One day, I happened upon a place I never thought I’d be. I was visiting India with my best friend, and we spent most of our trip visiting various Hindu temples. Since I was raised Catholic, my friend’s family planned an outing for us to visit a local Catholic church located on St. Thomas Mount. The church in India resembled more of a temple, and there weren’t many people around. So, we started wandering around the property. That’s when we saw a sign that read: Home for Babies. Our curiosity led us inside.
The Home for Babies was an orphanage. Workers led us on a tour of all the different rooms, from the nursery with newborns to playrooms with toddlers. The children were fascinated by our nail polish—they all wanted to hold our hands and get a closer look. In each room we entered, the kids’ faces lit up to see new visitors. They immediately rushed to the door and surrounded us with hugs and high fives.
I’d never planned on visiting an orphanage in India, but once I had the exposure, I felt a new sense of awareness rising in me. Seeing those kids lit a spark within me to want to make a difference. I realized that my existence was purely an accident of birth—I happened to be born in the United States. I realized that I’d benefited from so much privilege—an education and rights and the freedom to live on my own and earn a living. So, I made the decision that I needed to use my gifts to help others.
Since that fateful visit to the Home for Babies, I planned a three-month trip to volunteer with children at an orphanage and a home for teen moms in Peru. I started a social services program at a food pantry, connecting low-income people of all backgrounds with the help and resources they deserve. I’ve also taken an active role volunteering at a children’s organization that helps those in, and aging out of, the foster care system, working as a mentor to provide them the extra love and support they need to keep moving forward.
I gradually made the transition to becoming an activist because of the moments that pulled on my heartstrings and touched me personally. Learning about the lives of others has changed me and the way I interact with the world.
You become an advocate the moment you make a decision to do something for the betterment of others without any expectation of getting anything in return. You do it because you want to make the world a better place.
Here are a few steps you can take to become a better advocate for a cause you believe in:
Find and join local groups
Ask your friends who are already active in social causes how you can get involved too! Look around your neighborhood for activities and initiatives that might already be happening. Local churches and schools are also wonderful resources for finding out how to get involved in your community. And sites like VolunteerMatch, DoSomething, and even, Google can be your best friend when it comes to connecting with others who are passionate about the same causes you are. Facebook also has a variety of groups you can join in too if you’re looking for opportunities outside your home base (check our International Volunteer HQ and Global Volunteers).
Volunteer, take action, and show up!
To become an active advocate, you need to show up. Volunteering locally can be a great entryway into activism. It can expand your knowledge of a social justice issue, giving you firsthand experience that will ultimately make you a more passionate advocate. And the best part of volunteering is the direct impact it has on others’ lives.
Some ideas include signing up to serve a meal at your local soup kitchen, helping to distribute food at your local food pantry or food bank, or volunteering at a homeless shelter in your area. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you can research and plan a service trip overseas. No matter what country you visit, there are organizations looking for short- or long-term volunteers. Love Volunteers is a great international volunteer organization with affordable opportunities all over the world.
Make your voice heard
Spend some time learning about the laws and policies surrounding the issue you’re passionate about. Then, take a look at MoveOn.org and Change.org for any petitions that may be relevant. Sign your name and show your support. If you don’t see a petition for your cause, start your own! You can also get involved by showing up for rallies and marches for causes you care about. Demonstrating your support with tens, hundreds, or thousands of others amplifies your voice.
I’ve been extremely concerned about the issue of gun violence after so many tragic mass shootings. So, I’ve spent time educating myself on what policies need to change to help prevent these tragedies. And I’ve taken this knowledge and joined groups, signed petitions, attended rallies, and spread awareness to friends and family on how they can help too. I’ve also reached out to government officials to voice my concerns. Contacting your local, state, and national representatives can have a huge impact in making a positive change. Let them know what you think they can do to help better support your cause. Make it a group effort and get some friends together and call their offices and write them letters. Speaking to people in power can affect big-picture change.
Help raise money
As you connect with others who care about the same causes as you, you’ll inevitably form a network of people who can pool resources to make change. Get a group of friends together and start a fundraiser to support your cause. Make a personal donation, even a monthly recurring one, if you can. Contact an organization and ask how you can help them raise money. You may be able to volunteer at a gala or formal fundraising event, even if you can’t afford to buy a ticket. Think of creative ways—yard sales, a fun outdoor walk/run event, a potluck party— to fundraise. Sign up for charitable events. And if the event doesn’t exist, take the initiative and plan your own!
Originally published on April 17, 2018.