Here's a story from our valued Field Supervisor, Dani, who spends her days supporting schools, frontline staff, students and quality afterschool programming. It's an important message of hope.
Erika Petrelli, Senior Vice President of Leadership Development
My crippling shyness reached its peaked during my middle school years. I was very quiet and timid. I avoided raising my hand (even when I knew the answer), kept eye contact to a minimum and prayed not to get called out in class by my teachers—which, by the way, is pretty devastating ... One needs to prepare mentally before getting dragged out into the frontlines without any kind of warning.
I ultimately kept to myself, instead of joining an afterschool program or going out to play at the park. I wanted to go home and play video games or watch Toonami (the gateway to my love for anime). I felt disconnected from school and took every opportunity to be absent.
However, as much as I veered away from most social interactions, I wanted to belong somewhere. I found myself drifting from friend group to friend group and though I had a handful of classmates that I considered to be friends on some level, I couldn't quite fill the best friend vacancy. By eighth grade, I molded myself into the shy girl archetype and wasn't happy.
I had to change.
Fast-forward to freshman year of high school: New clothes, new shoes, a new bag (thanks mom) and a new sense of confidence. I walked into my first year of high school optimistic about my second chance at living a successful and sociable school life.
Old habits die-hard. The shy girl tendencies kicked in and nothing really changed much for me during my freshman year. That is until one day on my way to Italian, I caught a glimpse of a curious room just as students were exiting. It appeared to be a mini auditorium and I thought, "What class is that? How do I get in?" It turned out that the school had a drama class and I could select it as an elective for the following year.
All right! This was my chance to break out of my shell; finally, time to put the shy girl behind me. I needed to build a new identity for myself—one where I could learn to find comfort in the discomfort and one that wouldn't be afraid to be me.
Hi! My name is Daniela, but you can call me Dani.
Over the course of my sophomore year, I slowly leveled up and gained experience points: +5 toward charisma, +3 toward personality, +4 toward confidence, +1 toward sassiness ... You get the picture. I started to feel more comfortable with myself, but I wasn't quite there yet. I needed an extra power boost that I wasn't quite able to find in school.
Cue The Leadership Program.
In the fall of 2008, a youth worker walked into my Drama class looking to recruit students for his afterschool club. And that's when I met Chad, an all-star Leadership Trainer extraordinaire. My interest was piqued and I wanted to check the club out.
Day one of attending the club and I. Was. SOLD.
I took that 21st CCLC Enrollment Form straight to my parents and brought it in the following club day.
For the first time, I felt connected to an adult in school and eagerly awaited to attend club on Mondays and Wednesdays. I looked forward to our daily ritual of "Roses and Thorns" where we would take turns in a circle to share a high and low part of our day or week.
Chad created a safe space where each of our voices were heard and we could confidently be our unapologetic, authentic selves. He knew when to step back and when to challenge us and was adept in identifying our individual needs.
Once I joined the Performing Arts Club, my interest in theater grew—specifically in playwriting. I thought if I wanted to write plays, then I should start reading them. I sought out Chad for some play recommendations and the very next day of club, he came with five plays from his own personal library. (I might still have one that I haven't returned!)
Chad noticed my growing desire and skill and was determined to groom me for success. After writing my first script for a competition, he dedicated time during one of our club days to facilitate a playwriting workshop. Scripts were printed and he cast my peers to bring my characters to life. For a 17-year-old girl whose feelings were too loud for words and too timid for the world, this moment meant the world to me.
Senior year was my second year of the Performing Arts Club with Chad. When college enrollment came around, Chad encouraged me to dorm—an experience I was hesitant in pursuing. Despite my fear and worries, Chad was someone I trusted and knew he wouldn't steer me wrong. I was accepted into SUNY Purchase where I pursued a double major in Theater Performance and Arts Management as well as a minor in Playwrighting.
It is also to Chad's credit that I find myself back at The Leadership Program as a Field Supervisor, bringing quality afterschool programs in NYC to students who were just like me.
So here's the thing: The smallest of gestures can create positive change in a single student—a smile, a high-five, a fist bump, a special handshake, a game of "Roses and Thorns" or a final performance. Actively listening and giving students a chance to be seen and heard can make all the difference in the trajectory of their lives. Chad did so in mine.
Who's life are you changing right now, maybe without you even realizing it?
Dani went from a student to a staff member and is now having the opportunity every day to influence students, just like Chad influenced her. We may never know the impact we are having on another human being ... But that doesn't mean we aren't having it. Every day you go to your programs, remember this: With every kind word, with every kind gesture, with every bit of extra attention—you are making an impact. As we head toward Lights On Afterschool this year, let's remember this quote from Douglas Conant:
"Even a brief interaction can change the way people think about themselves, their leaders and the future. Each of those many connections you make has the potential to become a high point or a low point in someone's day."
Go be a high point.
Written by Daniela Ortiz and Erika Petrelli.
Sponsored content courtesy of The Leadership Program.