By Peter Nye
Ward 7 blogger and community activist Susie Cambria has worked on District policy and public-interest initiatives for more than two decades, partnering with local nonprofits and the DC city government before launching Susie’s Budget and Policy Corner in 2009. But she first got involved in community issues early in her childhood. Her parents led her in that direction: “Being an activist was just something that we did.”
When she was seven, her father, a Shriner, took her to the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was influenced by the patients’ problems, especially those of a seven-year-old amputee who pushed himself around in a cart. Susie promptly hosted a neighborhood fair to raise money for the patients. She raised seven dollars; impressed by her dedication, the Shriners donated twice as much.
Susie’s mother was also active in the Junior League of Hartford, and Susie sometimes accompanied her on visits to Hartford Public Schools. She discovered that she had common interests with these economically disadvantaged children—many of whom had incarcerated parents—and in turn became interested in the causes and effects of economic inequality.
Susie moved to DC in the early 1990s, initially working for an organization that lobbies on behalf of private schools. But after growing more interested in public policy, she enrolled at Howard University to study social work—“the language of public policy.”
In 1996, Susie joined DC Action for Children; this job provided her first experience working with the East of the River community. For one project, focusing on families’ economic success, she surveyed more than 100 residents living east of the Anacostia and discovered that many people in those communities needed help developing financial literacy and learning to save money. From this experience, Susie realized that most programs that significantly help communities focus on individuals and community members—“working from the ground up”—as opposed to approaching issues systematically.
In Ward 2, and later in Ward 6, Susie established programs to enable teenagers and young adults to interact with police officers outside the criminal-justice system. These programs, she says, hope to allow kids and cops “to see each other as human beings”; they have been continued by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Susie also started her blog because she believes that information helps her only if she shares it. The blog, which Susie updates daily, provides news about DC government and community organizing, discussions, and tips about getting help through resource centers, public-health campaigns, and community events.
Susie is passionate about this work, and she has strong opinions about the East of the River community’s specific legal needs. Many residents in Wards 7 and 8 don’t know about all the legal services available to them, and there is a growing need to educate community members about employees’ rights. Susie says that in addition to providing information and assistance with basic employment law, she sees a need to educate workers on subtler issues of workplace dynamics, as many people who are new to the workforce haven’t had experience or training in those areas.
Susie has a lot on her plate, but she loves her work. She likes solving problems—“putting pieces together,” as she calls it—by helping people who are directly affected. And she enjoys helping affected parties think about issues, especially by serving as a “sounding board”; ensuring that people have what they need; and strengthening communities—particularly in her home east of the river.
Peter Nye is a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers and aging services program specialist with the federal government.
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