Making a difference

I think most of us do what we do hoping to make a difference. We aren’t all out there saving lives, but each of us is doing something that we hope makes a real difference in the world.

I was lucky to be raised by two amazing parents who instilled in me the importance of the “greater good.” I can’t remember a time when the idea of making a difference wasn’t a goal or a part of my life. As kids, we did service projects as a family and with our church. My dad couldn’t drive by a homeless person or someone in obvious need without stopping to offer help. Instead of tossing a dollar their way, he would stop and talk to them, offer them a warm meal and help connect them with a resource that might help them get out of a situation.

My mom was always so empathetic thinking always of others. When we were in Haiti and we found ourselves falling in love with a child who’d lost his family and was starving, she decided to take it upon herself to figure out a way our family could help financially and emotionally support the boy — baby Jude — for more than a decade.

The reason I even know about the Peace Corps and it became a desire of mine was because it was something my parents exposed me to growing up with their own desire to join later in life.

So when I chose journalism as a career, of course I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to change lives. I had these grand dreams of becoming an international correspondent covering social justice issues like child poverty, women’s rights, the impact of war. Unfortunately those dreams never came to fruition. I can blame developing a heart condition while serving in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh and subsequent health issues, but that’s one of those “pie in the sky” kind of dreams that may have never happened.

Instead, I started working for medium-sized papers in the south. But I was still determined to make a difference, even if it was just in my little corner of the world.

And you know what, I think every once in a while I have! Sometimes it is in bigger ways — a story I wrote about a sex offender notification policy not working well caused a local police department to completely overhaul their procedures and rewrite its policy. Sometimes it is in small ways — countless families have written me to tell me a story on their daughter/son/husband/wife that passed away/was dying/achieved some kind of milestone will be treasured forever.

And sometimes I never know the impact or difference a story has made; sometimes I don’t know if it is read at all.

This week though I received a very humbling kind of recognition of that impact. The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence gave me and my editor Scott Miley the “Empowerment Award” for 2013. The award recognizes someone who has been instrumental, through words and/or actions, in the effort to prevent and eliminate domestic violence. The award honored the work Scott and I did to advocate for social and systems change and to bring public awareness to the issue.

What made it even more special, is that this award isn’t given out every year but only when they feel someone has really earned it. The coalition said it had been several years since they’d chosen a recipient. Also honored during the ceremony was Indianapolis Metro Police Office Rod Bradway who was killed in the line of duty responding to a domestic violence call. His wife received his posthumous award.

What an honor to be a part of something recognizing such a selfless man.

The project was a five-part series examining domestic violence from several perspectives — law enforcement, the court system, advocates and counselors, legislatively and what people can do to prevent it. I didn’t just talk to experts, I talked to survivors of abuse and their families, those convicted of domestic violence, advocates, those treating offenders, police, judges, prosecutors and legislators. I rode along with police for several days so I could see their response to these calls. I sat in court rooms.

And in addition to these stories covering domestic violence issues, I wrote about the faces of domestic violence. Those were the stories that touched my heart.

During the five weeks, we profiled every single person killed in Madison County as a result of domestic violence for the past 10 years. I sat in the living rooms and kitchens of their families. I cried with parents as they shared stories about their daughters. I talked to a woman who lost her father as a result of domestic violence. I spent nearly three hours as an elderly man shared story after story about his wife who was killed by her ex-husband.

And in the midst of writing all these stories, the newspaper wanted to do more. They wanted to be a catalyst for change. Leadership from people like my editor Scott helped me organize a public forum where a statewide expert, domestic violence victim, educators and advocates spoke about domestic violence with a focus on prevention.

There’s no way for me or anyone else to measure the impact of that series or forum. But I’m confident it made a difference. People who hadn’t really thought much about domestic violence before were faced with it on the front page of the Sunday newspaper five weeks in a row.

Even those who didn’t have a subscription were exposed. Anyone that ran to the grocery store on Sunday, stopped to get gas or overheard someone talking about it at church were exposed to the topic. I had several parents say to me, “This was the perfect opportunity for me to have a conversation with my kids about this.”

Conversations were happening all over the community.

I was so blessed to be a part of something so powerful. Newspapers don’t give this kind of space and exposure to anything, let alone a social justice issue.

I made a difference; and it felt great!

How do you teach your kids about making a difference?

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