CINCINNATI - Anyone who researches the millennial generation will find a disproportionate number of articles on two topics: Those accusing the generation of possessing a host of less than desirable characteristics, and those written by millennials defending their generation from harsh criticism.
This five-part series will take a closer look at local millennials, who are defining their generation and setting a precedent for others to follow.
Entitlement? No way
They’ve been called Generation Y, Echo Boomers and most recently the Millennial Generation. The exact parameters for this cohort range anywhere from the late 1970s to sometime prior to 1983. The estimated end date falls somewhere from 1995 to 2000.
As researchers continually disagree on a name or an exact time frame, is it any wonder millenials have struggled to define their generation soon poised to become the majority of America’s workforce?
A number of publications accuse the generation of being raised with a sense of entitlement, a byproduct of constant positive feedback by teachers, coaches and doting parents.
Anna Worpenberg, 22, believes society’s continual bashing of her generation is without merit. She said those who pass judgment rarely take into account the circumstances in which she and her fellow millenials were raised.
“What I see is that millennials are left with a world that was a little bit different than the previous generation,” she said. “We’re left with the economic recession, we’re left with the end of war. And the generation we grew up into told us, well, you’re probably not going to have a job after college.”
The 2008 book “Trophy Kids” by Ron Alsop describes millennials as having unreal work expectations because they were rewarded for minimal accomplishments such as average grades or mere participation in competitive sports. Worpenberg is an example that not all millennials possess a learned “sense of entitlement.”
Worpenberg, a Finneytown native, felt “incredibly privileged” growing up in a financially comfortable family. During her childhood, she began to recognize a disparity between herself and others who were less fortunate. It was about that time her sense of fairness kicked in.
“When you’re young, people say, 'life isn’t fair, and you’ll just have to deal with it, and I remember that was something that just didn’t sit that well with me, ever,” she said. “I think it’s our job to make our world as fair as possible. My dad worked and we really didn’t want for much, and that’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to deserve that, I was just born into it.”
After earning a degree in social work from the University of Cincinnati, Worpenberg took her current position as "Streetvibes " distribution program manager for the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition .
After Jeni Jenkins vacated the position April 2013, she handpicked Worpenberg as her replacement from a list of 40 potential candidates. Jenkins said after seeing Worpenberg in action as an activist at UC, she quickly rose to the top of the list.
“She’s extremely knowledgeable on social justice issues and has an incredible amount of empathy for people who are suffering and living in poverty,” Jenkins said. “There were folks I had been working with who were sort of non-engaged, and she stood out because she was so engaged, so involved, and so in-the-know at such a young age.”
A flair for advocacy
The Homeless Coalition sponsors educational programs at local high schools where formerly homeless people share their stories with students. After attending the program at Finneytown High School, Worpenberg said the experience resonated so deeply she began volunteering at the Interfaith Hospitality Network in 2009. Her passion to help others progressed at college, where she became a leader for the UC Student Social Work Organization.
As part of her degree program, Worpenberg interned at Bethany House , a local organization providing education, housing and assistance to homeless and disadvantaged women and children.
She saw firsthand how misfortune could happen to anyone at any moment. On her first day, she said her supervisor read her a poem titled, “On the Other Side of the Desk. "
“It was this whole idea of what would you do, how would you want to be treated, how would you want to be viewed and how would you want to be helped if you were on the other side of the desk – which is possible for anyone,” she said.
Not about the money
While some studies describe millennials as tolerant, open-minded and upbeat, a large number of publications slam them for not meeting societal expectations.
A 2013 Time Magazine feature referred to them as “Generation Me Me Me.” The article sited research from the National Institutes of Health labeling the generation as narcissistic, lazy, coddled and even delusional in terms of responsibility.
Worperberg appears to be the opposite of such assessments. Positive reinforcement comes
from being in a fulfilling career. At the Homeless Coalition, she teaches men and women who have experienced poverty or homelessness how to earn an income as distributers of "Streetvibes," a magazine written by those who have experienced adversity.
“So giving back isn’t just about helping people. I think giving back is more about empowering people,” she said. “Because then you’ll be strong enough without me to change things. So I think my goal in all of this is to work myself out of a job.”
The reward of working for a nonprofit transcends the financial, Jenkins said. Employees tend to make far less than they could in the private sector. She said the staff is teaching people at the Homeless Coalition how to earn money when they themselves have chosen salary as secondary motivation.
“I told (Anna) going in, she wasn’t going to make a lot of money,” Jenkins said. “But she was ready to get involved and jump right in head-on, because she had a good idea about the world and what was going on. She was inspiring to me.”
Worpenberg believes her generation to be every bit as caring and engaged as previous ones. The difference lies how they advocate; for example, by connecting to causes throughout the world using social media. She hopes others will recognize needs much closer to home.
“Here in Cincinnati specifically, there’s a still a lot of things to advocate for,” she said. “There’s still a lot of social injustice and I think once people realize that they’re really going to want to know how they can get involved.”
Editor’s Note: Look for Part II of this series on Monday. Readers will meet Raya Mafazy, a millennial who has chosen politics as her passion.