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  • Writer's pictureBenay Hicks

Listen, Learn, and Show up: Lessons for a New Generation of Leaders

September 15, 2022 | By Isabel Geffner, Advancement Director, Book Harvest

I’ve been mesmerized by the US Tennis Open over the past two weeks; tennis is such a fabulous spectator sport (I can’t hit a ball to save my life, by the way!).

What’s been especially captivating for me has been the generational transfer of leaders – from Williams to Swiatek and Jabeur, from Nadal to Tiafoe and Alcaraz.

Isabel speaking to students at Duke University

So, you might understand, then, why I was especially inspired by the invitation from Duke University’s Office of Durham & Community Affairs to kick off its day-long Orientation for its new generation of student leaders who are running up to the service line to support our beloved Durham community. This past Saturday – one of those dreary weekend mornings when you might expect college students to opt for sleeping in – more than 120 eager students showed up at the steps of White Hall on Duke’s East Campus to warm up for a day of big-time volleying – not balls, of course, but ideas!

These young enthusiasts came from three stellar programs the University sponsors:

  1. Partners for Success, a program in Duke’s Program in Education designed to support any student who has an interest in service-learning, child development, and education-related volunteering (cheers to Joanna Middleton, Program Coordinator Joanna!).

  2. Jumpstart, the nationally recognized program that trains student volunteers to work in community settings to help prepare every child for kindergarten (kudos to Crystal Parker, Program Coordinator!).

  3. America Reads, America Counts, an in-school tutoring program in operation on campuses across the country that trains college students to help grade-school students with their literacy and math skills (standing ovation for Brianna Sanders, Senior Program Coordinator of Preschool to 8th Grade Programs for Education and Workforce Collaborations!).

I had the lucky opportunity to fire up these students at the very start of their day. On the campus of one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the US, I began with the bold (and some might suggest audacious) pronouncement: “You are about to have THE MOST FORMATIVE experience of your college career! We are talking about REAL life, REAL people, and making a REAL difference.”  It is my core belief that no matter their major – from pre-med and pre-law to philosophy and art history – these future champions were about to embark on a journey that will shape their future.

I underscored the three most important things that my work at Book Harvest always reminds me to keep front of mind:

  1. Learn: These students had a schedule of awe-inspiring community legends including Turquoise Parker, the Durham Public Schools super-star who was there to share her wisdom about reading strategies and emergent literacy.

  2. Listen: My esteemed Book Harvest colleagues demonstrate the power of hearing the genius in every child and every parent. It’s there – and our work is to recognize the next Carlos Alcaraz or Iga Swiatke and to coach its flourishing.

  3. Show Up: Even on those early dreary mornings, the power of reliably being there, attending to, and, yes, showing up can plant transformative seeds of confidence and achievement among our youngest learners.

These Duke students are about to be champions in our beloved Durham. What a thrill to be with them!


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