“Now we see everything that's going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change.”
John Mayer – Waiting on the World to Change
I kind of love John Mayer. I mean yes, he sings with conviction and plays a mean guitar. But it’s really the lyrics that I love. John’s lyrics are authentic which allows him to connect to his audience, his generation, in a powerful way. Whether his audience has front row seats, sits in the nosebleed section or watches video clips made on mobile phones and posted to YouTube, young people listen to John as he sings from his soul.
As a person in charge of outreach for Children’s Defense Fund-Texas, it is part of my job to connect with my audience. Texas leads the nation in the rate of uninsured kids and for many years I’d thought of my audience as families with uninsured children -- households headed by couples, single parents, grandparents or other relatives. Primarily these households could not afford to pay for private health insurance. After all, family coverage averages more than $1000 per month. Who can seriously afford that, especially in the economy we’ve experienced since 2008?
Most of my time becoming an ‘expert’ in health outreach has been spent delivering easy to understand messages about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid. I present those messages to schools, communities, faith groups, on the radio, in local supermarkets...anywhere. Wherever adults with children might be is where you will find my team educating and raising awareness about the issues.
Listening to John Mayer, I never realized I’d been overlooking part of my audience. You see, my messages have been heard by those in the front row or with seats on the floor, but I have probably been failing to project my voice loud enough to reach those sitting in the nosebleed seats – teenagers. The truth of the matter is that I never even considered teenagers as a potential audience in my work.
My first encounter with uninsured teens happened in 2008. Bertha and Julio were siblings living together on their own. Bertha had applied for Medicaid health coverage for herself and Julio but did not know to write ‘independent minor’ across the top of their application so that the State Agency would know that they were living on their own. As a result, their application was delayed and Bertha spent many months trying to find a knowledgeable adult who could help her access the health coverage they both desperately needed. As glad as I was to be able to assist Bertha, I was equally bummed to realize that so many other teens may be going unassisted.
Bertha and Julio made me realize something very important. Teens can be important messengers and advocates for themselves when faced with the challenge. By recognizing what they’d been through and the barriers they’d faced, they brought John Mayer’s lyrics to life for me.
In my home state of Texas young people and teenagers are in crisis. The top social barriers facing Texas youth, such as poverty, homelessness and pregnancy have significantly lower health indicators associated with them.
There are more than 300,000 homeless children in Texas. Texas also ranks #1 in repeat teen birth rates. While adults might be a hard-to-reach population, teens are just about impossible-to-reach, unless you start thinking about them as part of your target audience.
At Children’s Defense Fund-Texas, we are always re-evaluating and improving the way we do things. We have worked with high school students through service groups and clubs to train them in educating their friends and family about the CHIP and Medicaid programs. And now, a new partnership with the Texas Association of School Administrators is going to enable us to more systematically train and develop high school leaders in five Texas school districts to develop effective outreach strategies in reaching and connecting kids to affordable health coverage.
I’ve made it my personal and professional mission to engage with more teens and young people in my sphere of influence about advocating for kids and in talking about programs like CHIP and Medicaid. Some people may be still waiting on the world, but teens like Bertha and Julio inspired me to change.
To join us is creating change for Texas children, visit: www.cdftexas.org