Creating Leaders…It Doesn’t Happen By Accident

Wendy Liscow, Program Officer

I remember distinctly the moment I knew that the moniker “leader” could apply to me.  I was a sophomore in high school, and I had signed up to help with costumes for a musical review at a local community theatre company.  I thought I would be helping a costume designer sew a few costumes.  It turned out that I was the designer for the show which featured 35 teenagers requiring over 90 costumes and had to be cranked out in two months’ time during  evenings and weekends.   I had been taken under the educational wings of a talented husband and wife team who believed that if you immersed teens in theatre-making you created future leaders.  Not just future theatre artists, but leaders in general.

As I designed, organized my crew of parent stitchers, managed fittings, sewed all night, attended rehearsals, and performed as a dancer in the production, I knew I was mastering career-building skills and invaluable communication and leadership skills.  I didn’t know that this theatre experience would be the pivotal experience that would begin the transition from childhood to a career as a professional stage director, theatre administrator, and now foundation program officer.

Take a minute to think of the key moment(s) that led you to where you are today.  Are they linked to an experience where you discovered something about yourself that surprised and delighted you?   It likely delighted others, and you were rewarded with encouragement, more responsibility and… “the rest is history.”

This belief in the importance of creating opportunities to develop young leaders is at the core of many of our grantees work.   So when New York City-based Sadie Nash Leadership Project expanded their highly successful leadership program for young women to Newark, NJ, we were honored to support their efforts.

This past summer marked their second year working in Newark.  While I was visiting the program, one of the program leaders summarized what I was witnessing:  “The young women are discovering their personal map for transforming their lives and ultimately for changing the world.”  Wow.  No small task, but what a worthy endeavor!  The 30 young women took classes like, Womanist Thought and Spirituality, Building a Feminist Collective, Art and Womanhood, and Dear Hip Hop. They looked at power, identity and issues surrounding privilege.  They explored how to use art to channel their energy and communicate with others.  They put into practice their organizing skills with a final project that engaged their families, friends and community.

I think the story of this summer is best told by one of the students in her own words.   Please meet Shanavia:


My name is Shanavia. I am a senior at Newark Tech High School.  I was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project (SNLP) for the past two summers.  My experience being in this program was nothing less than amazing.  I created bonds with people I probably would have never met in my life, bonds that I believe will last a lifetime.  This program is wonderful in so many ways. It reinforced leadership skills I already began developing.  We as Nashers were exposed to so many different things.  Although my two summers in the program were very different, I believe I gained something from each of my experiences.

During my first year as a Nasher, I really didn’t know what I was getting into, because this was the first year SNLP was brought to the Newark community.  I must admit that summer was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life, as the females that I shared those weeks with became my family. My second year in the program was a little different because since I felt secure in what I was getting into, I felt like I knew how the summer would go.  My mission being a second year was to let the first year Nashers know that they would gain so many things by being a part of Sadie Nash.  I wanted to show all the things I learned. I was a leader in so many ways.  Sadie Nash has helped me grow, not only as a leader but as a woman in my community.  I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to become a part of an organization I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.

For those of you how like statistics, I think you will find the final evaluations results also tell a story of success:

92% agreed with the statement “I have more options for my future”

92% agreed with the statement “I feel more excited about or interested in going to college”

100% agreed with the statement “I can take what I have learned at the Summer Institute and apply it at school”

100% “Feel more confident because of participating in the Summer Institute.”

Tell us when you first knew you were a leader or when you first felt empowered to create change in the world.

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5 Responses to Creating Leaders…It Doesn’t Happen By Accident

  1. I seem to have been a leader since I was little, but I want to tell you about the first time I saw my son (now 39, married, and about to be a father) in a leadership role. Marc was a learning-disabled child. He had a developmental lag and always was behind – certainly never leading. He had a good ear but that was not enough to carry him over his other difficulties. He always sang. In college, he sang in a small chorus they had there – maybe 15 students. We went up there for a concert and Marc was singing in an octet. I suddenly realized that it was HE who was cuing all the other singers – and I started to cry. Leading! Finally! Now – about 20 years later – he is in graduate school, studying in a very rigorous program to be a synagogue cantor. Music and mentors saved him – and made him into the special person he is today.

  2. Wendy Liscow says:

    Jacqueline: Thank you for that moving story. I see him sharing his gift with so many others and being a mentor himself!

  3. I can recall when I volunteered 20 years ago to fundraise for our local Harvest Fair that it led to a number of opportunities for leadership, including chairing the Fair. The Mayor then said to me, “Tom, if you can chair the Harvest Fair, you can serve on the Planning Board.” That led to running for local Council, serving as Council President, and running for the Legislature. And, I thought I was just helping out for a fun event! The main message was that leadership isn’t always planned, but it is purposeful. And my purpose was to make the Fair fun, productive and memorable. I think we succeeded on all three fronts.

    PS, congratulations to Wendy Liscow, who was recently accepted into Leadership New Jersey’s Class of 2010! No accident, there!

  4. Thank you, Wendy. Much appreciated.

  5. […] ethic. I wrote about my experience with these mentors who first introduced me to the theatre in my previous blog about leadership. Fortunately, thanks to Facebook, last night I was able to reconnect with these two […]

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