Happy SundayFunday! I just got back from a whirlwind trip to India and received a beautiful welcome home from the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute (EFLI) community. Since ColorFest2016 is just one little week away, it feels like an appropriate time to share some words about this AMAZING lifeline of a community.
As you may already know (or remember) high school for me was a hugely turbulent time. I went from a grade of 69 in eighth grade to a ninth grade of over 400 in a school of over 1700 students. While it provided an amazing opportunity for me to meet all kinds of new people, I struggled to find a home, a tribe, a community to call my own. During college, I continued to struggle to find myself and found I was searching for my own identity – a process of sifting through a blend of religions, ethnicities, beliefs, ideals and values. I traveled around the world with IHP, studying the effects of globalization on the planet and spent a lot of time trying to help by working to build women’s clinics or affordable housing with amazing programs like Habitat and the Bucknell Brigade. As I got close to the end of my college experience I got the age old question “What are you doing with yourself after college?” I had no idea, but I knew one thing. In every village and city that I traveled, at least one person I thought I was helping asked me what I had done at home. I knew that I had to come back, to live, to work, and make change here, starting by growing and changing within myself, and letting that ripple out into my community.
As many of you already know, I met Eileen Fisher when I came back (after experiences at the YWCA and Sarah Lawrence College). I not only found role models in Cheryl Campbell and Eileen, I also found a place that supported my passions, ignited my growth and inspired the ability to do my best work. What I realized at Eileen Fisher, is that I could help provide a particular type of space for young people who had gone through similar experiences in high school and were looking for their tribe. I found that the leadership practices at Eileen Fisher could help young people to become designers of their own lives, to take an active role in their communities and find their own authentic voices to share in the world.
Over the last six years, the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute (EFLI) has taken off and changed so many lives for the better. So often, I hear how much the program has raised confidence, built community and let young people feel empowered and supported in ways they didn’t know was possible. EFLI has changed my life just as much as it has changed theirs. In the world I grew up in, I learned a lot of things that I should be: I should be a ballerina, I should wear the right clothes, I should straighten my hair, put make up on to feel beautiful… generally, I learned there were a lot of ‘shoulds’ in my life. I may not have listened to all of them (or rebelled against most of them) but I also learned that we, young people, needed safe spaces to explore our identities. An EFLI community agreement is not to ‘should’ on ourselves or others. These changes, these reminders to stand up for and respect myself, to ask for what I need and to make things happen, are changes that allowed me to move outside of my own fear, and now slowly create a world that allows each of us to be our best selves without that judgement (internal or external).
I continue to be inspired every day by the young people who step up and speak out on their experiences – Sonali who co-led a Youth Gender conference in Westchester today, Ana who made this video of why she’s running, Jonah, who is the first young man on the EFLI Youth Ambassador Board, Sam who led workshops at the recent PrideWorks conference for LGBTQ youth and their allies, Jado who is in Japan working on bringing EFLI to a community she calls home, all of the incredible DC participants I spent the week before last with and SO many more.
On a recent poll, EFLI alumnae responded to a survey and noted an increase in self confidence by 76% and a 133% increase in sense of community. 2016 is an amazing year of expansion for EFLI. We just finished running our first program in the DC region, and this summer, we will be running a residential program in the New York and Seattle regions and we were just invited to continue a proposal to create a school. This week you have an opportunity to join me, Eileen and an incredible team building the capacity to provide these programs with ColorFest 2016. Our goals are to each get 10 friends to donate $10. You can donate $10 for my run in the ColorFest on my crowd rise page. On Sunday April 17th you can run with me or volunteer for the event. Either way, your support helps these amazing programs continue and grow. Join me and the rest of the EFLI community as we Run Walk Rise at ColorFest 2016!