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Archive for : University of Washington

‘U Lead, We Lead’ event encourages cross-campus conversation

Small blue cubes topped the tables of the HUB ballroom Thursday night.

On each side of the cube was a question. As students, faculty, and community members flooded the room, table captains greeted them. Throughout the night, these captains facilitated conversations about leadership using these cubes and other tools.

The “U Lead, We Lead” event drew approximately 300 people. In addition to the table groups, guests heard from key members of the community on what it means to be a leader.

“Who are you? Who are you becoming? Who do you want to be, and why is that what you want to become?” Rabbi Will Berkovitz, vice president for Repair the World, a Jewish organization advocating for global service, asked the audience.

The event was part of the Husky Leadership Initiative, which is an ongoing program to encourage leadership in the UW community. Lincoln Johnson, UW director of student activities and associate vice president for campus life, gathered a group of 28 community members last spring to spearhead the project.

Johnson said the goal is to bring the campus together to form conversations about leadership.

“A lot of good development is going on in terms of leadership but a lot of it is decentralized,” Johnson said.

Senior Evelyn Jensen, who helped organize and lead the event, said most of the leadership groups on campus have been a part of “U Lead, We Lead” and its creation. She said the wide range of people involved in the event helped add to the diversity of the conversations.

“We’re bringing in communities from all across UW. We have ASUW, we have RHSA, we have the Greek community, we have the [Ethnic Cultural Center] — just a lot of leadership groups,” Jensen said. “We have a really diverse group of people coming in and speaking about what their thoughts on leadership are.”

UW President Michael Young was one of many speakers at the event, telling students that one of the most important qualities of a leader is the ability to react to any situation. He said his life didn’t go exactly as he planned, but he learned a lot from his experiences.

“I know you all have your careers all planned out, but I can promise you that very little will go the way you planned it,” Young said. “And that’s going to be a wonderful thing. And what you learn, fundamentally, is how to deal with what life throws at you.”

He defined a good leader as someone who is able to take initiative and compel other people to do what is best for the community­ — and for the world. And he said that while academics are definitely a key part in becoming a good leader, other skills learned at the university level are more important.

“I realize you’re studying chemistry, political science, English, and dance and all these other things,” Young said. “But what’s important is the basic understanding that you’re going to get about how you can use those interpersonal skills that you develop to be thinking about how you can get people to do something that really matters in the world and make a difference.”

Sophomore Christina Xiao attended “U Lead, We Lead” as a volunteer, but she said she was still able to learn a lot from the conversations and the speakers.

“I think this was a really good idea; it’s a really interesting concept,” Xiao said. “I really liked what [Berkovitz] said about using your skills and your passions to meet the needs of society. I thought that was a really good message.”

Johnson said this is the first of many leadership events that will appear on campus this year.

“We want it to be an ongoing conversation,” Johnson said.

Repair Interview: Robert Beiser Talks Teen Feed and JConnect in Seattle

Seattle, in a word, rules. That’s partly because the city is home to Teen Feed, a groundbreaking organization that engages volunteers in offering meals, support and services to homeless youth and teens. It’s also because of JConnect Seattle and Hillel UW, two organizations (and Repair the World partners) that engage college-aged and young adult Jews in all kinds of amazing, Jewishly-rooted service work – including volunteering with Teen Feed!

Robert Beiser, who is the Campus/JConnect Repair the World Director at Hillel UW, took the time to speak to us about how Teen Feed serves Seattle’s homeless and street-connected youth, why JConnect decided to host a weekly Teen Feed site, and what it’s like being Seattle’s largest default kosher education organization.

Tell me a bit more about Teen Feed.
It’s an incredible program that’s been around for 25 years. They work with volunteers to serve meals to homeless and street-connected youth – the meal serves as a platform for case workers and long term volunteer workers to create and build relationships with them. Over time, they have become an incredible resource for teens in Seattle and a model for other organizations nationally.

How many teens usually show up for meals?
On any given night there’s usually 30-70 youth who come in for a meal. While they’re eating, advocates go and sit with them. It’s a great way for youth to connect with services that they can’t access so easily through the government. For example, if a 15-year old needs some kind of service and they talk to someone in government they’ll likely be told, “you’re under 18, we’re going to place you in foster care.” They might also be deterred from going to social services in the first place – somewhere where they’ll be in an office with adults they don’t know. They could feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and decide it’s not worth it, when really they need services.

Teen Feed says, we’ll give you a hot meal and there will be people there who think you’re valuable and who believe in you and your future. Through the meals they develop relationships before they’re ever asked anything, like if they want more stable housing, or to go back to school, get a job, or get help with substance abuse. It’s been a really successful program. There are lots of cases where former guests now have jobs and families, and are even on the board of Teen Feed.

How have Jconnect and Hillel UW been involved with Teen Feed?
Teen Feed is held in a different church or community center each night of the week – Hillel hosts it on Sundays, and Jconnect members volunteer to cook and serve. We’d volunteered for a while, but wanted to take the opportunity to provide a real service to our community. We wanted to integrate the program into JConnect and make it a hallmark of what we do. So we talked to Teen Feed about being a host site. These days, for the first time in 25 years, Teen Feed can offer meals 7 days a week, and every night of the year. We also regularly send groups to help make food on days like Christmas and Easter Sunday, because our volunteers will be free.

What do Jconnect participants do when volunteering at Teen Feed?
We have an average of 10-12 volunteers a week, and we’ve had about 90 different volunteers over the course of the year. The meal team volunteers provide the food, and then both cook and serve it on a buffet line. We use real dishes and have a compost for all the stuff people don’t eat. We’ve actually helped other Teen Feed hosts set up composting at their sites too. Our team works out of the Hillel kitchen, which is strictly kosher. So in a way, we’re also the largest kosher education organization around by necessity!

What type of impact have you seen from JConnect’s work with Teen Feed?
While we’re volunteering, we occasionally get into really deep conversations about the role of Jewish communities in doing service and social justice work, and about individual versus collective responsibility. 9 times out of 10, I’m not the person leading the discussion – this type of work really gets people talking and gives them a chance to grow.

Another thing that is really remarkable to me is the Teen Feed staff. They’re mostly young people in their 20s, and they go week in and week out and hear some of the most heartbreaking stories from people who look just like them. They take that on with so much dignity and compassion, and keep the focus constantly on what they can do to best serve and be the best organization they can. Teen Feed is constantly improving itself to become smarter and more compassionate in its work, and to respond to feedback, trends and changes. It’s an honor to be involved.

Learn more about Teen Feed’s work here, about JConnect here, and about Hillel UW’s work here.