When I went to the Taylor Swift concert last week, I was amazed at the amount of power and influence today’s pop stars have over their fans. I was surrounded by thousands upon thousands of singing pre-teens, teens and adults, all dancing and directly singing Swift’s songs word for word. These pop stars have the opportunity to impact a generation and raise awareness about any topic or issue they choose. Just think about the good that can happen if Swift or other pop sensations choose to raise awareness about homelessness or other social issues. What if you could receive free tickets to her concert by volunteering at homeless agencies? What if she collected donations for a homeless advocacy group or shelter during her concert via text messages? These pop sensations have the power to make a difference in the lives of those that are forgotten or neglected by society. Does the quote from “Spiderman” apply to music idols today?
Last summer I was impressed to hear that Virgin Mobile was offering VIP tickets to individuals who volunteered at homeless youth agencies for their FreeFest show at Merriweather Post Pavilion. At the time, I thought, “Wow, this is an incredible idea! I wonder what good can be accomplished if an organization or pop star thought to do the same thing.” What I didn’t know is that Virgin Mobile has been advocating for homeless youth through numerous media outlets and outreach efforts since 2006.
Virgin Mobile’s website reports that over two million youth (between the ages of 12 and 24) will experience at least one episode of homelessness each year and over 100,000 youth sleep on the street for 6 months or more in the United States. For most of these youth, they are forced from their homes because of circumstances that are beyond their control. RE*Generation is Virgin Mobile’s effort to empower a generation to help its fellow members who are in need of assistance. Through this effort, Virigin Mobile is uniting organizations that address youth homelessness and connecting them with other young adults who want to help their fellow community members.
I think one of the most innovative ideas RE*Generation has created is the FREE I.P. program, which began in 2009 at Virgin Mobile FreeFest. This program rewards volunteers with tickets to some of the year’s most popular music events in exchange for a few hours of service. It partners with local homeless youth organizations across the country and provides volunteer support for major projects. “Beyond the good karma this program generates for participating volunteers, it also gives them an opportunity to receive various rewards, including tickets to some of the year’s most anticipated music and sporting events,” their website states.
The FREE I.P. program is currently offering tickets to “The Monster Ball” starring Lady Gaga. Select volunteers who sign up for a service opportunity and complete the required number of service hours are eligible to receive free tickets to her show (note: there is information about how to do this at the end of this blog post). “I’m thrilled to partner with Virgin Mobile on my tour,” Lady Gaga said. “They are a great brand and company and I’m really happy to see them encouraging my fans to help out homeless youth and the agencies that provide at-risk youth with critical support.”
What are the pros and cons of this type of awareness building? Something I always struggle with when doing service with groups of people is the question, “Is their heart in the right place?” If volunteers are only completing service hours to obtain free tickets to see Lady Gaga or other superstars, then what good is this program really doing? I address these cynical ideas when I think about the statement I saw written on a mural at D.C. Central Kitchen: “Awareness is the first step to change.” As long as volunteers treat those they are serving with respect and a loving attitude, I think the FREE I.P. program can have a large impact on the program’s participants. Through their experience at a youth homeless organization, the volunteer is being exposed to the problem of homelessness and is increasing their awareness of this social issue, something they may never have the opportunity to do if it wasn’t for the free-ticket incentive. More chances than not, they will most likely be impacted by this experience. Who knows, maybe the experience will turn the volunteer into the next major homeless youth advocate?
I think that Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and other popstar sensations have a responsibility to use their power to raise awareness about social issues and bring change to those in their communities who do not have as loud of a voice. When you have the opportunity to reach so many people (especially ones who idolize you and will be interested in topics that you are interested in), I think it is important to sit back and think about how your power can positively impact the lives of others. Sometimes, it is so easy to get caught up in a routine that we don’t think about the good that each one of us can bring to others. Everyone has the power to brighten someone’s day, whether it is by talking to a homeless individual or teaching thousands of adoring fans about youth homelessness
Food for thought: What do you think about the idea of superstars having a cause they promote? Is receiving free tickets to a concert a reasonable incentive to volunteer at a homeless youth organization or any other nonprofit organization that serves marginalized individuals in our community? What are your responsibilities to others? How can you use your power to positively impact the lives of those in your community?
Information about how to participate in the FREE I.P. program when Lady Gaga comes to D.C. can be found on the following website: http://www.virginmobilefreeip.com/event/the-monster-ball-tour-starring-lady-gaga/
(Please note that information will not be available at the website until August 2, so check back then to find out how you can volunteer in the D.C. community and receive free tickets to Lady Gaga’s September 7 show!)