Staying Committed

By: Kirsten Dimovitz

Last year for CGIU, my team, comprised of myself, Brooke Staveland and Ryan Toney, committed to partnering with the Sri Ram Ashram in northern India to establish a peer health-mentoring program called the Peer Health Education Network. We were full of energy and excitement about the prospects of travelling to India and working in a field we were all passionate about. Our goal was to build on the partner school′s network and structure to empower students to teach and learn from each other. The idea was to travel to the site and address the children’s biggest needs, so as to avoid imposing our own ideas and biases on the school, thus truly benefiting no one. After talking to children, teacher, parents and community members, we would sit together and draw on their answer and combine them with our own public health knowledge. The curriculum would be created and implemented with the help of local teenagers, and will focuses on identified community health issues that students and their families face. We saw the failures many other projects had around the world because they were unsustainable or realized on a consistent flow of money and staff. We wanted to make a lasting impact without centering the project on ourselves and how we could benefit.

Yet, we encountered a hurdle in almost direct correlation to this. My team and I spent almost all of our spring semester applying to the business plan, to CGIU scholarships and other local organizations. But, we kept failing. Failing to obtain any money. And we could not figure out why. Maybe our approach wasn’t techie or innovative enough. Maybe we need a fancy gadget to take to the communities. We could not figure it out, and never did we stop to think, maybe we were asking for money for the wrong reasons. Looking back it’s easy to see where the problem lied. It lied not in our well-constructed project, but in the fact that the project was built to be grassroots and sustainable, meaning our costs were virtually zero. Our biggest cost when we were applying for funding was in airfare. As students, and now we considered ourselves team members, we couldn’t afford to travel to India on our own dime, so as other NGOs do, we budgeted our airfare into the cost structure. Yet, because we were asking for money from others, and the budget sheet read $6,000 in airfare and $50 in materials for the actual project we had a problem. We did not receive money and thus we were stalled. We had to go back to the drawing board and try again. Innovate around the own problem we created.

And after Mr. Clinton’s speech at CGIU, we came up with an idea. It was our duty to ourselves and to our partners to continue with this project even though we hit a roadblock. Powering through and flying to India with money from our own pockets was not an option we could afford to take however. But I’m passionate about technology, and during that same time, I was reading tons of articles on e-learning. And Brooke and I had the idea, while sitting in the parking lot at the University of Miami. Why not bring ourselves virtually to the students? We were excited. We could still make this work.
We flew home inspired, but we were again caught in our own web. We were entrenched in midterms, and applications for funding which we would never received yet applying to stole countless weekends from us. And then the summer came, and our partners were out of school and we were in full time jobs. India seemed like a distant dream. As school was just about to start in India, I was on a plane to Kenya, and Brooke a plane to Budapest. Though we tried to keep in contact with ourselves and our other team members I was basically off the grid. Now, being in the capital city Nairobi, I have access to WiFi and this access to my own thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for so many months. We had to reckon with ourselves. We let our project sit and stall. And after seeing so many goodhearted development projects miss the mark or pull out Kenya, I couldn’t believe our good intentions were going the same way.

We both return from our study abroad programs in late December. And though, we’ve slowed our progress, we are recommitted with new intention and new insight from our experiences abroad. We know what needs to be done to accomplish our commitment, and we know we can do it. We have the simple funds from GW to produce educational materials, to produce videos, and to give and on the ground donation for the launch of our program. We’ve learned more than we could have imagined and feel even more prepared to do something meaningful. Sometimes things don’t work out as you planned, but that’s okay, as long as you stay committed and benefit your community in the end.

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Family Night

By: Max Grossman

It has been over a year since Kristen, Meghan, and I wrote the Public Service Grant Commission proposal for the Family Night at Perry School. Since that time we have organized six Family Night events – each filled with highlights, challenges, and lessons.
I think the key takeaway we learned is to be patient and willing to re-evaluate how we go about achieving our goals. For example, a key component to the project was parent and caretaker attendance. Attendance proved to be consistently inconsistent – a handful of parents attended month to month, however others, despite many reminders and handed out flyers, did not. There also was a persistent issue of parents arriving late (which we soon realized was a scheduling blip on our end, and adjusted the event timing accordingly).
I remember emailing De Nichols, our CGIU mentor, about this issue 3 months into the program. In addition to some general promotional suggestions, she hit us with a massive insight – embrace the intimacy of each event. This was very powerful. It both helped inform how to craft smaller group activities so to make events more personal and meaningful for participants. It also helped build connections with key parents and caretakers who’s answers to questions about scheduling and activities improved people’s receptiveness to events over the project’s six months.
The family night team will continue to play role in facilitating the events, however thanks to last years experience and increased capacity, Little Friends for Peace is now able to take on a larger role in the pre-event planning process. In fact, just last week they hosted a very special Halloween Family night!

For a detailed report of last year’s family nights here!

Helping Homeless Youth

By: Nancy Mannebach

When I was sixteen, I left home and I found myself in a position where I had no resources; no resources to learn and no resources to achieve opportunities that I once had. I came from a decently well-off family, vacations to the time-shares and summer homes almost periodically through the year, new phones and laptops every time they debuted. I lost track of the nannies I had growing up. I cried on my eighth birthday for having 18 presents instead of breaking the solid 20.

Amidst all this childhood spoiling, my parents were divorcing by the time I graduated middle school; my father was slowly slipping from sobriety, and my mother, with the help of the financial crisis in 2008, suffered from bipolar disorder that ripped my family apart. The home I knew once started turning into a dangerous place of abuse, neglect, and violence. There are now times I remember blocking out from childhood like a broken rib at age 9 when I got hit with a wooden bat for leaving the sink faucet on , an oven burn on my hand when I let my younger brother fall and scrape his knee. My mother broke my nose when I was fourteen for forgetting to turn off the light upstairs. To this day, all I can remember was how much blood there was…everywhere. Some days were fine, others not so much. When my mom changed the locks on the doors one night as I was coming back home from work, it was a tragedy and a blessing in disguise. As hard as being a child in my home was, I’m not ungrateful for it. I received many opportunities that many few in the world had and for that I can truly credit my circumstances.

When I left home, I couldn’t afford to go to school; I transferred out of Catholic school where my parents paid the tuition into the public school system. But even then I couldn’t afford to go simply because time in school meant time not getting paid, and not getting paid didn’t mean I couldn’t afford the newest clothing line anymore, it meant I didn’t eat. Suddenly the people I once knew wanted nothing to do with me.

I worked hard, some days skipping the not required classes and working 18 hours a day, 100+ hours a week some weeks. Minimum wage, paid internships, local temp jobs, anything I could do I did. Working for a car to get around in, working for money to pay college fees, working for something as little as paying for cap and gown. All of these experiences have defined me.

My commitment is to provide homeless youth with the opportunities necessary to learn the skills they need to move forward; not to go to college, not to find a job, but to simply move forward. The problem was no that I wasn’t capable of doing great things, I just was too preoccupied for making daily ends meet, that by the time it was one-o-clock in the morning and I was pulling into the drive way after closing out the pub, I couldn’t think about a future. Only the five am alarm I had set in the morning to pull a shift at the local grocery store before school.

I started my 501 (c) non-profit organization in 2013, a year and a half after I moved out of my home. Along with friends from a conference I attended, a first year law-student, and a social worker out in Utah, we combined teams and started fundraising for the first time. Our profit generating service was conducting lectures in high schools and on college campuses for a mere couple hundred dollars from PTA donations. I transferred my nonprofit over to a Board of Trustees in the Youth Development Sector of the UN last August. In conjunction with UN Women, I now work with them as a youth activist and a youth NGO consultant, where hundreds of youth around the world Skype in and we talk about initiatives and steps to continue their ideas.

I was invited to CGIU in 2013 to speak on behalf of the Initiative (TARI) and I am so humbled to have been invited back every year since. Last year I encountered financial difficulty with GW, but I have been very grateful since then, including the opportunity this year to network and meet potential global-commitment makers. Already, I travel to so many cities across the U.S. to share my vision of opportunity and I am so happy to have shared this moment with fellow GW students.

As for the conference itself…I was disappointed. This is the 38th conference I have gone to in my life, not repeating organizations-and I have audited many before. In this way, I have learned about different ways of thinking and work ethic. CGIU’s first problem is that there’s too many of us. Not that there can ever be too many commitment makers, but there are too many options available at the conference. It should not be labeled as a conference because it is not, it is more of a gathering, and is more so experienced as a publicity stunt. Many break out session were relevant, none touched into the deeper expertise of what financial modeling for your commitment should look like, what long term sustainable factors should be incorporated to make sure your cause exists five, ten years from now, or much less networking sessions to find others. The entire program is very built off a “you gain from what you put in” type of mentality and for that, only the persistent win. I have made many connections to which now I have a couple boosted numbers on LinkedIn, and a couple more friends on Facebook but altogether, the skills that I felt those around me learned were not enough to boost some of the amazing ideas these kids offered. In the future, I would love to look into the Clinton Foundation as an organization and perhaps be a part of their team.

My favorite moment will have had to be a late night at the hotel talking with some of the most intelligent people I have talked to in a while about future goals and plans and ideas, and its not so much what they say but how they say it. No matter which issue the cause addresses, it will never cease to amaze me the way people light up and speed up their pronunciation when they get excited about an idea. So for me, there is no “aha” moment or one particular speakers that stood out. But from the Freshman at Duke inventing the Cloud to Cancer to the boy who just a year ago started to Kickstarter his idea of an exercise machine under a desk, I was inspired by the passion everyone had to make the world better.

A Dozen at a Time goes to DC!

By Katie Keim

My commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative: University was to continue the work my non-profit, A Dozen at a Time does in the Washington DC community. A Dozen at a Time provides monetary, non-monetary, social and emotional support to at risk foster children worldwide. To date I have worked with 1,500 children worldwide and I look forward to having that number continue to grow.

I started my non-profit my junior year of high school after having previously traveled to Israel two times over my sophomore year of high school. While in Israel I worked at a group home foster village called the Children’s Village. The Children’s Village was home to roughly 500 children who had been abused or neglected by their family. The Children’s Village operates by having fifteen homes spread throughout the Children’s Village were a family will live and raise their biological foster children along with a dozen foster children. The Children’s Village also has sports fields, a tutoring center, and therapists’ offices. The Children’s Village acts as a safe harbor for the foster children residing there. The thing that surprised me the most in Israel was seeing how happy each and every one of the foster children were at the Children’s Village and the amount of love they had for their foster parents and foster siblings that they lived with. That is the thing that has inspired me the most in creating my own non-profit.

Through my commitment to action I will expand the efforts of A Dozen at a Time in the DC community by speaking at DC high schools about the plight of foster children. Following my speech, I will work directly with a group of students at each school to host shoe drives, clothing drives, sports equipment drives and/or other fundraising activities to help foster children in the DC area. I will partner with the Child and Family Services Agency in DC to determine the best use of the donated monetary and non-monetary items. I will also partner with agencies that directly assist foster children in the DC area. During my visits to the high schools I will also recruit, train and establish a local teen volunteer network to work with foster children in the DC area. You cannot underestimate the positive benefit a relationship between a local teen and a foster child (for both the teen and the child). Through these speaking engagements, I hope also to educate the students, parents, teachers and administrators on foster care in the US and the benefits of “group” care vs “individual” care. My biggest goal is to lobby state and federal foster care officials on the benefits of “group” care.

Attending the actual conference significantly exceeded all of my expectations. As each panel ended I was enthusiastic to quickly attend the next session racing from building to building making sure I got a seat in the front. The comment that stuck out to me most was when Bill Clinton said, “The opportunities we face are endless when one merges a great mind with a great heart”. This idea stuck with me through all of the conference when I attended each of the panels and met with fellow CGIUers that consisted of individuals from over 80 countries.

As I continue to talk with a CGIUer working with orphans in Canada I am hopeful of possibly promoting A Dozen at a Time in yet another country. Attending CGI left me with the ongoing determination to achieve my long-term goal of ultimately changing the foster care system in the United States from individual care to group care. But for now I will continue with my great mind and great heart to get a bit closer to my goal of reaching out to individuals and organizations in the DC community.