Two months ago Julia Rubin was settling into the Mills MFA program and beginning her first novel, whose young protagonist is traveling through Paris and learning to cope with cross-cultural ambiguities and tensions. Creative writing, however, is a far cry from Rubin’s new extracurricular commitment to the political realities of post-Katrina America.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Rubin, a UC Santa Barbara alum, share a series of impassioned phone calls with her old high school friend Matthew Goldstein, a Swarthmore graduate. They discussed the troubling degree of administrative failure in the relief effort, as well as the racial and class realities exposed by the tragedy.
Little did Rubin know that these informal discussions with Goldstein, who is now a first-year Stanford medical student, would culminate in United for the Next Generation, a student operated non-governmental organization which would unite graduate and college-age students in fields like health care, law, medicine, and political science.
Under the banner of Student Communities for Relief, Rubin and Goldstein began recruiting local artists and seeking a venue for a benefit concert, which would both raise funds for direct relief in the Gulf Coast and provide a forum for continued discussion about the disaster’s implications.
As the planning advanced, Rubin says they learned that Student Communities for Relief could not legally collect donations unless the benefit was part of a government-recognized organization. It was the first of a number of administrative roadblocks, which Rubin and Goldstein would overcome with their unwavering persistence.
In their application as a non-profit organization in the State of California, Rubin and Goldstein listed their enterprise as United for the Next Generation, stating its mission to “provide immediate relief to hurricane victims, while addressing broader, related topics such as education reform, health care, and urban planning”. With the help of a local lawyer with a history of student-friendly pro-bono work, Rubin and Goldstein began looking toward the 501(c)(3), the federal application for non-profit tax status.
“I was unsure of the name at first,” said Rubin, although now she is convinced that it captures both their desire to cultivate community and unite youth in political causes crucial to our futures.
UNG hosted their kick-off event at San Francisco’s Studio Z on Oct. 22. The benefit was supported by an eclectic group of 25 local musicians and poets, and featured a slide presentation by returned Gulf Coast relief worker Mark Olsen. Rubin says the benefit showed strong attendance from Mills and Stanford, as well as greater Bay Area communities. After covering expenses, United for the Next Generation walked away with $2,500 – no small feat says second year MFA student Dillon Westbrook, who assisted UNG with logistical aspects of the benefit, and has participated in other Bay Area fund-raisers.
While Rubin and Goldstein say that they will approach private donors for future funding, their primary fund-raising tactic will be hosting ongoing community arts events. The pair envisions these fund-raisers as parties supported by themed dialogues about social problems as well as strategies for addressing them. Rubin says that features like break dancing or beat boxing might help to create an inviting atmosphere for more serious discussions.
With initial funding secured from the benefit, Rubin and Goldstein are working on UNG’s first project. The two have begun planning for a 10-week diversity training to be offered for graduate students studying health care, education and law, and would draw on experience of local ‘experts’ for facilitation. The course, which will be hosted by Stanford and co-sponsored by UNG in spring 2006, is hoped to result in a group excursion to the Gulf Coast.
What makes UNG unique, they say, are its interdisciplinary approach and the diverse backgrounds of its organizers, which represent medical, education, and arts communities. Goldstein says that while other NGOs have a workforce powered by young, college-age activists, key decisions are often made by older bureaucrats, while UNG is a project by graduate students and future professionals.
“We are the future generation of America,” he said.
Goldstein says the philosophy of UNG sets them apart from the NGO scramble as well. Since a lack of genuine dialogue underlies many of America’s social ills, he says, much can be resolved by creating more personal discussion between diverse groups.
“It’s not about a blanket policy,” says Goldstein, but about working community-to-community on an “intimate level.”
But their next step, Rubin says, is to develop the UNG Web site, open a bank account, and write thank you notes as they wait for the federal application to be processed, which may take up to six months. If confirmed, UNG will be exempt from federal income taxes, and donors will be eligible for tax write-offs for their gifts to the organization.
“I’m a little behind on my work,” Rubin said, “but it’s totally worth it.”