This is the 2nd guest post by CFT board member Andrea Dennis chronicling the experience of CFT’s members. Her first post depicted her own experience as an individual member of CFT. Today, she’s talking with student member Helena Duecker about the importance of getting involved with fair trade movements as a university student. Andrea has been serving on the board of Chicago Fair Trade since 2013. She is a longtime individual member and the Outreach Director at Greenheart International

Helena (far right) and friends at Fashion Revolution Day 2015

Helena (far right) and friends at Fashion Revolution Day 2015

Andrea: First off, tell me a little bit about yourself, Helena. Where are you from, what are you studying, and what are you thinking post-university?

Helena: I have moved several times in my life, but grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Chicago to study Geography, Community Service Studies, and Hospitality at DePaul University. I was recently accepted into the Peace Corps Philippines and will leave shortly after graduation this Spring.  This position will allow me to continue my passion for community development and service.

Andrea: Congratulations on joining the Peace Corps, and best wishes in the Philippines! Here’s a question directed toward your membership as a student. We often make the assumption that students are unable to financially contribute to joining a membership organization. You disprove that myth. Why CFT?

Helena: I definitely disprove the myth that students are unable to join an organization for financial reasons because of my experience with CFT. CFT is an affordable organization for students to join, as it is just $25 for the entire year. The best part about this is all of the resources and opportunities this membership gives to students. I have been able to attend enriching events, where I learned more about fair trade and the role that Chicago is playing [in the greater fair trade movement]. I’ve also been able to meet many wonderful people involved in the fair trade movement that I would not have been able to meet otherwise. Joining is really a great opportunity for students who want to get involved, enhance their understanding of fair trade, and even gain an internship or job.

Andrea: It is often difficult to tangibly describe or “prove” the benefits of membership. Can you share one or two benefits you’ve received from being a part of the CFT membership community?

Helena: CFT is the reason that our Fair Trade Committee at DePaul, the first ever in Chicago, was able to form. [Former Executive Director] Nancy Jones worked  hard with several passionate students to achieve the necessary requirements to become a fair trade university. As the current president, I’m proud to say that we continue to work closely with CFT and other businesses in Chicago. Katherine, CFT’s current Executive Director, has also been fundamental to our committee, as she is willing to meet regularly to plan events and share resources with us. One of the more recent collaborations has been the Student Summit, an event for students throughout Chicago to share resources and work towards the fair trade status. Futhermore, CFT allowed me to gain my first internship during my freshman year of college. I was taking a class about fair trade and Nancy Jones came in to speak to us about Chicago’s role in the movement. My interest was piqued and I felt that interning at CFT would give me the experience I was looking for. In addition to new skills, the internship allowed me to network with professionals in Chicago that I continue to be in contact with today.

Andrea: There are a lot of important issues facing college campuses today. What draws you to the work of fair trade?

Helena: I am drawn to fair trade because of the global impact it has. University students have a lot of power and I’m positive that our committee has been able to change the lives of workers. By educating students about wage and labor issues, especially through our annual fashion show, we’ve been able to raise the amount of Alta Gracia apparel sold at our books store. This means that even in Chicago, students can take part in positive change around the world. I think students with different interests connect to fair trade because of the widespread impact it has. Not only does it advocate for people internationally, it also promotes sustainability, environmental preservation, and local economic growth.

Andrea: Do you feel your exposure to the community of fair trade has impacted your future plans? If so, how?

Helena: My experience with the fair trade community has had a large impact on both my personal and professional goals. Interning at CFT, I was able to gain skills that have benefited me professionally.  The community of passionate individuals has inspired me to be conscious of my consumption habits and I’ve made changes to my lifestyle in this spirit.

Andrea: What do you think is the most important next step we can take as the Chicago Fair Trade community to drive the collective work of fair trade forward?

Helena: I think there needs to be more emphasis placed on colleges and universities because the power of students. Within Chicago, there are so many students that have yet to learn about fair trade and I think that their support would help strengthen the movement. I hope that students see CFT not as another membership, but as a unique opportunity for them to be part of a passionate community.

If you’re inspired by the mission of Chicago Fair Trade, and want to connect with the fair trade community, join as a member, and take the next step in making Chicago the epicenter of fair trade. Click here to find your membership level.