In what has become a dynamic yearly tradition at Mount Holyoke, a select group of 44 high school juniors from across the country will be on campus from September 28 to October 1 for Take the Lead, an intensive four-day conference focusing on leadership and social change. The program, now in its seventh year, has inspired and equipped scores of young women to design and implement projects that address a wide range of social and political issues. Its many success stories include two former Take the Lead students who recently received national media attention for their work.
Shaina Munoz, from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was featured in the September 2006 issue of CosmoGIRL! for creating a diversity class at her high school. "As the only Hispanic in my grade, I never felt like I fit in," Munoz wrote in the article. "Most kids at my all-girls private school are white and affluent, and my family isn't. I remember hearing girls say stuff that made me realize they thought everyone lived the same lifestyle as them." After attending Take the Lead, Munoz wrote a proposal for a course at her school to get students thinking about diversity. "A few months later, my weekly 'Diversity Seminar' had been approved, and I was named coinstructor," she wrote. "We talked about race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and topics like immigration and women in media." The course continues to be offered even though Munoz has graduated.
Laura Marrin, who is starting her senior year of high school in Providence, Rhode Island, was featured on NPR's Weekend Editionon August 12 for organizing a summer camp for children from homes afflicted with domestic abuse. Marrin raised enough money to bring 37 children to Camp Eureka for one week, where they did arts and crafts, performed skits, played games and sports, and went on field trips. "Over the last four days, I've seen them grow, I've seen them develop, I've seen them make friends, and I feel inspired. I feel inspired to go out and try to make more of a difference in the world because I think I've been able to get through to many of these children, if not all of them, in some way," Marrin said in the NPR interview. Marrin came up with the idea for the camp after witnessing a mock trial on domestic abuse and its effects on families. "I wanted to give these children a chance for just a week to be like other kids and have a mini vacation that was safe, fun, and free to them," she said.
"This is a program that shows young women that they are capable of achieving goals well beyond what they have imagined," said program director and founder Patricia VandenBerg, the College's executive director of communications and strategic initiatives. "Too often, even the most successful girls and women in our society feel that they do not deserve their success. Take the Lead has helped its participants appreciate the power they have and put it to use."
This year more than 673 candidates were nominated by their counselors, teachers, or other adult mentors, and 289 applied to the program. The 44 students, who come from 17 states and every region of the country, were chosen on the basis of their potential for leadership and commitment to making a difference, as demonstrated by their academic, extracurricular, and community involvement.
Each Take the Lead participant will be paired with a Mount Holyoke student mentor who has been trained at the College's Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts. The program of lectures, workshops, brainstorming, and mentoring helps each participant develop a detailed plan to effect positive change in her school, community, or the world at large. Mentors keep in touch with their participants after the conference, offering advice and encouragement.
Take the Lead guest speakers this year include Sarah Curran Barrett, Mount Holyoke's periodicals and Web news editor; Rene Davis, Mount Holyoke's director of residential life; Jane Fleishman, training and organizational consultant; Marilyn Middleton-Sylla, African dance instructor; Kristi Nelson, consultant in nonprofit management and development; Lydia Omolola Okutoro '98, published poet and writer; Becky Wai-Ling Packard, associate professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke; Arden Pierce FP'99, certified structural yoga therapist; Susan M. Pliner, former head of the Speaking, Arguing, and Writing program at the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts; Heidi Roop '07, Take the Lead graduate; and Patricia VandenBerg.
This year's graduation speaker will be Emilie Kimball, now a senior at National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, DC, and one of last year's Take the Lead participants. The program spurred her to raise money for Women in Progress, a Ghanaian cooperative that helps women start their own businesses. Last spring, she organized a fundraiser for the cooperative, sponsored by the ambassador of Ghana and held at the Ghanaian embassy in Washington. The event featured Ghanaian entertainment and food as well as the sale of spring and summer apparel made by members of Women in Progress. Kimball addressed the 300-member audience and was featured on local television news programs. She received an official citation for her efforts from her state delegate and warm thanks from the Ghanaian ambassador.