Dear Swipe Student Leaders, From Swipe Graduates

As the 2020 academic year comes to a close, we asked some of our incredible Swipe Student Leaders to pass on words of wisdom to the current and future network of students. Here are their letters.

From Anthony Okeke, California State University, East Bay

Dear Student Leaders,

As a formal Swipe Out Hunger student leader, I am delighted to use this opportunity to let you all know that we pride ourselves on putting solutions first and helping our audience understand that the issue of college hunger is surmountable. But, in order to go on board with the solutions and helping our audience to understand the issue of college hunger, we have to embrace the role of a good leader to influence others to accomplish an objective and direct in a way that makes it more coherent and cohesive.

Every leadership role is unique and requires a tailored plan of action. What works for me, may not work for you; one person’s strength may very well be your weakness and that is completely okay. However, the goal is to achieve a purpose that is, to go on board with a solution that will end college hunger. Like most talents, learning how to cultivate your skills can help you grow both as an individual and as a mentor to others. I write to you as a fellow student leader who wants to initiate your inner spark, and I encourage you to always aim high but remind yourself that following through is infinitely more important.

Thank you for being a Swipe Out Hunger Student leader!

Anthony Okeke

From Jessica Ramirez, California State University, Chico

Dear Student Leaders,

My name is Jessica Ramirez and I am a recent college graduate from California State University Chico. I am the former President of the Sociological Association of Chico State and the Student of the Year for the college of Behavioral and Social Science, but most know me as the Student Representative for the Swipe Against Hunger campaign (S.A.H), the first program of its kind at CSU, Chico. I want to first commend you for taking the grand initiative in becoming a leader both on your campus and in your community. As someone who occupies various positions of leadership, I have compiled some words of wisdom to share with you as you embark or continue on your journey of leadership and growth. Please do not hesitate to share these words with others along your journey as well.

My first word of wisdom is to dream big. Growing up, I endured a challenging upbringing that constantly exposed me to homelessness and food insecurity. I struggled academically throughout high school and on a whim, decided to embark on the journey of higher education. Upon beginning my journey at Ventura community college, I faced a grueling case of imposter syndrome, constantly questioning my ability to succeed. I remember telling myself “people like me, people where I come from don’t go to college.” Some of my most memorable learning experiences stem from pushing myself into spaces I would not normally consider to be meant for me. I truly let my imagination lead the way throughout my undergraduate journey. As cheesy as it may sound, I constantly told myself “if I can dream it, I can achieve it” and so I
did just that.

My second word of wisdom is to never stop learning. While many of my peers consider me to be an expert on the issue of food insecurity and basic needs on our campus, I make it my mission to continuously learn. Some of my most valuable and unforgettable knowledge has come from the very same people I have served in local homeless shelters, proving that learning does not require a specific place or time. While I have indefinitely spent countless hours studying and researching the issue of food insecurity, there is never a day that I do not think there is still more for me to learn.

My last and arguably most valuable word of wisdom I would like to share with you is to rest. During my last semester of my undergraduate studies, I found myself spread way too thin. I was working twenty hours a week for the CalFresh Outreach team of Chico State, and thirty hours a week at a local homeless shelter where my shifts often ended closer to 3 am most mornings. I was President of the Sociological Association, the Student Leader for S.A.H, all while taking a full load of courses, one of which was statistics, enough said. For a moment in time, I became so lost in the things that I loved to do, I forgot that I needed to make time to love me, too. I learned from that experience that you can be doing everything you love and still get tired. Taking time to refocus and be “unproductive” makes a world of difference for
your well being.

Student leaders, please never stop dreaming. Your role is vital in the fight for social justice, equitable food and housing security, especially. Thank you for your bravery in advocacy. The world is a better place with leaders like you in it.

Under one sky,
Jessica Ramirez

From Katelyn Smith, Texas State University, San Marcos

Dear Student Leaders,

So proud of you for being a recipient of this letter! That means you have taken the initiative to join an amazing cause. Swipe Out Hunger was easily the most rewarding time investment I made during my college career. The best part about this organization is how rewarding it is to others. I hope you make lifetime friends and mentors along the way. I know I definitely did. I hope Rachel and the Swipe crew will be as inspiring to you as they were for me. I think the Student Leaders across the nation are equally inspiring in their demonstration of resilience, compassion and motivation. You may not think of yourself as these things, and I know I didn’t myself, but I can promise you that you are. I also hope you carry on these qualities to the latter part of your life. Don’t let it stop here. Graduation will come eventually and seems somewhat like an end, but I promise you can stay involved in giving back to your community no matter where you are, whether it’s through Swipe Out Hunger or something else. One of my biggest takeaways from working with this organization is not that student food insecurity is the most important or pressing matter that our country is facing, but that when we are in positions of privilege, any form of giving back and fighting for justice and equity is the most important thing you can do. Just being able to attend college is a huge privilege, and making it this far shows that there are many people supporting you, so I believe it’s important to pay that forward and support others in any way you can. Okay I’ll get off my soapbox now.

To share a special memory I have from Swipe Out Hunger was the summer of 2018 at the Swipe Leadership Conference which was held outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that summer. I showed up from my university by myself and knew no one except the nice ladies from Swipe Out Hunger who I had only ever spoken to on many phone calls. I finally was able to meet Marissa who had talked to me dozens of times and helped get my chapter up and running at Texas State University.

I was so excited to finally put names to all these faces I’d been working with. Meeting everyone from Swipe was so exciting! The coolest part of this memory is that one of the people who I became the closest to over the course of the weekend actually wasn’t from Swipe at all. This student was from a school in Grand Rapids, Michigan and part of an organization called Feel Good. It was really fun to learn that Feel Good was an organization that runs off making grilled cheeses for people! There’s much more to it than that, but I loved getting to learn about an organization with a similar mission as Swipe Out Hunger and get to make a friend along the way. Now, I still stay in touch with Jess from a million miles away in Texas and can always go to her for advice or a friendly chat. She is a great leader in her own community and this is someone I plan on keeping up with for a long time. These are the types of friendships and connections that make this organization so fun. It would be absolutely worth it without the friendships, as the cause is so important. But things like this make it fun for everyone. I hope you find your own close friends along the way. You’ve got a friend in me for sure.

Your fellow leader and admirer,
Katelyn Smith

From Owen Smith, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Dear Swipe Leaders,

My name is Owen Flomberg and I am a 2020 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I spent the better part of my undergraduate career helping to organize and lead the college financial inclusion movement on my campus. As you lead the movement on your campus, here are a few things that I learned on my journey that may help you, no matter where you are in your journey as a leader.

Everything is a construct. The quicker you can learn this, the better! Advocacy revolves around working to change human institutions that always can be changed. For example, say you ask for more funds for your Swipes program, and the administrator in charge of the program says no because there are no funds available. Do not accept that answer. Their response to your request is reflective of their reality and where they are in your campus’s system. Go above their head, ask the President, Board of Trustees, State Legislature, or Governor. There is someone who can grant your request, you need to just identify that person and do what you can to convince or pressure them to do so.

Never stop asking, follow up. It was once explained to me by a member of the administration, that college is like a creek. In the creek, there are large rocks that stay in place forever, and the water that rushes past and stays for only a short time. Administrators are the rocks. They watch students flow into and out of college each year. You may ask for something to be done to make the campus more financially inclusive and the administration may say they will work on it. They wait a few semesters you, the advocate, to flow past and the change never comes. Make sure to follow up regularly with the administration on your demands and never stop asking for them to fulfill them until they are implemented. Consistent pressure is necessary.

Create a team, and build a legacy. Your name will be forgotten in a few years at your school, but your actions can stay alive. Everything you do related to advocacy, especially when you are a leader in your junior or senior year should be done with the conscious intention of building up the skills and confidence of the leaders that will follow you. Structure your advocacy efforts into an organization, recruit members, and have regular meetings. This might sound difficult, but it is needed to keep your advocacy momentum to continue after you graduate. Engage your members and delegate tasks to them. This will help to develop the leaders that will follow you. In addition to building an organization and team, it helps to collaborate with other movements on campus. Work together and show up to help other groups working on healthcare, environmental, gender, LGBTQ, racial, or other issues and they will help you when you need support, too!

While you work hard to lead a financial inclusivity movement on your campus you may experience a win or two (and with a little luck even more 😊 ). But at the end of your time in undergrad, don’t be disappointed if you didn’t save the campus or the world. Real change toward true campus financial inclusion is going to be millions of small acts and changes that will culminate in larger shifts that will alter the face of higher education and transform our society. You are a part of that change. Good luck!

Owen Flomberg

From Katie Zimmerman, University of Delaware

Dear Swipe Leaders,

As I reflect on my experience with Swipe Out Hunger, I wish more than anything that I could be in your shoes again. Working with this organization has been one of the most rewarding of my college experiences, and I can only hope it will be the same for you. Below are a few pieces of advice that I wish I could tell myself as a young leader.

Network, Network, Network. As a leader with Swipe Out Hunger, know that you are working with some of the most incredibly passionate and driven people, and that you have access to some of the kindest mentors. One of the strongest aspects of working with this organization is that it brings together a network of fighters, those who will stop at nothing to work towards ending college student hunger. Use this network well, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice; the insight of others’ was absolutely crucial in my success as a student leader. One of the most memorable moments in my time with Swipe Out Hunger was attending the 2019 Student Leadership Summit; if you have the opportunity to attend this summit in the future, by all means, take it. It can be scary to put yourself out there and perhaps even travel across the country, or fly alone for the first time, but being able to connect with other student leaders and Swipes staff in person is incredibly invaluable.

Build a strong team. This one goes hand in hand with networking. As the founder of my campus’ chapter, I learned pretty quickly that this was not going to be a one woman show. Recruit passionate students and committed administrators, and learn to delegate tasks with trust and confidence. Ending college student hunger is a collective group effort, and it is important to surround yourself with those who share your goals, motivation, drive, and passion. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box; some of best administrative support I had came from those in offices or departments I originally didn’t even think to reach out to.

Constantly set new goals for yourself and your organization. When I first started working with Swipe Out Hunger, I was committed to bringing this organization to my campus, and my primary goal was to create a chapter and set up our first swipe drive by the time I graduated. When thinking about my timeline, I had expected much more administrative pushback with my proposals, but I was ultimately extremely lucky with how easily our university worked with us. It was hard for me to ask, “what the next goal?” just after we had had our first successful drive. I urge you to constantly ask yourself and your organization, what’s next? What are we going to achieve next semester, next year? What happens if we get there faster than we expect? Continue to challenge yourself to move your organization in new directions, with the ultimate goal of one day, ending college student hunger.

Thank you so much to the incredible Swipe Out Hunger team for their support throughout my time as a leader, and thank you to all of the incredible Student Leaders (you guys!) for continuing this fight. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Swipe Out Hunger and I am really excited to stay involved and see what amazing things you guys accomplish in the future!

-Katie Zimmerman

L to R: Swipe Out Hunger CEO & Founder Rachel Sumekh, Swipe Out Hunger University of Delaware Student Leaders Katie Zimmerman and Esha Mishra, and Swipe Out Hunger’s Chief Strategy Officer at the 2019 Swipe Student Summit.

From Keilyn Rubio, University of California, Santa Barbara

Dear Swipe Leaders,

I want to start off by saying, “WHAT A YEAR!” This year, by far, has been one of the strangest and most difficult years. Something that I am really grateful for is how resilient that Swipes Team has been in supporting the different chapters across universities and colleges in the U.S. and for always reaching out. Being Co-President with Betty Zamora at the UC Santa Barbara chapter has been such an honor for the past 2 years and we have seen how rewarding it is to help other students. Not that there is any physical reward, but being able to hear feedback from the students that are receiving meal tickets from our donation drive that really are in need of a meal.

One thing that I have taken away from being part of Swipe Out Hunger during the 4 years of undergrad is that no matter the numbers, it is always rewarding to help others. It is easy to get caught up with hitting a specific cap and not seeing results, however, regardless of the numbers, there are always students in need and that will be grateful for having something to eat. Another thing is the incredible support that you have from the Swipes Board. They are
always more than willing to help you plan collection drives or connect you with the right resources in order to help more students and you! My hope is that as the year progresses and even with the uncertainty that comes with it, there are always people helping. If possible, try your best to be one of those people.

Much love and socially-distanced hugs,
Keilyn Rubio

From Matthew Linksy, Columbia University

Dear Student Leaders,

The message of our mission is crystal clear: we want to end student hunger on college campuses. But just as obvious is the recognition that if our mission was as easily implemented as it is recognized, a solution would already be in the wings, and thus, our mission would not need to exist in the first place. This in mind, the substance of our mission is to design, propose, and implement policies which seek to relieve student hunger. However, while our message and goals are uniform, the methods of accomplishing our goals hinge upon local decision makers.

In other words, though the malady of student hunger is present in New York just as it is in New Mexico, the best remedy at hand often depends on differences in institutional operation, namely the bureaucratic structures which comprise a University’s operational system. This in mind, I urge you to embrace the challenges which are ubiquitous to navigating complex systems of administrative checks and balances so that you may chart your best course. I implore you to find purpose in uncovering internal organizational hierarchies so that you may discover who is empowered to make the changes you have worked so hard to formulate and propose. I beseech you to explore the political morass of your local institutions – that you join task forces, working groups, steering committees, and develop the acumen and confidence to run for elected positions of student leadership.

In every college, in every University, in every state across the country there are students who depend on the success of your advocacy. As evidenced by the growth of the UCLA chapter of Swipe Out Hunger into a national network of associated chapters, successful advocacy on one coast can send shockwaves all the way to the other. And while the central message of our advocacy remains intact wherever the name Swipe Out Hunger may resonate, the advocacy and implementation of successful reforms is dependent on local factors – factors which you as student and community leaders are best equipped to handle.

Good luck,
Matthew Linsky

From Sanjana Gupta, Cal Poly SLO

Dear Student Leaders,

It feels bitter-sweet writing this as I just graduated, but founding and being President of Swipe Out Hunger at Cal Poly for the last 3 years has been the most rewarding part of my college experience. My intention with founding our chapter was to bridge the gap between dining dollars being left over in student accounts each year and the rising food insecurity issue. However, our club has expanded since this idea in ways that I could never have imagined at the start. The impact we made would not have been close to the same without my fellow Swipes exec, supportive staff at Cal Poly, and Swipes members.

My first piece of advice, would be to really value and utilize all connections to the best of your ability. Reach out to anyone who you think could be supportive and helpful to the cause and begin the conversation; people are usually more than willing to help! Do not underestimate the power of following up and taking the initiative to maintain a connection because everyone has a busy schedule and sometimes needs a reminder. At Cal Poly, this involved making connections with the other food insecurity resources on campus such as the Food Pantry and CalFresh, important staff in Student Affairs, Dean of Students, ASI, Dining, Housing, Cal Poly Corporation, as well as off campus resources such as the city Food Bank and Farmers Market. But think out of the box at your school and in your community to determine how you can make a larger impact through connections and networking.

Additionally, remember that every idea in your club is worth listening to, discussing, and considering. You have a team for a reason, so utilize it! Everyone in your club is working together for the common goal of reducing food insecurity and the stigma associated with it at your school and in your community. Use this mission to bring your team together and motivate each other. Even if your exec team is small, find a way to organize discussions or meetings with larger groups of students in order to cultivate the best ideas and ensure that student voices are heard and cared for. Swipe Out Hunger should be the club at your campus that acts on student voices, brings students volunteering opportunities, and connects students to campus resources; the common theme here being that it should be a club for the students!

Lastly, something that I have personally experienced, and which I feel is important to speak on as a student leader, is self doubt. There have been countless times that I have felt that I was not a good leader and that someone else could do the job better than me; this is also called imposter syndrome. When/if you feel this way, remember that you are in your position for a reason: your hard work, commitment to fellow students, and dedication to Swipes. It takes time and practice to work through self doubt but you are not alone in feeling this way. A friend recently reminded me that it is important to always assume that people are doing their best in the moment; I think this thought can also be applied to ourselves. It is easy to spiral out thinking of how we can do more and how we can do better, but try to stay in the moment and take things slowly because leadership is an endless learning curve. You will do great as long as you are willing to learn and grow with this experience.

While concluding my time in this position will be a challenge in itself, as barely a day has gone by in the last 3 years that Swipes has not been on my mind, I am extremely grateful to have had this experience. I wish all current and future student leaders the best of luck and want to thank you for fighting for change on your campus!

Sanjana Gupta

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Rachel Sumekh

June 16, 2020

These letters are so beautiful! Thank you all for your leadership, these stories, and your impact.

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