Griffin Mills, a junior at Furman University, is committed to systemic change. He has worked to establish a deep and lasting partnership with an under-resourced community (New Washington Heights) in Greenville. In the summer of 2019, Griffin developed and led a summer program for neighborhood youth that focused on STEM, teamwork, environmental well-being, careers, and the arts. Griffin wasn’t just implementing a vision handed to him. Instead, he worked with community members to develop and implement a plan that provided experiences for students that were age- and experience-appropriate. His work laid the foundation for afterschool programs in the fall and spring that continued to support and challenge youth in the community. Student reflection was a unique component of the summer and school year programs and helped students link aspirations to current school experiences. Griffin also developed a Greenville hub of the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on local solutions to global climate change.
I have been involved with a local community, New Washington Heights, since just after arriving at Furman. I developed a summer program for children who had participated in the afterschool program. By meeting with various stakeholders in the Furman community as well as the Community Association I was able to successfully execute a seven week program focused on teamwork, STEM, environmental wellbeing, nutrition, and career thinking. I also spent time last summer writing grants for the community, winning a Beautification grant and a Walmart grant to provide further support for the community.
I think it is important to address the root causes of social issues with empathy and understanding. I never want to walk into a place and act like I know better, it is important to sit and listen to community members and find strategies to work on addressing root causes. If I didn’t have the full support of the Community Association, I could never have been successful in my endeavors. It took some time to find my role and my voice in the community, but I really believe that by listening to diverse voices and compiling a list of attainable goals you can work on addressing root issues.