Today we'd like to introduce one of our youth advocates, Michelle Ballasiotes. Michelle attended our You're the Cure on the Hill this week, and shared her story with Congress. Read on below and hear about her experience on Capitol Hill. Take it away Michelle!
Hi, I am Michelle Ballasiotes and this week I joined over 380 AHA advocates and staff from across the country in Washington, DC for You’re the Cure on the Hill 2015. We were in D.C. to "Step Up to the Plate" for healthy school meals and medical research funding. It was two very exciting days where I met so many wonderful and passionate advocates who were ready to share our message with Congress.
Here are some highlights from my trip.
Monday - A Day to Learn about the Issues
On Monday while the adults attended their training sessions, I was able to participate in an engaging youth training led by Kim and Andrea from Youth Empowered Solutions. They first provided us with background information about the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and NIH Medical Research Funding. One surprising thing that I learned was that the initial reason for healthier school meals was because kids were not receiving the proper nourishment they needed and were even too skinny to join the army! Since then, it has become even more important for kids to have healthy options at school.
It was important for us to learn about the history and important facts of each of our issues, because we wanted to be able to confidently share what we learned with our members of Congress. We also practiced how to incorporate our personal story into our asks of Congress. By personalizing the issues, we learned that our ask becomes much more powerful.
As a reward for a hard day's work, we learned how to make a quick and easy apple cobbler. Which taught us that it's okay to have healthy desserts in moderation. It was a delicious break during our training!
Another important part of our training was learning about the important role that social media plays in emphasizing our message. Many of our Senators and Representatives are on social media, and they listen to the things we have to say. We were able to share the hashtag, #StepUp4HeartHealth, throughout the event and see it make a real impact. So remember, hashtags have power!
The next big event on Monday was the Heroes Luncheon, which featured an actual school meal served on fun, red lunch trays. The taco salad was delicious!
It was also so awesome to see two fellow North Carolinians receive national awards! My friend, Cassidy Collins, won the National Youth Advocate of the Year Award and Dr. David Huang received the National Science Advocate of the Year. It was great to see the passion that many North Carolina advocates share for the American Heart Association!
I learned so much on Monday and felt prepared to take what I learned and share it on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Tuesday - Time to turn Capitol Hill RED
To start off the morning, I led a few youth advocates onto the stage at the send-off breakfast. We were able to share some of what we learned during our previous day's training with everyone. It was great to provide a quick recap for the whole group before we made our way up to Capitol Hill to meet with our members of Congress.
My first meeting was with Senator Tillis and his staff. It went great! We were actually able grab a few minutes with the Senator himself. I found it very helpful to know some background on each member of Congress ahead of time. It let me know what points will persuade them the most.
During my day on Capitol Hill, I learned that every meeting on the Hill goes differently and you have to be prepared for anything. For example, during our meeting with Representative Hudson, his staff brought up some interesting points about medical research funding and how we measure results. I also learned that Hill staff members may be new and are just trying to absorb everything we told them. Which was okay, because we were prepared to answer all of their questions and were able to educate them on our issues.
The rest of our meetings went great and I am confident we hit a home run on Capitol Hill!
Why Did I Attend You're the Cure on the Hill 2015? - My story
I attended You're the Cure on the Hill because I suffered a stroke before I was even born. As a result of my stroke, I have been able to work with the American Heart Association. I want to be a strong advocate for more awareness of cardiovascular disease and the policies that influence positive change. This year, I was able to be a powerful voice in advocating for more NIH medical research funding, because the cause of my stroke is still unknown. If we don't know what causes strokes in kids, how can we prevent them? Also, by being a youth myself, I was able to share my personal experience of why keeping healthy school meal standards strong is important to kids like me!
Being on Capitol Hill is always such a thrill for me. I love seeing people's faces when they see the sea of red and know it is the American Heart Association. It's also wonderful to show Congress that youth have a voice and we are not afraid to express our opinions.
Each year I attend Lobby Day is different, but it's always exciting. I've done National Lobby Day six times and I can't wait until the next event! I love reconnecting with old friends and meeting new people.