Department SpotlightWhitworth Alumna, Volunteer Activist Discovers a New Voice
by Eric Bosell, communications associate for The Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship, www.kristafoundation.org.
Since graduating from Whitworth in 2006, Danielle Wegman, who double-majored in Spanish and cross-cultural studies and was captain of Whitworth's varsity basketball team, has had two "firsts": For the first time ever she wore a business suit and traveled to Washington, D.C., not as a tourist but as a lobbyist. Wegman, who committed to a year of post-college volunteer work through Lutheran Volunteer Corps, was in D.C. to do something else she has never done before: lobby federal legislators and policy staffers.
Because of Wegman's strong interest in social justice and volunteer service, The Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship invited her to be part of their Krista Colleague Class of 2006–07 and awarded her a $1,000 Leadership and Service Development Grant. The Spokane-based foundation provides mentoring and financial support to young adult leaders in their twenties engaged in sustained service in America's inner cities, developing nations, or with environmental projects.
Wegman found that the semester she spent in Latin America as part of Whitworth's Central America Study Program heightened her desire to work for justice in the world. She now volunteers for two grassroots organizations in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood: the Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance provides sanctuary in the United States for human rights activists from Latin American and the Chicago Religious Leaders Network (CRLN) is an advocacy group.
In February 2008, CRLN sent Wegman to Washington to meet with legislators, which led her to wear a conservative black suit – the official uniform for business on the Hill. When Wegman climbed the steps of the capitol building, she faced a new challenge: advocating for better fair-trade agreements with Latin America countries. At first, she had moments of doubt. "CRLN gave me the title of public policy coordinator," she says. "But I was new to this. What did I know about public policy?"
Wegman's work continues to stretch her thinking. "I had a conversation with a family friend who said that 'making free-trade fair' was unrealistic and idealistic. I found it challenging to respond to someone with an opposing view and to articulate the ins-and-outs of why making free trade fair is good for all of us."
If Wegman had misgivings about her ability to contribute to the lobbying effort, they didn’t last long. "My colleague is an experienced and knowledgeable advocate," Wegman says. "She always included me in our conversation with the policy staffers. Because she included me, I felt like I had something to say. Now I have more confidence, more trust in myself."
Finding her voice is just one of the benefits Wegman has received as a volunteer. She's convinced that her experience with CMSA and CRLN will serve her well. "I'm surrounded by experts in the field – people who understand foreign policy, economic relationships with other countries, and political structures in the U.S. Sometimes I feel like I'm in over my head, but it has been a humbling experience and an effective way to learn."
This period of volunteer service with Lutheran Volunteer Corps is helping Wegman understand how she can live out her ideals. "I find myself among an abundance of socially active citizens that encourage me to stay the course and maintain my commitment to human rights and advocating for the poor. I am practicing simple living and learning good communication skills."
The Krista Foundation believes that these life-shaping volunteer experiences play a critical role in developing future leaders who will creatively and positively engage in serving the world.