Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Beauty of Awareness Campaigns

I am often amazed by the power of “awareness campaigns”. Despite the fact that we seem inundated with continual requests for donations for such varied causes as breast cancer and animal adoption, these awareness campaigns and fund raisers work: they help inform others and raise much-needed funds for groups to continue their efforts.

I think back to some of the earliest awareness campaigns that I can remember and am reminded of such efforts as those by the American Cancer Society, which showed students pictures of healthy, non-smoker lungs in contrast to those nasty, disease-ridden smoker lungs. This particular campaign convinced me not to smoke. I remember Woodsy the Owl imploring us not to be Litterbugs. To this day I dispose of trash properly when I am outdoors. And, of course, there was always Smokey the Bear reminding me that only I “can prevent forest fires”.

As the years went by I learned about safe sex and how to prevent AIDS, the dangers involved with driving drunk, and the importance of mammograms and monthly breast self-exams. I have also given blood, recycled, learned how to conserve water, and faithfully had my pets neutered in a timely basis.
Due to recent news coverage and public awareness campaigns, I have become aware of a crisis our country faces that I was previously unaware of: teen homelessness. I stumbled across an article about country music singer Jimmy Wayne (who I confess I had never heard of before) and his efforts to raise public awareness about the thousands of teenage children in our country who live on the streets. The reasons for their homelessness vary from running away from abusive environments to aging out of the foster care system and having no place else to go. In January, Jimmy embarked on a journey halfway across the country titled,“Meet me Halfway”. Jimmy, who was also homeless before being adopted at the age of 16, hopes to inform others about the perils these children face when they are forced out into the street with no money and no means for survival. I consider his campaign a success because at least one person has been made aware of this situation: me.

By following Jimmy’s efforts I have learned about such groups as Youth Mentoring, an LA- based organization that pairs at-risk teens with adult mentors in the Los Angeles area. I have also learned about the Serpentine Project, another LA-based group that helps kids who are aging out of the foster care system to continue to pursue their dreams and goals. And, finally, I have learned about the efforts of the grass roots organization, Ruth’s Hope, a group founded by Elaine and William Bateman that targets older couples to encourage them to open their homes to those kids who are aging out of foster care in an effort to help them have a safe place to live and continue their education so they can have an opportunity to become responsible, productive adults.

There is a movie, “The Power of One”, which seeks to show how one person can have a positive impact on the world. Prior to January, my cynical nature caused me to sneer at this phrase. However, after reading about Jimmy Wayne, I am forced to acknowledge that, yes, one person really can make the world a better place.

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