What began three years ago as a personal vow to contribute to the global community has now transformed into something bigger than all of us; it is no longer a vow or a dream… it is reality. Three years ago, I would have never believed that the impact of young students could reach the lives of people thousands of miles away. I would have laughed at the thought that the mundane mentality of everyday would possess enough power to influence change, and I would have refused to engage in the act of advocacy. During my sophomore year of high school, I decided that it was time to stop sitting idly by as our world is engulfed by atrocity and pain, and I was prepared to do whatever necessary.
Upon founding the first chapter of UNICEF in Indiana, however, each board member of our club was met with endless setbacks. From brooding ignorance to fundraising disappointments, our rollercoaster has voyeured past countless hills, but nevertheless, we’ve shrieked with joy on downhill journeys - accomplishments that far outweigh the difficulties. One of these achievements took place last weekend, as the VHS chapter of UNICEF attended the annual student summit in Washington D.C. Our second year attending this conference proved to be even more successful than our first, and we were able to take 12 students to D.C -- me, Emma Campolattara, Alaina Kurt, Connor Gregg, Claire Brogan, Shelby Risener, Sammy Constantine, Marybeth Scheibel, Chris Bower, Olivia Gebhardt, Alexa Liangos, and Belle Naggatz. We couldn’t have done it without the help of our wonderful advisor-family, the Walkers.
The conference began with an incredible performance by America’s top step squad team: Dem’ Raider Boyz, and we heard from remarkable global leaders, including Caryl M. Stern, the president and CEO of UNICEF, Martin Rendon, the Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy, who echoed the powerful statement, “There is diversity of thought, but unity of spirit.” Other speakers included Cindy DiPietrantonio, the president of Alex & Ani, and Lucy Meyer, the U.S. Fund’s Spokesperson for Children with Disabilities. We met with UNICEF ambassadors like actress Tea Leoni and former basketball player Dikembe Mutombo. We even attended workshops like Human Trafficking 101; Immunizations, Health & Nutrition (Kid Power); Leadership Development in Humanitarian and Global Health Initiatives; Personal Choice and Global Transformation; Being a Global Citizen; and Responding to the Refugee Crisis.
The next day, we heard from panelists regarding Global Gender Equality, The Role of Storytelling In Communicating Impact, Identifying Meaningful Fundraisers for Your Community, and Children of Syria: Averting a Lost Generation. Spoken word poet Samantha Jackson from Words, Beats & Life performed; she resonates, “Don’t be a nuisance on their nose. They just wanna hang. Forget that you’re the hidden foundation for this nation, it won’t mean a thing to them. Just be there when they need your backbone to step on - the cracking sounds always sounds like laughter to them. And there’s no fun in telling black jokes to an all white room so, let them pick you.” The day concluded with a pleasant surprise to an already phenomenal weekend where we added a third award to VHS UNICEF’s collection: Best Club of 2016-2017. (We took the Most Inspiring Club Story and Most Inspiring Student for 2015-2016). This accomplishment was further reassurance our small and humble monthly fundraisers and advocacy campaigns absolutely have the ability to influence change.
“By uniting together as one community with the same passions and desires for the well-being of children globally, I felt I was able to grow closer to my peers. I also loved learning more about what UNICEF is about and what we can do to make a difference,” said sophomore Shelby Risner.
We then began training for Hill Day, during which we would be meeting with Representative Pete Visclosky’s office to request the reallocation of government funding for UNICEF in the 2017 fiscal year.
“It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to speak with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about things that we are genuinely passionate about. It really put into perspective how easy it is to pursue one’s ambitions. People respond to dedication and perseverance, and that’s the most important thing I learned on the Hill,” said senior Olivia Gebhardt.
Upon completing a successful meeting with his legislative correspondent, Michael Peterson, we attended the House and Senate galleries and had the opportunity to hear senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
Unfortunately, our incredible weekend came to an end following the completion of Hill Day, and we had to part with the friends we had made from South Carolina, New York, California, and even France! These new bonds, however, will never be forgotten, nor will the memories of our late night ice cream runs and spontaneous zoo visit. My club members and I have gained a breadth of knowledge and resources that we are eager to spread in our hometown - where we can continue our exciting and enthralling rollercoaster ride. “Cathartic” does not even begin to explain the impact that this weekend had on the twelve of us, and we are so excited to use our experiences to think globally and act locally.