On Tuesday, Oct. 29, the Kean University chapter of Pi Alpha Alpha - the Public Administration Honor Society - joined the Family Advocate Network Political Action Committee (FAN-PAC) to host the Children and Family Empowerment Project: Public Policy in Action; Advocacy in the Real World event. The symposium took place from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Miron Student Center (MSC), Room 226, and was highlighted by a panel discussion featuring policy-makers, educators, legal experts and advocates. The event was an opportunity for the Kean student body, as well as other local interested guests, to learn more about public policy making and contributing to the public discussion.
The objective of the symposium, and FAN-PAC's work, is to empower families and the family court to help maintain children's relationships with both parents when confronted by legal and personal challenges like separation and divorce or financial struggles.
Chair of the Legislative Committee for FAN-PAC, David Kalen, and President of Pi Alpha Alpha's Kean University Chapter Scout Hartley, championed the event as a means to bring together the local community and students with their legislators - which is the nature of each organization's work, generally. The evening was also a rare occasion for students with burgeoning interest in political involvement to learn more about the process of crafting public policy right here on campus.
Hartley, whose passion for public policy brought him both to Pi Alpha Alpha and to crafting the Children and Empowerment Project event with FAN-PAC, is also a child welfare advocate and consultant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As an advocate and public policy specialist, he seeks to "understand the system of governance that we have to work within, but also to educate people about that system."
"We live in a very complex, complicated system of government, where there are all of these overlapping jurisdictions, and things can sometimes get confusing in knowing how to solve social problems," Hartley said. "When you can understand a system, you can work within the system to create change."
The panel of five included Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, Democrat of New Jersey's 33rd District; Assemblywoman Linda Carter, Democrat of New Jersey's 22nd District; David Brandwein, Psy.D., associate professor of psychology at Kean University; Lori Lynn, executive director of Peaceful Healing - a counseling and therapy group in Essex County and David Kalen, executive director of FAN-PAC.
"When you're an advocate, you put the 'me' aside, and you really work for the 'we,'" Kalen said. "Our children are precious, and when their needs aren't being met, or they're being forced to make decisions about choosing one parent over another, that's unhealthy. And not just for them, or for that nuclear family...but really for society in general."
Getting involved in policy and the community is "the same whether you're young, you're middle-aged, you're old," according to Kalen.
"The key, if you really want to be an agent of change, is to find something you're truly passionate about, and that your words, when you speak, they come out as being genuine. When you find that cause, the other things tend to fall into place behind it," said Kalen.
"Society doesn't change because a body of people write down some words on a piece of paper and it gets signed into law. We have to reach a tipping point in this conversation about why this issue matters," Kalen went on.
Pi Alpha Alpha often engages with community service and volunteer events.
"A few years ago, we went to the Food Bank of South New Jersey and helped make care packages around the holidays," Hartley said. "We recently had a meeting with a body at the U.N. that helps administer some of the sustainable development goals...We're also trying to do an international program with an organization in Uganda."
Kalen concluded, "Our goals are to ensure that one less child, after tonight, makes the same choice as another child might have made yesterday, and then tomorrow, there's another one, and another one, until, ultimately, we create a conversation: a place where love can happen rather than conflict."
The resounding message: the success of the event is one part of a constantly ongoing, growing effort to improve engagement and better people's lives.
Those wishing to learn more about Pi Alpha Alpha, FAN-PAC and their projects can investigate through their respective websites. This popular event garnered the attention of many Kean University students as well as activists. All are encouraged to continue to be involved with public policy and help other members of the community stay informed.