Have you ever asked yourself, “What am I doing to make my community, my country, and my world a better place?”
Perhaps you asked yourself something similar in your new year resolutions; or perhaps you ask it when you look at your own children. As a mother of three, I find myself doing this.
As I reflect on the words of President Obama's State of the Union address from last night, this is the question I hope we are all asking -- and doing something about it.
In his speech, the president made multiple references to the effects of a struggling economy -- homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages; unemployed Americans finding job prospects increasingly scarce; young people whose educations are increasingly difficult to afford. He also challenged us to believe in ourselves, in each other, in "the America within our reach," and in the power of our collective action to strengthen and restore our country.
"This nation is great because we built it together," said the president. "This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard…because when we act together, there’s nothing the United States of America can’t achieve."
Do you believe that? I do.
As I listened to the president's words last night, one issue pertaining to this "moment of trial" weighed heavily on me -- one that is also of deep concern to World Vision. It's the well-being of children, around the world and right here in the United States.
If Americans were asked to name the world's most economically and militarily powerful nation, most would say the United States without hesitation. And if asked which country did the best job of ensuring child well-being, many would give the same answer. After all, people risk life and limb to find the dream that is America.
But for children in the United States -- especially children of color -- this is not the reality. Consider these facts:
In a report by UNICEF (pdf), the United States was ranked 20th out of 21 countries for child well-being. The groundbreaking report -- which explores factors of material well-being, health and safety, education, family and peer relationships, behaviors and risks -- exposes some stark realities for American children. It confirms that we are losing gains we’ve made around child well-being -- and the outlook is not good.
The National Center for Children in Poverty is reporting that nearly 15 million children in the United States -- one in five of all children -- live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. And when we compare ethnicities, we find that the rate among African-American, Hispanic, and American Indian children is two to three times greater than that for white children.
Verenize Rojano came to Love Kitchen's soup kitchen in New York City to get a hot meal to bring home. According to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, 1.4 million New York City residents face food insecurity. Families are forced to choose between basic needs such as housing and food.
One of the fastest-growing and one of the most urgent issues they face is hunger.
In the midst of these facts, I've witnessed many who are facing a crisis of consciousness or awareness. I'm repeatedly amazed at the shock I see on the faces of adults when they're shown the circumstances of some children in their own community. I believe we are not fully awake to their realities, and we need a movement that mobilizes us on their behalf.
It could be easy to believe that too much has gone wrong, and there is not light at the end of tunnel. Our country is great because we've looked at "the impossible" before and marched on to change and make our country stronger and better. When we help our children, we help ourselves and others, today and tomorrow.
That's why watching the president's State of the Union address reminded me of the importance of asking, “What am I doing to make my community, my country, and my world a better place?”
No matter how you would answer that question, you can do something now.
World Vision works in nearly 100 countries around the world; did you know that one of those is the United States? And we are encouraging Americans to volunteer virtually by purchasing food kits, or pre-packaged meals, available online. Each kit contains three to four meal packets (breakfast, lunch, dinner), or enough food to feed a family of five for one day by providing sustenance such as oatmeal, lentil soup, and pasta. When we reach out to help others -- the way that we ought to be as so many of our fellow Americans are struggling -- we are building a better future for everyone.
The challenges we face as a nation are not minor, but they can be overcome. And today, I still have optimism, despite the frustration and the difficulties. My hope is that we will join together in that optimism on behalf of children and youth in the United States.
Romanita Hairston is World Vision's vice president of U.S. programs. World Vision works with local partners to serve American children, families, and communities in need, and to respond to emergencies across the United States.
You can join World Vision's efforts to provide assistance for struggling American children and families. Check out our U.S. programs funds, and make a donation today to help bring hope in the midst of these difficult times.