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Lead-ND granted official Lead Agency designation

Lisa Schultz | Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Notre Dame’s Lead-ND program has earned the position of Michiana’s official Lead Agency, a designation from Youth Service America (YSA) given to only 50 U.S. Lead Agencies.

YSA is the parent organization that runs National Youth Service Day (NYSD), which is just one part of Lead-ND’s effort to develop leadership with local youth.

As a Lead Agency, Lead-ND will be responsible for convening planning coalitions, making a call for projects among youth organizations in the community and organizing opening ceremonies for Michiana’s NYSD, Outreach Director and Lead-ND co-founder Meg Towle said.

Having over 750 youths involved in NYSD in South Bend last April was a major credential for Lead-ND in YSA’s certification process. Lead-ND served as the unofficial Lead Agency for NYSD 2005, the first major observance of the event in the Michiana area, sophomore Outreach Coordinator Mike Laskey said in a statement.

“We were inspired by how responsive people were, so we applied for official position [of being a Lead Agency],” said Towle, who previously worked with the Missouri Lead Agency. “We are the only student organization to ever be identified as a Lead Agency.”

NYSD is in line with Lead-ND’s mission of youth being active in their community, but that day of service does not ultimately define the group’s work.

“Our program vision is to empower youth to prove they can be active citizens and have a hand in issues they’re concerned with,” Towle said. She said the vision was a result of research that indicated a lack of after-school opportunities in urban school districts, especially in leadership development.

A Volunteer Corps was sent into Jefferson Intermediate Center last spring to engage 35 youths in after-school programming that included interactive leadership simulations, group sessions and off-site fieldtrips focused on applied learning, the Lead-ND Web site said.

Program participants are what Lead-ND terms “non traditional” leaders. Towle said students are typically recognized by the school principal or vice principal as “kids that have really strong potential to be leaders.”

Lead-ND has expanded their leadership development program to three South Bend Intermediate Centers: Navarre, Brown and Jefferson. There are nearly one hundred seventh and eighth graders currently involved.

This year’s Volunteer Corps consists of 18 Notre Dame students, six per site, who Towle said were selected through an application process last spring and early fall. There are representatives from all classes, and the Corps is half female, half male.

Another ten Notre Dame students comprise a programming and outreach team directed by Towle and junior Steve Cartwright, a co-founder and program director.

Lead-ND’s new curriculum, which Towle said was designed by Cartwright, is broken into three main units, each emphasizing a collection of leadership concepts, social action methods and additional cultural connections.

The units evolve from identifying basic leadership qualities to learning and implementing the specific skills necessary to take social action. The youths will plan their own service projects, drawing on the skills they developed throughout the year, which they will carry out in conjunction with NYSD, Laskey said.

As the official Lead Agency, Lead-ND will benefit from a $2,000 grant from YSA, in addition to personalized program-planning assistance. This money goes directly toward work in South Bend through NYSD, Towle said.

Another new development is the Lead-ND Board of Advisors, Towle said. Irish head football coach Charlie Weis will serve as the honorary chair.

The Board of Advisors reviews Lead-ND’s programming and serves as the organization’s “primary sounding board” in the South Bend community, Laskey said.

Towle said the Board of Advisors will also consult with current participants and parents of participants for feedback on programming and NYSD.