Community Program Teaches D.C. Residents How to Be Their Own Best Advocates
Originally from Voices For Healthy Kids, an intiative of the American Heart Association with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, working to make each day healthier for all children.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And if by chance there isn’t a way, there’s Beatrice Evans.
Evans, who’s affectionately known in her community as Miss Bea, may be retired, but the 67-year-old lifelong D.C. resident says her work is only just beginning.
“Everyone has something they can give, and every little bit helps,” said Miss Bea. That mentality is at the core of the way she lives her life.
When she saw community members struggling with food and nutrition insecurity, she organized a Produce Plus Program registration session. By the end of the event, more than 50 people had signed up for the program which provides fruits and vegetables to D.C. residents who can’t always get fresh, healthy food.
When she recognized the disadvantage her neighbors without internet were at, she arranged to have a Wi-Fi hotspot installed on each floor of the senior living apartments where she lives. Now every person in her building has access to the web.
When she spoke to other seniors in the area who had not received their COVID-19 vaccines due to mobility issues or a lack of transportation, she scheduled an on-site clinic to visit and vaccinate those most vulnerable.
“I look around me and I see so much need,” she explained. “When you see that something needs to be done, if you’re capable, you should step up to help. That’s why I advocate for people in my community, especially seniors. And some of the things we’re advocating for haven’t ever been done before, so we’re carving the path as we go.”
Helping her carve that path is DC Greens, an organization dedicated to advancing food justice and health equity in the nation’s capital. Through the nonprofit’s Community Advocates program, D.C. residents take a series of classes where they learn about the tools, connections, skills and information they need to build power in their communities and create the change they want to see. One of the first tasks Miss Bea took on when she graduated from the Community Advocates program – to create her apartment building’s first tenants’ association.
“It is critical to have community voice in any policy initiative,” said Winnie Huston, the food policy strategist for DC Greens. “You must have community buy-in to help shape the policy, advocate for the policy, and implement the policy. But sometimes the people most passionate about an issue don’t always know how to get started. The Community Advocates’ program teaches them the skills and provides them with the support they need to be successful.”
Funded by a grant from Voices for Healthy Kids, Community Advocates teaches small groups of participants the ins and outs of being a spokesperson, understanding the city budget, advocating for food justice, giving testimony at city hearings, and becoming community organizers.
“This is all about helping people find their voice,” Huston said of the program. “We also meet people where they are. What that means is we do our best to have the capacity – be it time, emotional space or financial stipends, for example – to support each person. We’ve found that if you give people resources, they’ll succeed time and time again.”
Now Miss Bea is passing those resources on to others in her community. While she’s currently helping residents at a neighboring building create their own tenants’ association, she hasn’t forgotten about her advocacy work close to home. Up next Miss Bea hopes to have the curb cut at the entrance of her apartment building fixed.
“When I see injustice, I have to do something,” Miss Bea said. “My friends, neighbors and community have always wanted better. What’s changed is that now we have the tools and skills we need to make those improvements.”
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