Beyond Volunteering: Harnessing the Energy and Optimism of Youth in Advocacy

By: Rebecca Middleton
Jun 26, 2017 6:25 PM ET

Back in 2013, I joined the Alliance to End Hunger after a decade as a corporate lobbyist. As with any major life change, this one had implications on our family routines. One night over dinner, my husband and I talked about my new job with our children — then 8- and 6-years old. That evening at bedtime, my daughter, Sarah, said thoughtfully, “But Mommy, if you end hunger you won’t have a job anymore.” My response to her was “And wouldn’t that be wonderful.”

We can end hunger by the year 2030. While this is my own steadfast belief, it is also one of the goals that the world agreed to through the Sustainable Development Agenda. Worldwide, we are making fantastic progress. Since 1990, we have cut poverty in half and have nearly halved hunger as well. But the last few miles of this marathon are the hardest. To eliminate hunger and malnutrition in their entirety, we need to build sufficient public and political will to see that this is done — here in the United States as well as abroad. Engaging the energy and optimism of youth can help push us across the finish line.

In mid-June, with the support of the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, the Alliance to End Hunger dedicated a chapter of our Advocacy Playbook to motivating and empowering our nation’s youth to engage their elected officials in the issue of hunger. The youth of this country have an amazing desire to dedicate themselves to activities that they know are improving their communities and around the world. Ending hunger is no exception. Many organizations — The Campus Kitchens Project, National FFA, Universities Fighting World Hunger, and No Kid Hungry, to name a few — are successfully tapping into this enormous potential, and the Alliance aims to better connect these opportunities to youth who seek to make a difference.

In my various trips around the country, I have seen the power of youth displayed in many different ways. Meal packing events, food drives, college campus organizations, and other volunteer events are numerous, and they attract countless young people seeking to do their part in the world. I also see the unlimited optimism youth bring to this work: They truly believe we can end hunger. Every time I see this enthusiasm and dedication, I can’t help but ask how we can harness this same energy for another critical aspect of fighting hunger—advocacy.

The first step of engaging youth in advocacy is to build motivation.  Once again with the help of the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, the Alliance to End Hunger is developing a “one-stop shop” web tool to help youth easily find opportunities to get involved in the issue of hunger. With a planned launch in late July, the website tool will help youth get connected with high school programs, internships, fellowships, scholarships, ways to volunteer, and other opportunities and programs.

But this is only the beginning. In addition to these various opportunities, the Alliance will provide youth with a range of ways in which they can engage in advocacy. These advocacy actions could be as simple as tweeting a member of congress or as involved as having an actual in-person meetings with legislators. We can already see youth taking on activist roles in various issues relevant to our political landscape, so why not hunger?

Responsibility for youth engagement also lies with our various organizations, not just in the youth themselves. We need to work to create opportunities for genuine youth engagement that makes it clear that youth have a meaningful role — and in many cases a leadership role — when it comes to ending hunger. We need young people like my daughter, Sarah, to get excited about advocating to put an end to hunger, and, as she observed those years ago, to put me out of a job.