Marlborough – Eight inspiring student leaders from THRIVE’S Support & Advocacy Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) initiative recently celebrated their graduation from the program in a ceremony held at the Marlborough Senior Center.
LEAD, according to THRIVE’s website (icanthrive.org) “is a groundbreaking initiative that prepares and empowers young adults who want to learn what it takes to become a leader and better the world around them. Supported by LEAD staff and mentors, young adults (ages 17-25) gain the knowledge, practical skills, and confidence to become leaders in their communities.”
This is the second class of students to graduate from the program which began in October.
“We follow the Seven Habits of Leadership curriculum and we help our leaders, all of whom have intellectual and developmental delays, learn the tools to become a successful leader,” explained Caitlin Devaney-Fortwengler, family and individual support coordinator at THRIVE. “We also help to connect them with the community and bridge the gap so that more people get to know this population. We have wonderful mentors who are present at our meetings and they share stories about what it takes to be a leader. They are great listeners and they let our leaders share. They are so positive and encouraging.”
Every Monday, the eight students, ranging in age from 17 to 25, met with their peer mentors – Izabella Vera, Megan Scott and Elle Nelson – all of whom were students from the Advanced Math & Science Academy. The mentors then helped the students, covering topics such as critical thinking, role-playing and more. In addition, business mentors from Main Street Bank, Align Credit Union, Provo Financial and GrowthCo, also met with the students.
The group brainstormed to come with ideas for the curriculum’s two required community service projects. The first was the Heroes Cup Hockey Tournament in April, which brought firefighters, police officers, EMS and military personnel together for a fun weekend while raising money and awareness for several charities. They wrote appreciation letters to the first responders, and made a basket for a raffle they held.
The students also participated in Marlborough Clean Sweep, a cleanup day around the city’s courthouse April 28.
Some of the program’s students are still in high school, while some are in college. Several now have jobs, where they are implementing the skills they have worked hard to master. Those that graduate from this curriculum are welcomed back as peer mentors for the next group.
“Matthew McCarthy was one of our peer mentors that graduated last year and came back this session,” Devaney-Fortwengler said. “He spoke at the first group meeting and explained how leadership truly changed his life. He currently works at Hannaford’s and is taking the lead on his life’s decisions, not what the service navigators tell him to do. He has found his voice, which is quite empowering.”
The most recent participants shared what the program has meant to them.
“My experience in LEAD has been great. I made friends and I’m learning to help and support people,” noted Timothy Mantalvanos.
“Leadership means helping the community, telling the truth, being serious and standing up for myself,” said Caitlyn Kline.
“These leaders really help to make a difference,” said Devaney-Fortwengler. “They have the ability and the voice. They may need extra help or support but just knowing that they can do this, well, it’s life-changing.”
Students graduating included: Paula Cezar, Kristen Camacho, Samantha Grimaldo, Caitlyn Kline, Timothy Mantalvanos, Jackie McCarthy, Ryan Ng and Gio Pascal.