Changing the Conversation

Submitted on Tue, December 18, 2012

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This post was written by YV staff member Rachel Centariczki
I, like everyone else around America, have been glued to my TV set the past few days. I am engrossed in the footage and commentary on the atrocity that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. The loss and emptiness is unfathomable for such a small community and for so many parents. As President Obama so eloquently stated at the memorial service on Sunday:

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
But what is that change? How can we as a country, as a society, change such complex issues? I believe whole heartedly in President Obama’s sentiments, however, I would argue the real change we need won’t come from Congress or a bill that will pass the President’s desk. It is far larger and deeper than politics. That real change must come from each and every one of us. Now more than ever we need an “Everyone a changemaker” world. We need a world where every person, regardless of age, creed, or race has the skills and confidence they need to create positive, impactful change in the world. We need a world and society that not only encourages such skill sets and mind-sets but outright demands it. 

Meet Solome. In 2006 Solome founded Anxiety In Teens Non-Profit, LLC, an anxiety & stress help site for youth, when she found herself, an anxiety-ridden teen, frustrated with no resource to turn to. She had dealt with a severe anxiety disorder for several years starting in middle school - from full-blown panic attacks to terrible OCD, she had it all.

One summer in 10th grade, when she was searching for anything that would help in her time of need, she was appalled by the fact that there was no online resource, especially for teens, who were suffering from the most common mental health disorder in the United States. This was the beginning of - the place for Information, Inspiration & Community for anxious youth and their family and friends. Since then, she has built the organization to reach isolated youth with anxiety, inform and educate students on college campuses, as well as inspire awareness and understanding. 

Or meet Alex. With the recent economic depression, it is becoming harder for people to heat their homes. Rhode Island is no exception. This past winter, a local shelter received over four times the amount of requests for aid it had in previous years.

Alex and his teammates in the Westerly Innovations Network (WIN) wanted to help through their Project TGIF - Turning Grease into Fuel. The team noticed that local restaurants in Westerly, RI generate grease and waste oil through cooking and that that grease and oil could be recycled. Biodiesel releases only 20% of the emissions that regular fuel does and can be refined from cooking grease and oil. It can also be used to heat homes.

Working with local grease processors, the team has developed a system where it can sign restaurants up to donate their used oil at no cost and the processors will donate a portion of the resulting biodiesel to the WIN team. Alex and his team then use the biodiesel to help people in need heat their homes.

Solome and Alex represent what happens when young people are given the tools and confidence to step up and take action. The hands-on experience they gained launching and leading their own projects has changed them forever. No matter where they go in life they will be empathetic, collegial, creative problem solvers, and articulate public speakers. Now imagine what the world would be like if EVERY person had the chance to launch and lead a project they are passionate about. Imagine how many of the world’s complex problems we would be able to solve? Imagine how much more empathy the world would have. 
Mr. President, I would encourage you to include young people in the discussions and strategy meetings you plan on having these next few months.   You will be blown away by their insight, authenticity, creativity, and deep, powerful drive to change the world. How can we really ever expect the world to change if we do not encourage, inspire, and empower half of the world’s population to be active citizens? 

I also encourage you to not narrowly focus your outcomes to just politics. To truly get at the root of such a complex issue we must all be invested, we must all jump in head first, and we must all work together until we have reached an 'Everyone a changemaker" world.