by Wendy Fachon
Youth empowerment is about instilling the confidence in each young soul that he or she can make a positive difference in the world. The Student Leadership Training Program (SLTP) empowers teenage students to empower others through leadership - first learning, then applying, and finally teaching leadership skills. Every summer, secondary school students from all around the country gather at Nichols College in Dudley, MA, to engage in one of SLTP's five-day SLTP youth conferences.
Jim Fitzgerald, Educational Director of the SLTP, explains, “A big part of every day is spent building character and those efforts culminate on Friday with our service project. For the last few years that project has been to decorate hats to provide to hospitals to give to kids who are undergoing chemo therapy.” After completing their “difference-maker project,” students read and perform The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, by David Saltzman, a Hodgkin's cancer patient who graduated magna cum laude as an English and art major from Yale University in 1989, receiving the David Everett Chantler Award as “the senior who throughout his college career best exemplified the qualities of courage and strength of character and high moral purpose.” David passed away on March 2, 1990, after completing an inspirational piece of illustrated literature, which was finally published in 1995.
“It is a defining time for our kids and we celebrate their feelings by sharing David’s wonderful story about choices and the meaning of love,” says Fitzgerald, “The group explores the concept of service and how to make it more meaningful and less of a chore.” At the end of the workshop, each student receives a large, decorative safety pin with a jingle bell to wear at future SLTP events.
Many SLTP alumni start read-a-thons in their home towns to raise money for The Jester and Pharley Phund, which donates copies of Jester books and dolls to hospitals and schools nationwide. The overall mission of the organization is to provide educational experiences that give every child a sense of hope, a feeling of self-empowerment, a love of learning, the joy of laughter and a desire to live up to Pharley’s motto: It is up to us to make a difference. It is up to us to care. To date, the Phund has donated over 170,000books.
Anyone can organize a read-a-thon. It's as simple as reading and discussing The Jester with a classroom of third graders, and then asking them to find sponsors to pay them a penny for every page they read over the following week. The activity inspires reading skill development and service, and shows young children how they can become a difference-maker. To date over 40 million pages have been read by students to provide Jester books and dolls to ill children. That's truly empowering.
Wendy Fachon is a writer for Rhode Island Natural Awakenings magazine and her son, Neil, 20, is an SLTP alum and brain cancer patient.