A Milestone Celebration: The 10th Anniversary of the Global Leadership and Service Collaborative

The Taft-Waterbury leadership training partnership celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.

More than a decade ago, then Head of School Willy MacMullen ’78 invited Dean of Global and Diversity Education Jamella Lee to his office to talk about a unique opportunity available through the Edward E. Ford Foundation. *

            “He said they were interested in public-private partnerships, and private schools like Taft with a public purpose,” Lee recalls. “He asked me what I thought and all I remember saying and thinking was, ‘We can do this.’ I could see it: Young people from Waterbury and Taft working together, for a greater purpose—breaking down barriers, bridging divides. What an amazing opportunity.”

            The coming months were filled with meetings to identify and connect with stakeholders, from then Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and the chief academic officer for the city of Waterbury, to now Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, and Taft service leaders and mentors Baba Frew, Laura Monti, and Jon Willson, to name just a few. Lee’s days were filled first with concept and program development, then with pitches, presentations, and critically, the application to the Ford Foundation.

            In April of 2013, MacMullen received the letter everyone had been hoping for: Taft had been awarded a one-to-one $250,000 matching grant from the Ford Foundation to “create and develop the Center for Global Leadership and Service programs, including mentorship programs, The Global Leadership Institute (GLI), and a service-learning course that provides an opportunity for Taft and Waterbury students to serve and learn together.” Taft successfully met the matching requirement, and the program came to life. In May of this year, program alumni, partners, leaders, families, friends, and supporters gathered to celebrate its 10-year anniversary.

            “It brings tears to my eyes, to say the least,” Lee said at the gathering. “I believed, as did my colleagues at Taft and from Waterbury, that our students could change the world; they would be citizen leaders in their communities and across the globe; they would have impact.”

            A few things have changed since the inception of the program: Lee left Taft to serve a new community, turning the program reins to her partner, Baba Frew, who has taken the program to new heights with her extraordinary passion and dedication. And The Center for Global Leadership and Service is now called the Global Leadership and Service Collaborative, to better reflect the partnership and collaboration at the heart of the program—a partnership built to grow and benefit students at Taft and in the Waterbury Public School system, while giving them tools to become actively engaged and globally aware citizens and leaders. It is both forward thinking and compelling, and the embodiment of the Taft School motto, Non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret.

            After 10 years, the Collaborative’s signature program remains largely the same. The Global Leadership Institute (GLI) is a competitive and rigorous co-curricular program that brings students from Taft and Waterbury public schools together both in and out of the classroom for shared learning and leadership experiences. The program’s mission is to develop a generation of global leaders with a genuine concern for world problems, multiple perspectives on global issues, and the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to worldwide change. Through a competitive application process, the GLI program accepts 24 new students each academic year—12 students from Taft, 12 students from public schools in the city of Waterbury. GLI Scholars enter the program the winter of their sophomore year, and complete the program in the spring of their junior year. During that time, scholars meet with and hear from community and global leaders, visit environmental clean-up sites, tour the United Nations, engage in service work, and, working with a partner, conduct in-depth research on a global or “glocal” issue for a culminating project and community presentation.

            Mihir Nayar ’19 was a member of the third cohort of GLI scholars.

            “While this is a much easier thing to say than to do, I tried to use my two years in GLI as a platform to take action on world issues that affect multiple populations across the globe,” says Nayar. “My final project for GLI included a hunger simulation that sparked a growing conversation about the ill effects of malnutrition across the world. My partner and I specifically focused on our home nations of Ghana and India. We took this project beyond the GLI program and into a multi-pronged solution to tackle the poverty cycle in Ghana, donating hundreds of books to YAF Ghana to tackle another prevalent issue related to the poverty cycle in low literacy rates.”

            As a student at UC Berkeley, Nayar maintained his focus on global issues. He earned awards from Harvard and USC for his Model UN work on global geopolitical issues, including the persecution of Uyghur Muslims and the modern-day impact of the divisions between India and Pakistan. He also petitioned the United Nations Human Rights Commission to take action for protection of the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority in South Asia facing a refugee crisis.

            “Through GLI, I learned just how big and small our world can simultaneously be. Through the differences that exist between each of us, we are all part of humanity and struggle with basic needs across cultures and continents.”

            Rina Kurihara ’24 partnered with Waterbury Career Academy student Ayderi Avendano for her final “glocal” project—tackling a global issue on a local level. Tapping into Rina’s personal experiences, the pair founded a five-pronged, educational program to raise awareness around eating disorders. The program, body of thought, reached more than 3,000 people in Connecticut almost immediately after it was launched.

            The program’s tagline, “nourish your body, nourish your mind,” effectively captures the programs five components: educational/community lectures; providing local schools with nutrition posters with a “food is fuel” message for more intentional eating; working with school counselors to provide new perspectives on approaching conversations around eating disorders; gifting local schools with bathroom mirrors that include positive messaging; and aggregating detailed information on accessing support hotlines.

            “We received Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Jahana Hayes for our work,” says Rina, “underscoring how important it is to take action on ‘glocal’ issues that too often go unnoticed in communities. More can always be done, and it can start at the local level.”

            The milestone celebration for the Global Leadership and Service Collaborative was a testament to the value and impact of the program—one that continues to flourish after 10 years.

            “I look forward to seeing what the next 10 years hold, for it is in our students’ hands that the future of our world lies,” says Lee. “And because of this, I am forever hopeful.”

*The Edward E. Ford Foundation seeks to improve secondary education by supporting U.S. independent schools and encouraging promising practices. Since its inception in 1957 and through January of 2023, the Foundation has awarded nearly 2,300 grants approximating over $125 million to approximately 1,000 different schools and associations.

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