October 26th, 2023
By Johanna Casao, Communications Manager, and Minhhan Lam, Program and Community Coordinator II
I came to CARE: The Gathering 2023 as a student ready to learn. I value the community leaders in my hometown of Oceanside, in North County San Diego, and I bring that hope and openness to RedRover as both Communications Manager and as a member of the BIPOC community, dedicating our lives to helping animals and representing the whole picture of the people who love them.
The question asked in every research review, guest speaker feature, and panel of The Gathering remained: “What work is already being done in the community you serve? Who are the proximate leaders in your community besides you?” Cultivating your network, as panel host and CARE Chief Program Officer Johnny L. Jenkins said, means cultivating community relationships.
I was happy to recognize crucial pieces of uplifting community voices in our work: going beyond posting about free resources on social media and showing up in one location – our staff, partner orgs, and volunteers are going door-to-door to canvas where there is need for unchaining outside dogs, and what local families would like to avail of veterinary services. We’re creating programs for Native teens in our local community to learn from our RedRover Readers program, gathering Native-authored children’s stories to teach empathy skills, and developing their own curricula to teach younger generations. We’re reaching out to community animal welfare organizations and local officials to first find out what support they need in disaster preparedness and education through the RedRover Responders program.
Along with our efforts, we know we as an organization have much more to learn, to work with leaders of communities we don’t belong to, to connect and cultivate relationships and understand the whole-picture need. One question, asked once, that stayed with me was, “What would your community look like if your work was done?”
For us at RedRover, it would be impossible for no animal and no family with pets to never experience crisis, or for the children we visit to be born with the empathy skills we hope to foster. But a radical possibility, as Jenkins asks us all to consider in our work, would be that the communities we serve are equipped with the tools and resources they need to help the people and pets who live there. Then the work that we love and dedicate ourselves to would be done.
– Johanna Casao, Communications Manager
When I first stepped foot into the Liberty Ballroom – such a fitting name – for CARE: The Gathering 2023 inside the Marriott Hotel in Philadelphia, I could not have anticipated the wealth of community wisdom and love that would overflow from that space for the next few days. It was truly an incredible experience that left me humbled and inspired to continue the work.
When I say “the work”, I am referring to inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility, and belonging, as it intersects with the work toward improving and enriching the well-being of both humans and animals. How can we help plant the seeds to a more empathetic society for everyone? We can start locally, within our communities, then branch out. The Community Participatory Research panel at CARE said, “Know your community; participate in your community; engage in your community. Then step outside of that community, the whole country ain’t that different.” If we can find it in ourselves to set aside our differences, to act out of care and compassion, then we can collectively “wipe the fog from our lanterns” and all shine brighter, as James Evans, Founder & CEO of CARE, wisely stated in his welcome speech. But this kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a cultural paradigm shift. We just have to keep talking the talk, and walking the walk, for years until it becomes ingrained.
Being a part of RedRover for over seven years, I have observed, listened, and experienced a lot within our Education Department, which consists of our RedRover Readers program and nonfiction children’s publication, Kind News™ magazine. As Program and Community Coordinator II, I hope to help create lasting change through preventative care and building awareness. People don’t know what they have never been exposed to. As an educator and enthusiastic learner, I feel as if I not only have a responsibility to do what I can to help reduce the barriers preventing people from accessing educational resources, but to also help pave the way for future BIPOC within the animal and human well-being sector. Representation matters. True allyship matters. But it takes a village.
– Minhhan Lam, Program and Community Coordinator II