Civics in Action
There are thousands of examples throughout history of individuals whose active participation from the streets to the courthouses has made California and this nation a better place for everyone who lives here. While the history books stick to the more dramatic stories of bold civic action, the following examples show that any one of us can make a difference:
- Andrew Bogen of Santa Monica retired from a successful career in the law, but that didn’t mean his days of leadership were over. He founded New Village Charter School, a four year all girls high school for teen mothers, foster care youth, and girls who are dropouts or on probation. The school provides students a faculty mentor as well as an individual plan to help each young woman overcome her challenges and achieve success. The school is the first of its kind in California and Bogen’s dream and persistence were key factors its successful launch.
- Lorinda Maya of Riverside shows how an individual passion can be used to benefit the community. A professional folkoloro dancer, Lorinda was inspired by her four year old daughter to create Grupo Folklorico Maya, which provides free training in folkoloro dance to children. The group provides youth with an enriching and fun extracurricular activity. In 2011, the group placed second in the USA National Folklorico Competition.
- David Schenirer, a member of the Sacramento City Youth Commission, recognized a lack of fun and safe places for high school students such as himself to gather and socialize after school. Schenirer and his board of fellow students obtained support from local elected officials and community leaders for VIBE, a 3000 square foot lounge in Downtown Sacramento designed with teens in mind. Schenirer and his team raised more than $600,000 in advance of VIBE’s launch in the fall of 2010.
- Juzely Duran, a Rio American High School senior in Sacramento, noticed the difficult choices many lower-income families confront and are forced to make when it comes to healthcare. As a result, she persuaded school administrators to open up the school library for an information session on healthcare insurance enrollment through the Covered California state insurance exchange and other private health plans. As a result of her efforts, many families were able to understand their options and learn they could actually afford health insurance.
- Zachary Maxwell, a 10-year old in New York City, didn’t mean to start a movement demanding better, healthier food choices in schools. He started bringing a video camera into his school cafeteria to film his less-than-appetizing meals simply as evidence to his skeptical parents about why he should be allowed to bring his own lunch despite it being offered for free by the school. These videos were subsequently compiled into “Yuck: A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary about School Lunch,” documenting the discrepancies between the nutritious appetizing options described on school lunch menus and what is actually served. Inspired by his documentary, which made the film festival circuit, students throughout the nation have started a bigger conversation about healthy food in schools by snapping and sharing pictures online of their school lunches and demanding better.
As these examples demonstrate, participation can take many forms, and there are numerous ways that one can make a difference. Voting is one of our most important rights and responsibilities, but civic engagement doesn’t end at the ballot box. Small-scale donations of time and talent—serving on a jury, volunteering in faith-based community activities, helping out at a food bank, becoming a literacy volunteer or a Big Sister—are at the very heart of civic action. These civic activities help build strong communities, foster empathy and teach our children that one person can help make our world a better place.