SPOTLIGHT: Student makes strides in AIDS awareness

From as early on as his high school days, junior Jason Franklin has tried to make a difference in his community with an active interest in politics and community service.

Franklin said it is important for students to find an issue they care about and devote a lot of time to the issue.

That is exactly what Franklin has done at GW, as he focuses on AIDS awareness. He served on the organizing committee for the AIDS Walk his freshman year and chaired the committee as a sophomore and junior.

Franklin said people should be educated about AIDS because the use of intravenous drugs and unprotected sex among youths are on the rise. He said he fears people are not as concerned with learning about AIDS as they were when the epidemic first spread.

“I feel we’re moving into a complacent state about AIDS and I think the second round may be coming up so awareness is very important,” he said.

Franklin said he was happy to see a large turnout of GW students for October’s AIDS Walk. GW, which sent the second-largest team to the event, had the largest university team and led all groups in fundraising. Franklin said he was impressed by the generosity of some businesses such as Au Bon Pain and the GW Bookstore and by individual students who raised funds for the cause.

“It says a lot when you can get people to go out on their own, whether it’s going door to door in dorms or using other means to raise money,” Franklin said. “Individual examples of people willing to go out and work and raise money for the cause is what keeps me going.

Franklin said seeing students walking around campus wearing T-shirts from the AIDS Walk is encouraging. Most people know about AIDS but sometimes simply need to be reminded, he said.

GW’s Office of Community Service helped coordinate the University’s AIDS Walk team. Wendi Conti, a presidential administrative fellow in the office, said she has high praise for Franklin. Conti said Franklin has helped get GW on board about AIDS awareness.

“He’s been a great person to work with,” Conti said. “He has a personal commitment to the cause and he really does the best he can do for it. Many times undergraduates can get involved in a lot of different things and not really do the best they can at any of them. I feel like Jason can do 10,000 jobs and do them all very well.”

Franklin has also volunteered at the White House to spread AIDS awareness, working in the Office of National AIDS Policy and collaborating on events for World AIDS Day.

Along with AIDS awareness, education has been a main focus of Franklin’s. He works at the 21st Century School Fund, a six-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to improve urban public education.

Franklin serves as director of public relations of the 21st Century School Fund. He works on fundraising, public relations and compiling various publications for the organization.

The organization has worked with such schools as the School Without Walls and the Oyster School, located at 29th and Calvert streets, N.W.

Franklin said he feels the importance of being able to communicate ideas effectively is a big part of his current work and also his past work. If ideas are communicated well and efficiently, he said great things can happen.

Franklin said he is thankful for his job and the field he works in because it allows him to devote himself to issues he is passionate about.

“I do like the comforts of life so I think it is great that there are so many different positions out there that allow people to make some money while still working on issues they feel very strongly about,” Franklin said. “I love this work because even though you may be busy all day, at the end of the day you can leave knowing you’ve done something to help someone else.”

Franklin said he believes anyone can devote himself to a cause and make a difference doing it. He believes that there is at least one cause, if not more, that interests every person.

“I’m an eternal optimist. I believe people are basically good and can make a difference,” he said. “I do this work because it’s work that needs to be done and is really making a change.”

Franklin attributes much of his interest and ability in his work to his parents and his faith.

“I’m very close with my parents,” Franklin said. “When I was growing up, they were always volunteering their time and I believe people really learn a lot from their parents. Learning from my parents and my Catholic faith have made me able to do what I do.”

Franklin’s work has provided him with a great deal of reward and satisfaction. He wishes he only had more time now to focus on other issues of interest to him such as the environment, human rights and international labor.

“It gives you a sense of satisfaction, an enormous building of self worth to know that you’re really helping someone,” he said. “I gain so much from my experience. I feel that I have more energy coming out of some events than I had going in.”

Franklin’s interest in volunteer work started his sophomore of high school. Franklin served as the executive director of the Oregon Students Supporting Education, an organization that began with seven students and grew to about 10,000 members. The organization formed to support planned tax cuts that would greatly affect public education in Oregon. As a member of the student group, Franklin said he was able to work with many state political figures and serve on the Governor’s Advisory Board.

Franklin also started the Multnomah County Youth Advisory Board in his hometown to mentor students running youth programs and organizations. He said the group is still in effect. Franklin said the feeling of starting something and seeing it continued after he is not there is very satisfying.

Franklin also worked to help write state policy for the Oregon Commission on Children. He said writing policy was fulfilling because he knew his work was making a difference in his community.

“I’m into politics, but I really want to focus on public policy, making a change in the public and working toward the betterment of the public good,” Franklin said.

After receiving a bronze medal for the Prudential Spirit of Community Award and chosen as one of 100 Volunteers of America All Stars, Franklin chose to come to GW to pursue a degree in political communication.

Franklin said he hopes to have his own business one day that will allow him to offer his expertise to groups expanding under the same tenants of his work: organizations started through a devotion and dedication to a specific cause.

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