Town Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte, Library Foundation Board Member Michelle Salzman, Library Foundation President Beth Ain and Library Director Keith Klang with the Roots Leadership Program students. (Photo from the Town of North Hempstead)

Growing Roots In Our Community

The Port Washington Library Foundation began a new program in February for high school sophomores and juniors called the Roots Leadership Program (RLP). The program was designed by the Foundation to help develop civic leadership with a focus on creative communication, the power of networking and hands-on project experiences for teens.

RLP was developed by Foundation President Beth Ain, along with Foundation board member Michelle Salzman. In addition to this new program, the Port Washington Library Foundation is one of the two fundraising non-profits for the library, Friends of the Library being the other. The Library Foundation supports the library’s five councils, new initiatives, advanced technology and upgrades to the library’s building and grounds.

As an organization that supports community growth and development, Ain and Salzman thought about how bringing that civic-mindedness to the youth of Port Washington could benefit teens and local non-profits.

“I’ve been so involved in the community on this sort of civic level, and I have had so much interaction with all of the other incredible grassroots funding. But, it occurred to me that I don’t know if our children know that all this good is coming from being immersed in our communities and giving back to our communities. That it’s all done in the spirit of volunteerism and civic leadership,” said Ain. “And so I thought it would be neat if we, as the Library Foundation, started thinking about building a civic leadership program.”
While the Port Washington Library is an incredible physical resource for books and technology, Ain also describes it as being “an access point for everybody, a meeting space and a sort of community center in town.”

As a mother of two, with a daughter in her freshman year of college and a son in his junior year at Schreiber, Ain knows how important it is for high school children to learn about leadership, teamwork, and communication skills before entering the hectic world of college.

“I wanted the kids to grow roots in civic leadership and in this town. And by extension, I also want them just to get leadership training in general,” said Ain. “They’re sophomores and juniors in high school and they all want to put a lot of things on their college résumés. They really are in this very competitive marketplace for college. But it’s one thing to say ‘I participated in this program’ and it’s another thing to be able to say ‘Because of this program I now am better at public speaking, I understand what it takes to advocate for an organization and I understand what it means to collaborate with people.’”

Roots students during a leadership lesson

The RLP spring program currently has 25 students who have been attending sessions where they meet with local nonprofits to learn about their work and how they can get involved.

“We really wanted to find a fun, interesting way to immerse them in leadership that also will give them, what Michelle Salzman likes to call it, portable leadership skills to take with them to college,” said Ain.

Through the Roots program, students are learning communication skills, teamwork, and public speaking, all of which are related to networking and organizing for good. With this immersive program, Ain and Salzman will help pair leadership training with leadership opportunities by building a well-trained cohort of high school students.

So far, Executive Director of Residents Forward Patricia Class; local marketing professional Tracy Chapman; and Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte have visited the RLP sessions to meet with students.

During Class’s visit, she presented information about the projects Residents Forward has completed and wants to complete and their advocacy for green spaces in Port. After she left, the students participated in a workshop built around Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People where the students broke into groups and put on skits where everyone had to guess which leadership principal they are.

For Chapman’s visit, she spoke about collaboration and creativity. She explained how to get opinions from many people to create a successful marketing campaign and understand who you’re marketing to. After, they did a fun brainstorming exercise about what RLP’s social media should look like and what creative endeavors approach they would enlist to cultivate a cool social media platform.

When Councilmember Dalimonte visited, she talked about what it’s like to go from being a civic-minded community activist to an elected official in town. She discussed how you keep your eyes and your ears open in a community. According to a press release from the Town of North Hempstead, “Council Member Dalimonte noted to the membership that they should always work diligently and transparently, and that good government service always comes from the heart.”

Roots students performing a skit during a workshop (Photos from the Roots Leadership Program)

“So we usually have a speaker for half the session, then we break and we have them do some sort of an applied workshop based on the speaker,” said Ain. “I find that the more interactive and the more you can get students to loosen up in a more conversational and fun way, the more they internalize the lessons. And so we have been trying to get them to think about real-life situations where they might apply some of these leadership principles about influencing people and soft leadership skills.”

For the next session on Sunday, April 7, The Art Guild Executive Director Lisa Grossman will be visiting. In the future, RLP plans to partner with more local non-profits, such as The Landmark on Main Street.

“We had nonprofits that the kids would find to be highly magnetic and visible to them,” said Ain. “We are hoping to build these sort of leadership teams based on those interest levels.”

While the last RLP session is on April 14, the program doesn’t end there. The Roots students will be divided into leadership teams that will be collaborative resources for nonprofits.

“My dream when I took on this role as president of the Foundation was to build more of a collective, more of a collaboration between the nonprofits,” said Ain. “And I feel like doing it through the high schoolers, because they have their hands in so many things, they can use this organically and build something really special from it.”

As part of the sessions, the students have created an Instagram account (@pwlfroots) to help promote their leadership skills to others in the community. Currently, a website is being developed where additional information about their work will be accessible to the community.

“We encourage our local nonprofits to tap into our Roots-trained leaders to help with social media outreach, market research, team-building for specific events,” said Ain.

In addition to nonprofits, other students who are working on local projects such as clothing drives or sports equipment drives can benefit from reaching out to the Roots leaders.

“We want to be able to help platform those projects locally so that when a kid starts something, we can help them with more trained leadership,” said Ain. “It teaches them to collaborate with each other and not always think that they have to do everything themselves and feel so overwhelmed.”

“Beyond our initial goal to build students into civic leaders, the program has quickly evolved into a wonderful community-building endeavor,” said Salzman. “It has been a privilege to work alongside Beth [Ain] to implement our vision and serve so many of our wonderful local nonprofits.”

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