The Fuel your Future program has given me a unique opportunity to have an impact in my own neighborhood. In college, as I studied international political economy, I day dreamed about becoming an international journalist or NGO director, working to solve some global crisis. Just as I hoped, the day after I walked the stage at my graduation I got on a flight headed to a remote corner of Thailand, Bamnet Narong Chaiyaphum, where I would work full time as an English teacher with a foreign non-profit. I learned a lot in that role but I kept thinking back to the U.S. education system and the poverty that I knew existed in my own back yard in America. Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t more interested in problems abroad solely because they weren’t our own problems. There is something that feels safe looking at the issues of another population while subconsciously patting yourself on the back. However, when I started doing some reading about my own state, I quickly learned that approximately 226,000 children live below the poverty level in Washington. As the Children’s Alliance describes it on their website, “The 226,000 children living in poverty would form a continuous line along the entire length of I-5 in Washington.” This image stuck with me and compelled me to apply for a role with United Way of King County to try and reach some of these children.
As a Fuel Your Future Summer Corps Member I’ve been able to serve and play with these children and their families. The position sometimes has your head spinning between carting supplies to and from the designated sites, serving food, keeping track of federal rules and regulations, entertaining the children, and any other surveying or advertising we may be trying to accomplish that day. However, a constant pleasant surprise has been the eagerness of the community to step in and help with the effort. Everyone seems to understand the importance of changing the statistic, that one out of every five kids in King County is food insecure, to zero. As I’m carrying heavy equipment like one of our coolers, or the canopy, from the van to the spot where my site sets up there always seems to be a father, or a mother, or a neighbor that drops what he or she’s doing to offer his or her help. One day in particular, my partner was out for the day and when I arrived at our site my registered volunteers failed to show up. Instead the community showed up. As I carted things to and from the van, two women popped up from either side of the park eager to help serve for the entire duration of the meal. With their help I was able to set up my canopy, organize a craft, and serve twenty-five children that day. When I was finally able to pause, I realized I’d never properly introduced myself to the second woman who showed up after I had started serving. I went to shake the woman’s hand, and ask her for her name. She responded quietly, “Charity, my name is Charity.” Of course it is. This experience flies in the face of the narrative about low income families that too often clogs our media. These people are hardworking, creative, and resourceful, and that ought to be the story we tell of our neighbors.