ASU student initiative seeks to advance human rights in local communities

(Left to right) Public service and public policy senior Josue Macias, psychology sophomore Ashley Brennan and nonprofit organization management junior Stephen Calderon are preparing to set up a Not-Profit Organization called Local Exchange Global Exchange. (Photo by Axel Everitt) (Left to right) Public service and public policy senior Josue Macias, psychology sophomore Ashley Brennan and nonprofit organization management junior Stephen Calderon are preparing to set up a Not-Profit Organization called Local Exchange Global Exchange. (Photo by Axel Everitt)

Three students with a passion for public service in their local community created an initiative that aims to connect enthusiastic students to social issues that affect Maricopa County’s most vulnerable populations.

Local Exchange, Global Change is a student-run program created by Ashley Brennan, Stephen Calderon and Josue Macias. Its goal is to teach students about human rights issues and involve them with underserved communities in the area affected by the injustices.

“A lot of what happens on campus is students find themselves behind these golden gates,” said Calderon, a nonprofit leadership and management senior. “It’s hard to think outside the box to realize there are situations in Maricopa County that we don’t get to experience.”

Tentatively scheduled for fall 2014, the program will first immerse students in the social and political issues affecting vulnerable populations. LEGC is expected to focus on communities composed of refugee and immigrant groups.

Then, students will participate in a week-long exchange program, where they spend their days working with local nonprofit organizations and nights with a host family involved with the issues.

At the end of the exchange, students will take part in a ceremony with the community organizations and host families to reflect on their experience. With a small seed fund provided by LEGC, students will choose which family or organization they want to commit to working with in the future.

Students also have the option of building their own nonprofit startup to address a specific human rights injustice about which they are passionate. Calderon said students can choose to commit to solving any social or political inequality in which they are interested.

“One thing we’ve really acknowledged is that no matter what community you’re in, there are populations that are neglected and exhausted,” Calderon said. “There are communities everywhere we can tap into and learn from and work with.”

Brennan, a psychology sophomore, said the idea for LEGC came about when the three of them attended a seminar about immigration reform through the Spirit of Service Scholars Program.

“The three of us were all interested in the Arizona-Mexico border and issues around that,” she said. “I left the seminar feeling overwhelmed and inspired and wanting to do more.”

The students got together and decided to build their own initiative that addresses the inequalities facing local minority groups in Maricopa County.

“We created Local Exchange, Global Change to recreate that seminar and intensify it for other students so they can have a similar but deeper experience in working with us,” Brennan said.

LEGC was accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University earlier this month. The three students were also chosen as finalists for the Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch Competition for the program.

They applied to the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative in hopes of getting the funds needed to start a pilot program with 10 to 20 students next semester.

Brennan said one of the goals of LEGC is to expand it beyond ASU so students in any part of the country can have the tools to tackle human rights problems in their own communities.

“We’re working on creating a model that could be applied to any university across the U.S., so that universities could use it to really connect students to community members,” she said.

After the pilot program finishes in December, Brennan said they will look to expand LEGC’s reach to other organizations in Arizona.

“We want to get feedback from the students and families and have the participants take a greater lead in creating the next one,” she said. “After we’re successful at ASU, we’d like to expand to NAU and perhaps the Navajo reservation.”

Macias, a public service and public policy senior, said LEGC offers students the opportunity to learn beyond the classroom and hear from community leaders who tackle the issues every day.

“There isn’t any exchange program around that doesn’t focus on learning through the process,” he said. “What we really want students to do is learn from the families and learn from these experiences. Building a model that is centered on learning service, not necessarily just serving, is one of our key challenges.”

Macias said students’ enthusiasm in public service separates this program from other initiatives found at ASU.

“With a program like ours, it’s a social venture in and of itself,” he said. “It’s completely a community-based project. We are all here because of our passion and drive for this project, not to collect a check at the end of it.”

If the pilot program is successful next fall, Macias said he hopes it will continue every semester through the efforts of LEGC alumni who care deeply about public service.

“We’ve always seen this as a student-led, student-run program,” he said. “Even though we were instrumental in funding it and establishing the foundation, we would ensure that most graduating students could stay here to run the program next year.”

Ultimately, Macias said LEGC is about making connections among students and local populations to learn from one another’s experiences and create stronger bonds with diverse groups of people.

“We’d like to see this network of highly capable and enthusiastic and passionate individuals coming together to rebuild the communities they’re a part of,” he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @sharir55

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