July 30, 2015
Family Life and Policy Advocacy: Jon’s Story
By: Ben de Guzman

A reality of the work we do in the non-profit sector, when so many of the issues we address affect people’s lives directly and what motivates us to “keep on keepin’ on” is their impact on us and our communities, is that it becomes a labor of love. The lives that we document in our Diverse Elders Story Initiative put human faces to the policy issues we work on and reveal the impact of these issues often more powerfully than any statistical research report. The stories we tell speak best to that impact when they speak to the heart.

Jon Melegrito’s story in our Diverse Elders Story Initiative is both medium and message. By talking about the need for programs like Social Security to ensure dignity as one ages, his story and its message link financial stability to the ongoing progression of seed and season and how families pass on their legacy. At the same time, as a story teller and an advocate, Jon and his story is itself, intimately wrapped up in the process of using narrative to effect social change.

One of my earliest memories of Jon Melegrito is, not surprisingly, of his writing. I was proud to find out that my twin brother was going to be in the pages of “Filipinas” magazine, the leading publication of its type nationally at that time. Jon wrote a story about Filipinos at the Naval Academy and interviewed my brother who was an officer of the Filipino American club that year and had heard good things about Jon and the Washington, DC community. Little did I know back then as a young idealistic college kid how much the Washington, DC Filipino American community would become family for me, and right at the head of it would be the man I lovingly call “Tito Jon” (“Uncle Jon” in Tagalog) or, as an abbreviation, “TJ.”

TJ has played many roles in my life since then — colleague, friend, mentor, role model, boss — the list goes on. In the interest of full disclosure, it is because he has been such an important part of my career and community in Washington, DC that I invited him to take part in our Diverse Elders Story Initiative. As a story teller, he puts words to the page (web page!) that speak powerfully to the link between family life and policy advocacy. As an important reason and resource for the work I do, his story is part of mine, and I’m proud to share it here.