Navigating Community Outreach and Policy Advocacy

On a rainy Tuesday morning, my coworker and I lugged our Jumpstart bags stuffed with books and craft supplies to a Brooklyn preschool. Though I had already coordinated many such events since I started my role six months ago, I still felt anticipation as I imagined how the children and teachers might respond to the books and activity. Like always, however, the skilled teachers made the event a breeze, catching tantrums before they escalated and prompting the students with thoughtful questions about the book.

With the first event of the day complete, a different wave of anticipation hit as I hopped onto the subway to catch a train down to Washington, D.C. where I’d meet with my policy team—the special projects portion of my fellowship—to attend an awards ceremony for supporters of the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS). In just a day, I’d been immersed in first a room full of preschoolers, and later a room full of elected officials I’d only seen on the news. Each setting holds equal importance to my work, but there was a different layer of wonder (and maybe a little intimidation) at the idea of attending meetings on Capitol Hill, a place so unfamiliar to me until now.

Not every day offers such a contrast between my policy and community work—in fact, this work
often blends together, like when I attend meetings at other community organizations who envision increasing their own policy advocacy. I’ve been fortunate to join Jumpstart, an organization that has been able to dedicate resources to an entire Policy and Government Relations department. The potential for systemic change is exciting, and with my time split between policy and community, I often wonder how we can accelerate change by more closely linking these fields. How can we demystify the political process and empower more people to become advocates?

After traveling from a preschool in East New York to Washington D.C. in a day, I’ve been left with a sense that I can do more to bridge these spheres. To achieve change, nonprofit organizations need to reach in all directions—not just to the policymakers, but also directly to the communities we serve. There is immense knowledge and desire to take command of the future in the communities I’ve been lucky to work in: East New York, South Jamaica, Brownsville, and Hunts Point. The role of nonprofits today—and my role as an outsider in these areas—should be to listen and amplify their voices when opportunities arise. I’m proud of the ways Jumpstart has committed to engaging directly with the communities we work in, and the acceptance I’ve received is a testament to my organization’s dedication to building trust. However, I want to challenge myself and all of us who are immersed in direct and indirect service to place a spotlight on the families and individuals we meet, and to continue asking them and ourselves what more we can offer. 

 

 

Meredith Jones is the FAO Fellow at Jumpstart in New York City.