Fourteen years ago I had the opportunity to speak at a Congressional breakfast. As a 21 year old, I don’t think I really understood the importance and depth of my presence on the Hill. I had no idea that my story and my experiences were unique and I took the invitation because I was interested in learning more about how others were making a difference, not realizing I was already doing my part. I remember leaving that series of meetings and feeling energized and motivated, and thanks to Facebook memories, posting about the idea of pursuing public policy or public service to “change policies impacting young moms.” Never in a million years did I think that not only would I be back on the Hill, that I’d visit the White House, meet with Agency and Administration staff, talk about the challenges impacting young moms of color, but that I would also one day be leading the Advocacy and Policy work at National Crittenton – the first place to really believe in me.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed working with a new generation of young people who are unapologetically bold in their desire to create a more just world for themselves and their young families. I am in awe of their fearlessness and every day I find myself feeling grateful to be a part of their journey. When the opportunity came up to go to the White House last week and for one of IMPACT young moms to talk on mental health and policy recommendations, I was thrilled. The excitement of the prep leading up to it, the responsibility to want to represent peers in a way that does them justice, and the pride you feel as you’re entering the building is something I was honored to share. It was an amazing experience. I hadn’t stopped to think about how that experience would impact me though as my role was different this time around – entering the People’s house as Vice President of Policy & Systems Change when not too long ago I had been in that position and felt the pressure of ensuring I was representing young moms in the way that honored their experiences. As I sat there listening to the young mom share, advocate, and lead, I felt all sorts of emotions. I felt moved and motivated. I felt that 21 year old me would be proud that I listened to her and pursued this crazy idea that there was a place for young moms and we would make a difference.
These days I’m much happier being behind the scenes and sharing my experiences with young moms to provide some motivation that hope that things do work out and there is someone who is willing to listen to their expertise. I take my role of giving back very seriously while still learning that I am a professional and that I have earned being here. Still – no matter how much time goes by the young advocate still lives in me, reminds me to still speak up in a room full of adults, challenge ideas that don’t sit right, and to never ever outgrow the itch to take a White House bathroom selfie. After all, this work wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t bring our genuine selves.
Onward we go – this is just the beginning and there will be much more to come from IMPACT.
Lisette Orellana Engel