On February 14, 2010, Nikki W.  found herself keeling over in pain.  After months of testing, she was diagnosed with gastroparesis (paralysis of the stomach).  Gastroparesis (GP) is a chronic illness without a cure.  Treatment options are limited. There are few medications available, mostly geared towards symptom control rather than dealing with the underlying problem. For this reason, they are often ineffective.  Nikki is an artist and has used her passion for photography to raise awareness about her illness for the past two years.  She created a GP awareness video in 2010 and participated in another that was released in 2012.  Nikki’s is more than a patient struggling with a chronic and painful illness.  She has become an advocate striving to raise awareness about GP in the hope that someone, someday, will find a cure. 

Nikki and her sister created the Facebook Group Striding Sisters in 2007 to raise money for a two-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and it evolved into a medium to raise awareness about GP.  In 2011, Striding Sisters called upon Nikki’s family, friends and neighbors to “Wear Green” for gastroparesis awareness. Over 100 people participated!  Actually, numerous cats, dogs and even a horse wore green for the cause too!  In 2012, over 1,000 people have pledged to “Wear Green” for GP this Valentine’s Day.  The group has grown well beyond Nikki’s extended network to include others struggling with GP and people dedicated to raising awareness about this invisible disease. 

“Wear Green” is a beautiful example of community organizing.  It shows how one woman used her talents to educate others on an illness from which an estimated 5 million Americans suffer.  Nikki’s story is an inspiration because it reminds us that we all have the capacity to make a difference.

 The political climate can be very polarized at times which, consequently, causes people to become disenfranchised.  In some circles words like “community organizing” and “advocacy” have taken on negative connotations.  However, there are various forms of community organizing and advocacy utilizing a number of different mediums.  For example, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have evolved into tools people can use to raise awareness on a number of issues. 

Advocacy is about empowerment.  It’s about fighting for ideas, principles, and/or issues about which you are passionate by educating and mobilizing the public to take action.  As an advocate you not only find your own voice, but you help others to find their voice and to use it in the decisions that affect their lives.

Alexis De Tocqueville once said that “Life is to be entered upon with courage.”  We must all remember that we are a part of something that is greater than ourselves.  Even a small action can ignite a flame to spark a movement.  Find your issue and make it your passion, make it your hobby, and/or make it your career.  It doesn’t matter how big or how small your actions are.  You just have to act.  

Ways to Get Involved: 

To participate in Wear Green go to the Facebook Group Striding Sisters

To join the fight to end poverty in the Lehigh Valley visit CACLV’s website