Each February, Emerson Hunger Fellows leave their field placements across the country and move to Washington, D.C., shifting the scope of their work from the community level to the national level as their fellowship year reaches its halfway point. More than just finding new apartments or learning new bus routes, the transition from their field sites to D.C. means acquiring new skills and a new frame of reference for work on a policy stage. This is where the Emerson Program’s policy training comes in.
“Policy training has been really good,” says Ray Chen, 23rd Class Emerson Fellow. “I don’t know much about DC or policy-making at the federal level, so it’s been very enlightening to hear from people actually involved in that work on how to do it best and what we should expect at our policy placements.”
Reconvening for the first time since their mid-field retreat in fall 2016, the Fellows begin the week by debriefing their placements and preparing for a formal presentation of their work over the past six months. Organizational partners, funders, policy supervisors, and fellowship alumni gather to view the presentations and ask questions about how the Fellows’ work. “My favorite day so far has been hearing everyone present their projects and meeting everyone’s policy supervisors,” says Ashley Burnside. “It’s been really cool seeing everyone collaborating, and all the different connections.”
What follows is a rigorous introduction to the way policy is made in Washington. Sessions led by fellowship alumni, Hunger Center staff, and long-time partners introduce the Fellows to topics like the federal budget, legislative process 101, current anti-hunger policy initiatives, and advocacy for racial equity at the state and federal level.
“In the past three days I’ve probably doubled my knowledge base on policy,” says Deondre’ Jones. “In order to be an effective advocate for change, these are the things we have to know, and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned so far.”
“It’s really a privilege to hear from veteran policy analysts and advocates who’ve been in this field for a while,” says Alysha Alani. “It’s great to hear that they’ve been through it before, it’s not their first fight, and if they can keep going then I should be able to get started.”
“For me, my only experience with organizations doing anti-hunger and anti-poverty work has been on a community level” says Eduardo Hernandez. “This week they’ve helped us fill in those education gaps of how things work on an institutional and government level.”
Anne-Marie Buron agrees. “[Policy training] is a great transition from field work, where many of us were at direct-service organizations, to how our work relates on a national level, which I think is a key strength of the Emerson Hunger Fellowship.”
Policy training culminates with Hill visits, where Fellows meet with the Members of Congress who represent the communities where they lived and worked during their field placements. The Fellows have a chance to share their stories and experiences, and offer Members their insights on ways to combat hunger in their states.
For the second half of their service, the Fellows will work with national organizations like the Food Research & Action Center, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger, and USDA, building on their field experience and applying their knowledge to national anti-hunger campaigns and policy initiatives. Good luck, Fellows!