By Lillianna Byington
It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted to be a journalist. The concept that being nosy and getting the scoop could be my chosen profession intrigued me. I knew it was exactly what I wanted. So I came to GW for the journalism program in the School of Media and Public Affairs because I was dead set on changing the world with my words and holding others accountable with investigative journalism. I can’t say that my mind has changed, but my perspective definitely has.
After my first freshman semester, I found myself reevaluating my choices. I realized I didn’t feel satisfied with my life because I wasn’t being a productive member of society. Part of that feeling came from the fact that I was no longer engaged with the community, as I was prior to coming to GW. That’s how I found engageDC, a program that pairs students with organizations in D.C. for service that fits both the organization and the student.
For me, that organization was Street Sense. Street Sense is an organization in Washington, D.C. that writes and distributes a newspaper and engages those who are experiencing homelessness in digital, media and creative enterprises. Street Sense vendors have the opportunity to sell newspapers that feature news, editorials, and art about homelessness, poverty, and other social issues. About half of the paper is written by people experiencing homelessness and formerly homeless individuals. This experience gave me the opportunity to not only interact with the homeless population in D.C. and hear their stories but also to contribute my writing to the paper. The experience pushed me to learn more about the homeless community in the District, and I gained invaluable experience outside the classroom that helped me journalistically. I realized from my short time with Street Sense, that you don’t have to change the world with every story. Engaging one-on-one with community members and telling one person’s story can make an impact.
That next year I became a leader in the engageDC program for Bright Beginnings, an organization that provides childcare for children living in homeless situations and assists the families living in poverty to find jobs. For my second year now, I have worked with children, ages ranging from infant to five years old, and also with the volunteer coordinator to connect GW students with the program. As a volunteer, I work in classrooms directly with the children, watching them take their first steps, read their first books, make decisions and learn about the value of education that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. Bright Beginnings has become my oasis. When I am stressed at school or at work, I can count on going to Bright Beginnings every Friday to see the smiles on the faces of Bright Beginnings students.
Through my involvement in Bright Beginnings, Street Sense, and the other cohorts of EngageDC, every week I am able to learn more about those experiencing homelessness in the District. D.C. has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country and there is always more to learn and more we can do.
This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and there are many opportunities to engage in discussions about homelessness and also to take direct action. You can attend an event, make a donation or raise awareness. GW’s Human Services & Social Justice Program is holding a feminine product drive until November 18th in partnership with an organization called BRAWS: Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters. In addition, GW’s Civic House is hosting a Thanksgiving Basket Drive to support Permanent Supportive Housing, an initiative sponsored by Miriam’s Kitchen to support former homeless individuals. Lastly, you can also connect with the Nashman Center to see how you can engage with those in the D.C. community experiencing homelessness.
You don’t need your name in print to make a difference. Whether it’s making someone smile, making a donation or writing a story about poverty in the District, doing the right thing is not always measurable.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to change the world. But for right now, I will be taking baby steps, literally.