Throughout my Lutheran Volunteer Corps service year in Omaha with Voices for Children in Nebraska, I have found meaning in joining Voices for Children’s work to make the state a better place for children and families through policy advocacy. Here, my main focus has been on economic stability issues, centered on the idea that policies should enable families in making ends meet. Because of where I’ve made my home this year, these issues fall near to my heart.
Living with other program volunteers in a house on 30th street in northeastern Omaha, I have witnessed firsthand the stigma of living in a neighborhood populated mainly by people of color that is caricatured as a center of poverty and crime. The picture portrayed on the news is incomplete: while North O has been affected by intergenerational poverty, lack of investment and of opportunities for its young people, I know many community members who did much to welcome us into the neighborhood, and who care deeply about its future enough to work to better their neighborhood through everyday actions. Meanwhile, wherever else in Omaha I went, the reactions to hearing where I lived varied from surprise, to incredulity, to exhortations to be safe. It could be crushing to witness the casual dismissal of my neighborhood as a “ghetto” by acquaintances who lived in more white, “reputable” areas of town.
As I have learned this year, the inequality in access to opportunities felt in my adopted neighborhood exists across the state and nation. As you can read about in Voices for Children’s 2015 Kids Count in Nebraska Report and their Index of Race & Opportunity, children of color and their families face setbacks consistently when it comes to areas of life that influence well-being and opportunities for success, including education, financial stability, health coverage, and child welfare and juvenile justice outcomes. This trend does not just affect others, it affects all of us. Lost chances for success for our young children impact Nebraska’s future economy and social vitality.
Working at Voices for Children this year, I have treasured my small role in advocating for policies that help all Nebraska families to succeed. I am in awe of all the great work the Voices staff do working to advance pro-kid laws at the Legislature, and have enjoyed the chance to get involved: whether informing the public on important issues through research and writing for Voices publications, being a fly on the wall in policy meetings, managing social media, or doing whatever else needs to be done. As I move forward from my year in Omaha, I will remember the lessons this year has taught me.