Trista Brodie, President and Founder of True Care Solutions
For Trista Brodie, voting is important not just for the wellbeing of her community, but also for her clients as a social worker. Her YourVoteYourVoice campaign was founded out of this necessity – with the goal of teaching students at NC Central University about the importance of voting not just for themselves, but for the patients, clients and communities they plan to serve with their degrees.
Brodie is the president and founder of True Care Solutions, a nonprofit providing supportive social work services to the elderly and disabled. For the past two years she’s partnered with NC Central to create internships for students in the social work program. She teaches the interns about case management, medical treatment, and most specifically how to advocate for patients. That is where the importance of voting, with policy in mind, comes in.
“Social work, unfortunately, is political. If you don’t have the right people in office that aren’t advocating for the clients that we serve, we’re just fighting an uphill battle,” she said. “Thanks to the grant that we received from you all we were able to really educate the students at NC central about why their voice matters, and why their vote matters.”
With the help of the Carolina Youth Power Fund grant, YourVoteYourVoice held a socially distanced voting awareness town hall in a NC Central dormitory last October. They were able to provide a free meal for those in attendance as well as literature on voting importance. An intern of Brodie’s presented on the history of voting, and they discussed the different policies at stake that would impact the work and clients of students in fields like business, mental health and medical, and social work.
“Some of the students said, ‘They call my phone every day about voting!’ And I said, ‘Exactly. Because that’s how important it is,’” Brodie said. “I always tell them, If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.”
Now that there’s a new administration in office federally, Brodie’s goal is to continue encouraging students to learn about policy and stay civically involved.
“COVID has taken a hit on the vulnerable population we serve, and I need the young people to help me keep things going,” she said. “We still have to keep advocating for patient rights, for patient care, and for the ones that have been affected the most this last year.”
ISLA Jóvenes Podcast
Jenice Ramirez, Executive Director of ISLA
The idea for the first youth-led Spanish-language podcast in North Carolina came from a high school student that wanted to discuss the 2020 elections and the specific issues going on in the state’s Latino and Hispanic communities. With help from ISLA and grants from the Carolina Youth Power Fund, the ISLA Jóvenes podcast was born.
The ISLA Jóvenes podcast is hosted each season by two high school student interns within the ISLA program. The student hosts pick the topics they’re interested in, do their own research, and interview leaders and community members to speak on those topics for each episode.
“One of the biggest pieces of the experience is that throughout this podcast internship they’re learning critical skills, from research to public speaking, that they can use for ISLA, for their schooling, for their careers,” Jenice Ramirez, ISLA’s Executive Director, said. “That’s what we want with every experience with ISLA – to add another tool to every student’s toolbox and to their parents’ toolbox.”
ISLA is a nonprofit that provides Spanish language education and Latin American cultural immersion programs. A goal they have with each of their programs is to inspire their students to feel empowered by their cultural identity and Spanish language, and to see those as assets they’re bringing to society.
“Our plans specifically with the podcast is to always be able to provide this space of learning, this opportunity to raise our voice as a community, but more importantly to raise the youth’s voice,” she said.
In the first season last fall, topics centered around the general election. Guests included a range of people, from a college student navigating her cultural identity to Iliana Santillan, the Executive Director of El Pueblo, to discuss the importance of advocacy work around voting rights. The second season, with two new younger hosts both in ninth grade, has already begun recording this spring.
“ISLA has always been an organization that has been led by our community, led by the needs that exist within our Latino/Hispanic/Latinx community in NC, so we’re looking forward to continuing to do that.”
Listen to the ISLA Jóvenes podcast here.
Wall Street Juniors Reader’s Bank
MaKayla Booker, Founder and CEO
MaKayla Booker, founder and CEO of Wall Street Juniors, was inspired to provide members of her community with financial education to help them achieve financial freedom and community revitalization.
Wall Street Juniors is a Durham-based nonprofit that teaches financial literacy through community-based educational programs. They provide courses, workshops, and seminars on financial concepts like student loan understanding, credit building, budgeting, investing, and entrepreneurship.
“Wall Street Juniors was created to produce financial literacy in underserved communities to decrease poverty and increase generational wealth,” said Booker.
As part of their Readers’ Bank initiative, Wall Street Juniors places little free libraries in various Durham neighborhoods. These libraries provide communities with free, 24/7 access to literature ranging from children’s books, fiction, nonfiction, financial literacy and personal development books.
Through help from the Carolina Youth Power Fund grant they were able to open their second little free library this spring in the Hope Crossing community of East Durham. This library was a new file cabinet edition instead of the traditional bird house structure. The fund additionally helped with the purchasing of books to populate the library, as well as a bulletin board they placed on the side to provide volunteer opportunities and communication about other services with the community.
Looking towards the future, Wall Street Juniors has plans for eight other little free library locations. They are working to expand beyond the Durham community to host libraries and education in Atlanta, GA as well.
“We’re really excited about providing the community with new financial literacy resources through our e-learning platform and continuing to impact different communities through our growing readers banks,” Booker said.
NC Asian Americans Together’s Youth Engagement Program
Olivia Zalecki, Youth Engagement Director
Olivia Zalecki’s motivation in her work is to give young people the tools they need to feel empowered and become leaders in their own communities. Zalecki is the Youth Engagement Director at NC Asian Americans Together (NCAAT), which is a pan-Asian nonprofit in North Carolina that works to increase Asian American civic engagement, political participation, and activism.
The Youth Engagement Program is geared toward high school and college age students, and focused this past fall on encouraging youth to get out and vote. Through their Trick or Vote initiative, NCAAT was able to host an in-person get-out-the-vote event on Halloween last year. The socially distanced event was centered around youth participation, and through help from the Carolina Youth Power Fund they were able to decorate tables, provide necessary PPE, provide Halloween goodie bags for attendees and cater food for the event.
“It was really integral to our get-out-the-vote work because it was one of the first events during COVID where we were able to get back out there in person.” Zalecki said. “It turned into a gathering that was safe and was able to serve as a way for youth to have their voices heard and help out with our table throughout the day.”
This year the Youth Engagement program is focusing on building a strong leadership pipeline for Asian American youth. Their policy and programming will be centered on three areas: environmental justice, democracy reform, and adjustment of student debt and higher education financials. They’ll be workshopping and planning policy advocacy around those areas, and also hosting skill building workshops, resume workshops, and providing other leadership-focused opportunities to meet youth where their needs are.
“Building up the Asian American pipeline of young leaders is something that’s extremely important, especially thinking in the context of COVID and how we’ve seen anti-Asian hate manifest itself in really dangerous ways,” Zalecki said. “it’s important for youth to know that they have space here, that they always have a voice at the table.”
HER Legacy NC, Inc.
Natalie Sykes, Program Director
Rocky Mount, NC
HER Legacy, NC is a nonprofit that works to train and employ women and minorities in the truck driving industry. Katrina Reeves founded the nonprofit in 2017 after noticing how people with identities like her own were vastly underrepresented in the male-dominated truck driving industry she worked in.
“Her push is to get more women and minorities involved in the industry in order to build an income for themselves,” said Natalie Sykes, Program Director at HER Legacy, NC. “What she found through truck driving was that her life was radically changed. It introduced her to people and places that she probably wouldn’t have otherwise known.”
With help from the Carolina Youth Power Fund grant, HER Legacy was able to host a networking event to help more people get involved in signing up for their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The networking event was hosted virtually through the Clubhouse platform, where they were able to reach out and inform folks about the truck driving industry and the necessary steps needed to sign up and study for a CDL.
“The networking event was a seed for something that was much greater than the amount of the grant,” Sykes said. “We are so grateful for it because if we had not had it, we wouldn’t have been able to open up to as large of an audience as we have now.”
The grant was also able to provide financial help for virtual training courses HER Legacy is offering, including a CDL training course.
This year HER Legacy is engaging in a capital campaign to open their Legacy Truck Driving Academy in Rocky Mount, NC. They have already purchased a facility, but are raising money to outfit the building, lay down pavement, buy trucks to use for training purposes, and provide other amenities needed for education on CDLs.
“We are embarking upon that school in order to train more women and minorities how to specifically go about finding not just careers as drivers, but other careers in truck driving, freight, hauling, other transportation careers,” Sykes said.
Project Sigma Vote
Brian Goings, Social Action Chair of the Delta Zeta Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma
The late racial justice activist and Senator John Lewis maintained a famous slogan: “get in good trouble.” As he is a notable member of Phi Beta Sigma, the historically Black fraternity founded at Howard University, his fraternity brothers take that slogan very seriously.
For the fraternity’s Delta Zeta Sigma chapter, which is the alumni chapter located in Durham, getting into good trouble inspired them to create Project Sigma Vote. “We wanted to get in some good trouble to make some changes in our country, and we knew that voting was the best route for that time,” said Brian Goings, the Social Action Chair for the chapter.
Goings organized Project Sigma Vote back in the fall to focus on getting out the vote in Durham County. The group held registration events prior to election day, to make sure that community members were registered and that they knew their voting process. Goings personally trained the fraternity’s undergraduate students at the UNC, Duke, and NC Central chapters on how to register their fellow classmates on campus, with specific instructions on what to do if their classmates had previously lived out of state.
“We had a few youth that were not quite of age to vote but they wanted to vote, so they made sure their parents came out to vote,” Goings said.
During early voting up to election day the group arrived at various voting sites to make sure that the voters were comfortable, that they knew where to park and how to get in, and to help feed the folks that arrived. At one event they played music to help keep the crowd in good spirits, and they distributed voting information. A grant from the Carolina Youth Power Fund helped to fund a fish fry held on election day to provide the community with free food.
“The chapter as a whole was very impressed with the amount of impact we had on the community,” said Goings. “When I shared with them the final numbers of the hours that we worked and the people that were able to make it during their working schedule, even the fact that we included the youth, they all were very happy we were able to make such an impact.”
Outside of voting, the Durham-based alumni chapter organizes around several other issues. Last year they held programs concerning Black Lives Matter and keeping the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, they held programs reading to children with books from local authors, and held a laptop drive for students who needed them.
Timothy Walker, Director and Founder
Rocky Mount, NC
For Timothy Walker, Director and Founder of the Millennial Movement program, the millennial age group holds incredibl powerful potential when it comes to politics.
The group works to inspire millennials in Rocky Mount, NC to get involved with politics, voting, and civic engagement. This past fall they held voter registration and voter education events, designed specifically to appeal to millennials, to explain the importance of voting and how their age group can have a systematic impact.
“There’s a huge gap for individuals in underserved communities to understand the impact voting can have and how we have to begin to leverage our population base when it comes to having influence in politics, whether it be local, state or federal,” Walker said.
With help from the Carolina Youth Power Fund, the group was able to purchase food for several of their social events, and was able to provide transportation for individuals in the community.
On several occasions the group came across community members who had never voted before, and they were able to get them excited about being first time voters. “Knowing the importance of voting, and having self reflection on why voting was important to them, was important for us to foster,” Walker said. “We didn’t just want to convince them, we wanted them to create their own importance from the information that was presented.”
In the fall Millennial Movement is looking to utilize the census data that becomes available to look at where the target market analysis lies for millennials. They plan to use that data to create strategic planning for millennials involving voting in 2021 and 2022.
American Polarization and Cancel Culture
Simone Fine, Humanities Teacher at Lakewood Montessori Middle School
Simone Fine, a humanities teacher at Lakewood Montessori Middle School in Durham, has a teaching philosophy of always trying to make personal connections between the curriculum and her students’ lives. This often requires her to be thinking about how to connect the current political landscape to what her students are learning about.
“There’s a theme in American history which is political polarization,” she said. “I thought it would be helpful to talk to the students about this to take the sensational aspect out of it – to talk about it in a way that gives kids the same kinds of skills that community organizers have – which is to have difficult conversations with people, no matter what background they’re from.”
This philosophy inspired her to create the American Polarization and Cancel Culture program, which is an extracurricular afterschool program for Durham Public School Students ages 11-14. The program will bring together a small group of students to talk about current controversial political topics and the idea of political polarization.
“Through the time that we spend together, the students will focus on active listening skills and learning about what it takes to have sometimes uncomfortable or difficult political conversations in ways that foster discussion,” she said.
A grant from the Carolina Youth Power Fund allowed Fine to pay people to lead the workshops for the program. The workshops will include topics like active listening skills and having difficult conversations with people you don’t agree with.
“It’s so important for the students to have the tools to be able to encounter the situations and think about them as learning experiences rather than defeating experiences,” she said.
At Montessori schools like the one at which Fine teaches, there’s an emphasis on the concept of “grace and courtesy.” For Fine, this concept is paramount to the program in terms of inspiring students to approach each conversation with those values. “Essentially, trying to make sure you actually understand what someone’s saying before you jump on them, which is easier said than done,” she said.
The program is launching virtually for students this spring.
Your Vote, Your Voice
Danielle Coleman Gurley, Founder of Shelter Our Sisters
One of the most impactful experiences Danielle Coleman Gurley remembers from her work with the Your Vote, Your Voice program happened when a woman came back from voting in tears.
“She went in to vote and she came back out and she was crying, and I embraced her and asked if she was okay, if something happened when she was in there. She said, ‘This was my first time voting, I’ve never done it and didn’t know what it would feel like, and it was an amazing experience,’” Gurley said. “She reassured me that she would continue to go vote in the future because she knew that her vote matters.”
Your Vote, Your Voice is a program of Shelter Our Sisters, a nonprofit Gurley founded that helps women and children in the Winston-Salem area in various areas of need – through financial assistance, providing groceries, emergency housing, and more. The Your Vote, Your Voice program was established during election season last year to help get out the vote and to remind community members of the impact they can have.
“We wanted them to be aware that your voice does matter, that their vote is very important,” Gurley said. “We provided transportation for them, helped make them aware of both candidates, both parties, and had them select which one they thought would be best in office from a presidential standpoint all the way down to the Senate, House, and state.”
With the help of a grant from the Carolina Youth Power Fund, the group was able to afford PPE and extra tables and tents to help keep the process safe and socially distanced during the pandemic.
In 2021 Shelter Our Sisters is focusing on the issue of mental health in the Winston-Salem area. They recently launched Sister Sister, a mentorship program providing women in need with 1:1 mentors, to help fight the ongoing mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.