My name is Caleigh Bartash. As the Brandeis fellow at the historic DC-based advocacy group National Consumers League, I help promote the interests of consumers in areas such as safety, health care and personal finances. My organization defends consumers with a broad approach that includes special emphasis on fraud, child labor, medical literacy and development of life skills for teenagers.
My colleague at the League’s fraud center, for example, talks to consumers every day and teaches them how to recognize and avoid scams. I was surprised to learn scam artists have technology so advanced they can disguise their numbers to look like a reputable organization. Innovation improves our lives for the most part, but it also makes scams much harder to detect. I would recommend anyone worried about scams to check out Fraud.org to learn how to stay safe.
NCL’s Child Labor Coalition branch alerts consumers about suspect working conditions and and lobbies for stronger protection. And a program known as Script Your Future teaches people how to navigate the health-care system, properly administer legal medicine and avoid illicit drugs.
The LifeSmarts scholarship program uses a trivia-style competition to teach young people about consumer issues and make it fun for them at the same time. Each week the other interns and I write at least 25 questions for the competition covering topics from personal finance to technology. The middle and high school students eligible to take part get a chance to win thousands of dollars in scholarships, but anyone can take a shot at their daily quizzes.
My LifeSmarts questions have tackled food labeling, safety, nutrition, and dietary supplements. The MedlinePlus site is a great resource for understanding those topics. The information is fascinating, but I am more impressed with the kids who participate in the competition. I practiced answering some “easy” questions, but it was hard. It was quite the learning experience!
When I am not tabulating data or creating trivia questions, I engage in extensive research. I like to use government sources such as the EPA and USDA websites. I spent the last week drafting a policy memo about food labeling after learning more from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service database. I was surprised that food date labels are not nationally standardized. It turns out dates on packaging are guesses and usually refer to freshness. People who judge safety based on so-called “expiration dates” often discard products early and contribute to food waste. The canned goods you throw out after the printed date passed likely could last much longer.
Other highlights of my internship include writing a newsletter on how to reduce dairy waste and learning how to shape laws to protect consumers from the dangers of gambling.
I can help NCL promote consumer rights by providing a fresh perspective on the issues that affect young people. My LifeSmarts questions will help inspire kids to be independent, while the information I gather from my research will contribute to NCL’s legacy of supporting people who need it most.
By the end of my internship I hope to have sharpened my writing skills so I can communicate more effectively. I want to have learned how to best influence the government to make laws fit basic standards of decency. Most of all, I hope to have helped consumers lead a better life.
Above: I accompanied the executive director of NCL, the public policy manager, and two other interns to a panel discussion about the legalization of sports betting.
– Caleigh Bartash