A film about incarceration in America hosted by Phi Theta Kappa event on campus inspired Phoenix College (PC) student and Student Public Policy Forum (SPPF) member Amy May to take action. “Everything they were talking about in the film I knew first hand,” Amy said. Raised by her grandfather, Amy was in junior high when her grandfather was busted for pot possession and ended up going to prison for two years. “That really affected me,” she said, “because he was the one who fed us, bought us school clothes, drove us to school.” Neighboring families–a single mother with kids of her own and a family of migrant workers going through the green card process–took her and her brother in. When her grandfather returned from prison, Amy moved back for a while, but eventually married one of the boys from the farm and moved out.
At the PC event, Amy met Felix Moran, a case manager for Neighborhood Ministries, a non-profit that manages El Mercado Thrift Store on 19th Avenue and Van Buren. Amy toured the facility, and Felix noted the proceeds from the thrift store help families with basic needs, especially children whose parents are incarcerated. “No one really thinks about the children that incarceration leaves behind,” Amy said. “Felix emphasized that point, which made me interested in their program.” Participation in SPPF requires a campus project such as a food drive, voter education, or community outreach, so Amy partnered with El Mercado Thrift Store to host a clothing drive on PC's campus during March.
Amy's involvement in SPPF began in the summer when she applied for the program. In October, she joined fourteen other students across the district in this prestigious academic program. Over spring break, Amy will travel with SPPF to Washington, DC where they will meet with Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kirsten Synema to advocate for expansion of the Pell Grant. “As students who rely on financial aid, we realized it doesn’t match inflation,” Amy said. Interested in the economic side of the Pell Grant argument and how education investment impacts students globally, Amy explained, “We’re not competing on the global job market. We have a microchip plant in Arizona, but we don’t have the skilled labor, so we have to bring labor in from out of the country. Other countries invest in education and it’s filling the gaps where we are lacking.”
“Amy has been an amazing member of the Student Public Policy Forum,” said MCCCD's Director of Community Engagement and Associate Vice Chancellor, Deanna Villanueva-Saucedo. “She has engaged in challenging, thoughtful, respectful conversations with a wide range of professionals in the policymaking arena. Her professionalism and composure, in addition to her analytical and communication skills, make her a valuable member of the cohort.” Amy explained, "SPPF is about getting a foot in the door, but it's also observing how the sausage is made," meaning SPPF members learn how local, state, and federal governments deliberate, engage in debate, conversation, and compromise. She's observed city council meetings, toured the Arizona State legislature, met state representatives, and watched the State Budget Committee in action.
Amy is pursuing an Associate's degree in Law and Policy with an emphasis on sustainability. “I definitely wanted to work as a civil servant,” she said. She will transfer to ASU to pursue a Public Service and Public Policy degree with hopes of working as a foreign officer or consular for the State Department. Or in Urban Planning. “70% of our population is going to be living in urban areas,” she said. “We’re not equipped for that. Globally, we’re not, when it comes to recycling, what to do with waste, green spaces, and public transportation.There’s a lot of work to be done and problems to be solved.”
Interested in the power structures and environmental issues associated with urban living, she’s also concerned about affordable housing. She noted there are three million homeless children in the United States. Having experienced homelessness as a child, Amy knows firsthand its effects. “I didn’t get to take care of my hygiene. I went to school hungry all the time. Without basic needs being met, nothing else is going to work out right.”
To support El Mercado Thrift Store in providing youth the basic needs and job training they need, Amy is hosting a clothing donation drive–"work clothes, baby clothes, kids clothes"–on PC’s campus. Donations will also be supporting a woman making history in public service. Brava, Amy!