If someone were to have asked me four months ago what Public Policy was, I doubt I would have given them an answer that was suitable or accurate of what it actually entails. I have this ridiculous ability to dive into the unknown without fully understanding what I’m doing. It’s what I did when I applied to my now alma mater, Juniata College, without knowing that it was among the Top 100 Best National Liberal Arts Colleges or that it was one of the 40 Colleges that Change Lives. True to my nature, diving into the unknown was that exactly what I did with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, without realizing that it was one of the top not-for-profit organizations related to suicide prevention in the country.
Labels and façades do not impress me- it’s the content and the potential experience to be had that attracts me. The core components of AFSP that attracted me most, to understand suicide through research and the promotion of policies and legislation that impact suicide and suicide prevention, are what attracted me the most to the organization; I wanted to be somewhere that enabled me to create change for something bigger than myself. To be honest, I didn’t know a thing about public policy, but I knew myself well enough to know that I wanted to be a part of this team.
Spending the last few months as a Public Policy Associate has given me such an insight that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. I went from having to rudimentary understanding of policy to being able to speak with others in the mental health field about laws that directly affect the people they serve; I went from barely understanding how our government operated to being able to speak skillfully on how the Government Shutdown of 2013 impacts members of Congress and their constituents; most importantly, I went from feeling insecure about my effectiveness in the workplace to being confident in my skills and knowing my strengths and weaknesses.
My confidence and growth over the course of these last few months grew gradually, and was guided by the aid and support I received from John, Nicole and Trevor. Slowly, through my independent research in prison suicide prevention strategies and the collaborative work I did with decriminalizing suicide in Virginia with Nicole and Brain Tissue Donation with my fellow policy associates, I learned that change doesn’t always happen on the front lines. You can effect change by being the quiet, introverted kid from a small, Liberal Arts College in Central PA working in a cubicle in Downtown, DC. My time here at AFSP has been amazing and if I had the chance to do it over again, I know that I wouldn’t change a thing.