Featured Spotlights

Giving Thanks for the Opportunities Our Struggles Bring

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Experiencing the effects of homelessness and displacement, Brittany Amano, despite her circumstances, founded the national NGO, The Future isn’t Hungry.

Freshman, Brittany Amano chose to be a victor, not a victim, of her own circumstances. Growing up between her mom, her grandmother, and foster homes, she knew what it meant to go hungry. When the final eviction notice arrived on their door in Honolulu, Hawaii, Brittany and her mother were forced to move into a friend’s basement while her grandmother moved into a homeless shelter, all relying on local food banks to get by.

Homelessness, technically defined as those people living in a place not meant for human habitation–including shelters, and transitional housing–affected over 564,708 people in the U.S. this year alone. Brittany’s home state, Hawaii, has the largest homeless rate per capita in the U.S, with 465 homeless per 100,000.

Brittany attributes the overwhelming number of homeless to the dwindling number of job prospects. “It is simply hard to find a job, especially for someone like my 80-year-old grandma, who is still working a minimum wage job and has to support a family with the high cost of living.”

Vacationing in Hawaii, tourists expect sunny weather, magnificent views, energetic hula dancing, and beautiful beaches, but they often forget that their vacation itinerary doesn’t reflect the true lifestyle of the state’s locals. In order to maintain that appearance of perfection, the government, and even Hawaiian citizens, look for ways to sweep the homeless out of sight, confiscating their belongings and kicking them off the streets.

“You might think it is a land of paradise, but it really isn’t,” Brittany explained.

Hawaiians, struggling from a lack of job prospects, mental illness, and hunger, are neglected in order to protect Hawaii’s tourism industry and its economy.

After watching homelessness and hunger affect her own family, Brittany, at the young age of 9, started a food drive, collecting over 700 pounds of food with three of her 4th grade friends, emphasizing the idea that “the homeless are people too and need support.” Once she realized the impact of her project, she continued to fundraise by organizing a local walk-a-thon, authoring a cookbook to be sold and distributed, and knocking on doors for donations.

“You might think it is a land of paradise, but it really isn’t” 

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While many considered Brittany’s age as the largest obstacle facing her endeavors, her young age might have actually been her strongest asset.

“The youth are some of the most innovative minds. The younger you are the less you think about what isn’t possible. All you think about is the end goal.” She didn’t comprehend the movement to end hunger wasn’t supposed to be led by a nine-year-old girl.

Continuing to fight for the recognition of homelessness as a human right, at age 12, Brittany was selected as Hawaii’s top middle school youth volunteer through the Presidential Spirit of Community Awards and was flown to Washington, D.C. to attend the conference, where she met with other youth volunteers across the nation. It was there, networking with other 12-year-old kids, that she was inspired to realize the true impact her idea as a non-governmental organization (NGO).

As she began to explore the feasibility of an NGO, Brittany discovered that she faced not only organizational difficulties, but also a lack of adults that believed in her and her mission as much as she did.

“Everyone, from my own family to my teachers at school, told me that I should just wait until I’m older [to start an NGO] because I didn’t have the money, the connections, or the experiences to run a nonprofit.”

But she was determined. At first, Brittany’s organization, Hawaii’s The Future Isn’t Hungry, started locally, concentrating on issues of homelessness and hunger specifically in Hawaii. Then, at 17, Brittany received the National Jefferson Award–essentially considered the Nobel Prize of Public Service.

“Everyone, from my own family to my teachers at school, told me that I should just wait until I’m older [to start an NGO] because I didn’t have the money, the connections, or the experiences to run a nonprofit.”

The mentorship, networking, and financial resources provided by the Jefferson Foundation allowed Brittany’s nonprofit, The Future Isn’t Hungry, to expand from Hawaii to all 50 states. Her NGO, which donates bags of food to students from low-income backgrounds on weekends, is now making an impact in states as far away from Hawaii as New York.

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Often children who rely on government subsidized free-reduced lunch at school go home on Fridays to an empty fridge, lacking the necessary funds to eat until the following Monday morning, ultimately curbing their desire and ability to learn.

“I’m not only giving them food over the weekend, I’m giving them hope. I’m giving them something to look forward too.”

The bags that Brittany’s NGO provides, filled with nutritious meals and fresh produce, combat hunger and unhealthy eating practices while simultaneously encouraging and emphasizing the importance of education.

        Throughout high school, Brittany didn’t have a normal childhood or education. Traveling across the United States in order to work side-by-side with youths to launch chapters, Brittany missed athletic events, dances, and many other typical events designed for high schoolers. And now, as a Duke student, Brittany has even more to juggle– school, clubs, and a social life to name a few. Not to mention the national NGO she runs, manages and directs.

“I’m not only giving them food over the weekend, I’m giving them hope. I’m giving them something to look forward too.”

“The biggest struggle I still face is balancing it all, but if you are really that passionate, you make time.”

Recognizing the problems that are prevalent outside of the of the “Duke bubble,” she has spent more and more time exploring Duke and the greater Durham community for areas in need of outreach and support.  Specifically, Brittany is looking to bring her NGO to the larger Duke community and catalyze a new chapter of youth volunteers to continue to carry out the mission of The Future isn’t Hungry in Durham.

“At Duke we are so socially conscious about all the issues around us and we constantly talk about it, but what is frustrating for me is that a lot of people rarely do anything about it. Why is nothing being changed? There are so many issues in Durham that a lot of people see, but just feel bad about. I would say as Duke students we are immensely privileged to have this education and resource, and we have every capability in the world to make a change in that issue area.”

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The campus culture–the unspoken “rules” of Duke– is often promoted by the common phrase “work hard, play hard”, but perhaps it is this outlook on our college education that contributes to the difficulty of finding any time to engage with the Durham community. Often, many students associate working hard with pursuing the highest salary and fail to think beyond that threshold.

“At Duke we are so socially conscious about all the issues around us and we constantly talk about it, but what is frustrating for me is that a lot of people rarely do anything about it. Why is nothing being changed?”

As students adjust to college, choosing a major and a future career path is often on the forefront of their minds. Brittany herself explored different careers and began to think about a career in finance.

However, it was a path she had to question. Analyzing her motivations, she wondered, “Would nine-year-old Brittany have done that because it makes a lot of money and that is what everybody at Duke does? Or would she want to do a job that actively made a difference in the lives of those that she can personally relate to?”

Urging Duke students to recognize the resources they have at their disposal (some that they might not even recognize as resources) –such as a constant access to food, a great faculty, and a warm place to sleep every night–Brittany encourages students to capitalize on, and use, these advantages to make a difference in the surrounding community. While change does happen overnight, even the little efforts can make a positive impact.

“You never know what you are capable [of]. Never say something is impossible without trying it, because I would have never known my organization, The Future isn’t Hungry, could impact so many people. Find something that you are passionate about and wake up every day and find something you can do to make a difference in the world.”

By differing degrees of hardship, we have experienced adversity. Will we be victors or victims of our own circumstances, and how will we, as Duke students, serve others?

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“You never know what you are capable [of]. Never say something is impossible without trying it, because I would have never known my organization, The Future isn’t Hungry, could impact so many people.”


Article: Emily Ahlers

Features Editors: Vivian Zhang and Emilie Padgett

Photography: Brittany Amano and The Future Isn’t Hungry

Web: Brian Jiang

 

 

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