When you give a group of up-and-coming leaders devoted to making a difference full reins to plan a service project, you are bound to get something great.
The Emerging Leaders Institute, better known as ELI, is a three-semester leadership program geared toward new students who desire to be leaders at Columbia College. The program begins with a semester of learning leadership theories and fundamentals of leadership, followed by a semester of creating a vision project that seeks change on a community or global level, and the final semester consists of regular meetings with a mentor in the student’s desired position or field of interest.
In their first semester of ELI, the current class worked together to plan a service project. “I think all of our students have participated in service projects before, but none of them were able to plan a service project from start to finish … they said it was beneficial for them just because a lot of them had never planned any programs or events,” Stephanie Sanders Cagle, the director of Student Engagement and Leadership Development, said.
“I brought the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters to ELI, but I let them do whatever they wanted to with the service project,” Sanders Cagle said. “They were in different categories; we had an entertainment group, a food group, and two areas that did crafts and art. I gave them each a budget to work with, and they could decide whatever they wanted to do with these areas.” With a “Just Dance” stage, a photo booth, a creative and budget-friendly version of Skee-Ball made out of cardboard, and different crafts all set up in Dorsey Gym, the students stretched their budgets to make the event special and fun.
With some help from Kristan Gannaway and others from Big Brother Big Sisters, all of the students planning the event worked hard to make sure the “Littles” got the most out of their experience. “Planning this event was challenging, but also really exciting at the same time,” freshman Reagan Paterson said. “All of the work and preparation was worth it once we got to see the genuine smiles on the faces of the “Littles.” They were so happy to get to just hang out and spend time with us ‘teenagers.’”
Not only was this experience important for the “Littles,” the project planning skills the ELI students developed will be useful for their future vision projects, as they continue to make positive impacts in the community.