Over the years, many passionate individuals have been driven to improve children’s lives and futures by volunteering for UNICEF — with lasting impact. It was actress and humanitarian Helenka Pantaleoni who led efforts to found UNICEF USA in 1947. And it was the Reverend Clyde and Mary Emma Allison from Philadelphia who started Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF in 1950.
But what about volunteers today? The world has changed quite a bit over the past 75 years. So what actions are volunteers taking for children nowadays here in the U.S.? What are the issues that matter most to them in this unconventional second year of the pandemic? And most importantly, do they feel hopeful for the future?
Here is what our UNICEF UNITERs had to say:
Our birthday wish for UNICEF is that they continue to be a bright light for the world. Children are our future and we need to make sure that they grow up healthy and viable so that they have a future. — Kathy Townsend
Since the start of the pandemic, Kathy Townsend and other residents of Somerset, Kentucky, “thought about the huge inequality in the world and the vast number of resources the United States has available to its citizens throughout the pandemic; versus less fortunate communities globally.” So once they heard that UNICEF was on a mission to end the pandemic and was leading global delivery for COVID-19 vaccines, they were determined to make a difference. They set out to advocate for the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations both within their community and across the world.
One day in July, 65 members of their community, ranging from ages 10 to 81 years, gathered to participate in the ‘Healthy Somerset, Get Together, Stick Together 5K.’ They raised over $18,000 for UNICEF to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines globally. Through their combined efforts, the event even included an on-site vaccination clinic from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, which allowed them to educate members of their community who were hesitant of vaccines and encourage them to get vaccinated.
Participants of the ‘Healthy Somerset, Get Together, Stick Together 5k,’ in Somerset Kentucky. © photo courtesy of Kathy Townsend
While Kathy and her community fundraise for vaccines, another volunteer is raising awareness on the current mental health crisis fueled by social isolation, and increased stress and anxiety that young people are facing caused by the pandemic.
The question ‘How are you?’ has always confused me. It gets asked at the beginning of almost every conversation, no matter if it be with a significant other or a best friend or someone in your middle school science class. But hardly ever is it really asked. I want to change this. By sharing what is on my mind, I want to invite other young people to share and process what they are going through. — Kyle King
Kyle King, a former UNICEF USA National Youth Council member and current sophomore at Yale, dedicates a great deal of his free time to encouraging his generation to speak out on their mental health. At the moment, his volunteer work for UNICEF revolves mostly around utilizing social media, including UNICEF USA’s recent #OnMyMind campaign to raise awareness and break the stigma around mental health.
A screenshot from one of Kyle King’s TikToks to promote mental health awareness. His “OlderSelf” TikTok amassed over 33.9K views on the @UNICEFClubs Instagram account © photo courtesy of UNICEF USA
His TikToks on the @UNICEFClubs channel combine humor and a sense of normality, which help break down barriers and show how common mental health problems can be. “With these, I want to encourage people to seek help if they need it.” I feel hopeful that young people will be more comfortable sharing their true feelings because we’re moving in a direction where it’s okay not to be okay. Social media is a great tool to get these conversations started.”
I wish for UNICEF to advocate more in-depth with local government. There are so many issues to advocate on pertaining to children’s rights that vary from state to state in addition to nationally. Even focusing on a global issue, such as the climate emergency or access to clean water, at a local level can be lifesaving and can protect vulnerable children and their rights. — Jennifer Perkins
Jennifer Perkins, on the other hand, is a passionate UNITER focused on advocacy, who, as she says, “wants to make a positive impact in policies on behalf of children’s rights.” She cites the earthquake that hit Nepal in the spring of 2015 and “seeing images of displaced families and traumatized kids” as the point where she knew she had to help.
Jennifer Perkins with fellow UNITERs and California advocates during Advocacy Day at the 2019 UNICEF UNITE Annual Summit in Washington, D.C. © UNICEF USA
Since then, she has been a true advocacy champion, serving as ‘California State Leader’ for three consecutive years on UNICEF USA’s Advocacy Day. She has formed vital relationships with Members of Congress to ensure UNICEF can continue to do its lifesaving work.
“This is especially crucial at this current moment,” Jennifer notes. “The Congressional resolutions honoring UNICEF’s 75th anniversary are great for their recommitment and pledge for the United States to continue to work with UNICEF and a great action for individuals to take who want to get involved.”
Her advice to those who want to start volunteering is to find an organization with a mission that you’re passionate about and hopeful about because you, as an individual, can make a difference. For her, that organization is UNICEF. “To do the lifesaving work that UNICEF has done for 75 years is commendable and still needed. Therefore, it is evident that UNICEF can be relied on to advocate and serve the needs and rights of children around the world.”
Ready to take action? Celebrate UNICEF’s milestone anniversary through advocacy. Tell your members of Congress to cosponsor resolutions honoring UNICEF’s 75th anniversary.
Top image: U.S. Fund for UNICEF (now UNICEF USA) founder Helenka Pantaleoni, fifth from left, joined children at an early Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF event. © UNICEF