Krista Becker (11) fights for the physical and emotional rights of children in America and around the world. She works for UNICEF USA, the United States’ branch of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. Becker described the organization as the United States’ national committee to “rally the public for the world’s most vulnerable children.”

UNICEF USA is based in New York City but works with children all over the country. UNICEF also has a global reach of over 190 countries and has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization.

Becker explained that UNICEF globally connects children with vital resources like health care, immunizations, safe water, nutrition, and psycho-social support.

“UNICEF is the biggest children’s humanitarian organization in the world,” Becker said. “They deliver essentials that give every child an equitable chance at life.”

Becker’s path to UNICEF took her in many directions as she found out where she could help the most. At PLNU she decided to major in psychology on a whim but quickly made relationships that inspired her to help others. For example, she participated in PLNU’s LoveWorks program, working with kids, refugees, and displaced communities in Jordan by educating children and building a new library. This experience would help fuel her passion for helping at-risk communities, both in the United States and abroad.

Some of Becker’s favorite PLNU professors and leaders from the LoveWorks trip have become lifelong friends and mentors, like history professor William Wood, PhD., and psychology professors Kendra Oaks-Mueller, PhD. and Ross Oaks-Mueller, PhD. 

Becker on Jordan Loveworks Trip.

“My Point Loma professors remain some of my closest confidants,” she said. “I still stay with the Oaks-Muellers every time I come back to visit San Diego.”

After graduating from PLNU in 2011, Becker attended Fuller Theological Seminary where she received her Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy. Although she initially planned to work in family counseling, in 2014 her career shifted gears — and locations.

“I thought [family therapy] was the path I wanted to take, but when I moved to New York I got a job in social work,” Becker said. “I started working with kids in the foster care system.”

Becker performed in-home therapy and case management for children in foster care for over two years. During that time she began to notice many systemic problems that ran deeper than anything she could help with individually.

“I felt like I really wasn’t making a difference in these children’s lives,” Becker said. “Their problems were so much bigger than what could be resolved in a therapy session.”

She became interested in the systems surrounding children and in local government. At the time, Bill de Blasio had recently been elected as the Mayor of New York City and had announced he was bringing in $1 billion dollars for new mental health services as a new initiative called ThriveNYC. Becker was drawn to the program and moved to New York City’s department of health to work on Thrive.

“I shifted from therapy to working in government work,” Becker said. “I worked for the department of health for four years, including during the pandemic, and became interested in helping children.”

PLNU professors like Ross and Kendra Oaks-Mueller (3rd, 4th from left) have made a lasting impact on Becker (far right) and remain some of her closest confidants.

In 2021, after working for the department of health during the COVID-19 pandemic, Becker decided she needed a change. She continued her dedication to helping children at UNICEF, where she serves as the manager of operations and strategy for community engagement. Becker manages UNICEF USA’s youth volunteer programs across the country, including the National Youth Council, a small group of high-achieving youths across the country aged 15 to 22. These 15 stand-out students serve as UNICEF liaisons working to help their communities. She meets with them every week to help them set their goals and educate them about youth development and empowerment.

Becker also manages the UNICEF UNITE Clubs program, which encompasses almost 600 student-led clubs in colleges and high schools across the country that advocate, fundraise, and educate their peers about UNICEF’s global programming and the needs of vulnerable children worldwide.

“We want to make sure we’re accessible to kids in all communities. Not all schools can have club programs and fundraise, but you can still advocate and educate.”

Advocacy is a very important part of UNICEF’s work. Advocating for funding from the United States and corporate partners equips them to create tangible change nationally and around the world. UNICEF also gathers support for legislation promoting issues like mental health awareness or equality in education.

“We want to make sure we’re accessible to kids in all communities,” Becker said. “Not all schools can have club programs and fundraise, but you can still advocate and educate.”

One of UNICEF USA’s biggest annual events is Advocacy Day, which prepares youth to go into meetings with Congress.

“They meet with congressional staffers, pair them up with their own Congress members and talk about why the youth voice is important,” Becker said.

The students also fundraise for UNICEF. Becker explains that although schools’ financial contributions vary widely, the students’ commitment to equality is much more important.

“Some clubs raise $300 per year; others raise $40,000 per year,” Becker said. “But it’s all about youth development and empowerment. We want to empower youth to be tomorrow’s change-makers.”

“We want to empower youth to be tomorrow’s change-makers.”

Becker’s other duties at UNICEF can vary widely based on current events and the fiscal year. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Becker began conducting virtual meetings with UNICEF staff on site staff in bordering countries providing emergency health kits, information services, and critical care for refugee children and families. 

Becker explained emergency response needs are often prioritized above all else. Although socio-emotional and mental health matters are just as important as physical health, Becker has often seen most resources given to physical needs.

“We’re seeing traumatized kids from war-torn countries that don’t have access to their basic needs,” said Becker. “Because we’re so focused on those immediate needs, mental health isn’t always part of that aid.”

However, views are shifting in favor of more exposure regarding mental health. Early intervention, mitigating trauma, and trauma-informed responses are being implemented more widely, and Becker has seen UNICEF beginning to place a bigger emphasis on mental health in recent years.

“I appreciate how the worldview is shifting with mental health,” Becker said. “We’re seeing the change that needs to happen when it comes to supporting mental health, especially with children.”

“We’re seeing the change that needs to happen when it comes to supporting mental health, especially with children.”

Looking forward, Becker would love to get into more global work. She loved being involved with PLNU’s LoveWorks and is interested in more international outreach programs or even living abroad in the future.

“I’m really just interested in what I can do in this space on a global level,” Becker said. “I want to be on the cutting edge of that shift toward a better response to mental health.”To learn more about UNICEF USA’s work in the United States, Ukraine, and worldwide, or to partner with them to provide much-needed aid to children in need, please visit their website at unicefusa.org.

Toby Franklin is the copy editor for PLNU’s Marketing team. He is a reader and writer of speculative fiction and comic books.