My Experience at the 2018 Youth Advocacy Summit
Before making my journey to Washington DC and starting my eight-week internship with the Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US), I remember feeling a wave of excitement come over me when I learned about the opportunity to be a part of this year's Youth Advocacy Summit. So many questions ran through my mind. What would I be doing? Who would I hear from? How could I help GCE-US in ensuring that this year’s summit ran smoothly and effectively? Upon my arrival at GCE-US, I was able to dive right into the preparations for the summit. I found I could make myself useful by helping create a list of talking points for the constituents to utilize during their congressional meetings. I also helped organize a social media plan for the advocates to use upon finishing their day on Capitol Hill, and I got to work with fantastic coalition members and staff members to make sure the event went as planned.
On the day before our departure for Capitol Hill, the youth advocates got to attend a training day with different panelists from some of our coalition members such as RESULTS, Child Fund International, ONE Campaign, Girl Up, UNICEF USA, and Respect Ability. All day we heard from experts on different areas of advocacy such as how to make a hard ask, how to write a letter to the editor, how to advocate for children with disabilities, and most importantly, how to be professional and proficient in the meetings we would later attend. One of the most beneficial panels, in my opinion, was with representatives Ben Spangenberg and Stephanie Farfan from Respect Ability. Before coming to work for GCE-US, I had little to no background information on children with disabilities or the loopholes found in legislation which leaves them excluded and falling out of work and education. Thanks to the training portion of the Youth Advocacy Summit, I can now say I possess a much deeper understanding regarding the rights of people with disabilities. I was able to leave training that day with an information-packed mind and a reignited spark for advocacy to fuel the day that came next: Hill Day.
The following day on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018, the advocates, partners and staff at GCE-US split into different groups to cover as much ground on the Hill as possible. With a full day ahead, our group had meetings with from the congressional offices of Representative Dennis Ross, Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and Senator Durbin (with a few drop-ins along the way). As we practiced our stories and hard asks, we were off to Capitol Hill. This day marks the first time I was able to have my voice be heard in a congressional setting, the first time I was able to say I had eaten lunch in the Senate cafeteria and the first time I was able to watch constituents take democracy by the reins and advocate for what they believed in to their representatives. The rush of walking around the congressional office with a purpose was a feeling of no other, but the rush of actually standing up for what I am passionate for with a group of like-minded people was even more indescribable.
I am thankful for my opportunity to work with GCE-US and all of the wonderful youth advocates we hosted this past week. I did not feel anxious or nervous throughout the day because I had so much faith in the youth advocates and our partners; I knew that if one of us needed back up they were right there and that made it so much easier. I am also thankful for what a great networking experience the Youth Advocacy Summit had been. I came home with about ten new business cards in my wallet and a further understanding of where I want to proceed with my career following graduation from college next spring. I knew that my opportunities with GCE-US would enlighten my world and open many doors for me down the road. I am ecstatic to find that these opportunities and realizations are coming to me sooner than I ever would have expected. The 2018 Youth Advocacy Summit will be an experience I remember for the rest of my life, and I am so thankful to have been a part of what made it happen this summer.
About Alexis D’Amato, Hess Fellow 2018:
My name is Alexis D’Amato, I am from Greenville, South Carolina and I am interning for the Global Campaign for Education-US chapter this summer. I attend college at Birmingham-Southern College located in Birmingham, Alabama where I am a rising senior. I am majoring in Global and Comparative Studies with a minor in Asian Studies in which I am cultivating my language skills in Mandarin, Chinese. After graduation in the Spring of 2019, I hope to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. program in political science under the scope of foreign policy and international affairs.