Decades ago, when Bergenfield, NJ, high-school student Sandy McCaw learned her Girl Scout troop leader applied and helped her earn a scholarship from our organization, she had no idea the experience would be so life-changing. But after attending the initial weeklong residential summer institute — like the thousands who followed her footsteps over the past 20 years — McCaw’s fate to make a significant impact on society was sealed.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of our Lead for Diversity leadership-development program. Since the program began in 1995 as Anytown, we have worked with more than 120 schools and 3,200 students throughout New Jersey to enhance their leadership and social skills and prepare them to work in diverse workplaces.
“It’s an incredibly intense experience. It made me a better person who can relate better with others,” says McCaw, who now serves as on-site nurse during the summer institute at the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Dingmans Ferry, PA. “Back in those days, we explored issues of race and religion, not gender orientation/expression or other forms of diversity like the students discuss today.”
After graduating from Lead for Diversity (LFD) and high school, McCaw went on to college where she “always had an interest in cultural differences.” She received an undergraduate degree in Nursing from Fairleigh Dickinson University, a master’s in Health Sciences from Montclair State University, and an Ed.S. in Family Therapy from Seton Hall University.
Today, McCaw is a licensed marriage & family therapist, an advanced practice R.N., and a Certified Professional Life Coach. In her 30-year practice as a marriage and family therapist and certified group psychotherapist at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, McCaw has worked with clients coping with job loss, retirement, caregiving, divorce, and co-parenting. McCaw is also a relationship coach for individuals and couples, including LGBT people, to open pathways that help them achieve their full potential.
Returning to LFD this past summer, McCaw says: “I’m really taken back by how supportive and open the delegates are with each other. You don’t ordinarily think of segments of the population suffering so much. But they do.”
Some New Jersey high-school students admit to enduring the dehumanization of name-calling based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. A few contemplate suicide — until they share their experiences through LFD and begin taking on the leadership role of teaching others to respect differences. Each year, about 100 students from racially and geographically diverse New Jersey high schools collaborate with their school advisors to create diversity Action Plans that address challenges specific to their schools and/or districts. Their Action Plans are implemented throughout the school year. The successful implementation of these Action Plans has the potential to open the hearts and minds of more than 20,000 students, educators, and community members.
LFD is modeled after the National Conference of Christian and Jews’ (NCCJ) Anytown youth program that started in 1956 in California in response to the integration of schools. Over the years the program has been replicated and redesigned in more than 64 cities and 32 states across the country gaining national attention and featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In a survey of past program participants, nearly 80 percent of the delegates said that attending LFD impacted their career choice, leading them to education, social work, nonprofit work, healthcare, government, and law. For more on the program’s impact, download our Survey Report (http://americanconferenceondiversity.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/LFD-2012-Report-Brochure.pdf) and Advisors’ Evaluation Report (http://americanconferenceondiversity.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/ACD-LFD-ExecSum-083010.pdf).
The LFD 20th Anniversary celebration will kick off during the summer institute in the Poconos (July 12-17). A special “Corporate Volunteer Day” will be held on July 16. On this day, we are seeking corporate volunteers to work with the students to support the development of their Action Plans. Please call 732-745-9330 to register volunteers. Space is limited and registration fees apply. Registration fees will cover round-trip transportation of volunteers and meals for the day.
If you’re an educator interested in sending a delegation of up to four students from your school, please contact Bari Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here. The program is for high-school students who have demonstrated leadership and have the potential to influence change on their campus. All students must be entering grades 10, 11, and 12 during the 2015-2016 school year. Participating schools pay $2,300 for a school team – only a portion of the total cost. This includes round-trip bus transportation from central locations, meals, lodging, and delegate insurance. The American Conference on Diversity’s generous LFD Partners in Education and other donors subsidize more than 50 percent of the total costs. If you’d like to help support our Lead for Diversity program during the 20th Anniversary Celebration, please visit http://americanconferenceondiversity.org/donate/.