Lead-ND rallies local youths for service

Author: Kathleen Joyce


You can never be too young to make a difference in your community.

That was the message sent by more than 800 young people representing a variety of schools, community agencies and faith groups who participated in National Youth Service Day (NYSD) 2005 inSouth Bendfrom April 15 to 17thanks to the mobilization efforts of Lead-ND, a student initiative at the University of Notre Dame.

The largest service event in the world, NYSD began in 1988 and is supported by Youth Service America (YSA), a national nonprofit resource center that partners with thousands of organizations committed to strengthening the youth service movement.

Lead-ND, a fledgling organization founded by Notre Dame sophomore Steve Cartwright in March 2004, is devoted to providing equitable after-school opportunities for all ofSouth Bends youth population.The organization is in partnership with the Notre Dame Institute for Educational Initiatives and collaborates with the Center for Social Concerns and the Student Activities office.

Lead-ND consists of a 13-member Coordinating Committee that designs and implements the Youth Action Project.Ten Notre Dame students who comprise the Youth Action Project Volunteer Corps prepare lesson plans, facilitate discussions, supervise field trips and interact with 35 seventh- and eighth-grade students involved in the inaugural leadership development and service learning program at theJeffersonIntermediateCenter.

TheJeffersonstudents who participate in the program were chosen by school administrators for theirinformal leadership potential,said Meg Towle, a Notre Dame sophomore and Lead-NDs director of community outreach and partnerships and NYSD coordinator.

[The students selected] arent usually offered any opportunities to be a leader, whether thats the captain of the sports team or the best person in the class,said Sarah Miller, Notre Dame sophomore and a member of the Coordinating Committee.Theyre not those people.Theyre the people who in interpersonal relationships can be outgoing, extroverted and have an influence over their classmates.

The 10-week program consists of meeting with students one day a week for two hours to address nontraditional topics likeremixing leadership,street smarts,hip-hop activism,and utilizing media resources.

The idea is to appeal to the kids, appeal to what their gifts and their skills are already and what their experiences have taught them alreadybut to also take that and develop it in a somewhat academic but really fun way,Miller said.You are empowering them to be their own kind of leader rather than teaching them to be your kind of leader.

The results of the program thus far have been promising.The administration ofJeffersonIntermediateCenterrecently notified the Lead-ND Coordinating Committee that there has been an overall improvement in the third-quarter grades of students in the program.

This years Youth Action Project culminated with the implementation of student-designed community service projects during NYSD.

In addition to working with Jefferson students, Lead-ND took on the informal role of alead agencyto mobilize and organize the first NYSD activities for theSouth Bendcommunity.Lead-NDs responsibilities included promoting awareness for the event by contacting various schools and the media, registering group service projects through YSA, and hosting a rally the morning of April 16 for youths to celebrate their service with other young people in the area.

The rally featured music from DJ Branson Saks of 99.1 WSMK Radio, an appearance by South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke, and performances by student steppers, singers and dancers.

To see Mayor Luecke there, to have someone in an authority position appreciate what theyre doing really validates their pursuit.It was an important element,Miller said.

Following the rally, the Jefferson students and members of the Lead-ND Volunteer Corps implemented service projects designed by their three different Research in Action Planning groups, each including three Notre Dame student leaders and approximately 10Jeffersonstudents.

The group Happy 2 Help worked on park beautification at Kelley andCoquillardParksby planting a tree, planting flower beds, cleaning glass and raking the grounds.Another group, Protected and Loved, helped theCASIECenter, an advocacy center for abused and neglected children, by shopping for toys, Spanish childrens books, alarm clocks and other supplies.They also reorganized and cleaned the center.The third group, Leaders 4 Life, conducted a meal campaign for the Center for the Homeless by shopping for materials, then making and delivering 120 lunches.

The diverse range of projects speaks not only to the needs of theSouth Bendcommunity but also to the insights of theJeffersonstudents, Miller said.It speaks volumes to what these kids know, which I think is testament to the validity of such a project,she said.

After the success of this years NYSD, Lead-NDs Coordinating Committee has already begun looking ahead to next year.Participants hope to expand the Youth Action Project to include not only Jefferson, but Edison andNavarreIntermediateCentersas well.They will begin planning for next years NYSD in the early fall.

We definitely plan on doing this again next year and taking it a bit further,Towle said.

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