Today I woke up at 6:30 a.m., ate breakfast cooked on a camping stove, changed, brushed my teeth and filled my water bottles. I walked past my current home, a white Chevy van with a red tent on top and a green stripe on the side, and started running.
It’s the same thing I’ve done for the last month, and it’s the same thing I’ll continue to do, step by step, for the 3,200 miles from Los Angeles to New York.
In my years growing up in rural Montana, I witnessed the emotional and physical consequences that parental drug abuse had on the children in my area. I saw how untreated wounds deepened over time, and compounded. Since then, I’ve traveled throughout the United States and have seen enough to know that, from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between, no state, city or town is untouched by the damage of a lacking family structure.
That’s why I founded MeUsWe, a nonprofit built as a platform to champion at-risk youth and encourage others to use their gifts, passions and resources to change the world for the better.
I remember a conversation I shared with a friend in college. For some reason I’d mentioned that I’d grown up poor (by North American standards), and was struck by his reaction, one tinged with annoyance. “True poverty is determined by the virtues, or lack thereof, handed down by your parents,” he told me.
And isn’t it true? It isn’t difficult to find an inspiring rags-to-riches story in America. In these narratives, someone overcomes their financial circumstance, trading the rags of poverty for satin and cashmere. But I find that in such narratives, the rags are often only circumstantial, that the monetary gains are a manifestation of a firm foundation of moral and emotional development.
That’s why MeUsWe has partnered with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in an effort to raise funding from the public to make a tangible difference in the lives of youth by providing loving families, something that we believe will radically change the world. Not everyone can commit to providing a family, but everyone can pour into the emotional bases of youth by getting involved in mentorship programs, giving to organizations like Dave Thomas, and creating an arms-open community that acknowledges family problems and commits to solving them.
My goal in these 121 days of 121 marathons is to take a simple message and send it through the loudspeaker of sensationalist action. The message I hope to convey is that foster youth, and all at-risk youth, are valuable — so valuable that I would run these 5,500,000 steps just to make sure you know it’s true.
You’re so full of potential, that I’d burn through 605,000 calories in the hot sun to coax out the powerful individual hiding beneath your skin. I want to let you know that my actions today, tomorrow and the next day are just a reflection of the strength that I see in your stories. There is a positive end to your journey! My little run is in no way comparable to the incredible struggles you’ve faced, but I hope it inspires you to believe that you are seen and loved, and that good things are in the life ahead of you.
Noah Fredenberg is the founder of MeUsWe. He is currently running from Los Angeles to New York to spotlight the work of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. To support the cause, visit www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/meuswe1.
[The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is a financial supporter of The Chronicle of Social Change. The foundation played no role in our decision to publish this article, per our editorial independence policy.]
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