The Power of Dedication: Queer Teens Raise Money, Bring Hope

Originally printed 11/22/2012 (Issue 2047 - Between The Lines News)

Dedicated to Make a Change is an organization that empowers teens to be the change they want to see in the world. With last Saturday's Hope and Change fundraiser, they proved just how powerful a bunch of truly dedicated teens could be. Helping to raise funds for their 2013 volunteer trips to New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, Hope and Change brought the teens together with community members and parents for a night of fun and conversation Nov. 3.

The event, which took place in Ypsilanti's MIX Marketplace, featured a silent auction, an open Q-and-A with New Orleans community activist Mac McClendon and live music performed by the members of DTMAC. While the final amount raised is still being worked out, they've raised a minimum of $1250. The amount will become weightier when matched - up to $2000 - by Ypsilanti-based home care agency Care One Inc.

The first of these teen-organized "FUNdraisers," Hope and Change was tasked with bringing awareness to the struggles still faced by residents living in New Orleans. With his personal stories and insight, McClendon painted a bleak yet promising picture. He hoped that by sharing his story he could inspire and empower guests to help.

"I wanted them to feel like they are not helpless, they can actually make a difference," he said. "They can find simple ways to put the drop in the bucket. I think understanding that we still have a problem and how we can embrace the problem is the key."

"Most think New Orleans is fixed, most. But these young people have been down there and they know it's not."

Often, it's the feeling of being powerless in an overwhelming situation that prevents people from helping. DTMAC has taken it upon themselves to actually do something. According to McClendon, their efforts - while small - make a big difference.

"They come that far to help, what that says is that you haven't forgot about us. That sends out a ray of hope that actually is saving lives. People know you can't solve all the problems, but just the thought of you being there and thinking about them, people know... you care about them."

While McClendon came to share and educate, he also found that he learned some things too.

"I am learning a lot from them. The key to how you keep it going, instead of dying. You keep on rekindling the flame and that's what they've been able to do. I'm so impressed with them."

McClendon wasn't the only one impacted by the teen's passion. While Hope and Change was about New Orleans, many parents also got a glimpse at the positive impact their teens are making. Many parents weren't shy about how that made them feel.

"I'm ecstatically proud of my daughter," Diane Sheldon-Ku - mother of DTMAC member Cleo Ku - said.

That reaction was one of the effects DTMAC Executive Director Gail Wolkoff hoped to cause.

"I'm thinking that parents or important people to these youth, heard what they're kids are doing," she said. "Because I'm not thinking that they have any clue what their kids do and the important impact. Just how insightful their kids are. We don't often think of our kids as being insightful, wonderful people."

While the main reasoning for the fundraiser was raising money, bringing people together was the ultimate goal. Because of that, parents got a chance to beam with pride because of their children's accomplishments. But it also allowed people to ask questions and talk, both beneficial in the eyes of Wolkoff.

"Seeing the faces, hearing the questions people were asking Mac," she said. "Each time there was not the microphone going it took more time to get attention..., which meant people were talking. People were interacting. There was community being made. I appreciated that."

That sentiment was echoed by many others in the group, including DTMAC assistant Chloe Gruin-Sands.

"I really liked when people were asking Mac questions and that whole interaction of a conversation..." she said. "I think that it just shows that they were really paying attention and engaging with the material and actually trying to understand it."

For the members of DTMAC, the quality of the night's interaction was a point of pride. For McClendon, it was a ray of hope.

"It really don't matter how many people come but it's the type of people. You had the young people, the older people. You had almost every nationality in the room. That's the key. If you can get that kind of magic going, you can't do nothing but go up."

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