Commitment to social justice knows no age limits. On Monday, I attended a leadership training coordinated by Youth2. There I saw teens discussing concerns for the environment, women’s rights,poverty, homelessness and hunger, and global issues of injustice. They didn’t only talk about these concerns, but brainstormed ways they could take an active role in addressing these problems… learning how to be “solutionaries”.
I don’t remember, when I was 16, spending a school holiday trying to strategize how I could make a difference in a global problem. Even walking out of the training, looking at the tee shirt on the Y2 member ahead of me in line, their passion inspired me.
This morning I opened the paper and read that Mary Jane Smith, one of the founders of Unity House, had passed away. I started my career in human services more than three decades ago (gasp- wow I don’t often do that math!) at Unity House’s sister agency, Mohawk Opportunities. While we met briefly many decades ago, Mary Jane didn’t know me… but over the years I’ve watched Unity House grow and seen firsthand the positive impact their programs have had on so many lives.
As we look at the human service organizations locally, we often forget their humble beginnings 3, 4,or 5 decades ago. Many of them, Wellspring included, began because a few concerned citizens gathered and started talking about a local issue and just like those teens at the Youth2 training began brainstorming a plan they could implement to address a local need. It didn’t escape my notice that the article about Mary Jane had a picture of her taken last year, still volunteering serving lunch to those in need at the age of 87.
Like so many of our inspiring local leaders whom we’ve recently lost, e.g., Denny Brunelle, former executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (and leader on many of our local initiatives to help those in need), or Anne Palamountain, philanthropist and founding member of many local nonprofit initiatives, including Wellspring’s rape crisis services, they began working to help others early in adulthood and continued to do so throughout their lives, never tiring in their commitment to those in need and to our community. I’m humbled by their compassion, generosity and leadership and grateful for their impact. I’m also inspired as I look at a new generation of youth just as committed to making this world a better place.
Reading the news every day, it’s easy to feel hopeless. The headlines make me wonder if our challenges are overwhelming and our leaders aren’t able to address the needs of the people… but when I look up from my computer screen at what people are doing, I’m inspired and hopeful. Together we can make a difference.