Engaging Advocates across Michigan, and Lessons Learned about Outreach

A few months ago I was brought on board to a new position at Michigan’s Children as regional engagement and mobilization associate and tasked with engaging organizations and people in our advocacy work. Ironically, due to the pandemic I have yet to meet in person and for the foreseeable future the people I talk with daily. But thanks to Zoom and Google Meet, we are getting through the unique challenges. In my previous position, I provided direct services to youths in and around Detroit, many of whom would be considered at-risk. Working in after-school and summer learning programs and providing enrichment opportunities for middle- and high-school students was meaningful work, especially when focused on empowering teens to develop their own healthy decision-making skills. As someone who grew up in Detroit and is a byproduct of the public school system, I have always felt an obligation to reach back and lift up as many city youth as I could. My passion for improving the lives of young people and love for public policy, further cultivated at the University of Michigan, has made Michigan’s Children a perfect fit for me. Experiences in youth development provided the boots-on-ground perspective that offers the fresh perspective that Michigan’s Children seeks. And I’ve found it invaluable to learn lessons from our various partners about their efforts providing resources to children and families around the state.

One of those lessons about providing resources to others or simply informing them about services that they already exist is that it’s best to have as many approaches as possible. This is important because people have different commitment levels or time available to become engaged in advocacy. Recognizing this, Michigan’s Children has created multiple ways to reach partners, such as our Lunch and Learn series and advocacy training webinars, when participants can dive deeper into an issue. Our weekly bulletins offer information and links to ways to become involved in advancing public policy goals that may be less time-consuming. In my role as a point of contact for Michigan’s Children, I aim to better inform others about public policy decisions affecting children, youth and families, and how they can advocate for the issues most important to them. This direct attention to mobilizing and engaging, whether we’re working with Kellogg Foundation grantees or a native mother helping other parents in Northern Michigan, allows for us to build strong relationships across networks.

Something else I have learned from being part of initiatives such as the Think Babies Michigan Collaborative and talking to its organizers is an appreciation for the extensive interest there is for improving outcome for kids all across the state. Before I started at Michigan’s Children, I was unaware of the efforts of so many, including our partners, to challenge those in Lansing to adequately fund programs that make this state a better place for our youth and families. I believe that these task forces deserve greater attention and recognition in order to ensure their success in making a positive impact in the lives of Michigan families. In addition, it would serve as an encouragement to those just beginning advocacy efforts besides helping to expand networks needed to boost outreach.

Most importantly, I’ve come to realize that nothing is done alone. Working with other groups to support and expand our network is vital to all of our success. Building up strong advocates allows us to go further in our shared goal of improving the lives of children and families across the entire state. This is why it is crucial to remain complementary and create new partnerships, because sustainability requires a diversity of thought, whether that is looping in a leader such as Oriana Powell from Mothering Justice in conversations with “Think Babies Michigan,” or starting a webinar series with Kellogg grantees to encourage them to become more informed champions.

Starting a new job in a pandemic requires unique adjustments. But the team at Michigan’s Children and those I have gotten to know over the past three months have made it easier for me to plug myself in. I know I have so much more to learn. Meanwhile, please feel free to reach out to me to talk about how we can strengthen our advocacy work together.

Stephen Wallace is the Regional Engagement and Mobilization Associate for Michigan’s Children.