Champions of Change Blog

  • Creating Partnerships and Coalitions to Serve a Diverse Community

    Teresa A. Crawford

    Teresita Batayola is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    Forty one years ago, idealistic community volunteers and student activists came together to create a free clinic for low-income, isolated Chinese and Filipino elderly in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.  As waves of immigrants and refugees sought refuge and a home in the Seattle area, ICHS stepped up to embrace new populations with high-quality, affordable healthcare.  That tradition of activism, volunteerism and inclusiveness continues to be vibrant today.

    During the movement for health care reform and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, ICHS networked with coalitions around the state to organize, provide patient stories and testimonies, and contact national and state legislators.  Once the Affordable Care Act passed, ICHS advocated for Washington State’s adoption of expanded Medicaid and the establishment of the State’s Benefit Exchange through postcard and phone-in campaigns, meetings with elected officials, patient stories, media visibility, and engagement of non-traditional health care partners. However, elation for Washington’s decision to expand Medicaid and create a Health Benefit Exchange was short-lived as ICHS quickly shifted gears to prepare for outreach and enrollment. 

    ICHS knew that enrolling patients, families and community members into the new programs would be a challenge due to the number of immigrants and refugees who had limited English proficiency, varying immigration status, the mixed eligibility for members in the same family, the lack of understanding about insurance and western health care, and uneven financial abilities to maintain coverage.  Nevertheless, the ICHS team of community advocates, health educators, eligibility workers and others began planning outreach and enrollment even with the uncertainty of any funding available.  Thankfully, ICHS successfully obtained funding from the federal government and a private foundation to hire 6 In-Person Assisters.  ICHS leveraged the funding to obtain training and certification for 25 staffs to provide in-person assistance. 

    ICHS’ in-person assisters, community advocates, health educators, and eligibility workers worked to actively help anyone learn about health reform and apply for insurance. All of these staff are bilingual and bi-cultural and provide enrollment support in at least one Asian or Pacific Island language, including Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Samoan, and Vietnamese. ICHS also partnered with community based organizations, faith-based organizations, grocery stores, community centers, and libraries to meet the community need, sending staffs to train others and scheduling field enrollment sessions in addition to appointments in ICHS clinics.  An example of a key partnership is with the City of Bellevue’s mini City Hall located in a shopping center.  The mini City Hall provided space for the in-person assister and assistance with Russian and Spanish languages, while another partner, Chinese Information and Service Center, provided Chinese interpretation.  ICHS staffs remained positive throughout enrollment even when faced with the challenges of appointments longer than an hour due to interpretation and the complexity of individual or family status, combined with the technical challenges of the Exchange.

    Teresita Batayola is the Chief Executive Officer of International Community Health Services (ICHS) in Seattle, Washington.

  • White House Champions of Change for the Future of American Agriculture

    In the field of agriculture, we have a very important question to ask ourselves: who will the next generation of farmers and ranchers be?

    For more than three decades, the share of farms operated by beginning farmers has been in decline.  Beginning farms and ranches accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s 2 million family farms and ranches in 2012down from about 35 percent in 1982. Consistent with this trend, the average age of principal farm operators in the United States has risen in that period, from 51 to 58.

    Since day one, the Obama Administration has supported opportunities for people who want to work the land and produce food, fuel, and fiber for our country. The Administration continues to make these critical investments because of the great innovation and promise that agriculture holds.

    The White House will be hosting a Champions of Change event to celebrate local agriculture leaders who are taking innovative approaches to support American farming and ranchingboth now and in the future.  These leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase their actions to support the future of agriculture.

    Today, we’re asking you to help us identify these standout local leaders by nominating a Champion of Change for the New Generation of American Agriculture by noon on Friday, April 18. These Champions may be:

    • Beginning farmers and ranchers using innovative practices and techniques to create productive and sustainable farms and ranches that will feed people at home and abroad long into the future.
    • Producers, foresters, small-business owners, and scientists using Farm Bill programs to drive agricultural productivity and economic competitiveness.
    • Local leaders that are working to build new opportunities for those who want to work on the land, create innovation in the field of agriculture, support diversity in agriculture, and connect a new generation to their food, fiber, fuel, and agricultural neighbors.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose “Future of American Agriculture” in the “Theme of Service” field of the nomination form).

    Nominate a Champion of Change for the Future of American Agriculture

    We look forward to hosting this event at the White House this spring, highlighting the great work of our nation’s agriculture leaders. Thank you for your dedication to American agriculture and the overall wellbeing of our rural communities. 

  • Gun Violence Prevention Champions of Change: #ActForOurKids

    Last Thursday, parents, youth, advocates and community and national leaders from across the country came together at the White House to honor nine Champions of Change who have dedicated their lives to innovative approaches to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer.  

    Among the honorees and attendees were victims of gun violence, parents whose children were killed by senseless gun violence and individuals whose siblings, friends and neighbors were killed or have been victims of gun violence.

    One of the honorees, Mark Barden, became an outspoken advocate for gun law reform after his 7-year-old son was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the event, Mr. Barden held a photo of his family, which included all three of his children, and shared that, like many across the nation, gun violence did not become a real issue for him until it hit home. He explained that the loss of his son was a turning point in his life, and he has now dedicated his life to make sure no one else has to face this pain.

    Each of the attendees had a personal motivator for their hard work. Reverend Glenn Grayson was motivated by the murder of his 18-year old son, and explained that he used that tragedy as a source of empowerment to show youth that they can make more of their lives than what the media, community, or society presents to them. 

    Pamela Simon, Community Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, also shared her story as a survivor. On January 8, 2011, while staffing the Congresswoman, Pam was shot in the arm and the chest. She shared with the audience that, “those bullets hit Democrats and Republicans alike,” and that the rift between both parties on this issue is a detriment and danger to this nation.

    Each of these champions used their personal motivations and exposures to tragedies at the hands of irresponsible weapons use as a force of change in their communities. From creating organizations to rallying local, faith-based, or educational communities, these Champions of Change used their resources and voices to implement change across the United States for a more secure and responsible political, educational, and social environment for our children.

    Read more about them and share their stories here. 

    Valerie Jarrett with Gun Violence Prevention Champions of Change

    Valerie Jarrett meets with the Gun Violence Prevention Champions of Change April 3, 2014. (by Rumana Ahmed)

    Rumana Ahmed is the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

  • Grassroots Collaboration Overcomes Gun Violence

    Teresa A. Crawford

    Teresa A. Crawford is being honored as a Gun Violence Prevention Champion of Change.

    On a chilly desert morning January 19, 2013, about one month after the mass shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I joined a small group of parents, educators, students and community organizers outside a shooting range in Las Vegas that advertises “shotgun weddings.” We gathered, not to protest the range’s unusual take on matrimony, but signal our resolve to the state legislators who drove past us on their way to a closed-door NRA lobbying session at the facility.

    Just two weeks before Nevada’s biennial legislative session, time was short to convince lawmakers to pass a strong background checks law to stop private gun sales to dangerous possessors and strengthen mental health reporting. Nevada consistently ranks high on every index of gun violence, especially for women killed by intimate partners, and its gun laws get an F for weakness. Our message: The time to act is now! Most of the lawmakers drove past our signs with eyes front, but two assemblywomen approached to offer a box of doughnuts and chat with us. They turned out to be heroes who championed the background checks bill, SB 221, introduced by a courageous state senator, which passed both legislative chambers.

    That day launched dozens of events to educate our community about the toll of gun violence in Nevada and urge state and federal lawmakers to pass new background checks laws. As a retired nurse, I feel that gun violence is a major public health challenge. We rallied at the offices of our senators and governor with handmade signs, held press conferences and vigils and shared personal stories. We phone banked our lists to ask supporters to call their lawmakerswhich generated hundreds of contactswrote letters to the editor, asked questions at congressional Town Halls and brainstormed at grassroots trainings.

    Ultimately, we delivered more than 12,000 signatures to both U.S. Senators and the Governor. We know from public interaction that the five Nevada-specific polls showing strong majority support for a background checks law accurately reflect the people’s will. Even gun owners support expanded background checks. The governor, pressured by the gun lobby, vetoed the bill.

    That evening, we held a sunset vigil to thank our hero legislators and remember our losses. Our hearts were broken because the veto came exactly six months after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Because of the veto’s tragic timing, that event got full network coverage.

    Three days before our first event, on January 16, 2013, President Obama released the administration’s plan to reduce gun violence in America and initiated 23 executive actions. The president’s leadership inspired us to form a citizen’s movement for the common goal of safer schools and communities. President Obama’s insistence that everyone affected by gun violence deserves a vote echoed long after the 2013 State of the Union speech ended.

    Our unofficial coalition includes Organizing for Action, ProgressNow Nevada Action and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, now merged with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, plus our networks of friends and family. Our work continues in 2014 with a press conference, media interviews, a strategy summit and continued Town Hall dialogues with our elected representatives. We are preparing for the next legislative session in 2015. Our resolve is even stronger than it was on that cold morning over a year ago.

    Teresa A. Crawford is the Organizing for Action Gun Violence Prevention Lead for Nevada, a board member for ProgressNow Nevada and a retired nurse in Henderson, NV.

  • Young Americans Building Bridges to Eradicate Gun Violence

    Sarah Clements

    Sarah Clements is being honored as a Gun Violence Prevention Champion of Change.

    I remember sitting in lockdown for hours, reading news that the shooting happened only miles away at Sandy Hook, my former elementary school. I remember waiting to hear whether my mother, a second grade teacher at the school, survived. She did. And I remember the feeling deep down, even hours after the shooting happened, that the only way I’d be able to move forward was if I advocated for things to change.

    About a month later, my father and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to join 6,000 other Americans marching for gun reform. I was introduced to the vast, diverse, and courageous movement of individuals working for safer communities. Back home, I joined the Newtown Action Alliance (NAA), a grassroots non-profit working for legislative and cultural change to reduce gun violence. Yet, I was one of the only students getting involved, and this incredible, positive outlet helping me transform my pain into positive action was invisible to my peers. In response, I formed and continue to lead Jr. Newtown Action Alliance, a branch of NAA that gives students the opportunity to raise their voices and make change.

    At first, Jr. Newtown Action Alliance only had outreach in Newtown. We held letter writing events in town and mostly focused on helping our town heal from the shooting. Soon, we started networking with other young people in the region and state, and we began travelling every three months to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress. Members also travelled around the country to hold workshops to teach students how to break down the issue of gun violence prevention.

    This year, the goal of Jr. NAA is to build bridges between urban, suburban, and rural youth to not only share our stories and experiences, but also to then use that knowledge, understanding, and source of empathy to strategize about how we can make our schools and communities safer together.

    Last month, our members met with members of the group Harlem SNUG, a gang violence mediation and conflict resolution organization working for safer streets. Our stories were different, but at the same time, we all experienced gun violence, and that allows us to better understand the ground upon which the other walks.

    Finally, I’m a Gun Violence Prevention Volunteer Lead at Generation Progress, the Millennial branch of the Center for American Progress. Our team facilitates a network of youth working on this and connected issues on the national level so that our movement is more efficient and so that the youth voice is front and center in this conversation. In February, we organized a national summit, and the three-day event brought more than 120 Millennials from 32 states to Washington, D.C. for intensive training on organizing and strategy for gun violence prevention. We are now creating the structure for this network and for a productive and efficient year of youth organizing.

    As a Millennial, I will not back down. We are literally fighting for our lives; fighting for a most sacred and fundamental right: for children to grow up. Far too many of our friends' fates have teetered on the barrel of a gun, and America turns its back each time. We can no longer wait for the voice of a loved one to be muted before we exercise our own, for if I have learned anything since 12/14, it’s that the rights I have the privilege to possess are worthless unless I fight for others to have them, too; and that includes the right to living in a safe community.

    Sarah Clements is a senior at Newtown High School and the Founder and Chairwoman of Jr. Newtown Action Alliance, a group of young people working to reduce gun violence through legislative action, cultural change, and bridge building between youth in different communities. She is also a Generation Progress Gun Violence Prevention Network Volunteer Lead.  

  • Voice for Change

    Pamela Simon

    Pamela Simon is being honored as a Gun Violence Prevention Champion of Change.

    Until January 8, 2011, gun violence was always something that happened to someone else. Like so many others, I glanced at the news reports of a shooting and moved on because I felt gun violence was something that would never touch my life. It happened to someone else's child, someone else's spouse, someone else's friend.

    All of that changed one chilly Arizona morning in front of a local grocery store. I was on the staff of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the Congresswoman had just begun to talk with constituents at a Congress On Your Corner event. Suddenly, gunfire erupted. In less than 20 seconds, six people lay dead and 13 othersincluding Congresswoman Giffords and me were wounded.

    As my body and mind healed over the months that followed, I learned a lot about an issue that I previously had all but ignored. The numbers were staggering. 12,000 Americans are murdered with a gun each year. Countless other lives have forever changed by injuries caused by gun violence. The human cost includes traumatized family and friends, grief stricken loved ones and family members turned caregivers because of the damage inflicted.

    For too long, silence has been the response from elected officials and individual citizens despite overwhelming evidence of the problem. However, I quickly learned that silence is not what we need in our nation.

    Shortly after I retired from Congresswoman Giffords' congressional office in 2012, I heard the news of the mass shooting in a Colorado theater and it felt personal. The victims of gun violence were no longer somebody else. I was tied to them in a bond of terrible knowledge. The time for me to take on this taboo subject had arrived. I knew I had to use my story to be a voice for change. A few days later, I joined with other survivors from the Tucson tragedy to call on our leaders to address gun violence in our nation.

    Over the months that followed, Mayors Against Illegal Guns brought together survivors of gun violence from around the country. As we told our stories, however painful, we found that there was healing in being part of the solution. We spoke out on the need for common-sense gun laws that would help save lives.

    Over the past two years, I have worked to connect concerned citizens and survivors with organizations that can amplify their voices on gun violence prevention. I have been inspired and honored to work with the many groups that share our common goal of ending gun violence. I have had the privilege of speaking to our nation's leaders, members of Congress, state legislators, local elected officials, civic organizations, countless media interviews and hundreds of individual conversations with people wholike mewant a country that is free from gun violence.

    Starting in Tucson, I have used each time that I have spoken to groups or the news media as an opportunity to challenge my own community to be part of our larger call for action. It has been exciting to work with citizens who have come together to work on gun violence prevention and who have produced significant change at the local level already. They in turn are engaging others.

    Alone, I am one voicebut joining with so many otherswe are breaking the silence and beginning to move toward meaningful change. I feel deeply honored to have been selected as a White House Champion of Change.

    Pam Simon taught middle and high school for over two decades after which she served as Community Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was wounded during the Tucson shooting and has spent the past two years working on gun violence prevention.

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