Challenging Stereotypes: Students Can Have a Significant Impact in the Fight to End Hunger

Younger generations often are characterized in the media as materialistic, self-centered, unmotivated and disengaged. They’re glued to their smartphones, uninterested in the world around them. They don’t believe in working hard, yet feel entitled.

These certainly aren’t the characteristics we associate with change agents.

But studies are showing that Generations Y and Z are more altruistic than we may think. According to Relevant Magazine, 60 percent of those classified as part of Generation Z (loosely defined as those born after 1995) want jobs that have social impact. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report found that 87 percent of millennial employees (defined in the study as those born between 1979 to 1994) donated to a nonprofit organization in 2013, with 28 percent giving 100 to 500 dollars. And according to the UN’s report on volunteerism, “millennials are increasingly acting as the agents of change in society, calling for institutions that are more responsive not only to their needs, but to national or global concerns, and providing the energy, creative ideas and determination to drive reform.”

Generations Y and Z have plenty of potential to make a difference—nonprofits just have to learn to appeal to their passions. We have to show them how their gifts and skill sets can affect real people in real situations, and how lending their voice can lead to real change.

Housed at Baylor University, the Texas Hunger Initiative is in a unique position to reach out to Generations Y and Z. We provide students ways they can learn about hunger firsthand and outlets for them to become engaged. The students we’ve worked with so far have challenged the stereotype of the self-centered youth and inspired us with what is possible when fresh, young minds are involved.

Hunger in America trip: Learning about food insecurity firsthand

Students who attended the Baylor Missions’ Hunger in America 2014 trip get in a quick Sic ‘Em at the White House. From L to R, front: Linda Yoon, Riya Rahman, Lindsey Breunig, Lizzie Davis, Katelyn Schafer, Shannon Kendrick, Christine Boone, Emily Lowe, Rachel Goodwin, Marisa Romero Cano, Jenni Brietzke, Kristen Bulgrien, Tracey Kelley (Director, Donor Relations, Baylor University), Christine Browder (Director of Government Relations, Texas Hunger Initiative), Doug McDurham (Director of Programs, Texas Hunger Initiative), and Rucker Preston.

For the past two summers, Baylor has given students the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to learn about domestic hunger. This trip, Hunger in America, gives both undergraduate and graduate students a chance to learn firsthand about the policies, organizations and programs that affect food-insecure individuals and families.

It’s one thing to read about hunger in America. It’s another to hear directly from leaders of nonprofits, government agencies, and other organizations that are actively working to make a difference on a national scale. On the 2014 Hunger in America trip, students met individuals such as the Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, the Director of the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives, and the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.

Students also met with and learned from lobbying professionals at Patton Boggs, LLP. Then they took this learning to the Capitol. For Kristen Bulgrien, a graduate student in the Baylor School of Social Work, the experience “connected the dots for [her], in a way no one ever had, about the way constituent voices make a difference in Washington.”

Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director Brent Walker and Education and Outreach Specialist Charles Watson Jr. met with students.

“I learned that if I meet with a staffer in my Congressman’s office, he or she is required to write up that visit and the main points of what I talked about for the Congressman to review. My visit is ‘on the books,’ so to speak. And the more times I visit, or write letters, or make phone calls, the more my voice is ‘on the books.’ And that voice does make a difference,” Kristen said.

Students finish the trip with a deeper awareness of how food insecurity impacts Americans and what is being done on a national level to end hunger in this country. They leave empowered, and many are inspired to take on volunteer opportunities and internships when they return.

Student internships and assistantships: Applying knowledge from the classroom to tackle real-world issues

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The Summer 2014 No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassadors represent Texas during their trip to Washington, D.C. at the end of their term. From L to R: Abby Loop, Matt Chelf, and Durwesh Khalfe.

Many of our current and former student workers, like Durwesh Khalfe, who graduated from Baylor University last December with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, were inspired to get involved in the issue of hunger in a more significant way after going on the Hunger in America mission trip. After the May 2013 trip, Durwesh applied and was chosen to participate in the No Kid Hungry Youth Ambassador program.

Youth Ambassadors work with No Kid Hungry’s state partners, like THI, around the country. Working alongside our research department, in the summer and fall 2014, Durwesh was a key player in several data analysis projects, giving him the opportunity to put his classroom knowledge to use in a direct, tangible way.

Durwesh focused on creating regression models that analyzed race as a predictor of the Summer Meals site frequency in each Census tract and on a report measuring access to the Summer Meals Program. This helped to create a list of the most underserved census tracts in Texas. “The research created a targeted approach to defining need and allowed us to rank areas [where needs] are not being met at the moment,” Durwesh explained. “This allowed us to determine where Summer Meals sites needed be placed.”

Durwesh said that working directly with a nonprofit allowed him to see the importance of collaboration in ending hunger, both on the national stage, and within a single organization.

“There’s a multitude of individuals and organizations at the state and national level that have a similar vision in ending childhood hunger, but it’s in the partnership of these efforts that we most efficiently serve,” he said. “That is why data analysis and research are important to the work [THI] is doing on the ground on a daily basis.”

Through his work at THI, Durwesh was able to get an insight that few student are privy to, and he was able to glean real-world practice experience.

On-Campus Events: Empowering students to make a difference

Baylor students at the Drive to Hunger Awareness, held November 2014.

Like Kristen and Durwesh, Riya Rahman was inspired to action after learning the impact hunger has on Americans.

Riya, a current No Kid Hungry Ambassador with THI and a junior political science major at Baylor University, was a part of the 2014 Hunger in America mission trip, which she says fueled her passion to help other students get engaged in the fight to end hunger.

Once she got back to Baylor, she organized the Drive to Hunger Awareness, an event held on the Baylor campus in November 2014. “All I really wanted from the event was for one student to walk away feeling like I did after the mission trip—feeling like they could have an impact and do something,” Riya said.

Riya organized a line-up of speakers—most still current students—to share why fighting hunger is so important to them. Riya also wanted to provide tangible activities for students who attended the event, so participants were asked to bring canned goods to donate to Baylor’s Campus Kitchen. To help provide students with a way to advocate for their own communities, booths were set up where students could write letters or tweet a picture to their congressman in support of anti-hunger work.

At the Drive to Hunger Awareness, students had the opportunity to tweet photos to their representatives to show their support of No Kid Hungry in their city.

Dozens wrote letters and tweeted photos, and 390 cans of food were donated through the pilot event. But what was perhaps more encouraging, Riya reflected, is that several students approached her after the event, asking how they could get involved with different anti-hunger organizations.

After the event, Riya decided to create a guide on hosting events like Drive to Hunger Awareness that other colleges could use as a model for empowering their own students to get involved.

She believes that hunger is an issue all students can get behind.

“It doesn’t matter what background you’ve come from—hunger is relatable to everyone. I firmly believe we can end hunger in our lifetime,” Riya said. “And I think that’s something our generation should have a stake in.”

Student engagement: Moving forward for greater impact

The students we’ve worked with at the Texas Hunger Initiative have a real passion to learn more and do more in an effort to end hunger—and that drive is contagious. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders. If they don’t take an interest to change these issues and encourage others to do the same, then who will?

That’s why we see youth engagement as a crucial in anti-hunger work. Despite what the media says about Millennials and Generation Z, younger generations are giving, driven and interested making a better world for others. They will be change agents in their communities. We’re excited for the future, as we continue to develop ways to inspire and engage this important, valuable group.


Post by: Ashley Yeaman, Social Media and Communications Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative