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What is a leader? If you asked high school seniors Maddy Sam and Melissa Pisciotta, they’d probably have plenty to tell you. They might say that a leader has inspiration and is willing to do the work to see it through. They might add that a leader gathers people together to build consensus and work toward a goal. Most of all, though, they’d probably tell you that a leader brings out the gifts and capacities of those who might not otherwise see them.
When Maddy and Melissa signed up for a Peer Leadership class at their high school in Danbury, Conn., they needed a service
project. Maddy remembered that her aunt had told her about Read to Feed, Heifer International’s service learning program for elementary school students. Inspired by the idea that they could encourage young students to both read and help their global community, the girls decided to facilitate a big Read to Feed initiative. Seeking support, they attended school board meetings and sent letters to elementary schools all over the district. With the school board’s approval and an enthusiastic response from 16 teachers at six schools, they dove in.
Melissa and Maddy visited classrooms and told students about Heifer’s mission and how it works to end hunger and poverty for families all over the world. They encouraged them to find sponsors and to read as many books as they could over two weeks. Students and teachers alike were clearly excited, which delighted Melissa and Maddy.
One teacher created a Read to Feed bulletin board. For every chapter the students read, a new animal appeared. Another classroom created a game similar to the TV game show “The Price is Right.” In game-show fashion, Maddy and Melissa were asked to guess how much money the classroom had raised.
This particular school was in the poorest area of town. In fact, before the Read to Feed kickoff, the teachers attempted to prepare the girls for modest results. They promised that their students would try hard, but they weren’t sure how much their sponsors would be able to contribute. Ultimately bringing in more than $1,000, this school raised the most money in the district for Heifer.
“I learned that regardless of the conditions, anyone could achieve anything,” Maddy said of the experience. “If you have a goal and you’re trying to really strive for that goal, you just have to put your mind to it and work together and you can achieve it.”
Melissa and Maddy are headed to college this fall, armed with an understanding that takes most people decades to learn—that real leaders are those who take inspiration and turn it into action, through hard work and the conviction that even the smallest and least regarded in a community have something to give.
Story by Kim Machnik, Community Engagement Coordinator, Heifer International
Photos courtesy of Maddy Sam