Before learning about World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training, I found myself getting frustrated. I knew I had a drive, a passion, and an idea, but I didn’t know how to get started or find others who might want to dive in with me. I also knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling stuck with a goal in mind trying to make our corner of the world a little brighter.
I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this training. I had been straining to tangibly create a project in service to a population I hold close to my heart: individuals in transition from incarceration.
Jessica, WWH Executive Director,and I had developed a quick friendship a few months after I had moved to Seattle last winter. As she started telling me about the Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training, I felt relief and confirmation that I might be able to collaborate with other action-oriented minds and mobilize.
In the two and a half day training, I met many open hearts, curious learners, and people who believe we can be doing better for our communities. Most importantly, I felt these people were prepared to actually do something about it. On the final day, we were tasked with building actionable plans for our Empathy Projects.
I stood up and explained my idea of creating Reentry Resource Backpacks: bags full of basic human needs, community resources, clothing, a transportation card, etc. These backpacks would be given to individuals immediately upon release from incarceration to make those first few days back in the community a little easier. Each backpack would carry a handwritten letter from a fellow community member offering welcome and support in their time of transition. The idea quickly grew into a team of Empathy Ambassadors and evolved into “The Welcome Backpack Project.”
A month after the training, our Empathy Ambassador team has raised over $2,000 and has collected personal and corporate donations for hygiene products, backpacks, reusable water bottles, and community resource booklets. We have teamed up with two local nonprofits also dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated individuals: Living with Conviction and Interaction Transition. Our next phase is to assemble 30 Welcome Backpacks, each backpack valued at $63.
I believe many people are thirsty to encourage change by supporting the causes they are passionate about, but like me, they may not know how to do that in a meaningful way. World Without Hate Empathy Projects are becoming that missing piece: empowering people to join or create tangible service projects working to brighten our corners of the world.
Stay tuned for Part II for outcomes of The Welcome Backpack Project!
~ Kelsey Engstrom, Participant & WWH Advisory Board Member