Each month, we shine a light on a Points of Light employee who is making a difference in their community. These stories of service highlight the individual volunteer efforts of our dedicated staff, what motivated them to get involved and how service has inspired them.
Terra Gay has dedicated the past 22 years to working directly with youth as an educator, certified leadership development trainer, and a community and youth advocate. She currently serves as senior vice president of programs at Points of Light, representing our education and youth development initiatives, as well as military, veteran and disaster preparedness programming. Terra’s passion for positively impacting youth inspired the launch of Be the Change Atlanta, an intergenerational collaboration of students, professionals, community activists and youth advocates – unifying community changemakers around a common goal of empowering youth.
Be the Change Atlanta hosts an annual youth summit, engaging more than 200 kids and teens each year, and they are continuously looking for new ways to assure that youth confidently know they have purpose and value. Through her work, Terra is equipping the next generation to create a world in which humanity, justice, equity, access and inclusion exist for all. We spoke with Terra to learn more about Be the Change Atlanta and her commitment to empowering youth to be changemakers in their community.
What was your first volunteer experience?
My very first volunteer experience took place as a 6-year-old when I volunteered with my grandmother to feed elders and seniors from the church who were homebound due to illness. I helped her, with limited skills at the time, to cook and pack the food for the elders and seniors.
What inspired you to create Be the Change Atlanta?
Be The Change was created in response to many of the horrific and tragic incidents that were happening around the country including police brutality and other racially based injustices. I put a call out to friends and family who then formed the first committee.
The annual Youth Summit is a huge event for Be the Change Atlanta. Can you tell us more about the event and its’ mission?
Each year we host a summit to engage up to 200 youth (11-18 year olds) for the purpose of providing them with skills to mobilize change, strengthen life skills, better manage health and well-being, further their personal/educational goals, use art as a form of social change and become advocates for community and social change. Since the first year, youth organizations that apply are awarded service grants from the proceeds of the previous year, youth share reflections of the impact of workshops/conversations and entertainers are invited to inspire the youth to go back to their communities and use their voices and talents to bring about positive change
What does “Beloved Community” mean to you, how does the Be the Change Atlanta encourage this vision?
The Beloved Community to me is achieved when communities commit to and practice agape love; moving in the spirit of humanity and acting accordingly. Be The Change seeks to accomplish this each year by inviting speakers and presenters seeking to achieve the Beloved Community through service, and providing tools and ideas for the youth to replicate with their families and peers beyond the summit.
What ignited your desire to bring youth together in service?
I have witnessed the power service provides for youth to feel a sense of purpose and value. Service in many ways becomes an equalizer for youth who may be of varying backgrounds because it allows for them to come together for a single goal/purpose. It also gives them each an opportunity to give of themselves no matter their economic backgrounds, since time to give to others is something they all possess.
What have you learned through your experience as a volunteer and leader?
What I have learned when the title of leader was placed upon me is that I am but a servant who seeks to support, inspire and encourage those around me to greatness, for themselves and the world around them.
Has your experience with volunteer service influenced and/or affected your career? If so, how?
I am not certain I would say that service influenced my career. However, I do believe that I have been extremely fortunate to have a career that reflects what I believe to be my purpose.
Why is engaging youth to create a civic culture so important?
It is critical that youth are engaged in a civic culture that is constantly in pursuit of social consciousness, social justice and human advancement for all to ensure that humanity, justice, equity, access and inclusion exists for future generations.
What is your dream for Be the Change Atlanta in the future, and how can people get involved?
My dream for Be the Change is that others will be inspired to use our tools, or create their own, to replicate summits in communities globally so that youth are gaining tools as citizens of the world to become servant leaders. Others can get involved by serving on the planning committee, volunteering for the event, donating to create more service grants, providing in-kind donations for the swag bags that are given to youth in attendance or donating to the scholarship fund to support with youth registration. Those who donate dollars should be aware that all funds are used solely to support the annual summit and/or service grants, but no dollars are used to compensate speakers or committee members.
Want to make a difference in your community? Visit www.allforgood.org to find local opportunities to get involved.