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A Small Change in Community; a Big Change in Me

By Lori Terhaar, 2010 ALVA Graduate

Lori Terhaar participated in Evolve: Re-igniting Self & Commmunity (then called ALVA Leadership Development program) in 2009–2010. The program gave her the structure to examine her experience, knowledge, and skills and to use that information to plan and implement a project that benefits her community.

My most important discovery in the ALVA class was that change occurs when like-minded people gather to exchange knowledge, experiences, and ideas. My ALVA project was straightforward. I wanted to get a number of older women together with high school girls to collaborate on a project. Together, we agreed to organize a fundraiser to support Nari Gunjan, a nongovernmental organization that provides education and literacy services for girls who are part of the Dalit community (“the untouchables”—the lowest rung of India’s caste ladder) in India.

We decided to hold a bake sale, got together to make the items, sold them, and gave the agency the money. Easy enough, I thought. But what happened afterward produced the greatest amount of learning and wonder for me. The high school girls and the older women bonded. They stay in touch. They worry about each other and enjoy each other’s company. They have a connection not only through the project, but also through what they learned about each other and the world.

The project taught me that leadership is not about accomplishing something yourself but, rather, about offering opportunities for others to create something amazing. It is about giving people a forum to discover what they can do and helping them achieve what they set out to do.

Through my ALVA project, I have helped to make a small change in my community. The experience has
also changed me personally. I find it hard to explain the synergy that happens in an ALVA class and the confidence that I gained from being part of a forwardthinking group of people. The experience opened my mind to all the possibilities that are available to me and that draw from the gifts that I have within me.

The ALVA leadership program made me stretch as a person. Through the variety of speakers and the diversity of the class, I was exposed to many new views about civic engagement and the different ways to define community. Because of this class, I know I can make a difference in innovative ways. I look forward to future opportunities to do so.

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