An exclusive viewing of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” as well as a conversation with the producer and cast, will be available for guests of L!FE Leaders Inc.’s first Gala Event on March 28 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit. L!FE is a Detroit-based leadership and career development program for metro-Detroit middle- and high-school students, says Amy Nederlander, founder and president of L!FE. The nonprofit organization offers two youth programs run in part by students — Excellence Corps, and Entrepreneur-ISM Intensive and Collective. The previously summer-only programs are now year-round, and student participants help keep the programs running.
DDN: Can you tell me a little bit about the gala?
AN: This is our first gala. It’s really our first fundraiser, and it’s really exciting for us. We have run two pilot programs that were really well-received, not only by the students but by members of the community at education, business, and civic levels … We’re pursuing funding to sustain the organization and expand the programming across Detroit … The evening is really a celebration of the individual voice, education, (and) tenacity to make things happen, and the perseverance to achieve things that are important to you. We’re very fortunate in that our messaging and mission is really synergistic with that of “Hamilton” — to empower youth to find their voice and establish goals and the paths to achieve them. The evening begins with dinner in the Fisher Building (in Detroit), and following the performance, our guests will remain in the theatre for an exclusive conversation with members of the cast that will be hosted by “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller, who is also a Detroit native. During the evening, our guests will have the opportunity to meet the students who were part of our program this past summer, L!FE Excellence Corps. (The students’ attendance) has been underwritten by the Fisher Theatre, and they’ll be there throughout the evening, mingling with the guests to welcome them, thank them for support, tell them about the program, and network, which is an important part of their training. It’s meant to be an intimate evening where the guests are those in the room that really believe in the importance of education, collaboration, (and) empowering achievement. Working in Detroit has been wonderfully collaborative, and we’re celebrating this and empowering young people to really achieve.
DDN: Can you tell me a little bit about L!FE Leaders Inc.?
AN: Our mission is to empower youth to find their voice and establish goals and paths to achieve them. Our training in all of our programs really focuses on working with the students to articulate what’s important to them and helping them gain self-confidence as they learn how to communicate what they want and then train them in the skills to achieve them through practical application of business skills — so financial acumen, branding, marketing, business etiquette, networking, public speaking — and working within the community and helping the community achieve their goals.
DDN: Will the funds from the gala support any specific L!FE programs or initiatives?
AN: Yes. Excellence Corps and Entrepreneur-ISM, which is our second program … We’re actually a year-round program right now. It was not planned, but our summer program went so well that students asked if they could continue working with us as we were rolling out our programming. We have support from Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. to do this, and we have students with us right now working on the marketing, social media, (and) presentations to the community. Our students are very committed to the sustainability of our program. Our curriculums are experiential, so they involve field trips, guest speakers, (and) round-table discussions … We start with theater training skills that bring awareness to body language, articulation, (and) storytelling to really build up public speaking and self-confidence, and they’re very community-building also. We continue with the business skills courses. As I mentioned, both programs are around goal achievement, and the Entrepreneur-ISM — we refer to it as “-ism” because it’s about building you — articulating what’s important to you, and personal goals, and defining that and the paths to achieve that goal. The Excellence Corps program is the same approach to learning in that it’s theatre training exercises for public speaking, the business training, and the field trips. Excellence Corps is more of the deep dive into Detroit, the community, the history, the revitalization, and then working in community organizations to help those organizations achieve those goals. Both programs culminate with presentations, so the Entrepreneur-ISM program culminates with students presenting their ideas to a panel of members of the community, and the Excellence Corps program culminates in a presentation of the work that the students have done in the community, what they’ve gained from doing the programs, and what their plans are for going forward.
DDN: What do you hope guests get out of the gala?
AN: A real understanding that we’re teaching kids the fundamentals for building their futures and that they gain an intimate understanding of the power of our program and an affection for the students. It’s very special, and we hope that they gain an understanding of the students’ commitment to L!FE being a sustainable organization … The intention is for the curriculum to matriculate middle school to high school students, and our experience is that our students want to stay with us and continue.
DDN: What do you hope to offer and instill in L!FE participants?
AN: There are a couple of different answers. One is I want the kids to understand that they have the opportunity to advance themselves. For the parents, we want them to know that their children will be nurtured and exposed to leaders in the community, potential mentors, and will explore ways to build confidence and opportunity for themselves. But (it’s also) overarching (in) that the students come to understand they can accomplish anything with a thoughtful, considered definition of their goals. We have our own “-isms” that are so empowering that (the students) come away being as proud of what they don’t know as of what they do know, so they can build their team to find the answers, for example. To understand that no doesn’t mean stop, it means pivot. You need to listen to feedback. That achievement is an evolution of work, and to really understand that, they are just like everyone else that has ever accomplished anything. They started with an idea as a goal, and achieving that goal took planning, thoughtfulness, diligence, being a member of a team, networking, having relationships, and follow-through. We’re all coming from the same place.