwise be unable to attend school, enjoy an enriched curriculum and the special therapies that help them achieve their highest potential.
Working with the children at Cassidy’s Place has given me a first-hand example of the value of an education. I am amazed to see the transformation in all the children from the beginning of the year until now. Children who would not say a single word, now will not cease to tell me stories about their day, their friends, and their family. Children who would throw tantrums and not sleep during naptime unless they could sleep on my lap, now sleep completely on their own and use their words when they are upset. Children who although started off the year refusing to participate in group activities or make eye contact with me are now some of the most active members of the classroom.
“Be ignorant, be silent, be thick.” Professor, political scientist, author, Nation columnist, MSNBC host, and rising “nerdland” icon Melissa Harris-Perry addressed the members of the Wellesley Class of 2012 with this advice. Dr. Perry’s speech was humbling and made me think of taking action and speaking out against injustices in a different way.
I was especially intrigued by her advice to “be silent.” It seems contradictory to everything an activist should do, but in fact exercising the other part of your voice -the silent part- can be as powerful as speaking out . Attending an all girls’ school for a majority of my life, I have learned the importance of finding my voice. And as Dr. Perry says, it’s “about learning to speak, about speaking with confidence, about sharing your ideas freely, about battling the boys.”
However, I have also learned that there is another part to finding your voice. It is important to be silent and listen because when you have something to say it means something of value and sounds like something in comparison to the silence. There is a difference between being silenced and choosing to be silent. When we are silenced, we have something to say but no one will listen. When we choose silence over constantly voicing our thoughts and opinions, we equal the playing field by undermining the idea that only certain people have a right to speak out.
Dr. Perry encouraged the Wellesley class of 2012 to use “silence as a precursor to voice,” and I now urge all of you to think of silence not as your enemy, but as a tool for creating positive change.
Click on the link below to listen to Melissa Harris-Perry’s commencement address.
Then I thought, what about women in countries all over the world helping their communities? I decided I would write about one of them.
Last summer, I traveled to a village named Malakati in Fiji where I spent three weeks with local families, teaching at schools and working to develop solutions to help the village manage their drinking water.
The bures (Fijian word for wood-and-straw huts) the people live in are the size of an average bedroom, but accommodate families of at least five. My suitcase for three weeks contained more than the belongings of a family of five.
One of my first observations was that a small number of children from the village went to school because there was not enough room on the boat that took them there. Only a couple girls attend because by the time boys get on the boat, there is barely any space left.
It is rare for the girls to receive anything higher than an elementary school education.
While there, I met a young woman named Mary who is doing all she can to change that.
Every day, the girls of the village come over to her bure and she teaches them English, gives them math problems, and has them write in journals. She also has them play sports and participate as active members of their community.
Although Mary herself did not attend school past 9th grade, she has taught herself much of what she knows and reads every day.
I asked Mary what inspires her to do this, and her answer was clear and simple, “Because I want each girl to be someone I only dream of being.”
When asked what they want to be when they are older, most of the girls say they want to be flight attendants so that they can see the world they hear so much about. Mary believes in them and encourages them to be more than a caretaker for their younger siblings.
She told me about one of the girls she worked with who earned a scholarship to a high school on the main island of Fiji.
She going to study medicine because she wants to come back to Malakati and be a doctor the village so desperately needs.
Because this young girl was encouraged to attend school, she has now chosen to give back to her village and help saves lives.
I have learned that you do not have to be powerful, famous, or wealthy to make a difference in the world, you just have to be empowered to be the change of one girl.
Mary is proof that the Girl Effect is a worldwide movement.