While most teens are jumping into swimming pools this summer, 91 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from 23 public, private, and charter high schools throughout New Jersey recently took a weeklong dive into diversity learning as delegates of the American Conference on Diversity’s 17th Annual Lead for Diversity (LFD).

The yearlong program kickoff was held at the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, PA, where 40 adult volunteers helped mentor the students along their journey of discovering the real value of diversity. LFD began with a series of 90-minute workshops and group discussions on ability status, sexual orientation, body image, race, gender, and other diversity-focused topics. Designed to build social-awareness, leadership, conflict-resolution, and human-relations skills, the experiential learning activities equip delegates to recognize and challenge bias and oppression within their communities—annually impacting close to 18,000 students throughout New Jersey.

This year’s delegates representing many races, ethnicities, and religions were selected by their participating schools for displaying an interest in diversity and intergroup relations, their motivation, and their leadership abilities. During the week, delegates worked with their peers and faculty advisors to create action plans that will be implemented during the 2012-2013 school year to address challenges unique to their communities. The action plans also help educate adults in their home districts about diversity to foster more inclusive communities throughout the state.

“WOW, what an amazing program! I was energized by the level of engagement, honesty, candor, and commitment shown by all participants. The content of the program was highly relevant to the rapidly changing diversity of the U.S. marketplace,” says LFD program visitor Angela Guy, SVP of Diversity & Inclusion at L’Oreal USA and the newest member of the American Conference on Diversity Board of Trustees. “The schools that supported this program are really setting the standard by sending student leaders to the program to be the voice of change. These leaders will return to their schools with highly relevant tools that can jumpstart an inclusive environment; one that celebrates the potential that each student has to offer their schools, families, and communities, today and in the future.”

Participating schools for Lead for Diversity 2012 are: Absegami High School; Bayonne High School; Bergen County Academies; Cedar Creek High School; Franklin High School; Freehold Township High School; Gill St. Bernard’s School; Haddonfield Memorial High School; Howell High School; Kearny High School; Kent Place School; Lakewood High School; Marlboro High School; Memorial High School; Moorestown Friends School; Piscataway High School; Roselle Park High School; St. Benedict’s Preparatory School; Saint Vincent Academy; Secaucus High School; Spotswood High School; University Academy Charter High School; and William L. Dickinson High School.

What delegates said about LFD:
“My experience at LFD has been amazing. It has brought a better understanding toward society. It gave me the keys to open new doors. I feel as if I can change the world.”
– Duvan Gonzalez, Lakewood High School

“It was the best experience of my life and I will carry what I have learned forever. I feel like I have an obligation to share this with the world.”
– Salma Hbaich, Franklin High School

“I feel so completely changed and honestly happy. Though I know the road ahead of me will be hard, I am also really excited to start it. Thank you.”
– Kai Nelson, Secaucus High School

“It was an amazing experience. It changed my thoughts about everything. I want to do a lot with my knowledge.”
– Andrew Doukas, Marlboro High School

“The impact that the program had on me cannot be put into words. The warmth, love, wisdom, sense of inclusion, hope, and inspiration I received will stay in my heart as I begin down a new path with greater awareness. I truly hope I will inspire more young men and women as I have been. LFD is a second home.”
– Abby Thompson, Howell High School

Formerly known as Anytown, NJ, LFD has been a cornerstone of the American Conference on Diversity Youth Leadership Institute since 1995. Since that time, 107 of New Jersey’s high schools from 16 counties have participated and approximately 2,300 students have been delegates. In a recent survey of past program participants, nearly 80 percent of former delegates said that attending the program impacted their career choice, leading them to education, social work, nonprofit work, healthcare, government, and law. For more on the impact of Lead for Diversity, download last year’s Lead for Diversity Survey Report and Advisors’ Evaluation Report at www.AmericanConferenceonDiversity.org.

Thanks to the generosity of the following Lead for Diversity Partners in Education and other donors, more than 50 percent of the costs for schools to participate were paid for: Shor Family Foundation (founder); Victoria Foundation; New Jersey Resources; RBC Foundation; Schumann Fund for New Jersey; Wilf Family Foundation; Investors Savings Bank Foundation; Page Hill Foundation; Anne Evans Estabrook; Henaz and Pradeesh; and Stephen Calvanese.

To learn more about how your high school can participate in Lead for Diversity 2013, call 732-745-9330, x22. For images of this year’s event, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/americanconferenceondiversity.