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Using My Story As A Catalyst For Change

Champion Sonya Ponds (far left) shares with us her first time experience at the Champion Summit, and how she uses her recent diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis as a way to advocate for global childhood immunization and inspire change. 


Let’s be honest, being diagnosed with a chronic illness isn’t going to be the high point of anyone’s year. But, with just a little bit of perspective, it can become the catalyst for the beginning of a journey toward something amazing!

Born and raised in the great State of Alabama, I often heard my momma say, “Little girl, I can show you better than I can tell ya.” Well, who would have known those words and my battle with Multiple Sclerosis would take me further than I have ever imagined? Now, this Southern Belle is going worldwide with a message of hope and action. Full of passion, perspective, and the support from everyone at my first Champion Summit, I can say with confidence – I am a Global Advocate of vaccination access and parity for the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished children.

Coming to the Champion Summit

No, I didn’t come to the Champion Summit with a STEM degree, Allied Health experience in Phlebotomy, or even the Girl Scout badge for the most historic cookie sales ever. Instead, I came with an open heart, a willingness to serve, and my own story about the power and the necessity of access to life-sustaining medication. But, I’m only human.

Did I assume there would be some boring lectures on disease pathology, statistics, and Federal Appropriations Law?


Was I wrong?


Will this be the first time?


But, perfection has never been the goal. Life’s journey teaches you that sometimes it is better to be resourceful than right.

Of course, there were plenty of power-packed statistics on the value of vaccination, but to be a Champion, we were challenged to exercise our voice to resonate something more. Out of everything we heard at the summit, what stuck with me the most was the three simple opening words of the UN Foundation’s Vice President of Public Policy, Peter Yeo – Hope, Impact, and Effectiveness. We all have a story, and regardless of your age, experience, and educational level, we all have the ability to be impactful, effective, and hope-inspiring through the simple act of sharing.

Heading to the Hill

I came with notes…lots of them. We all did. And at times, it felt a little like an audition because we all had some choice lines rehearsed (that we eventually stumbled over as papers flew out of order.) But I quickly learned that the UN Foundation and fellow Champions will always have your back. Why? Because our work, our voice, and our time and efforts are as important as ink on paper and the sequence of facts.

Once we stepped into our purpose, we came to the realization that we actually run Capitol Hill. We have the right to speak up with our passions, questions, and concerns. So opening up about my Multiple Sclerosis became essential to my narrative. If access to subsidized medication and healthcare has prolonged my life, why would I not feel comfortable – even compelled – to advocate for it on the behalf of others. Again, we are reminded of the great power in sharing.

As Champions, we also learned about the power of effective engagement. We are not just information processors, soothsayers, and forecasters – we are also information seekers. We must listen to our Senators, Congressmen/women, and their staffers. Through honest dialogue, the Shot@Life message became more palatable and more human. And just like that, the building of an authentic, accountable relationship began.

Advocate 2 Vaccinate: My Action Plan

Needless to say, the Champion Summit taught me the audacity of hopeful expectation: if I lean-in and get to work on the mission I believe in, I can generate change. So, for Advocate 2 Vaccinate, I will:

  1.  Write my first Letter to the Editor EVER
  2. Schedule more in-person meetings with the Constituent Services Offices for my Legislators
  3. Call and Write my Legislators quarterly about the Mission of Shot@Life
  4. Tweet up a storm
  5.  Throw a dessert party to challenge family and friends to pick up the phone on National Call-In Day!

After a tough year, I am so grateful for the opportunity to use my story and my new found skills to brand myself as an Advocate and Champion for Something AMAZING! Thank you Shot@Life for helping me to help myself through the simple act of helping others.

Sonya Ponds