At the age of eight, most kids have few ideas on what they want to become when they grow up. Most don’t even know what they want to do after high school. But this is not the case for everyone. Meet Anthony. At eight years old, he knows he “wants to go to Olympia” and be a lobbyist when he’s older.
Don’t be fooled though, Anthony already has a job. Since the age of three, he has been lobbying for better laws to improve the lives of those struggling with poverty alongside his “Nana,” Juanita Maestas.
Juanita first got involved with Solid Ground after experiencing homelessness firsthand. Through her involvement with Solid Ground and its advocacy partner Statewide Poverty Action Network (Poverty Action), not only did Juanita work toward a path to stability, she also began to advocate for herself, her family, and her community.
Gaining stability to help others
First, in 2009, Juanita joined Solid Ground’s former Client Advisory Council, which gave her a platform to be an advocate for herself and set the stage to involve her two kids, Jessie and Jeremy, in advocacy. She then brought her leadership to Poverty Action’s Board of Directors, where she had the opportunity to advocate for herself and others at the state level.
Despite her growing skills as an advocate and increasing stability in life, Juanita still faced obstacles trying to obtain government assistance. As a result, in 2013 Juanita founded the Human Dignity Support Project (HDSP) to help prevent the mistreatment and confusion individuals face when trying to access public assistance benefits.
HDSP volunteers act as third-party observers, accompanying people to meetings with DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) to help them apply for benefits. Today, while still contributing to HDSP, Juanita also serves as the Chair of Poverty Action’s Advisory Board.
Passing on the torch
Through Poverty Action and Solid Ground, Juanita is able to share her passion for advocacy with her kids, who in turn inspired her grandkids — something she is forever grateful for. Her involvement with Poverty Action and issues around social justice had an especially strong impact on her son, Jeremy. Following his mom’s lead, Jeremy helped organize the group Teens in Action to attend Poverty Action’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Lobby Day in Olympia in 2012, bringing issues that mattered to them to their state legislators and making their voices heard.
Today Jeremy is 23 years old and works in the fishing industry in Alaska. He passed on his involvement and dedication to ending poverty to inspire his nephew, Anthony, who adores his Uncle Jeremy and is following in his footsteps.
Anthony’s involvement started at the age of three, when Juanita brought him with her to a Poverty Action Board training with the Western States Center. There was a daycare, and she saw it as a great way to get Anthony involved. Anthony has been fired up ever since, attending the MLK Lobby Day in Olympia each year, and accompanying his Nana to Voter Registration and other advocacy events.
Anthony is now well-known in the advocacy community. On MLK Lobby Day 2013, he led over 200 people in an impressive march to the Capitol steps, lobbying to end the systemic effects of poverty. Anthony loves to talk about it saying, “It felt kinda good but kinda not. I kinda liked it but I kinda didn’t because I felt like I needed to wear a lot of jackets.”
In addition, Anthony shows up in the office and makes a difference with the friends he has made. He’s able to do cool stuff with Poverty Action staff members, Davíd and Rolando. But most importantly, he gets “to do stuff with [his] Nana too.”
Never too young
Although he may be small, Anthony’s voice is powerful. Not only does he have an affect in Olympia, but he brings his passion for advocacy to his school as well. He is one of the few students in his class with a “job,” and most kids don’t understand it. Juanita sees the difficulties he experiences due to his passion. During a class show and tell, Anthony shared about his work and all he does with his grandma. Few believed that he actually led hundreds of people or talked to legislators.
When asked about this, Anthony is aware that “kids are laughing at me … they don’t believe me.” It’s never easy to take the path least traveled, especially at the age of eight. Still, he continues to push forward. At school, he often hangs around kids that get picked on the most. Watching Anthony throughout this year’s MLK Lobby Day, he exudes a natural sense of leadership, often leading the pack of kids and even choosing to step aside when kids in the playroom made up a game he didn’t think was appropriate.
When looking towards the future, Anthony wants to be like his role model, Tony Lee. Former Advocacy Director of Solid Ground, Tony is now retired but still plays a role in the support and advising of Poverty Action and Solid Ground’s advocacy work.
The future is bright for young Anthony. Juanita is extremely proud of her grandson and hopes his passion for such an important cause will persist. It’s people like Anthony who prove it is never too early to start fighting for what is right. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always be an advocate,” says Juanita. She herself has come a long way, and through her passion and commitment, she has passed her dedication three generations down the line.