Since I’ve had to field this question so many times, I figured it would be worthwhile to make a post about it.
Ever since I accepted this opportunity, I’ve had to explain at LEAST 3+ times to people who actually love and may care about what I’m doing, so I can only imagine what people I meet once and explain it to must think or feel. In fact, explaining this experience to people is a bit of a running joke at the Congressional Hunger Center. It also is really hard for me, because even though I’m laid back, when I get an opportunity or achieve something that I think is important, I want people to know it’s important (personal struggle, i mean, we all have our crosses to bear). Of course, to some, this might not be important, but in the end, what is important is that I am passionate about this fellowship and am excited for the opportunity. So… let’s try to get to explaining, shall we?
The full name of the fellowship is the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship and it is under the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington, D.C. I can be referred to as an Emerson Hunger Fellow or Emerson Fellow. I only say this because I told someone that it was with the Congressional Hunger Center, and they started calling me a Congressional Hunger Fellow… but I later found it explicitly states in our manual that we should not refer to ourselves in that manner (I totally have t find that person, and correct them… oops). But back to the topic, the slogan of the CHC is Fighting Hunger by Developing Leaders, which it does domestically and globally through this fellowship, and another called the Micky Leland International Hunger Fellowship. CHC mainly works through on leadership development through these two opportunities, but also keeps a few people on staff to directly work on policy back in DC.
So, more about what the Emerson Hunger Fellowship looks like. Much like the motto of CHC, it trains leaders to DOMESTICALLY fight against HUNGER and POVERTY through SERVICE and POLICY. If you don’t get ANYTHING from this, just remember that line.
Each year, they pick 20 fellows from all across the nation. We have to apply online, and some have a phone interview, but everyone has an in person interview in Washington, D.C.
What makes this program so unique, and partly why I loved it and applied, is that it allows you to focus on both actual in the field, on the ground work AND policy work on the Capitol. Now that is a rare opportunity to get such an in-depth look into both worlds, but imperative because few actually get to see how what goes on in communities can actually become policy, and many times it seems that legislators are disconnected from their communities. But luckily, Fellows help bridge that gap. The structure of the program is that it is 11 months, with us spending 6 months in the “field” doing direct service work, and 5 months in DC doing policy work. We start off the 11 month experience with a 10 day training experience, after which we are dispatched to our various field sites. Since they understand we may be going to places we’ve never been and most likely working with people we don’t know, they like to ship us in pairs so at least we have someone on the ground to talk to that understands our experience.
What can our field sites be, you ask? Well field sites are usually doing on the ground work combating hunger and poverty. Most are related to hunger, and can be Food Banks, Hunger Task Forces, or other grass roots organizing organizations, although this year we have a pair working in Cali on affordable housing, so really, the site just has to be doing direct work with poverty issues. My field site is the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which would fall under a grass roots organization. Field sites are not picked at random. Shortly after we find out we’re fellows, our field sites are busy sending in their applications and preliminary work plans to the Emerson staff. They then have the difficult task of looking through the different field site proposals and matching our interests and skills as fellows to sites that would be the best fit for them. This usually takes all summer, but to their credit, they were spot on with my placement and I am incredibly pleased.
While we’re in our field sites, we complete our workplan which could be directly tied to researching an issue for our organization (like mine), capacity building for them by creating a curriculum or tool kit around a certain issue, or working on outreach and connecting people with state or federal services they’re entitled to (Food Stamps, WIC- although WIC is not an entitlement, meaning the gov’t doesn’t HAVE to provide it… more on that later) So, our projects take on many forms and are varied. While we do our projects in our respective communities, we have to do a Hunger Free Community Report, which is basically like our own research report about hunger or poverty in our field site. The topic is completely at our discretion, but sometimes it folds in nicely with your project, which can lighten the workload.
Sooo the field is what I know the most about, since I’m about to start it, but it’s not the end. Come February, once our work plans are completed and hopefully our Hunger Free Community Reports, we’ll come back to DC to start our policy sites. Policy sites also submit work plans to the Emerson staff, and while we’re out in the field they accept them and provide them all to the fellows, and we then pick three that we’re most interested in and interview with them. Both the fellows and the Policy sites send their top picks to the Emerson staff, and they pair from there.
Policy sites can range from activist organizations, think tanks, or even departments of government (think United States Department of Agriculture, woot). Plus a direct way our work (at least in my opinion) reaches the ears of legislators is that we brief the representatives of our states and respective districts on our findings when we reach DC. Talk about legit.
So yes, in the end, this is an 11-month leadership development program targeted towards eliminating hunger and poverty by developing fellows who can understand both sides of social change, merging fieldwork and policy. If you ask me, that’s pretty awesome. And if you need to ask me to clarify anymore questions, feel free… There’s a “Ask me Anything” button on this page somewhere.
In other news, still processing training, which is an amazingcrazyintense 10 day experience where 20 strangers strangely become 20 friends. It’s like the Real World for Social Justice… so yeah, expect that soon. :)