Last weekend, I was presented with the United Nations Association - Broward Chapter's 2012 UNA Advocacy Award for my work with multiple sclerosis, homelessness, and eco-vegan advocacy.
My aunt asked me to post a copy of my acceptance speech. To be honest, it was extemporaneous, but I remember roughly what I said. This is an approximation, minus the obligatory corny joke and the thank yous..
In nearly twenty years with the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, I've learned something very important: You do not have to be wealthy to help others; you do not have to have high connections. The only thing you need to make a difference in someone's life is the desire to do so. All you need to be an advocate is your voice - a willingness to speak out when you see someone in need.
At the MSF, we often see people use unexpected skills or interests to raise funds or awareness. One couple who enjoys riding motorcycles organized a charity Harley ride. A woman who enjoys sewing and quilting organized a charity quilt show. Artists have donated their work for auction or arranged for exhibitions to raise awareness. People are taking whatever talents they have and putting them to positive use.
That was the philosophy I was operating under when I started The Humble Stitch Project, a project for knitters and crocheters to make cold weather items for the homeless here in South Florida. Unlike other areas of the country, we don't have coat donation programs - you all know that your coats sit in your closets for years and years, never used frequently enough to wear out. And if you're a knitter or have a knitter in your family, you know there are only so many scarves you can make your relatives. So I had a hobby, others had a need. And I also had a voice, to ask others for their help. Today, hundreds of people from around the country participate.
The same principle drives my vegan advocacy efforts. When I learned of the positive impact our food choices can make on the environment and world hunger, I used my love of cooking and baking - working with groups like Compassion Barn - to share delicious vegan meals with others. At the eco-vegan news site This Dish is Veg and through my blog, I used my skills as a writer to try to help others understand that what we choose to eat is a global issue that affects more than just our own health and well-being.
Each of you here today has the same opportunity to make a difference. Take stock; think about your skills, your talents, your hobbies, you interests... Maybe you like riding motorcycles, or quilting, or maybe you're a knitter like me. Or maybe for you it's volleyball or singing. Maybe you're good at organizing, or decorating, or just good at following directions. Whatever you're good at, whatever you love to do, there is a way to do it for the greater good.
Whether it's something material, or your skills or hobbies, or simply lending your own two hands, you do have something to give - to help others and make the world a better place.