Ok, so on occasion I’m one of those people who has to hear or see something more than once before it really clicks. This idea of “being the change” is one of those concepts that is being continually redefined in my mind. When I was a kid, I remember hearing Gandhi’s famous quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” and I’ve heard it a million times since.

Even just last semester at UF in my class on Urban and Rural Communities in Transition my professor showed this short video clip at the start of class to create discussion about our roles in the world and our ability to create change:

Lost Generation

I find it creative and thought provoking and inspiring on several levels, but additionally, I hear once again, at the end, that short phrase, “I can change the world.”

It should have been no surprise to me then, that this summer I would be challenged to make change happen while going about my daily tasks for my internship. I think these three words found me hardest while at the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Prior to the event we had challenged congregations and youth groups to collect “Change for Change” as a part of the Change the World: 2009 Lutheran Youth Challenge to raise $1 million for the World Hunger program and the projects we support. My goal in promoting this beforehand and there at the Gathering and even now post-Gathering is to convey this message: we each have the ability to change the world, right now in this moment, wherever you find yourself.

Not too long ago I was exactly where these most of these 37,000 high school students likely find themselves: wanting to do so much to change the world but feeling that circumstances like age, limited income, and limited mobility are making that task impossible. I watched though, in amazement as these kids, from literally all corners of the U.S. and even around the world, dug through their pockets to find whatever it was they could contribute and they asked questions about how their contribution could possibly make a difference. After just three and a half days of collecting, these kids who thought they were making such a small dent in our challenge goal with their 47 cents or whatever amount it was they had to give, had amassed over $130,000. How cool! We even made those three words a fashion statement at the Gathering, as every person who donated could get a “Be The Change” stamp on their hand or arm to proudly show how they were changing the world, even our staff t-shirts read “I can change the world”. Not only were these kids giving their spare change (and dollars) during this span, but in 3 days every single one of them participated in some form of service for the New Orleans community for a minimum of 4 hours. That’s over 148,000 hours and at $20.25 per hour (the estimated dollar value of one hour of volunteer work in 2008) we’re talking about another $2,997,000 these kids contributed to the world in just 3 days!

Just think how many opportunities we have on a daily basis to change the world. Where we shop and what products we buy. How much we drive as opposed to how often we could carpool or consolidate trips or take public transportation or ride our bikes or walk. How much stuff we buy for ourselves as compared to what we give to others in need. The list of little things we can do goes on and on.

I challenge you to choose one to start with. Stick with it. Then empower others to do the same. The world is ours for the changing. BE THE CHANGE!

~Jessie Fairfax