February 25, 2013—Alumnus Mark Svensson (C’12) and his wife Ismini Svensson are traveling across the United States to perform “50 Acts of Giving Back.”
The trip is the first initiative of their new nonprofit organization StayUNITED. The organization promotes the importance of serving others by “fostering partnerships, conducting charitable initiatives, and implementing volunteer opportunities,” Mark explained.
Mark and Ismini met at Georgetown and bonded over their “mutual passion for service to others and social justice initiatives,” he said. “We decided to establish StayUNITED because we believe that as human beings, what we have in common is more important than our differences.” As founders of a new nonprofit organization, Mark and Ismini wanted to have a thorough understanding of the social and economic issues affecting communities across the country.
Under the banner of “50 Acts of Giving Back,” they will travel to each state and work with a variety of charities and organizations. “It is one thing to read about an issue, but visiting a community and engaging with its people is the only way you can really understand their needs and what they are going through,” he said. They also see their state-by-state investigation as an opportunity to involve more people in their organization.
“From the beginning of our 50-state initiative, we realized the importance of turning our effort into collective action where everyone can play a role and any issue can be addressed,” he continued. “We hope to raise awareness [among] citizens, media, and politicians, but our number one priority is to engage with citizens and spread the message of charity and solidarity,” Mark explained.
“We believe that real change starts when real people are aware of pressing issues. Through collective efforts, they [can] work together to create a better world for future generations,” he continued.
In its first three stops, StayUNITED has identified an issue of particular concern in that state and then partnered with local volunteers and organizations. “50 Acts” began in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where the nonprofit worked with the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center program to combat the rate of drug-induced deaths in the state.
StayUNITED’s second stop highlighted Los Angeles’ issue of homelessness. “Los Angeles is America’s wealthiest county, with over 250,000 millionaires, but it’s also the nation’s homeless capital,” he said. Working with Los Angeles House of Ruth, StayUNITED helped furnish the homes of two former homeless mothers and their children. Mark and Ismini also hoped the project would highlight a number of issues that affect the country’s homeless population, including shelter, health care, and hunger.
Now in Clark County, Nevada, for the 2013 Nevada Reading Week, StayUNITED is focusing on the problem of illiteracy. “Nevada ranks near the bottom of state-by-state comparisons of reading achievement,” Mark said. His nonprofit is organizing a book drive for local schools and libraries and volunteer networks to pair adults and low-income families with reading mentors.
Homelessness and illiteracy are two of many topics that Mark and Ismini want to tackle as an organization. But their journey will be decided in part by the general public who can offer suggestions of where StayUNITED should go and what issues to address. “It was a priority for us to create a platform where anyone can play a role, and every issue can be addressed,” Mark said.
People can make suggestions to StayUNITED for future projects via email, Twitter, and Facebook. “Each week after reviewing the feedback and suggestions, we select the next state and the issue we will address based on people’s responses,” he explained. “Whether it’s homelessness, domestic violence, illiteracy, or people with disabilities, StayUNITED develops a project or partners with other local organizations to address the issue.”
As they travel across the United States, Mark and Ismini are learning how to grow StayUNITED into an effective national nonprofit. “After ‘50 Acts of Giving Back,’ we hope to have all the required knowledge and the resources to make an even greater difference on the issues we will tackle through this initiative. For us, ‘50 Acts’ is just the tip of the iceberg.”