Creating Leaders…It Doesn’t Happen By Accident

November 2, 2009

Wendy Liscow, Program Officer

I remember distinctly the moment I knew that the moniker “leader” could apply to me.  I was a sophomore in high school, and I had signed up to help with costumes for a musical review at a local community theatre company.  I thought I would be helping a costume designer sew a few costumes.  It turned out that I was the designer for the show which featured 35 teenagers requiring over 90 costumes and had to be cranked out in two months’ time during  evenings and weekends.   I had been taken under the educational wings of a talented husband and wife team who believed that if you immersed teens in theatre-making you created future leaders.  Not just future theatre artists, but leaders in general.

As I designed, organized my crew of parent stitchers, managed fittings, sewed all night, attended rehearsals, and performed as a dancer in the production, I knew I was mastering career-building skills and invaluable communication and leadership skills.  I didn’t know that this theatre experience would be the pivotal experience that would begin the transition from childhood to a career as a professional stage director, theatre administrator, and now foundation program officer.

Take a minute to think of the key moment(s) that led you to where you are today.  Are they linked to an experience where you discovered something about yourself that surprised and delighted you?   It likely delighted others, and you were rewarded with encouragement, more responsibility and… “the rest is history.”

This belief in the importance of creating opportunities to develop young leaders is at the core of many of our grantees work.   So when New York City-based Sadie Nash Leadership Project expanded their highly successful leadership program for young women to Newark, NJ, we were honored to support their efforts.

This past summer marked their second year working in Newark.  While I was visiting the program, one of the program leaders summarized what I was witnessing:  “The young women are discovering their personal map for transforming their lives and ultimately for changing the world.”  Wow.  No small task, but what a worthy endeavor!  The 30 young women took classes like, Womanist Thought and Spirituality, Building a Feminist Collective, Art and Womanhood, and Dear Hip Hop. They looked at power, identity and issues surrounding privilege.  They explored how to use art to channel their energy and communicate with others.  They put into practice their organizing skills with a final project that engaged their families, friends and community.

I think the story of this summer is best told by one of the students in her own words.   Please meet Shanavia:


My name is Shanavia. I am a senior at Newark Tech High School.  I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project (SNLP) for the past two summers.  My experience being in this program was nothing less than amazing.  I created bonds with people I probably would have never met in my life, bonds that I believe will last a lifetime.  This program is wonderful in so many ways. It reinforced leadership skills I already began developing.  We as Nashers were exposed to so many different things.  Although my two summers in the program were very different, I believe I gained something from each of my experiences.

During my first year as a Nasher, I really didn’t know what I was getting into, because this was the first year SNLP was brought to the Newark community.  I must admit that summer was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life, as the females that I shared those weeks with became my family. My second year in the program was a little different because since I felt secure in what I was getting into, I felt like I knew how the summer would go.  My mission being a second year was to let the first year Nashers know that they would gain so many things by being a part of Sadie Nash.  I wanted to show all the things I learned. I was a leader in so many ways.  Sadie Nash has helped me grow, not only as a leader but as a woman in my community.  I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to become a part of an organization I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.

For those of you how like statistics, I think you will find the final evaluations results also tell a story of success:

92% agreed with the statement “I have more options for my future”

92% agreed with the statement “I feel more excited about or interested in going to college”

100% agreed with the statement “I can take what I have learned at the Summer Institute and apply it at school”

100% “Feel more confident because of participating in the Summer Institute.”

Tell us when you first knew you were a leader or when you first felt empowered to create change in the world.