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In keeping with our theme of the cross section of philanthropy and Valentines Day, I thought I would use the opportunity to tell you about someone the Case Foundation recently fell in love with - and I know you will too... our Change Begins With Me inauguration contest winner, Gerald Jiminez.
Since our inauguration winner was selected randomly out of more than 10,000 entrants, we had no idea who we might end up with. Would it be someone who just made something up to win a contest? Would it be someone who went to the Christian Bale/Etta James school of self expression? Or, would it be someone who was truly dedicated to their communities and serious about creating real changes in a meaningful way? Lucky for us we ended up with Gerald, a 23-year-old “citizen teacher” and mentor at Citizen Schools, who has worked with Boston-based students on numerous projects, including developing an award-winning documentary on gang violence.
I had the great privilege to get to know Gerald and his girlfriend Mel when they came to DC for the inauguration festivities. We attended the Service Nation New Era of Service MLK Day breakfast/service project and partied together at the Hawaii Society Ball. Gerald and Mel were fun-loving, which showed itself in the occasional bursts into song and Gerald's vintage gold and white Converse sneakers that he wore with his tux to the Ball. They are also those rare people you meet every now and again that work, go to school and make it a point to give back to their communities every free moment they get... Gerald and Mel do so through their church group and through teaching kids multimedia arts at Citizen Schools. They are a reminder to us all that no matter how busy you are, you can (and should) always find time to look back, give back and lift up.
We thought people who followed the Change Begins With Me program might like to get to know Gerald better and hear more about his experience. I recently asked Gerald a few questions about the trip - his answers are below. Don't miss Gerald's documentary of the inauguration at the end.
Q&A with Gerald Jiminez about his Inauguration Experience
Michael: Why did you submit a commitment for Change Begins With Me?
Gerald: It was a spur of the moment decision. I had just voted for Citizens School (an organization that I've been involved with as an arts mentor) in the Ideas for Change contest and saw the Change Begins With Me prompt. I had such a good experience with Citizen School that I wanted to continue to giving my professional experience in art and design towards youth development
Michael: What was your reaction when you found out you won? What were your friend's and family's reactions –especially your girlfriend who you brought with you on your trip?
Gerald:I got a call from the Case Foundation congratulating me when I won. I must've made some weird noise over the phone in front of all those people [almost the entire CF staff called to tell Gerald he won] -- I was so shocked! I didn't believe I actually won until I got my airline tickets from Boston to DC via e-mail. That's when I knew that this was for real and I was ecstatic! Melanie (my girlfriend) was thrilled from the get go and immediately started considering dresses for the inaugural ball. I actually didn't tell many of my friends at first... I didn't know how to share the news humbly. Luckily Melanie in her enthusiasm wrote an email to all our friends and folks filling them in on the incredible prize we had won.
Michael: You were able to participate in MLK Service Day, meet celebrities at Service Nation, attend the swearing in ceremony, go to the Hawaii Ball – what's the top moment that stands out in your mind and why?
Gerald:My most memorable moment was the walk over to the inauguration. There were so many people out on the streets and it was freezing! Regardless, there was a lot of energy. I never saw so many genuinely exhilarated and delighted adults-- it was like Disney World! I couldn't shake the thought that we were all there witnessing history. The experience was so surreal.
Michael: People were very excited about the inauguration of President Obama. If you were advising the President, who said in his Inauguration speech, we all need to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America," what would you tell him to do to keep people engaged in taking action in their communities?
Gerald:Nothing keeps people engaged more than setting an example. I would encourage him to be active in service to others. I think he set a great example by his commitment to service projects on Martin Luther King Day rather than taking a day off before his inauguration. He also exposes his children to volunteer opportunities in hope that it will become second nature to them.
Michael: What about your experience will most affect your life now that you are back home, and how?
Gerald:After attending the inauguration I just felt so proud to be a part of this nation again. Now that I'm back home I'm actively seeking to gain my citizenship-- the history of this country is something I totally want to be a part of! I also have a refreshed look at the art outreach programs I'm a part of and have recommitted to continue to give my talents and time to educate the urban youth.
Gerald's Inauguration Documentary