As a student-founded and student-focused organization, Food Recovery Network greatly values the development of student leaders. That’s why Hannah and I (Erin) jumped at the chance to speak at the University of Maryland’s LeaderShape Institute in January. This five-day retreat gives students an opportunity to develop a plan to make their vision of an ideal world a reality, and encourages them “to adopt a healthy DIS-regard for the impossible.”
When we arrived, the students had just finished a workshop in which they were asked to write a headline representing a big picture goal that they’d like to see achieved in their lifetime. They thought of things like bringing an end to poverty, hunger, and disease -- all things that most people would say cannot be done. The next day would be all about developing an action plan to understand what part they could play in creating that ideal world.
Hannah and I spoke to two groups of students about FRN, about our work with other student leaders like them, and how FRN could be taken as an example of exactly what they were trying to do: make the impossible (or improbable) possible. The students had a lot of great questions about what made FRN so successful, how we measure that success, and how they could get involved in FRN and similar organizations on their campus. Some of them spoke to us about how they could take the model of FRN and apply it to the issue they were most inspired by, whether that was hunger, inequality, or global health.
Hannah and I were blown away that these students -- most of them freshmen and sophomores -- had such a good grasp on their goals and were already working to achieve them. They were dreaming big and not letting the word “impossible” keep them from trying. Although we are lucky enough to work with students like them every single day through FRN, it was still a great reminder that young people can create change. It was students like them that founded FRN, and it’s students like them that keep it going today.
On that inspiring note, here are some thoughts from FRN student leaders across the country on what it means to be a leader:
“Our leadership team went from being a group of low-key, shy individuals to forces of change on campus who took home the university's 2015 Emerging Student Leader Award! We aced through our communications/public speaking course as well.”
Bilal, University of the Sciences
“Before this, I had never been the true leader of an effort. I had a supportive figure, or a co-leader, but being the founder of this Chapter required me to take the responsibility for implementing a plan and taking all the steps necessary to engage people in it. It has helped me further develop my communication, public speaking, and marketing skills. It has also helped me realize all the dedication it takes to be a primary leader, and I have learned to be assertive when I have to and prepared for all outcomes."
Megan, Western Washington University
“Before FRN, I had very minimal experience with organizing people and being a leader. FRN has helped me learn how to organize and coordinate volunteers, along with how to articulate to others specific tasks that need to be accomplished.”
Mackenzie, Colorado Mountain College
“Being in a position of leadership has helped the leadership team and myself in all of the ways above because of the work we do. Each of our positions overlap and we help one another and the volunteers. For example anyone who volunteers with us has to have an older member with them for at least 10 recoveries. That means everyone has been a trainee and everyone who stays with us will one day become the trainer. It's a lot of fun to think back to when someone was teaching you and now you're helping someone else become a member. It helps with communication and building relationships in the club. you can't be a leader without being able to talk to your "followers."
Allison, Rochester Institute of Technology
“I have been impacted by seeing for myself that students and young people really can make a change if they are empowered enough. When a common cause unites so many people, it's amazing.”
Mallory, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
“Three out of the six leadership team members from our Food Recovery Network Chapter are currently serving on the planning team for a tri-campus leadership summit for all three of the University of Michigan campuses to take place in February, myself being one of them. I would have never pictured myself in a position such as this if it were not for the leadership experience that I gained through FRN. There is a chance that I may give a presentation about community action at this event, which I know I would not have even considered partaking in two years ago (before I was involved with FRN). FRN has given me the opportunity to use my voice, raise awareness and act around the issues I've always cared about but never knew how to address.”
Kelsey, University of Michigan Dearborn
“FRN has helped me personally by finding something I am passionate about, and want to work with as a career. It has allowed me to become a better student leader, learn to delegate, time management, and other skills I needed to fine tune.”
Carly, Salem College