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How to Make Change: From Idea to Action

Mark Svensson, a senior at Georgetown University, shares how he stopped waiting for change by starting the Rockland Roundtable Initiative.

I’ve never been an advocate of waiting. Waiting in line, waiting for a ride, and particularly waiting for change all seem like missed opportunities. When there’s a shortcoming or issue that needs solving, we can’t wait for others to step up; we must take action. It doesn’t have to be much, just a phone-call or a letter. Or, one step better, answering the President’s call for youth roundtables. One inspiring young man shares how he’s stopped waiting for change.

Mark Svensson, a senior at Georgetown University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Government, reflects on the Rockland Roundtable Initiative.

Last summer I had the privilege of attending the White House’s “How to Make Change Civic Engagement” meeting. Energized by the message of panelists like Congressman Cedric Richmond that “we all can make a difference in our communities,” I left the White House that day with a goal - coming up with a plan to help create positive change in my community of Rockland County, NY.

President Obama has stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” But I wondered....what could I do? That is when I learned about President Obama’s youth roundtable initiative.

Inspired by President Obama’s call for young people to step forward and lead discussions about how to improve our communities, I co-founded the Rockland Roundtable Initiative. Hosting a series of roundtable discussions, this initiative brings together local students, public and private sector officials and citizens to discuss pressing issues in Rockland, and to brainstorm viable ways that young people can help to address these challenges. 

Rockland Roundtable

Mark Svensson participates in a Rockland Roundtable. (Photo Courtesy of Mark Svensson)

These Roundtables have led to the establishment of a number of remarkable programs including an initiative to mentor young people at risk of dropping out of high school, book drives to provide literacy and educational opportunities to disadvantaged children and more. Just this past winter holidays, a group of students and I collected and donated more than 4,000 books for children of all ages to five local organizations. 

Through this initiative, I have gained a further appreciation to the power that comes when you commit to becoming involved and engaged in your community. I feel extremely humbled when community leaders in Rockland County such as Harriet Cornell, Chairwoman of the Legislature of Rockland County, state that our "focus on health, education, and civic engagement and initiative to serve as role models and mentors to other young people elicits optimism and hope to others.”

We all have the power to create positive change in our communities. The first step in doing so is becoming involved. I encourage everyone to find their passion and voice and use it to help make their community a better place.

Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.