BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- As a young girl, Gina Levon Simpson of Bridgeport was always interested in helping others and in working to improve the lives of people in her community. Now, as an adult, she’s working to pass on the lessons she has learned to the next generation.
Simpson is the lead teacher for the Bridgeport branch of the Children's Leadership Training Institute, a state program that focuses on providing children with the skills they need to make a positive impact on their communities.
“It’s all about helping the children become the best leaders they can be, both for themselves and for others,” Levon Simpson says. “We want to help them create their own toolkit for advocacy, and to teach them how to go about finding and addressing the problems in their lives.”
Levon Simpson’s program runs in parallel with the Parent Leadership Training Institute -- a state-run course that teaches the same skills to adults. Over a 20-week curriculum, parents and children learn together about the best ways of effecting change in their communities.
To help develop methods of effective communication, for example, youngsters might be asked to try to make a sandwich together without speaking, while their parents spend a class learning how to write letters to the editor of a newspaper.
The ultimate goal, Levon Simpson says, is to foster the children’s developing talents, and to enable them to step into leadership roles.
“Often they don’t even realize what it is that they’re learning,” she says. “But over time, the program allows them to better understand the skills that are necessary for leadership.”
In her 13 years with the CLTI, Levon Simpson has seen first-hand the positive impact that it can have on the lives of the students. Children who come into the program shy or lacking confidence leave it feeling capable of running for class president, or inspired to organize a charity drive.
“Over the course of the program, you can see them growing in leaps and bounds,” Levon Simpson says. “And that’s where you really begin to see the value of what we’re trying to do.”
For more information about the PLTI and CLTI programs, visit www.cga.ct.gov/coc/plti_about.htm .
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