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Sara Mears

Finding an Outlet for Activism with AmeriCorps after Graduation

Those “I Voted” stickers Sara Mears’ parents wore after casting their ballots each election during her childhood really stuck with her.

Now she hopes to persuade others that voting is the best way to show one’s citizenship.

Mears, who will graduate in May from Western Carolina University with a degree in political science, will head to Sacramento, California, in July to work for AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps, a program that engages young people in team-based community service across the United States. After a month of training, she’ll spend the next 11 months working with the Federal Emergency Management Association in rural communities throughout the Pacific region.

Sara Mears
Sara Mears

“My program is really focused on working alongside FEMA to make sure a lot of smaller and rural communities know how to get help,” said Mears, who grew up in Cary. “We’re the group of young people who have agreed to be on the frontline of that assistance, whatever that may be.”

Mears said she became aware of the importance of community involvement during her senior year in high school. “The 2016 primary aligned itself with my civics class, and once it clicked, it clicked,” she said. “Everything I have done since then has come down to me trying to convince people their voice matters.”

Sara Mears with a Vote sign

Since Mears arrived at WCU as a freshman in 2016, she has served as a senator and as director of public relations and marketing for the university’s Student Government Association; as vice president of media outreach for the University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments (UNC System-wide student government association); as a team leader and in public relations and marketing for the Student Democracy Coalition, WCU’s nonpartisan civic engagement organization; in participant relations and as director of internal operations for Miracle at WCU; as photographer for The Western Carolinian, WCU’s student-run newspaper; and at A.K. Hines University Center, with the Department of Campus Activities.

By immersing herself in university government, she has seen firsthand the effect that willful ignorance has on society.

“Everything I have done since then has come down to me trying to convince people their voice matters.”

“There is some cynicism, but more than that there is apathy,” she said. “I don’t know what’s easier to work with. The hardest thing for me to learn has been that there’s so much that I don’t know, but the average person knows so much less about politics, and not because there’s a lack of intellect, but because people choose not to plug in.”

Her strategy has become to “meet people where they are and with what they know” to help them understand how local, county and state elections can affect them more than they realize, even at WCU, where the chancellor is appointed by a board of governors, many of whom are appointed by the governor, who is elected by the state’s citizens.

“There is a linear system we have control over,” she said.

Mears sees working in rural communities—as she will this summer—as an opportunity to help residents build stronger ties with each other, which in turn builds stronger communities by improving access to education, health care, adequate internet service and connectivity.

“Rural communities are so underutilized and their needs are so underprioritized,” she said. “There’s room in the nonprofit world to do great and important work, which is to build community.”

Sara Mears with other students on campus
Sara Mears and her fellow Student Government Association Senators

Mears doesn’t pick sides when it comes to politics, she stressed. She is more interested in helping people see their own value in improving their circumstances than what direction the political winds are blowing, much like her parents, whose simple celebration of voting was more about being civically engaged than being political. It was a lesson she took to heart.

“I’ve never done anything partisan,” she said. “My focus is to get people to vote no matter who they vote for.”

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