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Friday, September 19, 2008

In the Wake of Ike

Day 4
September 18

Volunteers at Gateway Community Church unload cleaning supplies delivered by World Vision.World Vision’s assessment team started the day off bright and early at Gateway Community Church in Houston, where volunteers from five churches were in the process of setting up a base camp of operations to manage Hurricane Ike relief efforts. The assessment team dropped off many cleaning supplies for the crews to take with them as they do their cleaning jobs.

Pastor Mike Malkenes says the supplies will be helpful. He appreciates how World Vision was there to help them during Katrina relief efforts and is here now during Hurricane Ike. He explains why he thinks it is important for the church to be involved this way: "When you open up the book that’s what it says to do. The underlying theme is it’s not about you, it’s about serving and helping others. Just like when Katrina hit, this is an opportunity for the church to have it’s finest hour and to come out and show the community that we’re not just a social club inside this building [but] that we’re the hands, and feet, and heart of Jesus Christ."

Jackie Bearden’s home suffered extensive damage in the storm. Mattresses, lamps, and even a giant stuffed dog sit out on the front curb. The storm ripped shingles off the roof. Inside, many areas of the ceiling had collapsed as the water came in through open areas in the roof. Sopping wet, pink insulation littered the floor in almost every room.

Yesterday a volunteer clean up crew from the church worked diligently ripping up carpets, pulling out unsalvageable items, and scrubbing rooms. Today another crew was also hard at work.

When Liz Bearden, Jackie’s aunt, saw the cleaning supplies World Vision had dropped off, she exclaimed, “Oh how awesome!” One of the volunteers answered her, “It’ll smell good.” Liz put on some vinyl gloves, also in the shipment from the assessment team, “I’ve been needing gloves,” she said as she worked them onto her fingers.

It soon became apparent why she needed the gloves. She worked to wipe up some of the insulation in a bedroom. She pulled out a soaked pair of pants, wrinkling her nose at the smell. Then out came a stack of school books—water damaged beyond usability.

The team headed off to another church, Gloria Dei. This is a church World Vision hopes to use as a distribution point in the Houston area, when World Vision’s Storehouse delivers more supplies as part of the recovery and rebuilding phases in helping victims of Hurricane Ike.

In the early afternoon, the team pulled up at Greater First Baptist Church in downtown Houston. As if by magic, people begin arriving to help unload the truck. At first each person carried a box into the fellowship hall. But then they formed a chain and passed the packages of supplies along in an efficient manner.

Eva Bosley checks out one of the mops, which was just delievered by World Vision to Greater First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.One of the volunteers, Eva Bosley says the supplies will be a big help because “even the little money you do have is stretched so far [during disasters.]”

Greater First Baptist Church pastor, Rory Thompson, greets fellow pastor, Stanley T. Hillard. He shares that Pastor Hillard’s church lost most of its roof in the storm. Then he promises Pastor Hillard that they will be sharing the supplies with his parishioners as well—even if that means delivering the supplies themselves.

Pastor Thompson says, "These products will help tremendously because we’ve had individuals that have suffered total loss."

Pastor Hillard says, "It’s been a tough week, but we’re pulling together thanks to people like you, World Vision, who see the need and who literally come to rescue us. We really appreciate everything that World Vision is doing and what it’s done in the past and what it continues to do to minister to hurting people all over the country."

Ike Crossing sign in front of a water-damaged home.Looking ahead, the leader of World Vision’s on-the-ground disaster team, Phyllis Freeman says that she hopes to send another assessment team next week to try to get to the as-of-now difficult to reach areas of Texas City and Galveston to see the damage there first-hand. Then the assessment teams will make long-term plans for how to best support churches in their efforts to rebuild along the Texas coast.

As Hurricane Ike fades from the news, the work required to return to some semblance of normalcy does not diminish. People continue the slow clean up process. Then their thoughts turn to rebuilding. And World Vision will be there to stand beside them and support those efforts.

Posted by Laura Reinhardt and Tom Costanza on assignment in Texas. Tom is Video Creative Director for World Vision in the United States. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States .

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In the Wake of Ike

Day 3
September 17, 2008

Rev. Randy Vaughn, left foreground, of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church and volunteers from the church unload supplies from delivered by World Vision.World Vision’s assessment team spent over five hours traveling from Huntsville, Texas to the coastal town of Port Arthur, Texas. Under normal circumstances, this trip would take just under three hours. After many dead ends, low hanging power lines, and road closures due to flooding, the team finally arrived at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church where they dropped off cleaning supplies, clothing, books, toys, and personal hygiene products for the church to distribute to those in need in the community.

Rev. Vaughn says that the members of the community will definitely be helped by the supplies. Port Arthur’s mayor, Deloris Prince says, “I think God sent you all here. You’re all a bunch of angels. I thank you so much on behalf of all the citizens whose lives are going to be affected by what you’ve brought.”

Hurricane Ike wiped out many buildings in the coastal town of Sabine Pass.Hurricane Ike battered Texas coastal community of Port Arthur and neighboring towns. Adam Saunders, a native of the small town, Sabine Pass, Texas, says that Hurricane Ike caused more damage for them than Hurricane Rita in 2005.

“With this storm, it was a small storm—not nearly as powerful [as Hurricane Rita]—we were just east of the storm, which is the worst place to be,” says Adam. “That means you’re getting all the flow of the water, tidal surge.” He explains that most of the damage done to Sabine Pass was caused by the tidal surge. “You had waves beating on the house for 12 hours and basically beating it to nothing.”

And when Adam returned to his house for the first time, that is exactly what he found—nothing. The house was completely gone. “The biggest piece of my house that I found was a 20x30 piece of the roof. That’s it.”

Adam Saunders takes his daughter, Olivia, to visit what used to be their home.Today he took his 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, to the home for the first time. She points out where her bedroom used to stand. “It makes me feel different,” she says of what she is seeing.

The assessment crew then headed back to Port Arthur. Rev. Vaughn drove them through the neighborhoods. He explained that this community was still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Rita now they’ve been hit with this new disaster. “You see this blue on this house here,” he says, indicating shreds of blue tarp on a roof top. “That’s not new. That’s Rita damage.”

Back at Mt. Sinai, the assessment team learned that almost all the items they dropped off earlier in the day had been distributed in a little less than two hours. “It’s all gone,” say a couple of the volunteers. One man adds, “News travels fast.”

But for the Johnson family, the news did not arrive quite as quickly. They pull up in the church parking lot asking if there are still any supplies. The family of six with four children—all under 9 years of age—is staying in their home, which currently has no power. Delicia Johnson says, “We have no funds to get a hotel or anything like that. We basically just finally got some funds to get some gas. So everything we know about is at the last minute. That’s the hardest part.”

The Johnson family gets cleaning supplies at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist church.The family’s home sustained wind damage and there still is water on one side of the house and even underneath part of the house. The family received cleaning supplies, mops, and brooms. Delicia says she appreciates that she get her home cleaned and prevent the spread of germs.

Tomorrow the team will visit with more churches in the Houston area where they will distribute more products and also determine how they can continue to help churches in the area during the rebuilding process.

Posted by Laura Reinhardt and Tom Costanza on assignment in Texas. Tom is Video Creative Director for World Vision in the United States. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In the Wake of Ike

Day 2
September 16, 2008

World Vision staff members and volunteers pack up more personal hygiene kits to ship to victims of Hurricane Ike.World Vision volunteers and staff members began the day working together to pack up more hygiene kits. Staff members created palettes of the supplies, then loaded up the twenty-four foot truck. At about 3:30 the truck rolled out of the World Vision Storehouse parking lot.

World Vision Church Relations Director in Dallas, Cassie Wyssbrod, says she spoke with Rev. Randy Vaughan from Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas—an area close to the Louisiana border. The assessment team plans to visit Rev. Vaughan’s church first thing on Wednesday where they will make a distribution.

World Vision staff member, Pedro Escobar, closes up the truck filled with supplies that are bound for the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Ike along the Texas coast.Cassie says, “When I told him that we could come with supplies and we’d like to meet him and we’d like him to be a part of our assessment [team], he was just thrilled.”

“[Rev. Vaughan] offered to go with us over to Houston because he’s also the director of the national disaster response for the denomination (National Baptist Convention). So we’re going to help the community where he ministers the church as well as the vulnerable communities over in Houston and Galveston,” she says.

Rev. Vaughan described the scene on the coast, “That whole area really got hit hard by the storm and that’s an area where you have a lot of people in need. The need is tremendous. The lines are long. The American Red Cross ran out of supplies today. The Salvation Army ran out of supplies. There’s no gas. And people just aren’t sure what to do.”

Tomorrow World Vision’s assessment team will get its first glimpse of the devastated areas and begin distributing the relief supplies that volunteers have been packaging since Hurricane Ike hit.

We’ll bring you the pictures and video on tomorrow’s blog.

Posted by Laura Reinhardt and Tom Costanza on assignment in Texas. Tom is Video Creative Director for World Vision in the United States. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States .

Monday, September 15, 2008

In the Wake of Ike

Day One
September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike was as big as Texas. Phyllis Freeman, director of World Vision’s on-the-ground relief efforts, describes Hurricane Ike as "one of the most intimidating storms post-Katrina" that we have had. "The storm was so huge when you looked at it on a visual on the TV or the Internet. It filled up the entire gulf coast."

Members of a youth group volunteer creating hygiene kits for victims of Hurricane Ike.For people wanting to help the victims of Hurricane Ike, Phyllis says, "Volunteers are always really wonderful to have because we live and move by volunteers so we always need the extra hands."

Over the weekend and on Monday—working from eight in the morning to eight in the evening—volunteers were at World Vision’s Storehouse in Dallas packaging up kits that will be delivered to partners in areas hard-hit.
The kits include items such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash, and soap.

Volunteer Grady Venable shows a personal hygiene kit being created to send to victims of Hurricane Ike.Volunteer Grady Venable says, "I can help here ‘til I can go down there and help." He continues talking, never missing a beat packing up supplies.

"This is the least that anybody can do here just to make things ready to go down to the hurricane people so they can have things and supplies," he says. "Just giving of your time and your effort can really help people out down there."

Phyllis explains that the American Families Assistance Fund is a donation that allows World Vision to provide ongoing care for families in need—especially in time of disaster. "There’s many different types of assistance that would be a blessing to us to help us," she says.

World Vision employee, Pedro Escobar, wraps a pallete of provisions in preparation for transport to victims of Hurricane Ike.On Tuesday, a World Vision assessment group will load up a truck and head south to Austin, then hopefully head over toward the coast if the roads are passable. They will take with them personal hygiene kits.

"We are hoping to take 1000 units with us," says Phyllis. The team will also carry cleaning supplies, clothing, toys, and books. She describes the books and toys as "a comfort for children. Many of them, when they have to evacuate, they may be able to bring one toy sometimes no toys depending on how quickly you will have to leave your home. What we’ve found is that the children, if they can have something they’re familiar with, brand new toys bring joys. Books are wonderful. So it’s just for comfort of the children."

World Vision employee, Jeremy Wissink, readies supplies for transport to the Texas coast.World Vision has contacted five primary community partners throughout the state—mostly churches and community centers, which it hopes to set up as regional distribution sites for families as they return from where they are being sheltered. The assessment team hopes to be able to distribute supplies to these partners and perhaps establish some new partnerships as well.

The main goal of the assessment team, though, is to seek out people who might otherwise normally fall through the cracks at a time like this and help provide for their short and long-term needs as they begin the process of rebuilding their homes and their lives.

Posted by Laura Reinhardt and Tom Costanza on assignment in Texas. Tom is Video Creative Director for World Vision in the United States. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ready to Make a Change

On Wednesday, the delegates met one last time. The speakers were four of their peers: Jonathan of Picayune, Miss., Ebony of Tacoma, Wash., Stephanie of Chicago, Ill., and Reggie from Washington, D.C.

Jonathan with his trainer, B.J.Jonathan told of troubles in his past that caused his mother to send him to live with his coach. There he flourished, making straight A's in his classes. Then on June 29, 2007, the coach got a call about a fire at the home of Jonathan's parents. When he and Jonathan arrived at the house, the coach told Jonathan to wait. Jonathan said that he kept waiting for his mother and father to come around the corner and say that everything was OK. They never came. Jonathan's parents both lost their lives in that fire. He said, "In some ways I am still waiting to see them turn the corner."

Despite his grief, Jonathan moved forward. "I refuse to be another statistic," he told those present. He urged his fellow delegates to not let this time in Washington D.C. to just be a trip. He told them to refuse to become complacent. "We [must] demand for our voice to be heard. We are the future!"

Ebony followed and talked about the power of teamwork that she has seen manifested in the Youth Empowerment Project. "We all lean on each other," she said. "Together all of us can hold up the next generation."

Stephanie with Cynthia, the Chicago team's leader.Stephanie's group leader Cynthia made the introduction. "I am blessed that she is part of this program," she said. "But I'm not going to talk too long or I'll start to cry." Stephanie then took the mike. "I've always believed my opinions don't matter," she began. She remained quiet for years, not expressing her opinions. When she got involved in the Youth Empowerment Project, she tried to keep quiet at first, but she was encouraged to speak out. She discovered that her opinions did matter. Also through, the Youth Empowerment Project she said that she "felt adults were truly listening." Stephanie finished her speech saying, "With the confidence that I have received, I believe I've come to show my true self."

Reggie with his team leader, Raimon.Reggie said that he used to be "overwhelmed by the mindset that there's nothing we can do." He saw that he used to allow the issues to control him and take away any hope he had built up. He encouraged the audience to stop letting those issues control them. He urged them to become "advocates of change. Future generations are counting on us!"

Lina Thompson, National Training Director for World Vision U.S. Programs, ended the conference. "You've been about the things of the heart of God," she said. "You are part of God's plan to [take] things that are a wrong [and] to make them right." She asked them to become a generation that would say that power is limitless and be willing to give it away.

Signing the 2008 YEP posterShe described for them some of the future opportunities that would be available for them through the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP): training to become YEP leaders, paid summer YEP internships, a national youth advisory council, and national YEP scholarships to continue their education.

Lina finished by encouraging them to live by Micah 6:8. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Then it was time to go. All the delegates crowded around to sign the Youth Empowerment Summit poster. They exchanged contact information, said their goodbyes, and then headed back to their communities, ready to make a change.

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 4: Taking the Hill

"Are you ready to take the Hill?" asked Seattle youth leader, Paul Patu. And with that, the teams were off to practice their policy presentations. Then it was back to Capitol Hill.

Each of the teams had the opportunity to lobby their members of Congress and let their voices be heard today. This was the culmination of all their work for the past twenty weeks.

Jillian Eloby, second from left, tells of the gun violence in Chicago and the people she has lost, The Chicago delegation started their day with John Marshall, a member of Rep. Bobby Rush's staff. Each team member had written one recommendation and presented it. All the points touched on gun violence and how to combat that. Jillian Eloby talked about the deaths of people she knew. "It hurts my heart," she said. Later in the day, she told Barack Obama's representative that these incidences, "lit a fire in me."

When they finished, Mr. Marshall talked about the Can Do bill he has been working on for Rep. Rush. "A lot of your policy recommendations are going to be in our bill," he said. "We need the community to get involved and demand that this bill move forward." He challenged them, "We need leaders like you to step up." Then he finished with a compliment: "These are excellent policy recommendations."

DeAndria Harris, of Albany, Ga. stands in front of the Capitol Building.Members of the other teams expressed similar positive results. During a debrief time after dinner, each group got to talk about their experiences. Many mentioned being impressed that their representatives and senators would sit and talk to them.

Jonathan Amosa, of the Seattle delegation, said that the one of the biggest learnings he came away from his experience today was that, "Congressmen are people too." Someone with whom he and his friends could hold a conversation. "From beginning to end [of the day], it just seemed like God was on our side," Jonathan continued. "He's doing something."

Valerie Riccio, from West Virginia, exclaimed, "Today was amazing!" She confessed that at the beginning of the day she had felt extremely nervous but afterwards said, "It was the best experience I've ever had in my life. I really feel like I made a difference."

Jonathan Billips of Picayune, Miss. makes a point to Rep. Gene Taylor while teammate Hannah Alley listens.Gabe Hinojosa of Mississippi talked about what he wanted to say to his friends back home. "Now I can't wait to go back and tell them about this experience… It really is a real movement and it can be done. So I'm excited to voice that to my peers and get their support." He continued, "I’m very excited. I feel like we're about to march our seven times around the wall shouting. And we're about to see the walls come down."

Romanita Hairston, vice president of World Vision's U.S. Programs, told the delegates, "It was great to hear you all challenging your leaders." Then she talked about how the young people had affected the adults who work with them. "We are changed every moment we share with you."

Romanita discussed the future impact of the Youth Empowerment Project, "Ten years from now we will look back at these kids and these kids will be the ones who are leading our communities."

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 3: Learning to Make an Impact

Akira Casch, Fundisha Tibebe, and Luisa Ashenfelter, of the Seattle delegation, stand at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop.
The day began with a ride on the D.C. Metro — a first for many of the delegates visiting from around the nation. "I'm learning my way around. I love a challenge," said Jillian Eloby from Chicago.

The teams traveled by train from Foggy Bottom to Union Station, then walked over to the Dirksen Senate Office Building. There they met with a panel from IMPACT — an organization of people in their 20s who have banded together to increase civic engagement and raise awareness of the political and legislative processes. Hannah Alley from Picayune, Miss., said she was surprised and inspired by the youth of the IMPACT team.

Meeting with members of the IMPACT team on Capitol Hill.YEP delegates got to sit on the very dais where their states' senators sit. Angela Rye of IMPACT encouraged those in attendance, saying, "You're never too young [to get involved in the government process]." She ended her presentation with these words: "You have the power within you to start a movement. You are the change. You can be the change!"

Hannah Alley of Picayune, right, shakes hands with IMPACT member, Angela Rye. Center is Malon Murphy of Los Angeles.During a Q&A session afterward, Angela mentioned the page program available to high school students around the country. It offers them the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill for a quarter or semester. Over lunch, Malon Murphy of the Los Angeles delegation said, "I'm going to apply for that page program. I don't know if I can get in, but I'm going to apply."

Teams spent the afternoon sightseeing. They got to choose between the Holocaust Museum, the Air & Space Museum, the National Cathedral, or the National History Museum. At dinnertime, they met at First Baptist church — a World Vision partner in the Petworth neighborhood.

Tali Hairston of the John M. Perkins Center spoke passionately about creativity as a necessary component of social change. Another principle, he said, is "practicing paradoxical curiosity"
in other words, taking opposing opinions and holding them together. He encouraged the young people to "do what 'they' say can't be done. You're going to have to take a risk to create change in your community," he said. Tali left the delegates with a final thought: "Always believe that the boundaries around you can change because of what's inside you."

Valerie Riccio, Aaron Kittle, and Rodney Feaster, of the Appalachia delegation, visit the White House on the night time tour of the D.C. monumentsHe got a standing ovation. Afterward, the delegates asked questions and shared their thoughts. "You are so empowering," said Nor'Vessa White from Seattle. "You really make me feel like I can make a difference in this world."

The day ended with a nighttime walking tour of the Washington, D.C., monuments. Then it was back to George Washington University for a few hours of sleep before the full day on Capitol Hill meeting with senators and representatives.

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 2: In the Classroom

Most of Sunday's agenda involved workshops where the delegates deepened their knowledge of advocacy. They included titles such as "Creative Activism," "Raise Your Hand," "The Power of the Youth Voice," "Environmental Justice," and "Jesus the Troublemaker."

Shauntae, Renee, and Malon from Los Angeles view a film showcasing the Christ of scripture."I find it hard to talk about advocacy without talking about Jesus," said Matt Belgie in the Jesus the Troublemaker workshop he led. In the first exercise, he had people write down some of the images of Jesus portrayed in the media. Words such as white, wimpy, and weak came up repeatedly. Then groups watched video clips of scripture portraying Jesus. His point? The Jesus in scripture is much stronger, much more powerful, and much more of an advocate for the oppressed than he has been portrayed in the media. He spoke out and protected the oppressed.

Creative Activism explored ways to set up an attention-grabbing campaign to raise awareness of issues. This was the one workshop that asked the delegates to remain with their teams so that they could formulate their ideas for their communities. Teams built their campaigns around the policy recommendations they plan to present on Capitol Hill. The Environmental Justice workshop raised the question, "Are environmental concerns an advocacy issue?" Most definitely!

Samuel Everett of the Youth Evaluation Team leads the Raise Your Hand workshop.Raise Your Hand — a workshop on techniques for gathering data — was a unique program because it was taught by a team of young people who attended the 2007 Youth Empowerment Summit. The Youth Evaluation Team was assembled to look over last year's participant evaluation forms and make recommendations on how to improve this year's Summit. "I've learned that evaluation is a lot tougher than it seems," laughs Samuel Everett, who says that he hopes the size of the team increases next year. He also hopes to "get different youth in there because they provide different experiences that will only make [the program] stronger."

Stephanie Villarreal from Chicago found Juan Pacheco's workshop, The Power of the Youth Voice, especially powerful. "He really inspired me," she says. "I actually felt like I could make a difference. It's up to us to make this change."

Juan Pacheco wears the attire of his past in the Power of the Youth Voice workshop.Juan Pacheco, a former gang member who now works with young people in that same community, provides a powerful visual to his message by beginning wearing "colors" often associated with gang members. He ends wearing medical scrubs and a doctor's coat to represent his future. Juan's urged the delegates, "Don't be afraid to go back to that 'hood [their community]. That world needs you."

Monday's schedule will present the delegates with the week's first trip of two to Capitol Hill. That will be followed by a museum tour and night tour of the Washington monuments.Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Emerging Leaders

The theme of the second annual Youth Empowerment Summit is "emerge" — emerging leaders and emerging communities. More than 70 young people from nine cities across the United States are coming together this week to be a voice for change in their communities. While the policies they plan to present to their members of Congress vary, each team has the same goal of bettering their community.

The Albany team performs their cheer for all the YEP delegates.This year upon arrival, each delegate received a backpack filled with goodies, including a disposable camera to document their experiences this week. Both before and after the official program ended, some of the teams took to the streets to get a first-hand look at some of the sites in the nation's capital.

The evening's official program kicked off with each city coming up with its own unique cheer. The creative juices were flowing for that exercise.

Youth culture specialist Jeremy Del Rio was the first speaker of the week. He exhorted the young people to "take to heart the lessons you've learned for the past six months [of the Youth Empowerment Project.]" He encouraged them to "be courageous enough to ask for big favors so that our cities and communities might eventually be transformed."

Hannah Alley, of the Picayune, Miss., team, says of the six months of training involved in the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP): "My mindset definitely changed. I learned that I really can make a difference. We don't have to wait on the government. We can go home and make a difference."

The team from Picayune, Mississippi explores Georgetown.Jacob Hickman, also of the Picayune team, says being involved in YEP was "something I couldn't pass up." He says he sees the policy recommendations his team will present as "a seed that will emerge as a beautiful flower." He describes the training as "exhaustive and exhausting." However, he says he now feels like "every member of our delegation are all qualified to be trainers [now] because of the structure of the [YEP] curriculum."

Tomorrow's schedule is packed full of more training opportunities for the delegates with workshops, lectures, and more time to explore!

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at the Youth Empowerment Summit.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Youth Empowerment Summit Gets Underway

by Leonetta Espy

In our society, the voice of young people is often discredited. Teenagers can be dismissed as part of the problem and rarely valued as part of the solution — especially in our most vulnerable communities. World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is working to change that.

Shawn Dunbar, a Youth Empowerment Project participant, is learning to be an advocate for his community.Teen Shawn Dunbar, a current YEP participant in Albany, Ga., says, "[The Youth Empowerment Project has] opened my mind to a lot of things about community problems [and] also how to fix those problems; things that we can do to give a hand in fixing those problems instead of just flowing with the crowd — actually take a stand and do it right." In nine of our U.S. Programs sites across the country, young people are finding and cultivating their voice to impact the world around them.

More than 70 youth like Shawn have completed a six-month intensive training series. The training cultivated skills to help youth find their voice, understand the power it has, and learn how to use that power to impact and create positive change.

The six months of training culminates in this week's Youth Empowerment Summit in Washington, D.C., where the youth are gathering together at George Washington University for four days. During this time, they will share their ideas and visions to improve their communities, be encouraged and inspired by nationally known speakers as well as their peers, and present their own policy recommendations to their respective congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.

Following the summit in D.C., youth participants will continue on in their journey toward becoming agents of change by hosting World Vision-sponsored local projects, participating in YEP internship opportunities, and accessing YEP college scholarships and much more. YEP is designed to help move young people in our most vulnerable communities from disempowerment and apathy to empowered change agents.

Look for daily coverage of this exciting event on this site.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tired but Happy Northern Uganda Lobbyists Head Home

Grace Akallo addresses the Lobby Days for Northern Uganda participants. On Tuesday, February 26, a wave of neon green shirts descended on Capitol Hill. More than 700 representatives visited their states' senators and state representatives to advocate in the Lobby Days for Northern Uganda.

Before taking the Hill, participants met beforehand to go over tips on lobbying. The crowd greeted Grace Akallo, a former child soldier, with a standing ovation worthy of rock star. "War/Dance is real, not just a movie." she told them.

The New York team heads to Rep. John Hall's office.Then the teams were off. The gray skies and drizzle outside only served to make their green shirts more vibrant and noticeable. People in the halls of the Senate office building stopped team members to ask about their cause.

Kathleen, from the West Virginia team said, "I didn't know that much about the issue before coming here, but I learned so much."

Jessy and Jenny from Colorado are young mothers. "I most certainly don't want to get to heaven and tell God that, you know, I didn't do what You told me to do. You told us to help the widows and the orphans. I didn't do anything. I just had a great life in America all by myself," Jenny says. "There has to be some point where people feel accountable for the atrocities going on and feel like you need to do something about that."

The Colorado team, from left: Kathleen, Jenny, and Jessy with Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave outside her office.Jessy said she knows a lot about the crisis in Darfur, but first learned about Uganda by watching the movie Invisible Children in a social work class at Colorado State University. Jessy seeks to raise awareness with her clothing and bag line called "Who Cares." The bags and clothing carry attention-grabbing phrases that provide a jumping-off point to start a conversation. She then donates half the net profits to causes.

Near the end of the day, they met up with their district's representative, Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, who told the entire Colorado group, "I'm proud of you for doing this."

Wendy and Patricia, from Massachusetts, felt called to do something about the crisis in northern Uganda when Grace Akallo came to speak at their church. The two friends journeyed to Washington, D.C. to learn more about the issue so they can share with their church the Sunday they return. They hope that what they share will encourage the church members to "put their faith in action in northern Uganda," Patricia said.

Patrica, left, and Wendy, right, with Grace Akallo, whose speech about the crisis in northern Uganda inspired them to get involved."I wish more people could see how active the youth are," she continued. "We get a lot of bad news about youth in the news. You don't hear so much about the positive."

Wendy said, "I've never attempted anything like this. They made it easy for non-advocates. You're not facing your senator all by yourself."

At day's end, Alison Jones of Resolve Uganda thanks the group and says, "This is the largest lobby event ever for an African Initiative. Thank you!" She tells the group that their efforts have definitely been noticed. She talked to Senator Feingold (D-CA) earlier in the day (a co-author, along with Senator Brownback (R-KS), of a letter urging the U.S. Government to allocate funds to northern Uganda), who said, "I've seen a ton of green shirts on the Hill. Thank you for what you're doing."

The West Virginia team flashes the peace sign.The success of the Lobby Days can be seen on multiple levels. The event reached out to people across the generations. People feel more knowledgeable about the crisis now. The prospect of being advocates and lobbyists for their cause is not quite so intimidating anymore. "I'm definitely going to write follow-up letters," said Jake, from Ohio.

The most important result of the Lobby Days for Northern Uganda is that the voices of all the people in vibrant green t-shirts could help secure financial aid from the U.S. G
overnment so the Acholi people in northern Uganda can return to their homes and live with dignity.

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and has just completed her coverage of Lobby Days for Northern Uganda.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'An Atrocity of the Highest Degree ... Happening on Our Watch'

Cherish Newman's family at Lobby Days for Northern Uganda.Hello from Lobby Days for Uganda. My name is Cherish Newman. I am 30-year-old mother of four from Utah. I am here at Lobby Days with my dad, sister, brother-in-law, and my 10-month-old baby girl.

We have a family foundation that looks to help “the world’s most vulnerable.” We are fairly new to the crisis in Uganda, but we feel that the people in northern Uganda are on the top of the "most vulnerable" list.

Cherish Newman and her 10-month-old daughter.
I think the biggest reason I am here is that I have an 8-year-old little boy who is so innocent and sweet and my worst fear as a mother would be to see him ripped from my arms, brutalized, and taught to be a killer. That is an atrocity of the highest degree and it is happening in our world, on our watch. My mother's heart cries out for those children who feel like my children, and those mothers who are my sisters.

They must feel so powerless! But, after these couple of days I feel empowered on their behalf. I have been so impressed at the enthusiasm and commitment of the organizers of this event. I am amazed at the knowledge and thoughtfulness of the speakers and panelists. I am humbled by the truth of the power of the people to amplify the stories of our brother and sisters in Uganda to our leaders. I am also thankful to the good people we have met on this adventure -- some great policy advocates named Bob, Corryne, and Sue who showed us the ropes on Capitol Hill today.

Cherish Newman and her family at Lobby Days for Northern Uganda in Washington DC.It has been an education and an adventure. We are glad we came and we feel like a difference was made. Most of all, I am grateful to my Father in Heaven who has blessed my family so greatly and has spoken to the hearts of so many good people to advocate for this cause.

Posted by Laura Reinhardt on behalf of Cherish Newman at "Lobby Days for Northern Uganda" in Washington D.C.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Speaking Out for the Voiceless

Lobby Days for Northern UgandaCan one person make a difference? This question was on the mind of many who arrived in Washington D.C. for the "Lobby Days for Northern Uganda" event. The lobby was packed with a crowd that spanned the decades from pre-teens to those nearing retirement age, the majority being college-age and twenty-somethings. They have all come to make a change in Northern Uganda.

The three-day event began with a screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "War/Dance." The moving film follows the story of three children whose lived have been horribly altered because of the atrocities in Northern Uganda. However, through a national dance and music competition, all three children had found renewed hope.

Lisa CogginHope was on Lisa Coggin's mind on Monday morning. She believes that the war in Northern Uganda has robbed the Acholi people of their hope and their sense of purpose. Lisa and her husband, Keith, are missionaries in Uganda who are home on furlough. They heard about Lobby Days for Northern Uganda through a World Vision e-mail. "The more I read about it," she says, "the more I thought that I would just love to go there and see what they're doing."

She continues, "We don't really know what to expect from [the Lobby Days]. We're a bit vague. We're not very political. We live our life in a village so even America has shocked us, coming back. This is out of our element. We're very timid of it. We're willing to be involved and to do what we can and to speak out."

It's plain to see how deeply Northern Uganda and the Acholi people have touched Lisa's heart. "They deserve dignity. They deserve a hope. They deserve a future."

She thinks the people in the village where they live and the people in the displacement camps will be encouraged to know that people are speaking out for them. She says, "I think it will help for them to know that people are trying; that people care enough.

Amplify the voices of northern Ugandans"The Acholi people have lost their voice. No one has heard them for 22 years. They have not spoken. I just thank God for people who step in and have become their voice and have relayed their voice to others and their cry."

Can one person make a difference? Most definitely! That is what the Lobby Days for Northern Uganda is about -- making a difference. But if people band together, they will amplify the cries of Uganda so that their voices carry farther.

Laura Reinhardt, assignment editor for World VisionPosted by Larry Short on behalf of Laura Reinhardt in Washington D.C. Laura is Assignment Editor for World Vision in the United States and is currently on assignment at Lobby Days for Northern Uganda.