by Chris Huber (Originally published in World Vision magazine, reprinted with permission)
Alrick Hollingsworth quietly slipped out of a conference room and into a marble-tiled hallway in the Washington state Capitol. He wanted a jump on the crowd of more than 100 students to have a word with Gov. Jay Inslee, whom he had waited all weekend to meet.
Alrick, 16, didn’t quite know what he was going to say, and it didn’t matter so much as he was putting himself out there, making connections, and speaking up for the needs of his South Seattle community and a homeless man who changed his life.
World Vision and the Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council invited Alrick and dozens of other students to participate in the annual Legislative Youth Action Day at the state Capitol. There they learned ways to influence legislation to help their communities, experienced government at work, and discussed specific pieces of legislation with their elected officials.
When Gov. Inslee emerged from the conference room after speaking with the students, Alrick greeted him with a handshake and questions about how to bring more help to the increasing number of people living on Seattle’s streets.
The junior from Rainier Beach High School wanted the governor’s ear that day because the Dec. 1 death of a homeless man named Charles Chappelle weighed heavily on him.
Charles was a beloved member of the Rainier Beach High School community. He lived behind the school for 15 years and was well known for picking up litter on the school grounds and greeting students with a smile and kind word.
Alrick remembers Charles being around since he and his sister were little, when he would visit the children’s clothing store Alrick’s family owned. As they came up through Rainier Beach, they and their classmates occasionally brought Charles food or coffee in the morning before school.
“Just to know a person who cared about Rainier Beach High School so much that he wanted it to be his home — the school even tried to find him a place to live. But that was where he wanted to be,” Alrick says.
‘I could have done more’
Alrick and friends were leaving school the afternoon of Dec. 1 when they found Charles unable to stand and walk. They helped him up off the ground, gave him sweatpants to keep warm and offered to seek further help.
“He would never ask for help. So, when he asked for help, it was just like, ‘Yeah, I got you,’” Alrick says.
When Charles refused more assistance, the boys continued home, mentioning the incident to an officer on the street. Alrick went to work that night. At school the next day, they learned Charles had died from hypothermia. Temperatures overnight dropped into the mid-20s.
“I was like, ‘Man, I was there, I could have called the police,’” Alrick says. “I was going through how I could have done more.”
Learning to find their voice
To World Vision Engagement Officer Brian Boyd, that’s what this visit to the Capitol is all about: helping passionate young people like Alrick find practical ways to transform their communities.
Alrick and approximately 80 similarly passionate students from nine youth groups came as part of World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Network.
The program trains and equips community groups to develop youth leaders to promote transformation in their neighborhoods. During the eight-month journey through the curriculum, youth discover they have a say about what happens in their community. This trip to Olympia helps them understand the relationship between the needs in their community and the people who influence policy affecting the community.
“A lot of times they don’t see their voice as powerful,” Brian says. “World Vision plays a critical role in giving underserved communities a voice at the state level.”
Back in the hallway outside the conference room at the state Capitol, students dressed in their best business attire gathered to coordinate visits with their legislators.
Alrick was a little nervous as he shook the governor’s hand through most of their brief conversation. It didn’t matter, though — he was doing what he had to do for his family, for Charles, for Rainier Beach.
“This was a powerful movement toward what I want to do.” Alrick says, “This led me to where I can get actual resources to open up to help other communities.”
Alrick said he and his classmates plan to continue organizing community events to honor Charles, including planting 15 trees — one for each year he lived behind the school.
“I want to take the cause and run with this dream and keep his legacy alive,” Alrick says.