Teen Leadership Conference Welcomes 42 High School Juniors From Across the Country

Sixth annual Take the Lead conference scheduled for September 29-October 2.

For immediate release
September 19, 2005

South Hadley, MA--With goals as varied as fighting world hunger, helping their local community, or making a political statement, 42 high school juniors from across the country will arrive on the Mount Holyoke campus September 29 to October 2 for Take the Lead, an intensive four-day teen leadership conference that gives young women the tools to turn their ideas for social change into action.

The program, now in its sixth year, has inspired and equipped scores of young women to bring their ideas to life. Graduates of the program have gone on to get a state law passed to study gender equity in pay, organize a job fair for the homeless, raise awareness of teen depression, and raise the bar for youth involvement in social causes.

"Take the Lead is about empowering women to realize their potential for positive social change, to show them they have the ability to make a difference," said program director 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."

And they have done so in remarkable fashion. A participant in last year's program, Suzanne Chipkin, from Longmeadow, Mass., went on to launch a weekly tutoring program at the Homer Street Elementary School in Springfield to tutor recently arrived Somali refugee children, most of whom lacked any previous schooling. The program quickly expanded to assist other struggling students, with Chipkin's fellow high school students working mostly one-on-one with the 14 young students in the program.

Heidi Roop, now a Mount Holyoke junior and a speaker at this year's conference, organized a fund drive to supply school supplies to impoverished Mexican students while raising awareness of the environmental hazards that deforestation in Mexico is posing to the migrating monarch butterfly.

And this year, the students will see firsthand the work of a former participant, Elizabeth Adams, who created a video on adolescent depression that has been shown in junior high schools in her area. Participants will receive a copy of the DVD to bring back to their own schools.

Each 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 student develop a detailed plan to effect positive change in her school, community, or the world at large. Students also get energized throughout the weekend with yoga and a West African dance workshop.

This year's participants come from all corners of the United States as well as from Canada. More than 700 candidates were nominated by their counselors, teachers, religious or community leaders, and other adult mentors. The participants were chosen on the basis of their potential for leadership and making a difference, as demonstrated by their academic, extracurricular, and community involvement, as well as insight and motivation. Mentors keep in touch with their participants over the six months following the conference, offering advice and encouragement.

Outstanding Mount Holyoke women will be guest participants during the weekend. This year's guest speakers are:

Lydia Okutoro '98
While in high school, Lydia completed a senior project collecting poetry, essays, short stories, and artwork by students of color. As a college sophomore, she sent out a worldwide call for poetry by young people of African descent and got a book contract for the award-winning Quiet Storm: Voices of Young Black Poets. Lydia is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona and working on her memoir to be published by Houghton Mifflin and Company.

Heidi Roop '07
Due to deforestation of its winter breeding ground in Michoacán, Mexico, the monarch butterfly faces extinction. Take the Lead alumna and current MHC student Heidi Roop developed a plan to both support Michoacán's impoverished schools and educate local children about deforestation. Her Monarch Watch School Supplies Drive in Wisconsin raised more than $15,000 in supplies.

Patricia VandenBerg, Ph.D.
The director of Take the Lead, VandenBerg is a nationally recognized authority in communications and leading change. A professor, college administrator, and consultant, she has assisted individuals and groups across the country. Much of her work has focused on empowering women and girls. Participants will use her "leadership change model" as the basis for developing their action projects.