1. What is the name and purpose of your Gold Award project?
“Change Begins With Understanding” is the name of my Gold Award project, which is a conference that I held on April 10th to raise awareness of the struggles of children living in poverty and to inspire young people to help. In order for change to happen, people need to really understand what it is like for kids living in poverty – to put themselves in their shoes. Conference speakers from Trenton organizations (Michele Czechowski from St. Francis Medical Center’s CARES program and Jeff Brown from the Trenton Health Team) highlighted real life examples of the stark realities that kids in poverty face right around us like going without basic needs or feeling lost and hopeless.
2. What sustainable impact does your Gold Award project have on the community?
This project has a sustainable impact because “once you know something, you cannot un-know it.” This is especially true when you are moved by something. I am so happy that the conference served as an inspiration for people to get involved. Here are a few responses from attendees to the survey question, “Did you learn anything today that changed the way you think about children living in poverty?”:
“I never realized how much poverty affected a child’s life mentally, emotionally and physically.”
“It was both devastating and motivating to hear these stories from community leaders.”
“I learned that although it does not affect my life, it is something that should not be ignored.”
“It makes me want to do more on my part to help when I can.”
“This conference has opened my eyes to the life of a child in poverty and has compelled me to help.”
“I feel really inspired after listening to this and I hope someday I can reach out to the poor in my community.”
“Made me want to think about social service as a career.”
When asked, “Are you compelled to do something to help after what you learned here today?,” almost every single response had a YES in capital letters with an exclamation point!
3. What insights/takeaway did you gain from your project?
As I researched the issue of poverty over the past year, I was really taken aback by so many things. Poverty affects every aspect of these kids’ lives…their health, their education, their behavior. Did you know that half of all kids living in poverty are not ready for school academically or socially due to living in stressful, often chaotic, situations? It has been proven that this impairs normal brain development for these children. But the good news is that studies have shown that children who are nurtured, thereby avoiding constant stress, usually have normally developed brain tissue. So it is important that as a community we take the time to make sure all children feel valued and important.
4. Anything else you'd like to share?
The bottom line is that through no fault of their own, up to 25% of American children start off well behind other kids their age. You may think that you can’t do anything to help, but you can. Even something as small as giving up a few hours to read to a child makes a difference. Studies show that nurturing matters. As a result of the conference, many students already signed up to participate in a “Day of Caring” at Millhill Center in Trenton where we will read and play with preschoolers from low income families. And hopefully this is just the beginning.