This entry is part of a contest by HuffPost Books and The Buried Life. Click here to read more about it.
Americans are in debt. Lots of it. We've reached the trillion dollar mark in student loans, medical costs are still the one of the most (if not the most) common causes of bankruptcy, and the recession of 2007 still greatly impacts those struggling to keep their jobs and their homes. Though so prevalent, it can also seem like debt isn't discussed much. It can seem a number floating overhead--sometimes ignored or avoided until payments come due.
Debt can and does heavily weigh on lives. It slows the economy, delays life achievements, and then some. After realizing just how much debt affects my life, I decided this was a problem worth fighting. It is my hope to found and maintain a charity that both provides assistance to people drowning in debt and empowers others still by connecting them to local-level programs and services.
Like many millennials, I basically began my adult life in debt. Before I'd graduated from high school, I was already familiar with credit card debt. Though I don't know quite how much we'd accumulated, I know that my mother's insistance that I spend time with my extended family (almost all on the east coast) led to massive travel costs from our home on military bases in Japan. Even so, my family managed money very well. Affordability wasn't a question when it came to college, and after two years of planning--finding a small private school that suited my personal ambitions and family finances--massive debt still snuck up on me. Just five days after I graduated from high school, my father survived a stroke.
Twenty-four years in the U.S. Air Force assured our family that his medical bills were covered, but nothing prepared us for the other dramatic changes. For the next year, continents and oceans separated us--my mother continued her work as a DoDDS middle school counselor in Okinawa, my father received medical treatment in California, and I began my bachelor program in Florida. The following year, mom managed to transfer into a position in Georgia--assuring she could keep her years of work experience and retirement.
A move halfway around the world, finding a house, car, etc. still ties my parents' income. I asked my parents if I should drop out and help them. They refused. So, for my part, I started my collection of debt--officially graduating with my B.A. (Anthropology) in 2009, my MSc (Development Anthropology) in 2012, and over 100,000 dollars in debt. Despite my confidence in my abilities as a qualitative and quantitative social researcher, I continue to struggle paying the loans and have moved back in with my parents to afford this on my waitress' wages.
It was a difficult realization that I'm not doing too shabby. It took a great deal of time volunteering around the world to figure that out. Now, I understand that I'm not where I want to be in life (yet). But I've also got some sense of security. My family staved off bankruptcy. I have a room in a house and enough food to eat. I can pay my few bills and a bit extra to drive down the principles. There is an end to my debt even though, let's be honest, it's years away. There are, however, too many others who run into debt and sink in the deep end, and this is why I thought up my charity. I hope to bring my same defiant optimism to others and unite people in the face of, what I know to be, the frightening and confusing obstacle of debt.
How It Works: GIVE, EDUCATE, EMPOWER
This debt relief charity would be composed of three main components: giving, fundraising, and outreach. At least initially, it would hope to award funds to those who have excessive student loan debts or medical expenses. Through a website and e-mail, donors and prospective recipients could organize events, make donations, and nominate themselves or others for awards.
Entries would be similar to that of this Bucket List contest--where participants can use multiple forms of media to make their case, and a series of semi-finalists are selected. Donors to the charity would then be eligible to vote for a finalist in each category. Of course, winning entries would be verified beforehand. I believe that this method avoids bias both from those within the organization and in the voters--allowing for the most deserving rather than the most popular candidate to receive aid.
Fundraising and outreach would occur in similar events. I believe debt is a problem that needs to be talked about and, to raise funds, I plan to take the charity throughout the U.S. showcasing the need for a new community of philanthropy in the US. I'd also hope to use the charity to create a cross-country system of debt-solution awareness--helping connect confused debtors to financial advisors, budget planners, or other community assistance available in their local area. It is through such means that I believe we all can shatter the debt-related feelings of isolation, and bring our local and national communities together towards debt freedom.
This is my idea for a charity. It's not about giving a free ride. It's about renewing hope and strengthening communities. It's about reminding Americans that we all suffer difficult times in life, and that, together, we will survive them.