Legacy League Grant
Girls Choose IncluCity as Grant Recipient
BY SARAH WENGERT | PHOTO BY DEBRA S. KAPLAN
Superheroes are spectacular—they heroically sweep in to save the day, protecting the public from injustice and villainy of all varieties.
If you think the Legacy League sounds like a group of superheroes, you’re pretty much correct. This year, the young women of the Legacy League (a program of the Women’s Fund of Omaha) are helping protect their peers and the greater Omaha community from harmful, noninclusive words and deeds by awarding a $5,000 grant to Inclusive Communities’ IncluCity program. The four-day residential leadership program allows high schoolers ages 15 to 18 the chance to study intersectionality and gain tools to confront stereotypes, bigotry, prejudice and discrimination, while also exploring each of their own unique identities in a safe space.
The Legacy League, a group of young women ages 8 to 18, was created to engage girls in philanthropy and help them develop leadership skills. It began in the 1990s as the Little Women’s Fund, according to Erin McArthur, operations manager at the Women’s Fund of Omaha.
Initially, members voted annually to award a $1,000 Little Women’s Fund grant to an Omaha-area organization with a program serving girls. In 2015, with strong support from the Women’s Fund Circles group and in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Fund, the group was rechristened the Legacy League and the grant in-creased to $5,000. McArthur says ballots were previously completed by mail, but this year Legacy League members attended a presentation hosted by the Circles group where representatives from three local agencies spoke about their programs. After the presentation, Legacy League members voted and chose IncluCity as their grant recipient.
Kerri Peterson, parent and director of urban initiatives at the Sherwood Foundation, took her 12-year-old daughter Olivia to the Legacy League grant presentation as a means to expose her to the world of philanthropy.
“Olivia was thoroughly engaged, focusing on each presentation so she could make the best decision about who should receive the funds,” Peterson says. “It was wonderful to see her think critically and hear her articulate the reasoning behind who her top choice was and why. Without a doubt, this opportunity stimulated a unique thinking process that’s hard to find elsewhere. Not only did it reaffirm my constant preaching to her that she can do anything she sets her mind to, it also gave her a chance to be surrounded by strong, talented peers and community nonprofit leaders.”
Fourteen-year-old Legacy League member Alora Nowlin also had an amazing experience viewing the presentation and casting her vote.
“I never thought I would be able to personally help an organization like one of these three,” she says. “It was a cool experience, and it was hard to pick only one organization for the grant.”
But pick they did, and the Legacy League landed on IncluCity, a program that some of them may get to participate in firsthand.
Three to five IncluCity camps are held per academic year, each hosting 75 student delegates. Fifteen delegates constitutes a delegation from one high school. Krystal Boose, chief operations officer at Inclusive Communities, says they’ve had participating high schools from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota, including three South Dakota reservations. Cell phones and other personal technology are checked at the door, allowing participants to unplug and engage.
Schools determine their own participants and students can attend once as a delegate. Boose says each school has its own means for determining its delegation.
“We ask our schools to create kind of a ‘Breakfast Club’ delegation,” says Boose. “That means we want a mix of your stereotypical leaders—the extroverts and team captains, students with leadership capabilities who aren’t yet in those roles, and students with one foot out the door. They may be disruptive in class or even missing school, maybe sitting alone at lunch. It’s through that kind of mixture of personalities that we bring them together and create the strongest movement. By pulling them all together, we really get to change what the inside of the lunchroom looks like.”
Boose says IncluCity’s programming stems from an identity-based foundation.
“As issues expand, so does our mission,” Boose says. “Currently there are eight different identities—we call them systems of advantage—that our mission covers. That’s ageism, faithism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, appearanceism, and racism—and there are many more identities people hold, but those form the foundation of our programming. Since the camp is for high school-aged youth, we drill down even further to ask, ‘What do these things mean specifically to teenagers in Omaha?’”
From there IncluCity moves into how to build cross-cultural relationships, peacefully resolve conflict and become an ally for others.
“We walk them through understanding the language and concepts needed to navigate their own feelings and the world with others, offer a commonality that’s a starting point for talking about these things, and create a safe space to explore those dialogues,” Boose says. “Really what we do is teach people how to talk to each other.”
IncluCity implements a narrative facilitation style, which Boose says presents information to participants be-fore drawing answers and knowledge from them. She says this style “automatically sets the stage for conversations to happen.” After concepts and terminology are presented, delegates engage in interactive activities catering to different learning styles.
“The final phase is the processing component, and that’s where change happens, because the No. 1 way to dismantle any kind of prejudice or stereotype is by getting to know somebody who defies the information that you think is correct,” Boose says.
Essentially, IncluCity uses the relationships being built as a sort of compass for cultural competency.
“We’re using their experiences and those of their peers to practice having dialogues, which is meant to spark them integrating more inclusive behaviors into their daily lives. That’s immediately refl ected in the environment we create at camp, when they go back to their schools, and also in how they impact Omaha as a community,” she says. “We want to teach them how to not escalate a situation, how to be an ally, how to be a supporter, and how to take this information and continue to create more inclusive spaces with it.”
The immersive camp is held at Carol Joy Holling Center in Ashland, Neb., and, in addition to delegates, includes co-directors (veteran volunteers and Inclusive Communities paid staff like Boose and her colleagues), advisors (two faculty members from each school), and volunteer counselors and counselors in training (CITs).
“The experience would not be the same without our CITs and counselors,” Boose says. “Their expertise in leading and drawing the delegates out without overpowering is where the magic happens.”
Lilly Tamayo, a freshman at University of Nebraska at Omaha, is now one of those crucial volunteers. She’s been to camp nearly 10 times now, but was somewhat skeptical before traveling from her home in South Dakota’s Rose-bud Reservation to be an IncluCity delegate at her first camp in January 2013.
“My first time at camp I didn’t talk a lot, but I really listened and took everything in,” Tamayo says.
Getting off the bus that fi rst day, part of a pilot group of fi ve delegates from Rosebud, Tamayo was apprehensive about the experience, which she’d undertaken at the urging of her math teacher Christine French (a former IncluCity delegate and volunteer herself, who suggested including students from the reservation). Tamayo says she realized at that fi rst camp that some of her experiences were atypical.
“Growing up on a reservation is very different than in Omaha,” she says. “It’s like a third-world country some-times, and people don’t really understand how reserva-tions run. It’s really hard to actually hear people from Omaha say they didn’t even know Native Americans existed anymore or that they thought we rode buffalo to school. All these crazy stereotypes come at you. I learned a lot that weekend, about myself and common experiences I share with others. It really was life-changing, because it opened my eyes to things I was blind to.”
Boose says camp is about empathy-building. “We want them, regardless of who they’re interacting with, to be empathetic. We can bring people with very opposing life-styles, views or experiences together and they can end up best friends.”
After a six-hour return drive from her first IncluCity camp, Tamayo arrived home at 1 a.m. and erupted in tears as her mother helped her with her luggage.
“I just lost it and started crying, because these stories that some people shared, and the strength, bravery and hope to go on that people have after things they’ve been through…It really has given me a lot of hope for my future,” she says.
Even though camp made her cry, Tamayo returned as a volunteer CIT to help other students, again at the urging of French.
“Being on the other side as a volunteer is way different than being a delegate,” says Tamayo, who plans to major in social work or nursing. “You really have to be there for somebody else. It’s not about you. It’s about helping other students fi gure out who they are and be able to express their experiences. You learn a lot as a delegate, but returning to volunteer, you get a different perspective. And it changes every time. It’s never the same camp.”
Tamayo and Boose both stress that what happens at camp stays at camp. That’s partially to maintain a safe space and also to ensure the experience remains fresh and impactful for future attendees.
Tamayo, who moved to Omaha before her senior year and graduated from South High School, says her IncluCity experiences have empowered her.
“Going to camp made me stand taller,” she says. “It taught me to stand up for myself and for what I believe in.”
Boose says it was very touching to be awarded this grant by the Legacy League, especially because she hopes to see some of its members at future IncluCity camps.
“We were ecstatic,” she says. “The fact that they voted was really moving. For young girls to consider issues like identity and privilege and to recognize the importance of empathy and have that click so young is amazing. I can’t wait for them to come to camp, especially with those seeds already planted. It’s so exciting that they see the value in this, because they are capable of changing so much. It’s nice to know we’ll be left in good hands.”
While small adjustments can be made between camp sessions if needed, the IncluCity curriculum is wholly evaluated each year to ensure it remains up-to-date. Boose and her team spent summer 2015 reviewing the curriculum in advance of this year’s sessions.
“Especially with situations like those in Ferguson and Baltimore, and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, we wanted to look at our race-based curriculum and ask, ‘Are we having the real conversations that kids are having in the hallways? Are we really talking about what matters to them?’ Because we don’t want to come in and tell people what or how they should be thinking. It’s more about, ‘What conversations are you having?’ and then making sure they have the language and concepts to discuss that,” Boose says.
“Things don’t exist in silos,” she continues. “So we don’t have the luxury to talk about sexism and ignore racism, or to fix one thing before moving on to the next issue.”
Boose uses how race plays into the gender wage gap as an example, noting that while women earn less than men, white women still make more than people of color on the spectrum.
“Even as women, who understand what it’s like to grow up in a society where one of our identities is marginalized or oppressed, we still have various other identities influencing our experiences and behaviors, which can make us oppressors. You can be a good person and still be affected and influenced by the institutionalized racism and white supremacy that impacts our institutions,” she says.
Boose says this happens on a macro level, but also through daily microaggressions perpetrated by well-meaning people.
“Being inclusive and intentional with our language is hard work. We can be good people with good intent, but it’s more than that,” she says. “We’ve been taught for a long time that intent is good enough, but it’s not. It’s about impact and taking responsibility for your actions and words.”
The IncluCity team itself is continually learning, she says. “This work isn’t perfect. Even though we live in this world, surrounded by these concepts, we still make mistakes.”
And like the students who attend InluCity, they strive to learn from such mistakes and follow a “when you know better, do better” ethos.
Tamayo’s advice for teens considering going to IncluCity?
“Do it,” advises Tamayo. “Even if you’re scared, just try it. It’s so impactful and you really find yourself. I thought I had my life figured out and knew who I was and what I believed in, but so many of my thoughts and beliefs changed in just four days at camp. It just makes you want to be a better person and change your community for the better—to connect with others and be part of a bigger thing.”
Visit inclusive-communities.org to learn more about Inclusive Communities and IncluCity.