My One Cent: Jennifer Wells

"Advocates ensure the most vulnerable and marginalized can use their own voices."

August 30, 2017

Jennifer Wells knows what it’s like to be an American refugee. She re-established her life after Hurricane Katrina through the help of friends and strangers and discovered how powerful it is to give back to those in need.  Now, she’s among CARE’s strongest citizen advocates, in part because she understands what struggle and assistance are all about.  With so many charitable opportunities open to her, we asked Jennifer, “why do you advocate with CARE?” Here’s Jennifer’s story: 

I’m advocating for CARE because I was a domestic refugee and was displaced for a short period of time. I know what it’s like to be displaced and homeless and lost. I know what it’s like to be unsure of what the next day will bring as far as your safety, your ability to make a way for yourself and even your method of eating or where you will find your food.

For more than seven days, I was in the Super Dome while we experienced not only the storm of Hurricane Katrina, but the aftermath, the confusion and disarray that followed. When I see images on television or read stories of people in crisis, torn cities and countries, I know intensely, for a moment, what that is like.

That experience changed me and gave me a purpose. What helped me get back to stable ground following that crisis was aid and kind hearts: people who were willing to help without question, people who were willing to help me for the long term. They didn’t just give me a sandwich because I was hungry. They also found a way to help me make a new life for myself in a new place. That’s why I understand how important it is for us as Americans and as humans to reach out to the most vulnerable.

Before Katrina, I had the spirit of an advocate but I wasn’t doing anything hardcore. After Katrina, I realized I needed to speak out and be more vocal. I realized that that situation was in-part caused by natural disaster, but it was also man-made. It was man-made in terms of how to recover from a trauma or natural disaster and man-made in that there were policies put in place decades prior to that storm that meant that some people could not survive it. I have family members who passed away. There were policies that meant people could not thrive in that city. They had no way out, no means of getting out.

Now, I’m advocating with my local, state and national officials to create policies that protect human life and encourage women and children in particular. I know how hard it is for women and their families to make it. We have to create situations where women are okay, where they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from because they have the means. They can pay for their education, their house, their next meal. They have the means to survive.

Our role as advocates is to use our voice when we can speak loud and clear. I stand here now perfectly fine; I can speak loudly and clearly for someone else who hasn’t yet recovered her voice or is having a hard time getting her voice heard. I can use my voice to make sure other voices are lifted so they can speak for themselves.

I love that at this moment, I can be that voice. I can carry that voice to Capitol Hill. I can speak loudly in my home state in West Virginia and recruit other people to help. In essence, the gut and heart of what advocates do is to ensure the most vulnerable and marginalized can use their own voices, that they’re actually heard, that they’re empowered in turn to be the voice for another person, who at this moment, is voiceless or breathless. There’s a voice in everybody but sometimes the breath or force isn’t there to get it out. We can be that breath. We can be their force until we can hear their voice and message clearly.