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Learning Leadership, Contributing Locally

Each January, about two dozen Smith students in the Phoebe Reese Lewis Leadership Program (LLP) team with a local organization to study its business model, determine areas of potential improvement and make recommendations for more effective operation. In return, the program participants gain essential real-world skills in business analysis, leadership and public presentation.

A Note of Thanks

Excerpted from a letter sent to the Lewis Leaderhips Program from the Board of the MANNA Soup Kitchen

January 9, 2008

Dear Lewis Leadership Program students and representatives:

A year ago the MANNA Soup Kitchen had the good fortune to be selected as a case study project for the Smith College Lewis Leadership Program. We were impressed by the thorough and thoughtful work the students did as they engaged with our program and considered what we could do to improve it. Their final report presented challenges, suggestions, and guidance that have had a huge impact on our work during the past year. 

We are pleased to report that MANNA has accomplished many of the goals we set a year ago. In the process we overcame some unanticipated difficulties and took advantage of new opportunities. Here are a few of the things we have done that can be attributed directly to the recommendations of our Smith student consultants:

  • Designed and distributed a new brochure
  • Raised public awareness through press releases, newspaper features, and media coverage of our holiday dinners          
  • Increased fundraising
  • Expanded the volunteer base by active recruiting and through holiday dinners
  • Increased salaries and year-end bonus amounts for staff

There were many firsts for MANNA in 2007, including participating in Shelter Sunday, providing holiday dinners for the community on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and exhibiting at Smith’s S.O.S. Fair.

We are still working to accomplish goals related to expanding our board and improving coordination of volunteers, but without a doubt in many ways 2007 has been the MANNA’s best year ever. We are grateful to all of you and to Smith College for providing the invaluable service that the Lewis Leadership Program offers small non-profit community organizations like ours. The program connects the Smith community to the greater Northampton community in a meaningful way and offers Smith students real-world experience that truly can make a difference.

With deep gratitude and best wishes for 2008 and beyond,

The Board of The MANNA Soup Kitchen 

In January 2007, 20 students in the LLP worked with MANNA, the only soup kitchen in Northampton, which provides meals in St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Edwards Church in downtown Northampton several times a week. The students developed a business plan for the soup kitchen, and made recommendations that led to positive changes for the organization (see accompanying letter).

Early this year, two dozen students teamed with MassBike, a statewide organization with a Pioneer Valley chapter that promotes bicycle riding and safety. The students worked with the local chapter devising ways to expand its scope, making its mission more accessible to the public, and concocting strategies to increase bicycle usage locally.

“We decided to try to work with a local environmental group to dovetail with Smith’s efforts to become more ‘green,’” said Alice Hearst, associate professor of government, who directs the program. James Lowenthal, associate professor of astronomy, is the president of the local chapter of MassBike, and helped with this year’s LLP, said Hearst.

The leadership program requires students’ participation in two concurrent January sessions. Students in the program’s second year work with a local organization.

Since the LLP began its annual partnership with local agencies six years ago, applications for participation have steadily increased, said Hearst, and nearly tripled this year. “I think this program has one unique feature that attracts students: the opportunity to put their skills into action," she said.

Past LLP partners include the Academy of Music; the Northampton Center for the Arts; and Friends of Children, an advocacy organization in Northampton for at-risk youth.

Program alumnae attest to the value of what they’ve gained from their participation in the LLP. “The skills I learned have really served me well, as part of an organization, as an aspiring executive, and as one who tries to lead from among junior staff,” wrote Trista Kendall ’06 recently, who worked with the Academy of Music as a participant in the LLP during her senior year. She now works for Frameline Distribution in San Francisco, the world’s largest distributor of Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender films. “Here’s a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for giving this Smithie the tools to analyze an organization, articulate what I see in it, and articulate what I’d like to see.”

Whatever path they may take after leaving Smith, LLP participants will take valuable applicable skills into the workforce. “The Lewis Leadership Program has been a great resource for me,” said Elizabeth Ratchford ’09, who took part in the program last year and this year. “This program has taught me so much about how to work in a team. I can’t say enough about how important it is to have these sort of leadership programs for women."

1/24/08   By Eric Sean Weld
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