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Champion VoicesAugust 30, 2014

BLOGUST: Speaking Up on “First” Journeys

Thanks to your participation throughout the month of August, Blogust has over 71,118 actions and counting, reaching its goal of providing 60,000 life-saving vaccines for children around the world who need them most. YOU are the ones who made this possible with your comments, shares and compassion for wanting every child around the globe to have a shot at a healthy life.

Although all actions after 60,000 do not count towards vaccines, continue to comment, share and like all posts until August 31st and help celebrate our successes! All additional actions will still help in spreading awareness around the importance of providing life-saving vaccines to children in developing countries.

It’s been a week of heartfelt and at times heartbreaking stories of struggle and adversity but also much courage, passion, perseverance and inspiration for making a difference in a child’s life and yes there also has been beauty. This final week of Blogust, a memorable one, brought some profound “first ” stories, often difficult personal journeys. The paths that have led people to speak out and try to make the world a better, healthier place for children and families aren’t always smooth or easy but as the Blogust writers illuminated this week, these journeys often hold silver linings too.

Allison Czarnecki, founder and editor of Petit Elefant started off the poignant week by writing about a harrowing “first ” for her family in her brave and earnest post, We Lift Together in the Face of Darkness. As a mother with an ill child, despite the many challenges she still finds reason to be hopeful and thankful for many blessings including the comfort and support of friends, family, community and also fine health care. I’m still awed and humbled.

On Tuesday, noted photographer Anne Geddes shared her compelling and beautiful (not-to-be missed!) photographs of children who’ve suffered with meningitis in her post Protect. Nurture. Love. I’ve never seen portraits quite like this, such courageous children and young adults. Despite many remarkable achievements, Anne revealed the highly emotional photo project, Protecting our Tomorrows – Portraits of Meningococcal Disease, represented a true “first ” in her career. May she continue on this gutsy path.

On Wednesday, poet Cameron Conaway of the Good Men Project told of a different kind of heroic journey, one in the remote reaches of Bangladesh. He introduced us to Bibi and her newborn baby, both sickened by malaria, who journeyed two hours by foot to a makeshift clinic for treatment. Bibi’s obstacles, her commitment and love, this was a “heart ” story for sure. I won’t soon forget Bibi or the post Smiling with Fear.

On Thursday Emily, a ten year-old budding entrepreneur and social activist delivered a bright ray of sunshine, a primer on how to make a difference. Her mother, Leticia Barr aka Tech Savvy Mom, told how Emily raised $649 for charities by crafting and selling colorful ribbon barrettes. An inspiration, Emily initiated the project, enlisted her friends’ help and spread the news on social media (with her mother’s help). Leticia also provided some tips for getting kids involved in her post, The Lessons I’ve Learned From My Daughter as She Fundraises to Support Her First Cause. Way to go, Emily (and Leticia)!

On Friday, Jessica Shyba of Momma’s Gone City, due to deliver her fourth child any day, shared how she recently faced the difficult decision whether to switch her two year-old son to a new preschool after belatedly learning children at the school her soon Beau was set to attend had not been vaccinated. With a new baby soon to arrive in her home and increasing cases of Pertussis or Whooping Cough, Jessica chose another preschool and found time to write about it in Fighting For Firsts and A Shot At Life.

All the above writers created hope and inspiration this week. Their stories, their “firsts “, their often personal journeys, make it clear we all can make a difference whether we’re mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, poets, photographers or little girls tying ribbons in between swim practices. Thank you all for sharing your hardships, your dedication and optimism.

It isn’t always so easy to take action. Although it can be powerful and rewarding, it isn’t necessarily easy to speak up or stand up particularly for the first time.

It wasn’t easy for my own daughter, a soft-spoken thirteen year-old. It’s not easy being reserved and quiet in middle school. From navigating the bigger noisier halls to participating in class discussions and surviving the thorny social scene, introverted middle-schoolers face daily pressures their more extroverted peers do not at school. I know it take some effort for my daughter to do things others find relatively simple like talking to teachers, the bus driver and other students.

Add to this an adolescent propensity to challenge or ignore a fair portion of what a parent says and you can imagine my surprise last spring when I learned my daughter, the one teachers have always asked to speak up, always wished would “come out of her shell, ” actually spoke up at school for a cause, and not just any cause but for Shot@Life, a campaign I’ve championed for several years now. Sure, she and her younger sister and brother have pitched in for Shot@Life in the past but this time was different.

My daughter who often speaks in a whisper not only decided to persuade her homeroom to take on the Shot@Life cause but also ultimately stood on a stage in front of the entire middle school and spoke out for children and vaccines. So when she told me about her plans for the Change For Change charity event I was nearly speechless. As a psychologist and mother I knew not to show too much interest or ask too many questions. Parents of teens know this is a delicate balance. Information slowly trickled out over the coming weeks. There would be a competition of sorts with each homeroom presenting their cause. The middle school would then vote. The winning cause would receive the school’s fundraising support, the Change for Change.


As she worked on the slideshow and presentation, my daughter worried the other causes, namely the cute animals, would win over the hearts and votes of her fellow students. In true middle school fashion, I wasn’t allowed to attend the event. I didn’t get to see my daughter speak out or officially record it for posterity. In fact I received next to no details. According to my daughter it went “okay. ”

Then a couple weeks later as my daughter sat in the kitchen doing homework, me juggling dinner, the family calendar and a phone call, she delivered this nugget.

Oh. I have something to tell you. The middle school chose Shot@Life for their cause.

I stopped everything. Tears welled up in my eyes. I think I was speechless for a second or two as I took in one my daughter’s most significant achievements. Speaking up, actually standing up and speaking out for a cause, is a clear “first ” that I will never forget. It’s up there with first steps, first day of school and the other biggies. The fact that Shot@Life was at the center of it, icing on the cake! The fact that Shot@Life resonated with young minds and hearts, the cherry on top!


I hope you’ll speak up here today. Bravo if it’s your “first ” step! Speak up and make a huge difference in a child’s life by providing a life-saving vaccine. Please help other parents and other children embark on their own hard won journeys, their own paths of memorable “firsts. ”

During Shot@Life’s Blogust 2014—a month-long blog relay—some of North America’s most beloved online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions will come together and share stories about Happy and Healthy Firsts. Every time you comment on this post and other Blogust contributions, or share them via social media on this website, Shot@Life and the United Nations Foundation pages, Walgreens will donate one vaccine (up to 60,000). Blogust is one part an overall commitment of Walgreens donating up to $1 million through its “Get a Shot. Give a Shot.®” campaign. The campaign will help provide millions of vaccines for children in need around the world.

For more information, visit or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Polly Palumbo