Vision Quest

Leadership Experience Shapes Students Outlook on Life

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LeaderShape Participants Help Lead the Way to Haiti Recovery

By Victoria Kidd

In the wake of the earthquake that decimated Haiti, several LeaderShape participants began thinking about how their visions could be tailored to the relief efforts—how, as they learned at LeaderShape, the small steps of an individual can ripple out and create a significant difference in the lives of others.

James Dunham ’10, a creative writing and philosophy major from Fredericksburg, Va., is one of many LeaderShape students to embrace SU’s response to the Haiti disaster. “Right now, it’s one of the most important places where I can put my vision into practice,” says Dunham.

Dunham’s vision is a world with more compassion. During the LeaderShape Institute, he began focusing on what he can do personally to make that vision a reality. And what he can do is write. “My hope is to come together with other writers and use our work to help people see things in a more compassionate light, ideally things they would have looked at differently or not at all,” Dunham says.

Matthew Stokes ’11, a mathematics and physics major from Middletown, Pa., dreams of establishing a nonprofit organization that will help create equal funding for math and science education in every U.S. school. When the news broke about Haiti, he found that his personal vision and the Haiti relief efforts cross course. “I want to make a difference for somebody who doesn’t have the best of circumstances, and being part of Haiti relief efforts on campus is just a small change that I can make in the overall situation there, and a small step I can take toward eventually helping children in our country.”

Stokes and other LeaderShape participants, including Dunham, immediately began thinking about ways the university could respond to the disaster and how they could help with the relief efforts. Establishing the Susquehanna University Haiti Relief Fund (SUHRF) was the first order of business. Led by a committee representing student organizations across campus, SUHRF was established to consolidate the Haiti relief efforts of campus organizations and to ensure that donations go to a nonprofit—in this case, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund— that has an immediate and effective impact on the Haitian people. To date, more than $1,000 has been raised for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Both Stokes and Dunham are active members of the SUHRF committee, which examines short-term efforts like fund-raisers and long-term goals such as establishing an annual relief trip so members of the Susquehanna community can directly help with the rebuilding process. “There won’t be a moment in the next five years that Haiti won’t need our help. So what we do this semester will set the terms for what our school does in the coming years to help a country rebuild,” says Stokes, who serves as a co-chair of SUHRF.

Will Paris ’10, another LeaderShape participant, helped set the stage for campus and community awareness by organizing a vigil on the one-month anniversary of the Haiti disaster. The goal of the vigil was to keep the suffering of the Haitian people front and center in the community’s collective consciousness even as news reports move on to other topics.

Eric Lassahn, director of residence life and volunteer programs, says acts of volunteerism, like those being demonstrated by students in response to Haiti, are one way for an individual to set a good example as a leader. “A true leader who leads with integrity strives for deep engagement around troubling social issues and facilitates opportunities for those issues to be addressed on multiple levels,” says Lassahn, who served as a family cluster, or small group, facilitator for SU’s LeaderShape Institute.

“We must continue to address the symptoms through volunteerism, but we must also increase our focus and energy on the causes in an effort to resolve problems at their source. Everything I learned at LeaderShape reinforces that notion.”

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