A Passion for People
Spend a few minutes with Alicia Fanning and you’ll quickly discover her passion for people. She has volunteered with humanitarian organizations, completed an internship that addressed homelessness and hopes to become a FOCUS missionary. Fanning will graduate from the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences in May 2021 with a degree in consumer and community development and continue on her path of helping others.
A Calling to Help
Fanning received her first calling to help others as a senior in high school in Arlington, Washington. She had a feeling that she needed to go to Africa and seven months later she made it happen. In her first week at U of I, she learned about Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA), a humanitarian organization that provides short-term volunteer projects in parts of the world overlooked by traditional charities and aid organizations. Fanning applied and spent the following summer in South Africa, Eswatini and Mozambique where she helped build houses, taught at local schools and worked at animal conservation sites.
“While I was there, I learned that no matter how much I contributed to the material wellbeing of people, few things would ever change,” she said. “This idea was solidified by my intern experience and led to my passion for FOCUS because if we don't address the poverty in people's hearts, physical poverty will never be alleviated.”
During her junior year at U of I, Fanning began searching for internship opportunities as required by her degree. She wasn’t satisfied with the options she found and discussed the issue with her grandparents. Her grandfather began passing out her resume to connections and friends in Sierra Vista, Arizona and eventually her resume ended up with Sierra Vista’s director of community development. The city was looking for someone to address homelessness in the community and Fanning’s resume and interests were the perfect fit.
Fanning was tasked with preparing a gap analysis to show where services were lacking and how they could be improved. Since the internship was new, Fanning had freedom to make it her own. She began talking with non-profit and state agencies, researching best practices and interviewing homeless individuals.
Fanning spoke with 26 different agencies and discovered common issues and communication barriers.
“Each agency wasn’t fully talking to each other, so they were trying to do the same things with limited resources,” Fanning said. “I improved their communication and made it very transparent between each other.”
Fanning presented her findings and recommendations to the agencies and the Sierra Vista City Council.
“The agencies got very defensive because I was pointing out things that were inefficient,” she said. “But I thought it was good because it created a conversation.
“When I presented to city council, I’d already gotten the mayor, the chief of police and my supervisor on board with backing my plan. They were as passionate about it as I was, so I was really confident. I left knowing they were going to do something about it.”
One of Fanning’s suggestions is already in the process of being implemented. The Better Bucks program provides a $5 voucher booklet good for food and essential items at local businesses. Citizens can purchase these booklets to hand out to panhandlers in the community. The program has been implemented in Flagstaff and Prescott, Arizona with success.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Fanning said. “They’re creating the board of directors to run that non-profit organization and getting funding, but it should be in place by at least next summer.”
For Fanning, the chance to speak with community members and involve them in the process was the most rewarding part of the experience.
“One of my best interviews was when I went to the homeless shelter and talked to some of the residents there,” she said. “They felt like their voices had never been heard in combating this issue. So, I got to tell their stories and I got to show their perspective to city council and how important it was that the citizens of the city knew these were people. That was so cool because I felt like I became the voice of the community because of all the people I talked to.”
Fanning’s long-term goals include pursuing a graduate degree in social work, community development or education. But before that, she wants to gain more experience before she decides where to take her career. She hopes to gain that experience as a FOCUS missionary. FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach program that works on college campuses to develop authentic friendships with students.
“I really wanted to focus on this because I really love working directly with people,” Fanning said. “That was one of the things I learned from the internship is that working at a desk is really hard for me. I love being in the field, so by doing this I would be able to develop my interpersonal skills and grow personally.”
As a missionary, Fanning would be placed at a college campus in the U.S. where she would reach out to students interested in the faith and also those students who are struggling with the transition to college. Fanning learned about the program at U of I when a FOCUS missionary on campus reached out to her while she was struggling.
“One of the missionaries on campus reached out to me and it was a huge part of my healing process,” Fanning said. “She invited me to her bible studies and started helping me through my depression and how basically all of my relationships were in shambles. She just really helped me put my life back together.”
Fanning attended church during her childhood, but rediscovered the faith for herself while at U of I.
“It was like a reconversion and an enlightening I guess,” she said. “I really fell in love with it after I moved out of my parent’s house.”
Fanning is no stranger to serving others. At U of I, she is vice president of new member experience for the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority where she helps new members transition to college and sorority life. She also works as a notetaker for the U of I Center for Disability Access and Resources, providing a resource to U of I students who are unable to take notes in their classes due to a disability.
No matter where Fanning’s path takes her in the future, you can be assured that she’ll find a way to help others.
“I’m very passionate about people in every way,” she said.
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos provided by Alicia Fanning
Published in November 2020