The Connection between Service and Advocacy: Reflecting on RESULTS and the Bonner Program
This past October, I was lucky enough to attend a conference with two organizations that are near and dear to my heart—RESULTS and the Bonner Scholars Program. If you are reading this you probably know all the amazing work that RESULTS does by empowering individuals to become politically engaged and take action on the issues that effect the most vulnerable populations at home and abroad. But, you might not know much about the Bonner Scholars Program. The Bonner Scholar Program is an organization with chapters at different colleges and universities across the country that focuses on getting college students involved in service, social justice, and leadership. All Bonner share the same six common commitments: social justice, spiritual exploration, international perspective, diversity, community building, and last but not least, civic engagement. These commitments join us across physical barriers to strive towards the common goal of creating a better world.
Of these common commitments the one that I struggled with the most was civic engagement. This is where RESULTS comes in. It is relatively easy to complete the many hours of community service that Bonners are required to complete, but I struggled to see how civic engagement and our political process connected to my service sites. Luckily, I was able to work with RESULTS for two summers and make some vital connections that have strengthen my opinions and actions. Through RESULTS I learned how different federal policy decisions were affecting my community and the people that I had come to know and love. More importantly, I learned the role that I had in those decisions. I had spent a lot of time being frustrated with policy in Washington, but had I ever contacted my Senator with my frustrations? No. Had I ever sent a letter to the editor? No. Had I ever even educated myself on who exactly was making those decisions? No. RESULTS gave me the tools, guidance, and confidence that I needed to make do all of those things and talk to other people about getting involved as well.
That is why attending the Bonner Congress at Rhodes College with RESULTS was such an important event for me. I was able to show fellow Bonner Scholars that they could help effect policy and could expand their desire to change things beyond their direct service. This adds a whole different dimension and purpose to the work that we do. RESULTS makes it possible for me to stay involved in social justice even when I am not physically in my community. It also gives me an outlet for continuing my work after I graduate and throughout the rest of my life. Myrdin Thompson and I lead two trainings at Bonner Congress, one on how to incorporate advocacy into your Bonner program and one about new developments in the debate over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). To those of you who were able to attend the conference, I hope you found it productive and informative. Events like these so clearly highlight to me the way that RESULTS compliments the other activities that individuals are committed to. Whether you are a teacher, banker, lawyer, secretary, or Bonner Scholar, there are ways that being a part of RESULTS is going to enhance that experience and give you a voice in the issues you see everyday.