Meet This Girl Becca Hess

 
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On how she got into giving back

As a child, my dad always emphasized the importance of community service. He instilled in me that if you’re fortunate, it’s your responsibility to give back to those who aren’t as lucky as you. Growing up, giving back was just something that my family did. But it wasn’t until my roommate Freshman year introduced me to Share a Meal at USC that I became super passionate about community service.

My Freshman year roommate and I were both Biology majors at USC, and we were both super stressed out all the time. My roommate would go to Share a Meal to give herself a reality check and de-stress. One time I decided to go with her, and I just fell in love with the organization and thought what they were doing was the most fantastic thing ever.

Through Share a Meal,  I would see people living on the streets and my heart would hurt for them because I knew that they didn’t choose to be there. They were there because they didn't have the support system I had in my childhood, or perhaps they went down a path of drug addiction, or didn’t get help with their mental illness - there could be a million reasons why they ended up in the situation they are currently in.

I want to do everything I can to prevent people from becoming homeless. I want that to be my life's work.

On what she is currently up to

I got into this really competitive program called City Year which is an Americorps program. It's kind of like a government program, but it's also a non-profit. City Year send teams of people between the ages of 18 and 25 into schools in underserved communities throughout LAUSD to serve as mentors, role models and tutors to students who are at risk of dropping out. We track their attendance, their behavioral patterns and their ability to pass English and Math and that’s how we pick our focus group kids. These are kids who perhaps have encountered a lot of hardships, or maybe just don’t have a stable home life. So what we do as City Year counselors is serve as their surrogate support system to keep them in school. I am working with middle school students, but City Year has teams who work with students in grades five through ten.

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On the best part of her day to day

I am just so excited about getting to work with these kids and form connections with them. I have fallen so deeply in love with them and hope that these become lifelong relationships.

On the most difficult aspect of her job

The most difficult part of my job is that I often feel as though I can’t do as much as I want to do. All I can do for my kids is let them know I am there for them and let them know that I want to be their friend, their confidant and their tutor, but outside of that, there is nothing more I can do. One of City Year’s main pillars is emotional constancy. Some of my students are dealing with trauma at home, so we are responsible for being emotionally constant around them, which means not getting overly emotional or too excited in front of them. We want the kids to know that we are a constant in their life that they can rely on.

On choosing to to pursue a career in nonprofit work

Many people are perplexed by my choice to pursue a full-time career in nonprofit work. They don’t understand why I went to USC and paid all this crazy tuition to do what I am doing now.

So many of my friends are going on to have these high-paying, powerful jobs and I am going into a career where I will never be making exorbitant amounts of money. That’s been hard because I feel like I’ve had to justify my career choice to myself and remind myself that I should be confident in my choice to pursue this path. I have to let my passion for my job and the work I do outweigh the fact that I won’t be making that kind of money ever.

On wanting people to know how much she cares

I would like people to know that even though I come from a privileged background, I can still empathize with people who have come from really difficult backgrounds.

I feel like some people who know me from childhood or saw how I lived and saw the schools I went to might think that there’s no way that I can help this community or that there's no way the kids are going to be able to feel like they can connect with me. I hope people know how much I care about the work I am doing and how deeply I empathize with the kids I work with.

On a woman that inspires her

I am obsessed with Malala. I think that she was the first person who really commercialized the idea of being of service and giving back to society. She talks about education being the ultimate equalizer and I believe that, which is why I am focused on working with education nonprofits specifically. I think we can prevent a lot of homelessness and a lot of other issues if we improve education.

On a rule she lives by

Ubuntu is a shortened Zulu proverb that means "my humanity is tied to yours." It’s one of the City Year pillars. I think that you can and should identify as a part of certain communities based on your culture, your traditions and background, and that’s all super cool, but also don't lose touch of the fact that we are all human and that we all are part of the bigger community that is humanity. There's nothing that really makes us different from one another aside from the super cool cultures and traditions that we should all introduce each other to. We should constantly be finding ways to be more inclusive.

On the three traits she’s most proud to possess

I’m driven by my passion. I made my passion my career instead of just saying I’ll volunteer on the side. I’d say that I am generous; if someone told me they liked my shirt, I’d literally have to stop myself from taking it off and handing it to them.

My little sister sometimes calls me “carpet” because she says that I let people walk all over me, but I’ve never really tried to change that side of myself because I think that's why I am able to form such deep connections with people. Also, I’d say that I’m happy. I always look for the best in every situation.

On the best advice she ever received

The best advice I ever received  (I know it’s kind of generic) was to follow my heart. I think a lot of people go into careers that their heart isn't in because what they care most about is making money. I was really lucky that my dad always encouraged me to pursue whatever brought me the most happiness. I never hesitated to take a job working for City Year because I realized that if I'm truly happy with what I'm doing, then it doesn't matter how much money I make or what people think of me.

On an issue women today face

This Girl Can Run the World is tackling a big problem that I think a lot of women today face. It doesn’t seem like women are getting recognition until they are CEOs, or Presidents or like A-List celebrities. There are so many incredible women doing incredible things out there who want to be heard but don’t know where or how they should share their stories.

I think a lot of this goes back to the nature of us as women - many of us aren’t huge braggers or aren’t super aggressive about seeking out recognition, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want it. I’m excited to see This Girl Can Run The World provide opportunities for more voices to be heard and receive recognition.

On the next girl she thinks will run the world

I think that the next girl who will run the world one day will be a girl who was maybe born into LAUSD or perhaps another underfunded public school system, who has had to work a trillion times harder than everyone else to get to where she is. No one realizes how strong these girls truly are and I can’t wait for society to evolve to a place where these girls and their journeys can be recognized and celebrated.

Her advice to a girl on her way

Do something that makes you happy, because if you’re doing something that makes you happy, at the end of the day, you won't care what other people say about you. I think women worry a billion times more than men do about what people think of them. I think it's just part of our nature and part of growing up and being a woman, especially in this technological age where everyone constantly is judging everyone.

Becca Hess photographed by Morey Spellman in Los Angeles, August 2018.

More: Meet This Girl, Los Angeles, Nonprofit, Education

 
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