In this period of unprecedented events, I know millions of kids who are ready to share their voices. Join me in listening and giving them a platform to speak.
As a mom of four, and the leader of a philanthropy whose mission is to create healthier school communities in partnership with our nation’s schools and our nation’s youth, I feel more strongly than ever that “the youth voice” is not being heard. Whether it be the unrest in our nation around race and inequality, the fear of living in a COVID-19 world, or the consequences of food insecurity, job losses or other vital topics of importance to them, young voices need to be heard.
At GENYOUth, we can’t do what we do without the student voice. We are privileged to support 38 million kids daily in 73,000 of our nation’s schools because our programs are created for and with KIDS. It’s their voice that curates, defines, and elevates the work we do. Our society will only grow stronger if we uplift, empower, and amplify the voices of this next generation. For the foreseeable future, I will turn over this platform on Medium to them, in addition to my Twitter and Instagram feeds. These students have asked one thing from all of us: LET US SPEAK! We should be honored to do so. I am now pleased to share Hannah’s voice with you:
Hello, this is Hannah. I am a high school senior from Athens, Ohio. Last month, one of my best friends tested positive for COVID-19 and I was very worried about their health. Luckily, my friend recovered. Living in a small town with less exposure at this time was a privilege. However, it is also a time that as a biracial teen, I have encountered more microaggressions than I have ever had before. For the first time, when I go to the grocery store, people avoid me as they mistakenly believe they could get COVID-19 from an Asian-looking person, in spite of my mask.
Wearing a mask is not something new to me. My mom is a native of Taiwan and my extended family still lives there. I was born in Ohio, but I lived in Taiwan from ages 3–6. I was taught to wear masks on public transportation for as long as I can remember, and even while commuting to attend kindergarten in Taiwan. Taiwanese culture emphasizes helping each other out, but also encourages individualistic attitudes. In Taiwan, public health is seen as a group effort. Wearing a mask is both an act to protect others and yourself. It is also a sign of respect for others when you are sick. Taiwan also has one of the world’s best universal healthcare systems. As a result, I am fortunate enough to have the reassurance that my grandparents’ healthcare needs are well taken care of in Taiwan.
The other part of my upbringing is my Jewish father’s side which also emphasizes responsibility to others. My friends and family often joke I am like a mother hen. As the pandemic has continued, I have been on social media a lot more than my parents would approve, to support my friends and community. Food insecurity has always been the main issue in my community, and social media highlights this problem as the pandemic continues to adversely impact the situation. People are losing their jobs and sources of income.
My community’s food insecurity problem was previously brought to national attention by Joe Burrow, the 2019 Heisman Trophy Winner. Athens County is one of the poorest counties in Ohio. In his Heisman speech, Burrow talked about going to Athens High School, along with students who rely on the school to provide the majority of their meals. According to the Athens News, in 2017, roughly 30 percent of children lived in households below the poverty line. That translates into the fact that more than one out of four children are food insecure, uncertain about where the next meal will come.
Like my experience in Taiwan, and what my Jewish teaching emphasizes, Athens is a community always trying its best to help its people. Besides Athens County food pantry, our school district also has its own pantry where I volunteered every third Wednesdays after school. Volunteering at the pantry brought my attention to the nutrition issue as the food pantry only gets fresh food occasionally. In 2018, I saw GENYOUth’s AdVenture Capital Big Idea Challenge Grant aimed at improving nutrition issues in one’s school community. I applied for the grant and set up an annual six-part cooking workshop series under the supervision of Mrs. Gagliano, our art teacher. I partnered with a local health-focused nonprofit, Live Healthy Appalachia, to teach students how to cook nutritious meals for themselves.
Live Healthy Appalachia brought the tools and fresh ingredients in for the workshop. Interestingly, while we thought we knew about these ingredients, when it was our turn to process the food, most of us suddenly went blank. How do we cut a cabbage? What should we do with green pepper or a jalapeno? We were taught knife skills to cut various fruits and vegetables. The program has been running for 2 years. It has now become an official school club that meets during the school day to include more students. For teenagers who are always hungry, it is great to have time during the school day to eat and cook with friends.
This has been an amazing experience. If I won the lottery, I would love to help more people. However, I also know that individual efforts are not enough. I will close with this: Please vote in the upcoming election and remember your community.
Hannah W. is a high school senior in Ohio. She was a Borlaug Scholar who attended the Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a recipient of GENYOUth’s AdVenture Capital Big Idea Challenge Grant. Hannah applied the grant to set up an ongoing six-part cooking workshop series, in partnership with Live Healthy Appalachia, to teach students at her high school how to cook nutritious meals for themselves. She is passionate about sustainability, activism, food insecurity, and conservation. Hannah enjoys hiking, cooking, and bullet journaling.