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With the presidential election around the corner, I am always grateful to be a citizen of this nation where we are fortunate to have a say in who gets elected to lead our governments — local, state and national.

True, we have occasional kinks in the system; but compared to so many other countries, these are smaller in scale. That said, itís important to continually strengthen our system by helping as many people as possible have a voice in government. In our multi-hued nation of rich, poor, young and old that continues to face difficult economic times, being able to vote is incredibly empowering. It serves as a reminder that our imperfect system still offers hope and opportunity.

As the head of FACETS, a nonprofit that opens doors by helping parents, their children and individuals who suffer the effects of poverty in Fairfax County, I especially know this to be the case.

In fact, last week, we hosted several voter registration events in communities served by our Education and Community Development Program, which operates year-round in three affordable housing communities across Fairfax County and offers a continuum of supportive services to break the cycle of poverty. Staff from our Preventing and Ending Homeless Program also went out to places like the woods to remind those that are homeless that they did not need a home to vote. In all, we had over 20 people register, giving a voice to the families living in affordable housing communities where the average income for a family of four is $18,000 and many of our veterans who are homeless in our community.

For these residents — some who have moved around and need help updating their address and others who are new citizens — providing registration events in their neighborhoods helped break down more barriers to success and ensured their participation in the political process.

After all, nothing is more liberating than knowing you can have a say. And in America, a vote is a vote — no matter who you are Ö but you have to be registered.

Amanda Andere is executive director of FACETS (www.FacetsCares.org)