Posted: July 10, 2008
Three 2007 Take the Lead participants--Margaret Lazzarini, Hadley Nagel, and Natalia Thompson--were awarded $500 each for successfully implementing their action projects. Every year, Mount Holyoke's Take the Lead program hosts 40 young women in the fall of their junior year of high school so that they can develop an action plan around an issue that they care deeply about. Projects completed within six months are eligible for the $500 prize.
Passion and persistence ran high among this year's winners. Margaret Lazzarini from San Marino, California, wouldn't take no for an answer when she tried to start a service club at San Marino High School that would pair student mentors with senior citizens who wanted to learn basic computer skills. Called CONNECT, her club was initially rejected by her school's student council. Disappointed, but not defeated, she eventually was able to "connect" students and seniors at the nearby Monte Vista Home. Every Saturday morning ten student volunteers teach the home's residents how to use their computers.
"When I help an elderly person with his computer problems or watch one of the club members set up someone's email account, I feel a great sense of accomplishment," Lazzarini said. "It has been a wonderful experience to see the fruition of something I have been working on for months."
Hadley Nagel, who attends the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City, became the youngest registered lobbyist in the country in her quest to raise awareness of founding father James Madison. Because of her efforts, Congress recently passed a law that requires educational institutions to offer instruction on Constitution Day on one of Madison's primary works--the Constitution.
Nagel didn't stop there. She founded a grassroots organization, Americans for Madison, and recruited the best Madison scholars in the country to serve on its advisory board, including MHC historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Joe Ellis. In October, Ellis and fellow advisory board member Sean Wilentz, history professor at Princeton University and general editor of the James Madison Library in American Politics at Princeton University Press, will discuss Madison at an evening event dedicated to the former president at the New York Historical Society, thanks to Nagel's hard work.
How did the 16-year-old accomplish so much so quickly? "If you have a sincere passion for something, you can make that enthusiasm contagious," Nagel said.
Teen girls from Madison, Wisconsin, were foremost on Natalia Thompson's agenda when she came to MHC for Take the Lead last fall. Thompson, who attends West High School in Madison, founded Madison SOS (Speak Out Sisters!), a citywide initiative to unite high school girls through grassroots activism on social justice issues.
Last fall, Madison SOS sponsored the Young Women's Leadership Forum, a series of six 90-minute workshops attended by girls of diverse backgrounds from six area high schools. The final workshop, Voices of Courage, held in November 2007, included a keynote address by Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and a panel discussion with the state's top women leaders. In March 2008, Madison SOS was one of 20 projects (out of 5,000 throughout the nation) to receive a $10,000 grant from the Case Foundation, which encourages individuals to spearhead citizen-led efforts to improve their communities.
Thompson is working on two more projects to help Madison's teen girls express themselves. Madison SOS is teaming up with artist Sheba McCants of the Urban League of Greater Madison to create a community mural that reflects and celebrates local teen girls' vision for the future of their city. The group is also partnering with the University of Wisconsin's School of Journalism to create an online forum for girls to share their stories and opinions on local issues.
Thompson recently cofounded a network of grassroots youth leaders called the Teen Feminist Action Network and, with Joanne Cave, the 15-year-old founder of Canada's Ophelia's Voice, hopes to create a pan-North American community of high school-aged activists to exchange ideas, resources, and support.
"Since I've founded Madison SOS, I've had ample opportunity to develop a wide range of leadership skills, from conflict resolution to task delegation," Thompson said. "Most importantly, however, I have learned what it takes to speak out, even when it may be unpopular, and to work tirelessly to create the change you wish to see in the world."