Friday, August 10, 2012

Creating Public Servants in Elizabeth's Image

Elizabeth Edwards dedicated her life to public service.  After working in law for twenty years, Elizabeth then focused on education and student success, running the Wade Edwards Learning Lab and serving as a substitute teacher.  Later on in her life she became a champion of equal access health care reform.  Elizabeth’s commitment to serving the public good was spectacular, and we at the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation hope to carry on this legacy and tradition in her honor.

Nowadays, a young person so passionate about public service is somewhat rare—there are many easier, self-serving or glamorous paths that attract the attention of our youth.  But those paths are significantly less enriching and empowering, for both the public servant and those whom they serve.  For this reason, one of the tenants of the Elizabeth Fellows Program is developing a commitment to public service in our students. 

In strong communities, young people find many tools that can help them thrive, including important supports and pathways to success.  Through the Elizabeth Fellows Program, we expect students to give back, to both empower the student and to strengthen the community from which they came.  By reinvesting student energy and passion into their communities, the Fellows program builds bridges between successful individuals and their roots.

We do this through the annual Elizabeth Fellows Service Project.  As a team, Fellows will identify an issue they would like to address within their community or a change they envision will improve their community. They will work together during the spring semester to design and implement a solution, in furtherance of Gandhi’s wise advise: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The structure of this project is based on the idea that once students begin to analyze their community’s strengths and weaknesses and then affect positive change, they will be constantly looking for opportunities to help and improve society.  We hope that once graduating from the Elizabeth Fellows Program, our students will make this a part of their life’s commitment, in the same way that it was part of Elizabeth’s.